How old is English?


[1] 1919-1994.


Two languages emerge in Britain

Around 8000 BC, Azelian tribes who originated from southern France or northern Spain, colonized most of Doggerland (the North Sea) and Britain. Only the very north of Doggerland was (because of the steadily rising water) occupied by northern Maglemosians. They remained on what became rapidly an island for about 2000 years. The presence of a northern Maglemosian language is required because of the occurrence of the form 'are' of the verb 'to be'. This form is found only in the modern Scandinavian countries, in modern Britain and in one of the oldest PIE languages - the now extinct Hittite language. We think that the 'are' form is very old PIE indeed since it occurs only on the periphery of Europe.

We assume that northern Maglemosian was a strongly divergent dialect of Maglemosian. We suppose that mainstream Maglemosians could barely understand northern Maglemosian. As agriculture advanced, Maglemosian changed into proto-Germanic. Northern Maglemosian resisted longer but eventually changed into proto-Germanic too. However, it kept some archaic features of PIE, which were present earlier in Maglemosian, such as the 'are' form of 'to be'. The northern variant of proto-Germanic was the product of a secondary creolization.

Filling North Sea
Migrations of Doggerland people when the sea level rose.

When the ice melted for the last time at the beginning of the Holocene (± 8000 BC) the sea level rose. Azelian and northern Maglemosian people, who lived on the North Sea plain, were eventually forced to move to higher ground: to the modern coastal regions of the North Sea. Some of them settled in the east of Britain.

South North Sea Azelians moved more to the south, to the Low Countries and southeast Britain. Much later, their language would be replaced by proto-Germanic with a 'sind' form of 'to be' and gave birth to a different sort of Germanic, now known as
coastal Germanic or Ingvaeonic Germanic.

Maglemosian (8000-5000 BC) probably originated from the regions of the Black Sea and might have been a language evolution of the ancestor of PIE, mixed with non-PIE substrate words. PIE emanated from the shores of the Black Sea.

The northern Maglemosians (8000-4000 BC) remained on a northerly latitude. A number of them settled in the northeast of England and in the Midlands. Their language would change later into Scandi-proto-English.

Azelian language zone
Language situation in 6000 BC. British northern Maglemosian slowly diversified from Scandinavian Maglemosian. The coming of agriculture and proto-Germanic will change all these languages.

Maurits Gysseling [1], a twentieth century Belgian linguist and professor, published a paper proposing a very ancient language for Holland and Belgium which was neither German nor Brythonic. He based his hypothesis upon the study of ancient place names in Holland and Belgium. Like many other linguists he studied the Italic features in the Dutch language, not so much in words but in the pronunciation of long vowels. Proto-germanic ceolized differently whether it settled upon Maglemosian lands or upon Azelian lands.
Note that proto-Germanic came earlier than proto-Brythonic.

The Azelian region stretched from the Pyrenees up to the North Sea. Azelian was a non-PIE, pre-agricultural language. Around 5000 BC, in the north, Azelian came under pressure from neighbouring proto-Germanic, the new agricultural language of the north. The Germanic branch of PIE was introduced together with agriculture around 5000BC, first in the north (Moselle valley / Luxembourg). Several centuries later the Occitan-Roman (Italic) branch of PIE was introduced in the south of Europe (east Italy). The south-east Azelians adopted agriculture from the Occitan-Roman speakers and took over in the process their language. In this region, the local variant of Azelian creolized into Ligurian, now a PIE language.

Celtic expansion1
The situation at the start of the Bronze Age. Coastal Germanic had roots in Azelian.
The Basque zone on the picture is according to the most recent hypothesis.

Brythonic creolized (primary creolization) in the southwest of Portugal, moved to the north along the coast to reach the northwest of Spain and all Atlantic coasts in the north, including west Britain. Brythonic developed probably fully on the French Atlantic coast and in Brittany, from where it was re-exported back, during the Celtic period, to the north of Spain and Portugal (language feedback).

The Brythonic speakers settled first on the Atlantic coasts and from there began their slow migration inland. At the same time, Germanic speaking farmers moved to the sea. Archaeology confirms that central France was very late in adopting agriculture.

Slowly the Azelian language around the North Sea coasts and down to the Seine river faded out in favour of Germanic. In 'France', south of the Seine, it was gradually replaced by Brythonic, where it became para-Brythonic. We hypothesize that Para-Brythonic was a mixed language, based upon Brythonic but with Azelian, Italic, Occitan and abundantly Germanic words. Compare this with modern English, a language based upon Germanic, but with half its vocabulary consisting of foreign, mainly French words. The reason for that mix is that central France was the last region to be reached by the farmers. Para-Brythonic was the result of a secondary creolization of Brythonic by the former Azelian speakers in central Gaul, Switzerland and a tiny part of northern Italy (south slopes of the Alps). 'Pure' Brythonic, the primary creolization was exported to Britain. In Gaul it became gradually confined to Brittany (Bretagne).

Germanic and Brythonic grew toward each other, eventually squeezing out Azelian completely. The process needed an approximate 1000 years. The Germanic language probably reached its most southern expansion in northern France around 2000 BC. Basque was gradually pushed to the southwest. We believe that it was also around 2000 BC, at the height of the Bronze Age, that place-names ceased to be varying landscape descriptions and became much more fixed, real names.

Azelian expansion 2000-1000 BC
Language situation as we hypothesise around 50 BC

Para-Brythonic gradually re-expanded to the north in France, pushing Germanic back to the north. By the time Julius Caesar arrived, the language border had reached the Somme region. An etymological study of ancient place names to the north of Paris revealed a German origin for many of them.

Only the south (the Côte d'Azur) kept its Ligurian language (now a part of Occitan) for a longer time. Occitan expanded further to the west and pushed Brythonic back to the northwest. Basque lost gradually most of its territory.

Note also the expansion of Germanic to almost to Mediterranean coast. This region is called in French: Alpes Maritimes and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. It is with these Germanic speaking tribes that Hannnibal had so much trouble. They would keep their factual autonomy until well within the Roman Empire.

The English and Dutch languages (including Frisian) are called coastal Germanic. Their preceding or substrate language was Azelian, not Maglemosian as in Germany. The Azelian background of coastal Germanic is responsible for the introduction of many substrate words in proto-Germanic such as 'dune', 'ice' and more.

The Veneti in South Brittanny were Germanic speaking skippers and merchants from the English Channel. They were a mixed people of sailors, transporting merchandise from Britain to Bordigala (Bordeaux) and vice versa. From Bordigala the goods were further transported, partially over land, to the Mediterranean coast and from there to Rome, Greece, etc. Their settlement in Brittanny functioned as a sort of intermediate station where they could safely rest and get fresh supplies.

Bordigala was probably originally called Bordiwala = board, edge of the Welsh, Gauls. The word 'bord' is undoubtedly and exclusively Germanic. Thus, the name was given by sailors who came from the north, the English Channel region. This leads to the conclusion that the name of Bordeaux is of Germanic origin!