How old is English?


[1] 'Wier' :see Etymologisch Woordenboek v/h Nederlands.
'Wattle': Old English watol "hurdle," in plural "twigs, thatching, tiles," related to weal, waetla "bandage," both derived from 'to weave'. Surviving in wattle-and-daub "building material for huts, etc."

[2] Viromandui. The Latin character 'v' could be pronounced 'w','v','u' according to the word. The Latin word 'vinum' (wine) was pronounced 'winum' at the time of the Roman republic and during the first century of the Roman Empire. The Greek word 'oinos' (wine') was also pronounced 'winos'. This original pronunciation survived in the Germanic languages. So, it should be 'winology' and not Oenology.

[3] 'Celtic' does not imply a language. It is about Celtic culture.

The 'men' information is this section is deducted from Caesar's description and additional details about the Morini tribe. A good article about the subject can be found on Wikipedia.

[4] Wick : related to the Dutch verb 'wijken'; Old Saxon 'wikan'; Old High German 'wihhan'; Old English 'wican'; Old Norse 'vika', all meaning: to give way, to retreat, to recede. It probably refers to 'where the water receded'.

[5] 'bad' is a PIE word for city in Urdu and Hindi. Example: Islamabad = city of Islam. 'bad' or 'bat' can also mean 'boat'.

changed on 18/08/2013

Etymology of the Belgian tribes

Etymology of the word Nervius (plural: Nervii) and Treverus (Treveri):

*Ner + *wie, *wier. Ner (say 'near') means 'food'. The middle Dutch verb is ge-neren = 'to feed, to keep, to maintain alive'; Old Lowfranconian: nerian, Old Saxon: ginerian; Old High German: (gi)nerian: to heal, to hood; Old Frisian: nera: maintain, feed; Gothic: nasjan: to save, to heal; modern German nähren, to feed, nurture. Derived is the noun 'nering' = farm, factory, enterprise.
Wier, wie or weeg is derived from 'to weave' and means 'woven panel, wall, house' and corresponds with 'wattle' [1]. The word is derived from ‘to weave’ and refers to an old building fashion. Houses were half-timbered and walls were made with the wattle-and-daub method. Many place-names in the Alsace (in the east of modern France) end with ‘-wihr’, the German way of writing wier (e.g. Riquewihr => ‘ric’= Du.: rijks-, Ger.: Reichs- => village of the realm, region). Wie in Nerwie corresponds with Viromandwi [2]. So wier means house and by extension: hamlet.

The word ‘Nervia’ means therefore: food-house(s)-country, land of (big) farms. Nervius means: food-production-house-inhabitant. The modern region, called Brabant, is still known for its castle farms. The village of Waterloo is situated in the hearth of Brabant. During the battle, three castle farms on the battlefield played a decisive role.

The meaning of the word Treveri is similar. *Tree + *wier. Tree is a word which survives in modern English: “a perennial plant having a trunk, bole or woody stem”. So: Treveria meant: land of the forest villages. Their alleged capital was the modern city of Trier in Germany. This place was actually a civitas, which was most probably founded just outside the traditional realm of the Treverians, again for political reasons. The Treverians are known to be the ancestors of the modern people of Luxemburg. Luxemburg is still a land of forests. The original land of the Treveri was bigger: It stretched way into modern Belgium and once comprised most of the east part of the modern Ardennes.


The position of the language border was much more to the south then commonly known. The blue dotted line is the approximate border of Belgium/Belgica.

Morini: The tribe's name Morini is derived from the PIE word *mori and either meant "sea" or "lake". The word occurs in most Proto-Indo-European languages either as *mori or *mari. (Compare: Armorica). The proto-Flemish word for "polder " is moer (plural: moeren). The modern French part of the region is called Les Moëres. The name Morini probably refers to salty marshes and not to the sea itself. The "-in" in Morini is a Germanic plural (today written '-en' like in children). Zosimus (5th century) described their city 'Bononia' (today: Boulogne-sur-Mer) as Germanic. The word 'moer' is still found in local place-names such as: Moere (near Gistel), Moerkerke, Moerbrugge, De Moeren, Moerdijkstraat. Note that not all moer- place-names are situated in the polders. Moerbrugge lays to the east of Brugge and is build upon sandy ground.

