How old is English?


 Celtic era:

I must remind the readers that the presence of Celts in Britain is attested only from 450 BC (start of the Celtic period in Britain) on and later. Officially the Britons spoke something else before that date. What? It is called pre-Celtic. How clever.

We recommend the official website of Vindolanda:

[1] Substrate word

A word which existed locally before the new PIE (Proto-Indo-European) language was introduced. Typical are words for local plants and trees or for specific animals. An example in Germanic: oak, birch, bear, deer. Substrate words are words with a limited geographical spread. Some estimate that up to one third of all old Germanic words are substrate words. They contrast with other words which are genuine PIE and therefore traceable in many other PIE languages.

[2] In Normandy, France, locals refer to a farm as "un pays". The official meaning of 'pays' in French is country, land. 

Place names of which the etymology means 'granary' are:

  • Vindobona, modern Vienna, Austria
  • Bononia, called today Bologna, Italy
  • Bononia or Boulogne-sur-Mer in France.
  • Bonna or Bonn in Germany

*bona is related to the modern German word Buehne (theater stage, plank floor); in Dutch 'beun' (attic).
It is known that Bologna in Italy was founded by the Germanic speaking, though culturally Celtic, Boii tribe. They came from Bohemia. The old word booy means (farm)house in Germanic. Bohemia means 'home-land'.

Bologna in Italy was the place where the Boii rulers concentrated the surplus of wheat of the rich province.

Bonn is located upon the Rhine. A common granary along a big river is common sense.

Finally, Boulogne-sur-Mer used to be the main Roman port if one wanted to cross the English Channel to Dover. The port was evidently a bunkering place too. A larger granary was obviously no luxury.


Examples of breaking the circular reasoning  :

Vindolanda , Lincoln

Here are some examples of how it can be completely different. Both etymologies of Vindolanda and Lincoln are officially in proto-Welsh. This section illustrates that there is an alternative.

Vindolanda: a view to the north: new excavations of the village in front of the fort.

Vindolanda is a Roman fort near Hadrian's Wall. The official etymology of the place-name is in Welsh: vindo+lann. 'vindo' = white +'llan' = land, fields.

The first problem lays within the word 'llan'. This is clearly the same word as 'land'. 'Land' is to be found in all German languages: middle Dutch, old high German, old Saxon, old Fries, old English, Gothic. Outside the German languages: old Irish: 'land', Welsh: 'llan', old Prussic: 'lindan' (valley), old Russian: 'ljadina' (shrubs, weed). The geographically limited spread of the word points towards a German substrate word [1], and not a PIE word. The word must have been introduced in Old Welsh first (where the 'd' disappeared), and later in Old Irish (where the 'd' was maintained). 'Land' does not occur outside the Germanic zone on the Continent. It is not a Gallic (=Celtic!) word. The Old Prussian and Russian versions are known to be loanwords.

In all Brythonic dialects, a llan, land or lann is a loanword and always means land owned by the Church or is some Catholic propriety.  So, it is obvious that the word was introduced together with the Christian religion. Clearly, it is not an original Celtic word.

The problem in Vindolanda is that the word 'landa' is too early. When Hadrian's Wall was build the Catholic Church was still some sort of expanded former-fisherman's-club. 

The Roman soldiers who founded the place came from Holland (Batavians). They were free to give it a name.  The name they choose was duly latinized Germanic (and surprising). 

The second problem is the word 'vindo-'  = 'white' and what it refers to (Modern Welsh: gwyn-, also in the first name Gwendolyn = 'white circle' = the moon). The Brythonic meaning of Vindolanda, 'white fields', is at least doubtful. Many objects in leather were discovered on the site because the soil is black due to a lack of oxygen. A visit to the site confirmed that there is no trace of something white.

But, one can always imagine that 'white lands' refers to white flowers in the spring. Was this a flower garden in the middle of a harsh landscape, inviting the legionnaires into a circular chain dance? Unlikely. The whole region is barren, very windy and cold. We saw a lot of bright yellow buttercups but nothing white.

