List of principal questions:

1. Outer history

1.1.Pre-Germanic history of Britain. The Celts

1.2. Anglo-Saxon civilization

1.3. Introduction of Christianity

1.4. Principal written records

2.1. Dialectical classification

2.2. The dialects in Old English

2.3 Old English written records

3. Inner history

3.1. Phonetics

3.2. Spelling

3.3. Grammar

3.4. Vocabulary




1. R.V. Reznik, T.C. Sorokina, I.V. Reznik A History of the English language. M., 2003.

2. T.A. Rastorguyeva History of English. M., 1983.

3. А.И. Смирницкий Лекции по истории английского языка. М., 2000.

4. К. Бруннер История английского языка. Т.1 М., 2001.

5. И. Чахоян, Л. Иванова, Т. Беляева. История английского языка. СПб., 1998.


Outer history

Pre-Germanic history of Britain

The Celts


Before Germanic invasion, Celtic tribes inhabited British Isles. The first Celtic comers were the Gaels, but the Brythons arrived some two centuries later and pushed the Gaels to Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall taking possession of the south and east. Then, after a considerable lapse of time somewhere about the 1 st century B.C. the most powerful tribe, the Belgae, claimed possession of south-east while part of the Brythons was pushed on to Wales though the rest stayed in what is England today, and probably gave there name to the whole country. Thus the whole of Britain was occupied by the Celts who merged with the Picts and Scots, as well as with the Alpine part of the population; the latter predominantly in the West while the rest of the British Isles became distinctly Celtic in language and the structure of the society. The Gaelic form of the Celtic dialects was spoken in Caledonia (modern Scotland) and Ireland, the Bretonic form in England and Wales. The social unit of the Celts, the clans were united into large kinship groups, and those into tribes. The clan was the main economic unit, the main organizational unit for the basic activities.

The Celts came to Britain in three waves. Economically and socially the Celts were a tribal society made up of kins, kinship groups, clans and tribes. They practiced a primitive agriculture and carried on trade with Celtic Gaul. The Celts created the great Iron cultures. The Romans invaded the Celts partially, so in Ireland and Scotland, Iron Age culture continued throughout the Roman and Anglo-Saxon conquest.

The Celtic tribes started to populate Britain in about 500 B.C. The Main wave of Celtic immigration began in about 300 B.C., from France and Brittany; they brought the so-called sophisticated La Tene culture to Britain. These people settled as miners and traders in southern part of Britain and as horse-breeders and cattle ranchers in the Highlands. In there farming they used a light plough that merely scratched the surface of their fields so they had to plough for the second time to deepen the furrow. The introduction of the iron axe opened up new possibilities; woods could be cleared and more areas put under cultivation.

A third wave of Celtic people came into southeast of Britain after 100 B.C. and they were Belgае who moved to Britain before the advancing Romans of Gaul. With arrival of the Belgic tribes to Britain the heavy plough was introduced, drawn by oxen, consequently the slopes of downs were used only as pastures, and fertile valleys were cleared from forests and the south east produced enough grain and food. It was a primitive patriarchal society based on common ownership of land. Afterwards the primitive tillage started to improve and the social differentiation began to develop. All these conditions provided the development of the class distinctions, it helped the tribal chiefs to use the labour of the semi-dependent native population. Alongside with the accumulation of wealth the heads of clans and tribes started to use military forces to rob other tribes.

Fortresses were built on the tops of the hills, in fact they were tribal centers, and the first urban settlements began to appear in the wealthier south east. Actually they were the settlements with large groups of wattle-and-clay houses encircled by a sort of fortified fence. Among the first mentioned Celtic urban settlements are such as Verulamium, Camulodunum, Londinium.

At that time some continental Celts of Gaul who traded with British Celts came over to Britain and settled in Kent contributing to the civilization of that part of the island, teaching the local population some useful arts.

The British craftsmen perfected their skill mostly in bronze work and they tried to express their culture in circular shapes on weapons, vases, domestic utensils, etc.

The Celts were good warriors. The most popular of the Celtic armaments were war-chariots, which terrified the Celtic enemies and made them run. The war-chariots were reliably to hold one warrior standing up to drive and two more to do the fighting.

The war-chariot itself was a destructive force, the well-trained horses trampling down the enemy and the wheels fixed with sharp knives or swords, rotating with the wheel movement, a grave menace to everything living that chanted to be in the way.

