Menu Close

Author: Steve the vagabond

Hi, I created Silly Linguistics. If you like life on the silly side, you have found just the right place

What if William the Conqueror never existed?

What if William the Conqueror never existed?

William the Conqueror, as he was later known, is famous for invading England in 1066 and setting up a dynasty that has lasted until today. He came from Normandy which was French speaking and so the Normans brought a lot of French to England. 1066 is commonly regarded as the end of the Old English period and the beginning of the Middle English period. French became the dominant language after 1066 and English became merely the language of the peasants. It wasn’t until 1200 that English start reemerging as a written language.

Here is an alternate scenario.

Normandy was founded by Rollo, a Viking from Scandanavia. He was given lands in northern France in exchange for fealty to the French king. The problem at the time was Viking raids. Rollo, by training an army of Normans, was able to fend of the Viking raids and strengthen France’s position. Normandy, due to it being so close to England, was often a refuge for English nobles.

Edward the confessor was king of England from 1042 to 1066. His successor was Harold Godwinson. Harold was the son of Godwin, Earl of Wessex and Gytha Thorkelsdottir, sister-in-law of King Cnut the Great. Harold had connections all over England. He served as Earl of Hereford in 1058 and when he became king in 1066, he appointed his son Sweyn as Earl of Herford.

England continued to grow under Harold’s reign. He set up many new defences in the south and the east to fend off Viking attacks. The House of Wessex grew in power over the decades. Meanwhile in Normandy, Rollo’s descendant had continued to build up Normandy. The current Duke of Normandy Robert decided it was best to get along with France and worked to solidify Normandy’s position within the French Kingdom.

Royalty love forging alliances through marriage and Europe’s royal families were full of connections all over the place. In 1206, King Athelstan of Wessex married one of the Duke of Normandy’s daughters. This alliance would cause problems in later decades. King Athelstan never had any sons and after his death Duke Henry pressed his advantage by suggesting that one of his sons take over.

The Witan (Anglo Saxon council) decided that it would be better to keep England in Anglo Saxon hands and gave the Kingship to Egbert, the cousin of King Athelstan. Duke Henry was outraged and went to the King of France for help. King Louis jumped at the chance to get more land. With 6 months, Duke Henry and King Louis launched an invasion into England. It was no easy fight, but the French eventually emerged victorious. King Egbert became the last Anglo Saxon king.

Duke Henry was named King of England and he pledged to always work towards the glory of all French people. All the Anglo Saxon nobility were kicked out and replaced with French nobles. King Henry and King Louis worked together on how best to consolidate their power in England and France. People from Normandy began arriving in England over the next few decades increasing the French influence.

The English language was sidelined and the peasants mocked for speaking English. French was the new language of the country. Relations between England and France continued to develop. A war council was established in 1306 where French people from England and France could best discuss strategies and share resources across the realm. England, with the help of France managed to push further west and north in England, pushing the native English into Wales and Scotland.

By the 1400s, England and France had become so integrated that talk was started about unifying the two countries into a United Kingdom of England and France. This happened a few years later in 1407. The English language had seen a rapid decline since the Anglo Saxon defeat in 1206. Now, less than 10% of people left in England still spoke English, and those that did were bilingual in French. By the 1500s, English was considered extinct in England.

This is merely one scenario. We can’t really know what would have happened. One thing I find fascinating about English history is all the connections between England and France. William the Conqueror attacked England due to a claim he felt he had on the English throne. Even without William the Conqueror, some sort of claim is bound to have been created at some point. Royal marriages connected all sorts of places.

The other thing I wanted to put into this alternate scenario is a small change which I think in our timeline ultimately saved English from the fate it suffered in this alternate scenario. Normandy, while technically under the power of France, never truly was a part of the Kingdom of France. Normandy used its own influence and claims over England, and there was nothing France could do about that.

Eventually France managed to take Normandy over from the Normans, but they never got England. These two things I think in the end saved English. While Normandy controlled England, French influence poured into England and it is during this time period that tons of French words became a part of English.

Just like the death of Gaulish in France, English in England would have eventually been ground down and have disappeared, leaving only loanwords in the new dominant language of the area. This French influence slowed down once Normandy lost to France and that wave of French people coming into England stopped. People in Normandy and people in England had a choice. Stay where they are, or go to the other. They would not be allowed to have land in both Normandy and England.

This made the French in England feel isolated from the French in France and they began marrying English girls and began feeling more English than French. The English girls taught their children English and now the nobles in England started being able to speak English again. Animosities between England and France would remain, some would say, to this day. England invaded France in the 1400s but never held the land for long.

