The Preservation of The English Language

Editors


            The language of English had to fight for its right to stay relevant through many trials and tribulations.  From fighting off barbarians and looters to the backlash faced from the Holy Church, the language’s resilience has been on display for many centuries.  The language of modern English has flourished through Germanic warriors, Celtic barbarians, merchants, and prominent leaders in history. Through influential events throughout time, it’s clear that modern English has found itself many places to call home.

            With the immigration of the English language, the starting point would have to be in England before it was really established completely.  England was pretty much up for grabs, so many groups wanted to take over the land.  In the 5thcentury, Germanic warrior tribes arrived in England to claim the land as their own.  They were invited as mercenaries to shore up the ruins of the departed Roman Empire but stayed to share the spoils then got comfortable.  Natives of the land like the Celts and Britons had no intention of leaving England; They viewed the land as “worthless and felt the “richness of the land” was irresistible.  The Germanic warrior tribes met the natives with their own violent measures.  “The groans came from those Britons who had suffered at the hands of these Germanic tribes.  The Barbarians, they called them, who drive us to the sea.  The sea drives us back towards the barbarians- we are either slain or drowned” (Chapter 1, pg. 19).  Modern English looked as if it was taking over the land of England by storm, and immigrants helped the spread of English.  A lot of immigrants came over as peaceful people looking for homes and profitable land to farm on. 

            Even though all seemed well for the language of English, there were many underlying problems with another major one on the rise.  Many tribes and small kingdoms would come over at different times and in different strengths to establish and maintain their own dialect. The Saxons, the Angles and the Jutes and smaller groups reared their heads while speaking their own and separate dialect.  This created a lot of variation in the land as far as languages went, but this was only one of the smaller problems for the language of English.  “The struggle with the British Celts went on for over a hundred years, and this largely reargued action- which gave the British their greatest mythological hero, Arthur- achieved its aim” (Chapter 1, pg. 21). With the arrival of this new folk hero, the Celtic language was saved and able to keep its integrity.  It sad to say, but English would have to wait another two to three hundred years before becoming an equal among many languages. “Out of the confusion of a land, the majority of whose speakers for most of that time spoke Celtic, garnished in some cases by leftover Latin, where tribal independence and regional control were ferociously guarded, English took time to emerge as the common tongue” (Chapter 1, pg. 22).  The language of English struck luck with having one particular characteristic: its capacity to absorb others.

            If modern English had anyone in particular to worry about it, it would be the reckless and ruthless Vikings themselves.  During this time, Celtic was still spoken at the time along with different dialects of the Germanic tribes.  Vikings were very reckless in their conquest for new land.  “The Vikings were unloosed and for almost three centuries raids and settlements by these Scandinavian warriors devastated huge tracts of the English islands and threatened to supplant the language which had begun to show such astonishing promise” (Chapter 2, pg. 51).  Vikings wanted to take over the land and eradicate the English language by overpowering and killing anyone who stood in their path. English was in danger of being forgotten as the Danes started looting and occupying territories.  When occupying territory, the Danes would destroy culture established by the natives and then kill them.  The only thing is Alfred the Great wouldn’t sit around and let the Danes take over England.  He was a man of guerilla warfare, but he knew he had to switch up his game plan.  In order for him to defeat the Danes at war, he decided to bring them to open battle.  Even though his army was strung out and many were killed, they weren’t going to give up.  In the spring of 878, Alfred the Great sent out a loyalty call to the men of country armies.  If defeated, Alfred knew that they would face death, and the language of Modern English would vanish and be forgotten.  After winning the Battle of Ethandune, Alfred the Great used the English language to unite the kingdom and tribes that he commanded.  “The needed to feel safe, they needed to feel protected, they needed to feel part of a winning side.  He was the first but by no means the last to see that loyalty and strength could come through an appeal to a shared language” Chapter 2, pg. 58).  In a time of confusion and uncertainty, the language of English brought everyone together to calm down and start to reason.  Through Alfred the Great, the English language started to flourish more and more.

            I can’t stress how much the victory by Alfred saved the English language, but battle threatened to destroy the English language.  “Eighty-five percent of Old English vocabulary would eventually be lost as a result of that defeat” (Chapter 3, pg. 85).  It is sad to say that the poor preparation of the war affected the English language in the worst way.  Many of those in battle were not able to defend an attack due to the fact that they over exerted themselves during the Battle of Harold. “King Harold’s risky strategy, hurling all his best men into the front line in a make-or-break battle following a hurried march from the Battle of Stamford Bridge, deprived the land of English earls and chieftains, the very leaders and organisers who could have regrouped to fight another day against an opponent whose lines of communication were unreliable” (Chapter 3, pg. 89).  During this time, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was the authority figure for the land of England.  The English defeat in the battle of Harold was just a punishment and included in “the sins of the nation”. English was in danger since the Anglo-Saxons eliminated all but the existing Celtic language which was to become English.  Over the next two centuries, French rained heavily on the English which sparked a new world for those who were fluent in English.  “It has been estimated that in the three centuries following the Conquest perhaps as many as ten thousand French words colonized English” (Chapter 3, pg. 94).  French would end up imposing themselves in art, architecture and buildings.  In my opinion, English never took a bag seat during this period.  Many French words were similar to those of the English language.  “It renames the rules and the ruled, it manacles English to the command words of French. And it spread everywhere” (Chapter 3, pg. 94). The word like felony came from felonie or the word like judge came from juge.  If anything, English adapted to French and every other obstacle that it faced.