The first millennium B.C. was the period of Celtic migration and expansion. Traces of the Celtic civilization are still found all over Europe. Celtic languages were widespread almost all over Europe, later they were absorbed by other Indo-European languages. The Gaelic branch has survived as Irish (or Erse) in Ireland, has expanded to Scotland as Scotch-Gaelic of the Highlands and is still spoken by a few thousand people on the Isle of Man (the Manx language). The Brittonic branch is represented by Kymric or Welsh in Modern Wales and by Breton or Amorican spoken by over a million people in France (in the area called Bretagne or Brittany, where the Celts came as emigrants from Britain in the 5 th century), another Britonic dialect in Britain, Cornish, was spoken in Cornwall until the end of the 8th century.



As we have already said, the forefathers of the English nation belonged to the western subdivision of old Germanic tribes, and the dialects they spoke later lay the foundation of English national language.

The history of the English language begins in the fifth century AD, when the ruthless and barbaric Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes and Frisians, who up to that time had lived in Western Europe between the Elbe and the Rhine, started their invasion of the British Isles.

At the time of invasion Britain was inhabited by the so-called “Romanized Celts”, that is, Celts who lived under the Roman rule for over four centuries and who had acquired Roman culture and ways of life and whose language had undergone certain changes mainly in the form of borrowings from the Latin language.

The Celtic tribes, whose languages, the same as Germanic belonged to the Indo-European language family, were at one time among its most numerous representatives. At the beginning of our era the Celts could be found on the territories of the present-day Spain, Great Britain, Western Germany and Northern Italy. Before that they had been known to reach even Greece and Asia Minor. But under the steady attacks of Italic and Germanic tribes the Celts had to retreat, so that in the areas where they were once dominant they have left but the scantiest trace of their presence.

The Celts who first came to Britain gradually spread to Ireland, Scotland and Isle of Man. Their languages are represented in modern times by Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. A later wave of Celtic tribes, having occupied for some centuries the central part of England, was driven westwards by Germanic invaders, and their modern language representatives are Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

The Romans invaded Britannia as it was then called in 55 – 54 BC when the troops of Julius Caesar and others conquered the isles. No centralized government was formed, instead there existed petty principalities under the control of local landlords. In 407 AD, with the departure of the last Roman emissary Constantine hostilities among the native tribes in Britain began anew. To normalize the situation the local chieftains appealed to influential Germanic tribes who lived on the continent inviting them to come to their assistance, and in 449 the Germanic troops led by Hengest and Horsa landed in Britain.

The Roman occupation of Britain left little mark on its future. Most of what the Romans did perished after they left, so it is with the Germanic tribes that the history of England truly begins.

The invaders, or Barbarians, as they were generally called, who came to the British Isles were representatives of a by far inferior civilization than the Romans. A bulk of the invaders came from the most backward and primitive of the Germanic tribes. They were an agricultural rather than a pastoral people. Their tribal organization was rapidly disintegrating.

The invaders came to Britain in hosts consisting not only of warriors but also including laborers, women and children. They plundered the country, took possession of almost all the fertile land there and partly exterminated, and partly drove away the native population to the less inhabited mountainous parts of the country – Cornwall, Wales, Scotland. The rest of the natives became slaves to the conquerors.

In view of the historical facts mentioned above it is quite clear why the language of the invaders underwent so few changes under the influence of the Celtic tongue as almost no normal intercourse between the invaded and invaders was possible, the latter being very few and far below socially.

It should be noted that nowadays the remnants of the Celtic group of languages face the threat of complete disappearance unable to survive in the competition with English. Cornish became extinct already in the 18th century, Manx – after the Second World War. Scottish Gaelic is spoken only in the Highlands by about 75 thousand people, Irish – by half a million, the figures showing a steady declining tendency, and their absolute majority of those speaking these languages are bilingual, English being no less familiar to them than their former native tongue. Although in recent years a certain revival of nationalist sentiments helped to somewhat arrest the decline, many linguists fear the inevitable disappearance of the whole branch of the Indo-European language family.

We have very little indirect evidence about the beginning of the Old English period – 5th – 7th centuries. The first written records were dated as far back as the beginning of the 8th century that is why the 5th – 7th centuries are generally referred to as “pre-written period”.

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