In my alternate scenario, I made one important change. The Normans who founded Normandy decided to throw themselves fully into the French project. Remember, these people were not French. They decided to become French for the promise of land. In our timeline they never full assimilated into the larger French kingdom leading to the split between Normandy and France. In my alternate scenario, I decided to make the Normans much more sympathetic to the French, thus making Normandy a fully integrated part of France.

Without the need for the French to invade Normandy, Normandy never gets cut off and the connection between France and England never goes away. The constant influx of French would have spelled death for English in this timeline.

I know a lot of people day dream about what would have happened if William the Conqueror never existed and that English didn’t get so many French words, but history is complicated and we can never really know what would have happened. I wanted to make a scenario where a few small things changed, and the result is totally different than our timeline.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Translation and analysis of “Iđitguovssu” by Máddji

Iđitguovssu – Dawn Light

Iđitguovssus girdilit
Hávski lei go iđistit
Vilges dolggiid geigestit
Várrogasat salastit

Njukča, njuvččažan
Buokčal, ligge varan
Njukča, njuvččažan
Ovdal iđitroađi

Iđitguovssus girdilit
Hávski lei go iđistit
Jaskatvuođain savkalit
Nuorravuođain njávkalit

Riegádahte áibbašeami
Oktovuođa váillaheami

English translation

Iđitguovssus girdilit
You flew in from the dawn

Hávski lei go iđistit
What a wonderful sight when you emerged

Vilges dolggiid geigestit
You flapped out your white feathers

Várrogasat salastit
You carefully gave a short embrace

Njukča, njuvččažan
Swan, my little swan

Buokčal, ligge varan
Dive, heat my blood

Njukča, njuvččažan
Swan, my little swan

Ovdal iđitroađi
Before the red of morning

Jaskatvuođain savkalit
You whispered softly

Nuorravuođain njávkalit
You caressed youthfully

Iđitguovssus girdilit
Hávski lei go iđistit
Jaskatvuođain savkalit
Nuorravuođain njávkalit

Riegádahte áibbašeami
Bring out my yearning

Oktovuođa váillaheami
The longing of the lonely

Detailed analysis

Iđitguovssus girdilit
You flew in from the dawn

iđit – morning
guovssu – dawn
girdilit – fly away, take off

girdilan – I fly
girdilat – You fly
girdila – He/she/it flies

girdilin – I flew
girdilit – You flew
girdilii – He/she/it flies

iđitguovssus – locative form of “iđitguovssu”. Locative means “at, on, in, from a location”

Hávski lei go iđistit
What a wonderful sight when you emerged

hávski – nice, aggreeable
lei – sight, view
go – when, as
iđistit – emerge

iđistan – I emerge
iđistat – You emerge
iđista – He/she/it emerges

iđistin – I emerged
iđistit – You emerged
iđistii – He/she/it emerged

Vilges dolggiid geigestit
You flapped out your white feathers

vilges – white (adj)
vielgadas – white (noun)

dolgi – feather
dolggiid – feather (plural accusative)

geiget – stretch out, line up, hand over

geigen – I stretch out
geiget – You stretch out
geige – He/she/it stretches out

Every time a verb has that kind of -stit suffix, it means that it’s a quick, or short, action.

geigestit – to flap out

geigestan – I flap out
geigestat – You flap out
geigestat – He/she/it flaps out

geigestin – I flapped out
geigestit – You flapped out
geigestii – He/she/it flapped out

Várrogasat salastit
You carefully gave a short embrace

várrogas/várrugas – careful
várrogasat – careful (plural nominative attributive)

salastit – quick or short embrace

salastat – You embrace
salsatit – You embraced

Njukča, njuvččažan
Swan, my little swan

njukča – swan
njuvččažan – swan (singular nominative possessive), -žan is the suffix to indicate some kind of endearment

Buokčal, ligge varan
Dive, heat my blood

buokčat – to dive
buovččan – I dive
buovččat – You dive
buokčá – He/she/it dives

buokčal – You dive (imperative)

ligget – to warm up

liggen – I warm up
ligget – You warm up
ligge – He/she/it warms up

ligge – You warm up (imperative)

varra – blood (singular nominative first person)

Njukča, njuvččažan
Swan, my little swan

Ovdal iđitroađi
Before the red of morning

ovdal – before, beforehand, earlier, previously
iđit – morning
roađđi – red
roađi – of red (genitive)

