[T]ry naming another language where you have to slip do into sentences to negate or question something. Do you find that difficult? ...Not the only really cool insight that was new to me, who has occasionally read into these matters for decades now.
[T]o the untrained eye, Beowulf might as well be in Turkish.
The first thing that got us from there to here was the fact that, when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (and also Frisians) brought their language to England, the island was already inhabited by people who spoke very different tongues. Their languages were Celtic ones, today represented by Welsh, Irish and Breton across the Channel in France. The Celts were subjugated but survived, and since there were only about 250,000 Germanic invaders – roughly the population of a modest burg such as Jersey City – very quickly most of the people speaking Old English were Celts.
Crucially, their languages were quite unlike English. For one thing, the verb came first (came first the verb). But also, they had an odd construction with the verb do: they used it to form a question, to make a sentence negative, and even just as a kind of seasoning before any verb. Do you walk? I do not walk. I do walk. That looks familiar now because the Celts started doing it in their rendition of English. But before that, such sentences would have seemed bizarre to an English speaker – as they would today in just about any language other than our own and the surviving Celtic ones. Notice how even to dwell upon this queer usage of do is to realise something odd in oneself, like being made aware that there is always a tongue in your mouth.
The Celtic Underbelly of the English Tongue
A missing piece from your philology, perhaps. Everybody knows about the Normans and their importation of a kind of French to impose itself upon the Old English. But how much do you appreciate about the Celts?
By Grim on Tuesday, November 17, 2015