Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The English language: I had known that modern English developed from Old English as enhanced by the estimated 10,000 French words brought by the Norman invaders of the 11th. century. But I hadn't known that there were two primary English dialects to start with - those of Wessex and Mercia - and that it was the more-flexible latter which won the day and which, enriched by its French additions, went on to become Middle English. As Paul Johnson writes - or as anyone who's looked at a student's Anglo-Saxon textbooks will know - Old English, as written and spoken before the Conquest, is essentially a foreign language to us; the so-called Middle English, as we read it in Chaucer, is merely an archaic version of our own. The Norman Invasion thus made a crucial contribution to the development of English as the international language of government, culture and commerce - in which role, by a supreme irony, it has decisively displaced French.

The English: Per Paul Johnson, writing in 1972 . . . English anticlericalism was, of course, merely one important branch of English xenophobia. Hostility to foreigners is one of the most deep-rooted and enduring characteristics of the English; like the national instinct for violence, it is a genuine popular force, held in check (if at all) only by the most resolute discipline imposed, against the public will, by authoritarian central government, acting out of enlightened self interest. Racialism has always flourished in England when government has been weak and the sophisticated governing minority have lacked the will to resist public clamour. . . The only difficulty is to determine precisely where English racialism begins. . . The real frontiers were fixed in the Welsh and Scottish marches. Beyond these limits even Roman military power had encountered difficulties which ultimately proved too expensive to resolve. It is true that the Romans established a form of military occupation in Wales. But the normal processes of economic colonisation could not operate there. Their tribal organisation, laws, language and customs remained intact. In Scotland, even the Roman military presence was fugitive and ineffectual. . . This pattern was repeated during Germanic settlements. . . The racial and cultural frontiers began to solidify in the 8th. century and have never changed by more than a few score miles. Thus the relationship between England and its Celtic neighbours began to assume its modern form from the beginnings of the 12th century. This relationship was, and remains today, essentially ambivalent.

Back to the Continent . . . Perish the thought but some folk believe that the outcome of last week's EU summit is exactly what Mrs Merkel and M Sarkozy wanted:-There is, of course, no veto. This is not a formal meeting, and it requires a formal intergovernmental conference to wield a veto, with a full draft of a treaty on the table – a draft which at this stage did not exist. Thus, Cameron could not stop the "colleagues" going ahead with an IGC and producing an amendment treaty for approval, if they had so wished. But, because it suited them, the "colleagues" chose to treat the Cameron intervention as a formal veto, even though it was not. It was their decision not to go ahead. Cameron was just the foil, the excuse to do what they wanted to do anyway. Thus, in what has all the makings of a theatrical coup, everybody walks away with something. Merkel and Sarkozy get the green light for an intergovernmental treaty, and Cameron gets to be a hero. And so, in the final analysis, with a gullible and ignorant media to endorse the legend, we see people fed what Peter Hitchens calls a "blatant fake". Cameron will dine out on it for a while, and he may even get away with it altogether, but it is a media-driven charade and will always be so. The Prime Minister did nothing courageous or even significant in Brussels last week, says Hitchens. But of such things is history made. Click here for more.

But that was last week. Here's the prediction of one pessimist who agrees that Cameron did Merkozy a big favour. A sample: - As for Germany, hell will freeze over before it accepts joint liability for periphery debts. You may recall that yesterday's pundit said Germany had only two choices:- 1. To accept this joint liability, or 2. To witness the death of the euro. If anyone disagrees and believes there are grounds for optimism, please say so. Moscow?

Finally, . . . Here's one of my favourite columnists on the theme of the moment. Since he says that "Anyone who claims he knows what is about to happen to Europe is a fool", I'm rather glad I admitted the other night that I hadn't the faintest idea.


moscow said...

Hi Colin,

I believe - I am not an expert, far from it - that language is the main carrier and determinant/ing element of culture. That is that language determines the culture, not the other way round. I have always wondered whether it is not the hybrid nature of English which is the distinguishing element, of the language, the culture and the character of Britain (sorry England). Moreover, it would make the English European twice over, once Germanic and Latin at the same time. German, is much much more Germanic despite the influx of both French (in the 18th century) and Latin words (during the Rennaisssnace and later on in the 19th century). And Germans are more earnest, less flexible and humorous, perhaps more honest and less "devious" than their British cousins. Note that I adscribe far less importance to the Celtic element in British (English) culture, which I believe is largely a myth. After the Saxons flattened the earth around them, Celtic grouplets were reduced to the fringes of a few mountain tops and valleys in the Highlands of Scottland and parts of Wales. I think it is a miracle their culture partly survived to this day. It testifies more than anything to their complete and utter isolation at the time. In answer to a previous comment, the latest studies on DNA - I believe - corroborate the fact that 90% of the genes of English people are of German origin. And if you don't believe that look at yourselves in the mirror.

As an aside, it is often said that Spanish is part arab. True there are more arab words in Spanish, than there are in French or Italian, but many of them are also of common usage in other languages (alcohol, algebra, almond and so on). Make a test yourselves, and fixate how many words of arab origin you use in dalily life (while speaking or reading spanish). You'd be lucky to reach 5%. "French" in "English" has almost 50% occurrence by contrast. My point is - in consonance with what I wrote at the beginning of this comment - the Spanish might have ethnically (and/or racially) a very mixed background but their culture is Latin, and they are, thus, direct descendants of the Romans who invented that language.

Jimbob said...

If language is the main determinant of language, then using that logic the americans should be english from the point of view of DNA-I don't think so. Language is not the only indicator of ethnicity obviously.
Also if you think the english look look mostly like the germans, then a lot of us are using a different mirror to yours. There are plenty of short and dark english people.Its also worth noting that being celtic does not imply being necessarily dark or swarthy. I live in Wales, and there are a lot blond celts Here too lots of red haired people too. like the english, a very mixed bag. Apart from Oxford Ancestors the larger DNA testing agency DNA based in America also subscribe to the view that the english are primarily germanic except on the extreme east coast around east anglia.They use worldwide comparisons for their DNA pool. Its worth noting the germans are mixed too, partly slavic from a DNA perspective.

Jimbob said...

Of I meant to say -"Not primarily germanic"