Friday, 2 September 2011


A while back - see Ansible ... and Anglish - I mentioned various attempts to imagine an English purged of French and Latin influences, such as the 'Pure English' of the Dorset poet William Barnes, the 'Blue-Eyed English' of the composer Percy Grainger, and the SF author Poul Anderson's essay on atomic theory, Uncleftish Beholding.

A question on Yahoo! Answers, "What would English look like today without the French influence?", prompted me to a rethink. Interesting though these attempts are, they're essentially modern English, removing French and Latin but retaining all the innovations (such as the massive simplifying of grammar) that marked the vast 'reboot' from Old English (aka Anglo-Saxon) to Middle English and later Modern English.

An English (let's call it 'Anglick') where no Norman invasion happened would more likely be an entirely different branch of the Germanic languages, even more dissimilar to English than Yola, with many more features akin to Old English (for instance, it might - like modern German - retain grammatical gender and case endings). I imagine the Lord's Prayer in Anglick could look like this ...
Vaider arn thu beest on evvinem
Gehagled be thi narmer
Becoom theen kernyrike
Gedaan theen villa
On arder soso on evvinem
Arne daglicke brode geev uns hoady
An ar gildies uns vergeev
Soso weer andern gildeen vergeeven
An nae layde thu uns in costening
Arba layde thu uns vorm ooble. Zo beest.
... and even this, as the language of the King James Bible is to English, could be archaic Anglick. Who knows where English could have borrowed from?

- Ray


  1. This is another fascinating avenue down which to wander and wonder when I ought to be paying the rent...

    RG> Who knows where English
    RG> could have borrowed from?

    Probably modern French, for one! :-)

    But seriously ... it seems to me likely that, given our influence by the US, the German would have been to some extent "Yiddishised" by now.

    It occurs to me that if Latin and French influence were eliminated then there would presumably be a reason for it ... if that reason were geopolitical, it seems likely that Spanish would also have been excised ... and, with it, Arabic, while northern languages (Polish, Baltics, even Russian?) would be proportionally more significant.

  2. Indeed. I suppose the assumption is either that the Normans never invaded, or that they were repelled at the Battle of Hastings. But if the Renaissance played out more or less as it did, it's pretty likely that English would have picked up Latin and Greek at the time it did in reality (since rediscovery of classical texts was so central to the Renaissance).

    What we really don't know is what socio-linguistic events caused the change from Anglo-Saxon to Early Modern English. I liked the theory I read a while back that English developed as a creole between Norman French and Anglo-Saxon (it would fit a lot of the details, such as the overall 'reboot' and simplification of grammar). But unfortunately this theory doesn't fit the timeline.

    Still, I feel oddly pleased by the 'Anglick' sample. I dashed it off in a few minutes, based on the Anglo-Saxon, but it really does look like a language.