Iđitguovssus girdilit
You flew in from the dawn

Hávski lei go iđistit
What a wonderful sight when you emerged

Jaskatvuođain savkalit
You whispered softly

jaska – quietly
jaskat – quiet

jaskatvuohta – silence
jaskatvuođain – singular comitative, plural comitative, “with silence”

-vuohta turns a verb into a noun
e.g. ráhkisvuohta – love (noun), from ráhkistit – to love

savkalit – to whisper

savakalat – You whisper
savakalit – You whispered

Nuorravuođain njávkalit
You caresed youthfully

nuorravuohta – youth
nuorravuođain – singular comitative, plural comitative, “with youth”

njávkalat – You caress
njávkalit – You caressed

Riegádahte áibbašeami
Bring out my yearning

riegádahttit – to bring out

riegádahtán – I bring out
riegádahtát – You bring out
riegádahttá – He/she/it brings out

riegádahte – You bring out (imperative)

áibbašit – to yearn
áibbašan – I yearn

áibbašeapmi – yearning
áibbašeami – genitive, of yearning

Oktovuođa váillaheami
The longing of the lonely

oktovuohta – loneliness
oktovuođa – genitive, of loneliness

váillahit – to lack, need
váillaheapmi – those who lack, or are in need of something
váillaheami – accusative form

-heapmi turns a verb or adjective into a noun

Your language is part of who you are

I hope that one day people will treat the language someone speaks like they do characteristics like eye colour or height. The more I learn  about languages the more I realise that language is fundamentally human. The language someone speaks natively says something about who they  are. Language is brought to a place by those who speak it. You only speak the language you speak because someone brought the language to  your area and those around you spoke it while you were growing up.

Because language is such an ever present part of our lives, things can get very messy. People look down on those who speak certain languages  because of associations they have with the group that speaks that language. The only way around this is to make people aware of what is  actually happening out in the world and to correct any misinformation or lack of knowledge people have. I can’t fix what people don’t know about history or politics or mathematics. But I can teach people about language.

One thing I know for sure. You should never be ashamed of the language you speak. Your language is the result of centuries and centuries of  evolution and change performed by ordinary people. Your language is an organism. It is like the fauna and flora of the world. It developed naturally. It is something to be proud of. Your language is part of who you are.

Each language carries in it the thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams of its people. Each time we lose a language, we lose an expression of what it means to be human. I always liked language before, but I see even more clearly now how marvellous and special language is.

Language is an inextricable part of culture. People know the language they know because of the culture they live in. A part of the reason languages die is because they stop being spoken by native speakers and thus don’t get passed on to future generations. Because language is a part of culture, cultural forces affect languages. If a culture decides that their language is no longer worth learning, it will probably disappear.

Maybe in a small way I can change that just by saying: Your language matters. Never be ashamed of your language. Your language is beautiful, messy, chaotic and wonderful. It is part of who you are and it is worth preserving.

The world’s first language

What did the world’s first language sound like?

The simple answer is that we just don’t know for sure. There could also have been multiple first languages.

But we can make some guesses based on what we know about how languages work. Creoles are often described as languages starting over. They lack complex conjugation, irregular verbs or difficult conjugation. They tend to be isolating. Creoles are languages that came about when a pidgin evolves into a full language. The first language would probably have looked a lot like a creole.

What do we know about the humans that spoke the first language? Linguists estimate that language emerged between 100 000 to 50 000 years ago. The first human speakers would have been extremely similar to us biologically, since 100 000 years is not a long time in the evolutionary time scale.

Crimean Tatar Introduction

Crimean Tatar Introduction
By Naoki Watanabe

Crimean Tatars are a Sunni Muslim and Turkic ethnicity indigenous to Crimea and actively trying to reassert their culture there. The people are often called “Tatar” and this leads to confusion with the actual ethnic group known as the Tatars (or Volga Tatars), who live in Tatarstan, and while related to Crimean Tatars (as they’re both Sunni Muslim and Turkic), are different as Tatars speak a language from the Uralo-Caspian branch of the Kypchak group of Turkic languages while Crimean Tatars speak a language from the Ponto-Caspian group and because Crimean Tatars have had more influences from Turks and Ukrainians while Tatars have had more interactions with the peoples of the Volga—such as the Udmurts, Mari, Erzyans, and Mokshans (the term “Tatar” or “Tartar” has also been used to denote several other ethnic groups incorrectly such as the Kalmyks and Manchus; Crimean Tatars and their language have also been erroneously referred to as “Crimean Turkish”).

