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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

How to Learn the Basic Word List       223
The basic stratum, i e. the most common words,, of our English
vocabulary is derived from a mixture of dialects more closely allied to
Dutch than to other existing members of the group, especially to the
speech of the Frisian Islands These dialects were the common speech
of Germanic tribes, called Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, who came to
Britain between 400 and 700 A.D. The Norse invaders, who left their
footprints on our syntax, contributed few specifically Scandinavian
words to Southern English, though there are many Norse words in
dialects spoken m Scotland Norse was the language of the Orkneys till
the end of the fourteenth, and persisted in the outermost Shetlands
(Foula) till the end of the eighteenth century Many words in Scots
vernaculars recall current Scandinavian equivalents, eg bra (fine,
good), bairn (child), and flit (move household effects). Scandinavian
suffixes occur m many place-names, such as -by (smalt town), cf
Gnmsby or Whiffy, and the latter survives in the compound by-law of
everyday speech in South Britain
When the Norman invaders came in 1066 the language of England
and of the South of Scotland was almost purely Teutonic. It had
assimilated very few Latin words save those which were by then
common to Teutonic dialects on the Continent. Except in Wales,
Cornwall, and the Scottish highlands, the Celtic or pre-Roman Britain
survived only in place-names. After the Norman Conquest, more
particularly after the beginning of the fourteenth century, the lan-
guage of England and of the Scottish lowlands underwent a drastic
change It absorbed a large number of words of Latin origin, first
through the influence of the Norman hierarchy, and later through the
influence of scholars and writers. It shed a vast load of useless gram-
matical luggage, Norman scribes revised its spelling, and while this
was happening important changes of pronunciation were going on.
This latmizatoon of Enghsh did not begin immediately after the
Conquest. For the greater part of two centuries, there were two lan-
guages in England. The overlords spoke Norman French, as the white
settlers of Kenya speak modern Enghsh. The English serfs still spoke
the language in which Beowulf and the Bible of Alfred the Great were
written By the beginning of the fourteenth century a social process was
gathering momentum There were self-governing towns with a burgher
class of native Enghsh stock. There was a flourishing wool trade with
Flanders. There were schools where the sons of prosperous burghers
learnt French grammar. In the England of Dick Whittington, English
again became a written language, but a written language which had to