Menapii: *Meen + *ab-a. Du.: meen / Eng.: mean / Fr.: mesnil. Meen = main house, large, common house in a village where people gathered, justice was spoken, decisions proposed, discussed and voted. In fact, a meen is a commune. All of ancient northwest Europe was organized in such a Celtic way [3]. Each commune had some liberty to adhere to a tribe. The degree of dependence determined whether it was an effective part of that tribe and the influence it enjoyed within the tribe council. On the outskirts of the tribal territory were the most independent meens.
The word *a means 'water or river' in proto-Germanic. A river in the north of France, close to the Belgian coast is called: Aa. *Ab-a means: close to water.
Menapii = independent communes next to water. These 'waters' stretched from the North Sea up to Germany.
Caesar described them as Germanic. He had great trouble in subduing them. With good reason: in theory, he had to conquer village after village as each commune could decide independently whether to surrender or not. So, despite popular belief, the Menapii were not a tribe in the classic sense of the word. They were more a string of villages. They were found from the mouth of the Schelde river up to the modern border with Germany along the Rhine. It explains the rather confusing situating of the tribe by Caesar: "North of the Eburones live Menapii", that is close to the modern border with Germany, while before he had situated them on the south shores of the Schelde estuary.

Eburoni: *Eibe + *boer. 'Eibe' means yew. It's the same word as if in French and ijf in Dutch. 'Boer' = farmer. Eburon = plural of Ebur or eibboer. During the late Roman Empire the region was called Taxandria from Latin: taxus = yew (also written as Toxandria). Yew grows reasonably well upon sandy soils. Most of the western part of the territory of the Eburoni is sandy. As the local farmers were poor, they supplemented their income by growing yew. Yew was and is the main sort of wood to make bows. The famous English longbow was made of yew. Yew which grows slowly upon colder, sandy soils is of prime quality, because of the greater fibre density. Yew from Taxandria was famous in Gaul. Although the Gauls had their own yew, the Eburonian yew had a special para-Brythonic (Gaulish) name: eburo. The Eburoni called themselves Tunger (Tungri) = "who speak our tongue". According to Caesar: Germanic. They inflicted the greatest military defeat to Caesar during his campaign in 'Gaul'. One and a half legion was slaughtered, or some 7500 men. As a measure of revenge, Caesar officially genocided, wiped out, the complete tribe. But a complete genocide was never performed. Caesar admitted that other genocides such as against the Menapii failed. Later, the Eburoni re-emerged as Tungri in the official Roman nomenclature, to honour the 'work' of 'divine' Caesar.

Aduatuci= 'river-dent'. Probably from proto-Germanic (pgm) *ahwo, water, river + Du.:'deuk',dent, derived from Du.: 'duiken'= to duck, dive; OE: duce; from pgm *duk-an, a downward movement, which all gives: "[people from a] dent in the landscape with a river" = valleys of Sambre and Meuse. Indeed, these valleys appear abrupt because they pierce through a plateau. According to Caesar: Germanic. They were expected at the battle of the Sabis (Selle), but came too late. Anyhow, the size of their narrow homeland does not promise many thousands of warriors. Their arrival would probably not have made much of a difference. Their name is too distorted by Caesar to be interpreted with certainty. Anyhow, there is no decent etymology in Brythonic either.

Condrusi : "high valley people" from *comb (hill - even today in northeast England), compare: Bar Comb near Vindolanda. The second part is probably 'to rise', 'rose'. 'Comb'+'rose' = 'Condruse' with alteration of 'b' into 'd'. The region still exists and is called 'Condroz'. They lived upon higher ground which border the Sambre and Meuse valleys, close to the 'deep-valley' dwellers, the Aduatuci.

