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 From Low German to Celtic to French to English

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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: From Low German to Celtic to French to English   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 16:12

On another site there is some debate on Anglo/Saxon being a Low German language, well mainly between German contributors on High vs Low German really, and therefore English being a Germanic Language. There is also some talk about what is termed 'Celticised English' which I hadn't heard before, so this link was posted in explanation.

It is from a talk given by a German Linguist, Prof. Theo Vennemann, back in 2005. He sounds a bit pompous and I have some issues with some of his historical data but overall it is an interesting read. Although, I don't know enough about languages to judge how accurate this assessment/theory is and I'd be very interested in everyone's opinion on the piece.


English is a substratally Celticized
(and thereby indirectly Semiticized),
superstratally Romanized
Low German dialect.
A German linguist’s footnote:
The German-speaking peoples may be proud that a
marginal dialect of their language has advanced to
the status of the first universal
lingua franca
in
world history.

http://www.rotary-muenchen.de/2005-2006/theo-vennemann.pdf
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: From Low German to Celtic to French to English   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 17:21

He claims that a specific similarity between Celtic languages and Semitic languages in the instance of what he calls "external possessiveness" proves a common source for both or at least a sufficient commonality for one to absorb elements of the other, and on this basis makes his closing statement that you quote above. This would be credible if other crucial similarities could also be identified, notably ones which are not shared by Germanic languages. However he fails to do so, and this is not surprising since superficial similarities can be found not only between Semitic languages and Celtic, but between Celtic and Germanic, and indeed Germanic and Semitic, both in terms of phonetic and grammatic overlaps.

This is a classic case of the person who, having noticed one small similarity, then runs with it as "proof" that this demonstrates a common origin for absolutely everything related to the element that apparently is similar between two otherwise distinct entities, in this case two language groups. It is a notorious trap which is all the easier to fall into the further back in time one cares to go when plucking such instances out. And nor does he help rescue himself from this trap when he fails to address how or why Celtic as it evolved and emerged in a Western European setting should adopt and even integrate to a fundamental level any elements of Semitic speech.

He claims in his address to the Rotary Club that "unfortunately" he could not keep everyone there until midnight while he discussed this issue. He overcompensates somewhat by seemingly not discussing it at all, simply asserting it as fact.

I have to say that his views are not in accord with most linguistic theory I have read, including much written after the year in which this speech was delivered.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: From Low German to Celtic to French to English   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 17:44

He also fails to understand the "sympathetic dative", this crucial element common "to all Indo-European" languages but which is "absent" from Celtic and therefore now also from English.

For one thing it is alive and well in Irish, which everyone would agree I assume is a Celtic language. For another it is also something that is a rather crucial grammatical device used to indicate when a person can be deemed "in possession of" something but not in a legal sense or in the sense that they can be said to own it exclusively. In other words it implies possession without being genitive, a necessity that every language he mentions in his speech has had reason to accommodate. It is used in English, contrary to what he says, every time someone refers to "The Heimlich Manouevre", "The Ipcress Files" etc when the person as specified in the term occupies the target of any sentence construct using the dative case.
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Arwe Rheged
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PostSubject: Re: From Low German to Celtic to French to English   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 11:22

To my mind, his argument seemed a little naive at times, but there was some good stuff in there.  For example, he's probably right to say that English does indeed have a 'Celtic' (by which he really means Brittonic) substrate.  The early English tongues were a ragbag of localised dialects and there is a strong suspicion that the north Northumbrian variant overlays a pre-exisiting Brittonic dialect line.  Given that the notion of wholesale ethnic replacement in the fifth and sixth century is now generally confined to the fevered imaginings of folk who did their school history before the 1980s and to folk who flood Amazon with self-published burblings about the Real King Arthur and given also the evidence for substantial British survival in Northumbria, such a conclusion should surprise no-one.

However, that substrate may have affected English indirectly rather than directlly.  The question of loan words is one area which excites a lot of debate - as the article says, there are very few Celtic loan words in English.  However, what the article doesn't state (and what most other observers of the same phenomenon don't state either) is that it has never been demonstrated that the Celts of post Roman Britain actually still spoke Brittonic.  There is, as far as I am aware, only one example from the entire four centuries of Roman domination in Britain of a document apparently written in British.  Everything else is written in Latin and whilst there are various ways to explain this away, we have to be alive to the possibility that, as in Gaul, what the Germanic incomers of the fifth century found in the wealthy, lowland parts of Britannia at least was a population speaking a form of Latin.

The army - concentrated in the military zone in the north of the Diocese - also spoke a form of low Latin and whilst British must have survived in order to have become Welsh, Cornish and Cumbric, we might be better seeing British as a first language as a feature of the less Romanised* parts of the north and west.

If this is correct, then English may have been affected less by 'pure' Celtic and more by a regional Latin patois which had an existing Celtic substrate.

Regards,

AR

* A phrase loaded with dangerous assumptions, but used here simply to mean 'not the area dominated by the villas and the towns'
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: From Low German to Celtic to French to English   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 12:01

He shies away from calling it "Brittonic" because of the other claim he makes that "Celtic" was influenced strongly by "Semitic" and therefore doesn't want to highlight just how unique a British version may have become.

It is also, as you say, incredibly näive of him to make such a claim on any language's behalf, least of all one he purposefully misidentifies in this way. To fit the timescale he infers he should at least be referring anyway to what is now called Proto-Semitic (of which we have only assumptions regarding vocabulary and grammar based on the six or seven major diversions this language group later took). He should also be reticent about calling any language "Celtic", even British. It is more normal these days to avoid the term when discussing assumed Celtic root languages devolved from an original Indo-European stem. The old assumption that a pre-Roman and pre-Germanic common language prevailed in Europe has long been challenged on the basis that it pandered more to 19th century notions of nationhood than it was ever based on concrete examples, be they real or even just demonstrable through informed inference.

In summary he has falsely identified not one but three languages in order to pursue his theory. A speech that may have gone down well in the Rotary Club but which I fear would have been torn to metaphorical shreds (and probably real shreds in some cases) had it been made to linguists.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: From Low German to Celtic to French to English   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 14:57

@nordmann wrote:

In summary he has falsely identified not one but three languages in order to pursue his theory. A speech that may have gone down well in the Rotary Club but which I fear would have been torn to metaphorical shreds (and probably real shreds in some cases) had it been made to linguists.

Yes, I did a bit of googling and Vennemann's work does seem to be controversial in the linguistic world, unsurprisingly.

These are his main theories listed on Wiki

Vennemann's controversial claims about the prehistory of European languages include the following:



  • Numerous toponyms that are traditionally considered as Indo-European by virtue of their Indo-European head words are instead names that have been adapted to Indo-European languages through the addition of a suffix.


  • Punic, the Semitic language spoken in classical Carthage, is a superstratum of the Germanic languages. According to Vennemann, Carthaginians colonized the North Sea region between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC; this is evidenced by numerous Semitic loan words in the Germanic languages, as well as structural features such as strong verbs, and similarities between Norse religion and Semitic religion. This theory replaces his older theory of an unknown Semitic substrate language he called "Atlantidic" or "Semitidic".




  • The Germanic sound shift is dated to the 6th to 3rd centuries BC, as evidenced by the fact that some presumed Punic loan words participated in it, while others did not.


Thanks for your interesting input and ideas Nordmann and AR.
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