Although Crimea has been controlled by numerous powers throughout its long history, the Crimean Tatars were the ones who succeeded in giving the region its current common name (“Crimea” comes from the word Qırım) and have influenced many topographic names (e.g. the name of Crimea’s most famous city, Yalta, is taken directly from Crimean). Their culture and language has been influenced by several groups in different ways which has led to variations in both which can be seen in the three sub-ethnicities: the Tats, (who make up 55% of Crimeans and whose dialect is the language’s standard), the Yalıboyu (who make up 30% of the population and speak a heavily Turkish-influenced dialect), and the Noğay (who make up 15% of the population and speak a more explicitly Kypchak language). The Crimean Tatar language has about 450,000 speakers and is considered endangered.

Crimean Tatar is unique amongst the Turkic languages because it’s been seen as both a member of the Kypchak group of Turkic languages (which includes Kazakh, Tatar, and Bashkir), and the Oghuz group (which includes Turkish, Gagauz, and Turkmen). Although Crimean Tatar is nowadays usually seen as a Kypchak language, it has had heavy influences from Oghuz languages (especially Turkish), which are most prominent in the Yalıboyu dialect. An example of this is in the words for “goodbye” which are “Sağlıqnen qalıñız” (said by person leaving) and “Sağlıqnen barıñız” (said by person staying) in the Tat dialect, but are “Oşçakal” (said by the person leaving) and “Küle küle” (said by the person staying) in the Yalıboyu dialect (in Turkish, the words for “goodbye” are “Hoşçakal” and “Güle güle”).

There are three alphabets for the language: an Arabic one that is no longer in use, a Latin one almost identical to that of Turkish (with the addition of the letters “Qq” and “Ññ”), and a Cyrillic one preferred by the Russian government currently controlling Crimea. The language’s grammar is almost identical to that of Turkish and shares features like a flexible word order (an example being in the sentence “Menim vaqtım yoq”—“I don’t have time” which can also be rendered as “Yoq vaqtım”, although this is slightly rude) and using the word “bar” (equivalent to Turkish “var”) to indicate possession. This can be seen in the sentences “Deñizde dalar bar.” (Crimean Tatar) and “Denizde adalar var.” (Turkish) which mean “There are islands in the sea.” (“Deñizde” means “at sea” and “adalar” means “islands or archipelago”).

Naoki Watanabe also writes poetry which you can find here: https://www.fictionpress.com/u/929458/PoetOfSaiMiHunManKal
Naoki Watanabe on VK: https://vk.com/poetofsaimihunmankal
Naoki Watanabe on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/naoki.watanabe.566

This post was written by a reader of my Facebook page. If you have cool language articles that you have written and would like some exposure, send a message to the my facebook page, write a comment below, or email me at steve@sillylinguistics.com

The history of “ch” in English

The sound “ch” in English has an interesting history. Original the sound was a “k” in Proto Germanic. The sound became palatilised in some words, which means that the sound is pronounced with tongue raised against the hard palate. This can often happen so a series of sounds are easier to say, such as “did you” becoming “di’jew”. In IPA this would be [dɪdjuː] becoming [dɪdʒuː]

A star indicates that the word is reconstructed. Linguists look at the oldest literature in Germanic languages and find connections between the languages. They can then theorise as to what the word was in the parent language.

Here are some Modern English words and the words they came from

beseech: Old English be + sēċan, Proto Germanic *sōkijaną
church: Old English ċiriċe, Proto Germanic *kirikǭ
latch: Old English læċċan, Proto Germanic *lakkijaną
much: Old English miċel, Proto Germanic *mikilaz
watch: Old English wæċċan, Proto Germanic *wakjaną

The “k” sound did not palatilise in other Germanic languages at the same time as Old English did but many of them ended up palatilising later, but to different sounds. In German, sometimes the “k” became /x/ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiceless_velar_fricative), sometimes it became /ç/ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiceless_palatal_fricative#Palatal) and other times it remained a “k”. In Swedish too the “k” sometimes changed to another sound.

These are cognates, not translations. This means that the words listed here come from the same word in Proto Germanic. Cognates can often have different meanings

English German Dutch Swedish
beseech besuchen bezoeken besöka
church Kirche kerk kyrka
much michel mekel mycket
watch wachen waken väcka

English is one of the more divergent Germanic languages. It has very different pronunciations than the other Germanic languages and some of the divergence already happened in Old English. English was weird even back then 😀