Atrebates : *bat is probably a very old PIE word means housing [5]. The word could be related to the ancient meaning of 'bath' and 'to bathe' = keeping warm. "Atre" was interpreted in Brythonic as 'black', ('ater' : Latin = black) although this is unlikely. An other possibility is 'hearth' in a German plural 'hearther' so : 'hearther+bath' = "the houses with the chimneys, hearths". The region is rich in limestone and this material could have been used to build hearths, in contrast to the region slightly to the north, where no natural stone worthy the name is found, therefore, no stone hearths could be build. The tribe was probably in its majority Germanic speaking although indications for it are scarce. Only the Germanic etymology of local place-names give us some certainty. But the strange story of Commius, an Atrebate trustee of Caesar, can contain also a clue. He accompanied Caesar into Britain. Why was Commius needed in Britain? Caesar needed him because of his high ranking family relations and acquaintances in Britain. We think that Commius mastered the local language in Britain well: proto-English. Commius would later flee to Britain. This points to the use of a Germanic language by the Atrebates too. Apart from that, it is worth mentioning that they fought together with the Nervians against Caesar. It is unlikely that they spoke a different language from the Nervians.

Viromandui : probably 'wier' + 'mund'. 'Wier' = house + 'mund' = protector, tutor (like in the name Edmund). So: "protected houses" or "protectors of their houses". They also fought with the Nervians against Caesar in the battle of the Sabis. Note: the name can also mean "men being the boss at home" - but that would be the first tribe in the world to be so.

Ambiani: Umbe + Aa = around the water (Old Saxon aha, Old English: ea, etc. proto-Germanic *ahwo-. Except in Latin, aqua, no connection with other PIE languages outside Germanic were found). There is today a Aa river to the north of the Somme. At the time, the river Somme itself was called 'Aa'. This construction has the signature of a Germanic language. 'Ambi' is the Gallic version of the Germanic 'umbe, ombe', around. As Caesar's interpreters understood what Umbe-Aa meant, they dictated : Ambiani. The modern town Abbeville was called Abacivo villa (in the 6th century). The first part is derived from proto-Germanic *ahwo-, (near) water, river, the second *-civo is obscure but could be short for civilis or civitas (place of Roman administration); villa means important farm.

Remi, Suessiones, Bellovaci, Belgian-Gaulish tribes: etymology unknown. We have very little direct evidence of the para-Brythonic (Gaulish) language. Remark that the name (not the language) of some of them such as the 'Suessiones' could be of Germanic origin. Place-name studies have revealed that the language border during the early Bronze Age must have been much closer to the Seine, especially the lower Seine. Over 4000 years the language border moved to the north. A para-Brythonic language (Gaulish) gradually replaced the original Germanic language.

Arduenna Silva or the Ardennes. Note first of all that it is about a forest (silva), not a higher plateau. The classic Gaulish explanation is from Delamarre (who saw Gaulish everywhere): *arduo-, high ground, hill. However, considering
(1) that the region to the east, the Treveri, spoke Germanic,
(2) that the region to the west, the Nervii, were Germanic speakers and
(3) that the region to the south, Lorraine, the Duchy of Lorraine, spoke Germanic up to the Middle Ages, it would weird if the Ardennes were Gaulish speaking. Or, much less plausible, the name is an exonym, given by the remote Gauls.
The 'silva', forest, addition is not a redundant detail. It clearly refers to trees. So, if it is not Gaulish, and most likely Germanic referring to trees, then what does it mean? It means 'hearths'. The plural is -en because the region spoke Alemannic, so: (h)Earthen. These hearths were charcoal kilns. The Ardennes, even today, are one big forest. To the south of it are numerous iron ore quarries. It is attested that they were exploited since the Iron Age. In 1988 the last north-French iron ore quarries of Neufchef, Aumetz and Auboué, all in the region to the south of the Ardennes, were closed. The Ardennes delivered since the start of the iron age (1000 BC) the charcoal needed for the fabrication of iron.
Hence its name: Hearthen Wood.

Place names in general

We think that place-names became real permanent place-names instead of lose descriptions of local features around 2000 BC. In Gaul, the language border was much more to the south than commonly accepted. Very recently, a book (Luc Vanbrabant, 2013 - in Dutch) demonstrates that a lot of place-names in Normandy are of Germanic origin, and that it was not caused by the Normans who received Normandy in 911 AD. In addition, it is longer known that a number of Germanic place names were found in the region between Somme and Seine. In Gaul the language border must have moved slowly to the north since around 2000 BC or slightly after.