Vindolanda is Germanic

The etymology in proto-English is far more probable:

  • Vindo can mean two things:
    • - slightly raised in old Norse. The word is related to the verb 'to wind' in the sense of 'to turn, curve up'. It was pronounced 'winde-'.  This is unlikely because Vindolanda is in a valley.
    • - wende , also related to 'to wind' but now in the sense of change, like the German word Wende. The change is the border. Foreigners were called Wenedas or Wends in Old German, 'from beyond the wende = border'. We suspect that it is so that the Italian Veneti got their name.
    • but there is a third possibility, the most probable one.  This will, however, be disclosed in a new paper. Thing is that the site is much less exposed than we thought. The landscape around is rough and godforsaken, but Vindolanda itself is a rather pleasant place.  
  • Land is typical Germanic and means a good and open place to build a home (farm) upon, the farm building itself or simply 'place to live'. [2]  

Vindolanda is a compound word, so it has one single and specific meaning.  This too excludes the 'white field' meaning. There is a village called Whitfield in England, but that meant:  "mr. White's field".

A view to the east. Note the Barcomb hill behind the fort. The entrance is where the tree stands.

vindolanda 3
A view to the southeast. There is a small river to the east. The trees give away the groove. The tower is a reconstruction.

Vindolanda is (proto-English) Brigantes territory

Vindolanda is situated in the middle of Hadrian's Wall, circa 35 miles from Newcastle-upon-Tyne (east coast in the north of England) and circa 35 miles of Carlisle (north-west coast). Its proto-English origin situates it or near the old language border, or can be an indication that proto-English had already moved up westwards before the Roman era. Ptolemy (second century AD) names nine towns as belonging to the north-British Brigantes: mainly in Yorkshire, but also north-Yorkshire, Northumberland AND in Cumbria (west of the Pennines). The later kingdom of Northumbria would control the same region. Its capital was York. Simple coincidence? It's more likely that in this region, the east dominated the west since pre-Roman times and continued to do so afterwards.

The Brythonic name Brigantes is linguistically seemingly identical to the Germanic name Burgundes. It is likely that the Romans had Gallic (Brythonic) speaking interpreters. Therefore, the Brythonic version of the local names was the one that was written down.

Previously, etymologists were convinced that the Germanic verb 'bergen' (to save) is derived from 'berg' (hill, mountain). Villages were build on hilltops and protected by walls, hence the expression. But statistics showed that villages on hilltops are rather rare, if not exceptional. Most settlements are in valleys or low on the southern slope. Hilltops are simply too windy and too exposed. If one wants something to save for the winter in Switzerland, then one brings the thing down to the valley. Leaving it during the winter in the mountain is not a good idea.

Wars and unrest were always much more an exception than the rule. So, more and more etymologists think that bergen and berg have two wholly different origins.

OE Beorgan: from Proto-Germanic *bergana ("to protect, preserve"), from Proto-Indo-European *bhergh- ("to protect, preserve"). Akin to Old Saxon (gi)bergan ("to protect"), Old High German bergan, perkan "to protect, preserve", Old Norse bjarga ("to preserve"), Gothic bairgan.

If 'bergen' is the root then *Burgundaz meant originally 'ruled people', later expanded as 'citizens, burgh or bury people, villagers'. 'Burgh, brough' is derived as 'ruled, protected settlement'. 'Brough' is the metathesis version of 'burgh'. 'Beorgan' would then be a substrate word, because it is limited to the Germanic languages and a few neighbours (Lithuanian, Old Church Slavonic, Russian). 'Berg' (hill,mountain) on the other hand would be a PIE word, with a spread over many PIE languages, from Celtic up to Sanskrit. The similarity is consequently a coincidence.

It is possible to build from any word a PIE version with the rules of modern linguistics, even with words like anorak or kangaroo: words of a clear non-European origin. Such reconstructions are of course bogus, but remember: it is not because a pie word can be reconstructed that the word really existed in PIE.

