English is not our “native” language

K Clements (South Wales Evening Post, 13 July) claims, “It is English that is the native tongue of Britain.”


As anyone with any knowledge of Historical Linguistics will tell you, the surviving “native” languages of Britain are, of course, Welsh, Gaelic, Cornish and Manx.

English is a West Germanic language brought to Britain by invaders and/or settlers from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the Netherlands.

Initially, Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Britain.

One of these dialects, Late West Saxon, eventually became predominant, but even this was subsequently transformed by further invasions, particularly by Scandinavians in the 8th and 9th centuries, and most significantly by Norman French in the 11th century.

What we now understand as English has its origins in the Middle Ages, and was not widely spoken in a form that we would recognise until the 18th century; influenced by the publication of ‘The Dictionary of the English Language’ by Dr Samuel Johnson in 1755.

In contrast, the surviving languages of Britain have a longer and purer history, and therefore a much stronger claim to be our “native” languages.

The fact that everyone in these islands speaks English does not change the historical facts.  Nor does it provide a case to deprive native speakers of their right to speak their own language.



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