In the Germanic world, nearly all villages were 'burghs', even the ones build on flat plains. The word had simply evolved to become a word for town, village or city (the latter two words came later and are of French origin). In Dutch and German berg means hill and -burg means town. This enforces the idea that a burgh is a protected place and that it has nothing to do with a location on a hill or slope. Nevertheless, the similarity of burgh and berg even fooled the Roman interpreters.  But the reality is that the word Brigantes is simply the written version of "Brugendaz", with 'r' and 'u' metathesis (inversion) and the softening of '*-undaz' into '*-entes', while the Gallo-Roman writers noted '-antes'. How is nowadays Burgh by Sands (Abavalla - the most western fort on Hadrian's Wall) pronounced? As Bruff by Sands! The same metathesis.

The Pennines separate northeast and northwest England. Road 66 is a passage through the Pennines. Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland used the road to surprise the English in 1314.
The road exists since pre-Roman times and the Romans built a fort on each side of the road over the Pennines to guard this sneaking passage which was so popular for reavers. Later, the Normans took over the pledge to guard both ends of road 66. Here we find the very reason why the Brigantes/Brugentes - or today Yorkshire people - (according to the Romans) controlled the west side of the Pennines too: Cumbria.

The Pennines are surprisingly high and rough.

The word Brigantes means in Brythonic literally hill people and that is explained as 'high ones' and not as villagers. Brigantes would refer or to 'hill-people', which is very unlikely given the barren Pennine range, or to a tribe who had a very high esteem of itself. The problem is that when you fail to uphold this self-attributed title, your enemies will mock you until the end of days. "High ones" can be very quickly transformed into "fallen ones". No tribe, to my knowledge, was so stupid to chose such a name. Therefore, it is very likely that the word Brigantes is a literal, though wrong, Brythonic interpretation of the local Brugendaz (='ruled/organized citizens') and that it had no 'hillbilly' meaning.

Which means that the Germanic word is the original one. Sadly, the Romans stuck to Brigantes.

Lincoln is a Germanic place-name too

Lincoln. The Roman name for Lincoln is well attested in the classical geographies. The name in Latin was Lindum Colonia (both are attested). "-coln"= colonia = a resting place for legionnaires.
In Welsh (or Brythonic) Lindum is generally supposed to mean “dark water” or Blackpool. The capital of Ireland Dublin means exactly the same: Dubh = dark, black + lin = pool. Here noun and adjective are reversed, which on itself is strange. Welsh: llyn=‘lake’ and Gaelic: linne=’pool’. '–dum' gives more difficulties. It could be '–dun'= ‘fort’, ‘castle’ or '–du'= ‘black’, ‘dark’. "-dun" is rejected because the Roman version would then be "-dunum". So, Lindum = Poolblack.
Lincoln was a place where several pre-Roman roads and a river crossed each other. That is the reason why the Roman Army build a resting place (colony) there for its legionnaires. The colony was easily accessible from many regions.

If one supposes that the name was of proto-English origin, then all is very simple: Linden or Lime (tree) is the meaning. Lindens can grow for hundreds of years. This counts as a landmark. The original word is linde (singular; it’s the same word in Dutch or German and a substrate word limited to the German languages). Linden is a (forgotten in modern English) plural. Lindum could be Latinised short for ‘next to where linden grow’. 

This is possible because:
(1) Many English place-names refer to trees (e.g. Sevenoaks).
(2) Linden was a very common tree in east England during neolithic times.
(3) Lindum means: linden (old plural) + um (for declension).

The Roman fort was centered on a 60 meter high hilltop at the end of a limestone ridge and allegedly overlooked a hypothetical (and dark) pool in the river Witham from the north.
So, the trees upon the slope were limes (trees) or linden. The hilltop itself was not occupied by civilians. Hilltops can be very cold and windy and not well suited for living upon. The hamlet (Linden) must have existed on the sheltered slope facing south before the Roman camp was build, above the hamlet, and overlooking it.
I use Lincoln to demonstrate that a proto-English etymology is very well possible.

Roman Lincoln

Map of Lincoln.