Sunday, 13 August 2017

Pagan Anglo-Saxons, Phonology, and Christian lexis 7

This is the seventh in a series of posts putting forward the following theory:

In southern Britain in the fifth century there was a significant Latin-speaking Christian British population. This is evidenced by pre-550, post-Settlement Latin loanwords in Old English, in particular Christian terminology. The loanwords are most likely to be due to this population having adopted Old English as their first language. This may be why there is also an important group of religious terms coined in Old English rather than borrowed from Latin. And it also explains why there are virtually no British loanwords in Old English.

VII. The dating framework

The framework for dating envisaged in this study incorporates two assumptions, one uncontroversial and the other requiring argument.

A. The first assumption is that there are broadly four kinds of Latin loanword in Old English, roughly corresponding to different historical periods and milieux. (Of course there are numerous items whose adoption, by the nature of their phonological structure, could be assigned to any two or several of these periods.)

1. The first kind of loanword belongs to Germanic and West Germanic. These are words which generally do not show late Latin sound changes, such as lenition of /t/, which have regular cognates in the other West Germanic languages, and which show certain West Germanic sound changes (such as doubling before yod) and all the primitive Old English sound changes that are applicable to their phonology. Because they are (West) Germanic borrowings, they are not strictly Old English Latin loanwords at all: they were thoroughly assimilated long before Old English developed, and they should not really be listed as examples of Latin loanwords. Examples are: casere, ceap, mydd, mynet, pytt, sicor, stræt, weall, win. These items can be dismissed from further consideration.

2. The second group of loanwords includes, typically, those discussed in previous posts, which on any account are later than the first group, for a number of reasons such as the presence of late Latin sound changes, and some early Old English sound changes, or being markedly Christian. Whether or not the dating proposed in this article is correct, they are subsequent to the first mentioned group (1) and antedate the ones included in group (3).

3. The third group of loanwords show late Latin or early Romance sound changes, including secondary lenition of original unvoiced stops /p, t, k/ to /v, ð, ɣ/, that place them in the sixth to seventh century at the earliest, and lack I-umlaut and palatalization of velars. They comprise both religious and secular terms. Examples: acofrian, cæfester, croh, cugule, finugle, moroð, prafost, ðerige (on this last, OED (revised) says that ‘the date at which it was borrowed from Latin into Old English is uncertain and disputed; conflicting accounts have been offered for its phonological form on the basis of either earlier or later borrowing’), seonoð, sigle ‘rye’. Perhaps also cumendre, cumpæder.

4. The fourth group of loanwords show none or few of the late Latin / early Romance sound changes, apart from those that left a lasting mark on the pronunciation of ecclesiastical Latin; the words are lightly accommodated to Old English phonology, and none of the major characteristic Primitive Old English sound changes are shown. Several of these words have been subject to some significant later Primitive Old English changes, most notably the reduction of unstressed vowels (a, u) to e; however medial reduced unstressed vowels are not for the most part subject to syncope. There are a large number of such words. Examples include: albe, altare, calend, calic, candel, canonic, cantic, capitol, cleric / cleroc, coc, diacon, fæcele, fifele, font, grad, lent, mil, non, offrian, pæll, papa, predician, regol, sacc, saltere, sealm, titol, trifulian, ymnere.

B. The second assumption is that groups (2), (3), and (4), fit into early Anglo-Saxon history in such a way that the third and fourth group belong for the most part to the period immediately following the Augustinian mission and therefore the second group fall at an earlier period.

Group 3 can be roughly dated from the way they reflect sixth to seventh century Gallo-Romance sound changes, and the assumption would be that these are loanwords arising from increasing cultural contact with Francia during the Augustinian era, the late sixth century and the major part of the seventh century. They include some ecclesiastical items, notably seonoð.

Group 4 contains many words connected with ecclesiastical matters; most of them are insider terms, i.e. terms that outsiders would have no reason to acquire, since they refer to details of religious organization and worship. On the other hand, most of them are terms essential to the daily running of a church once it has been established. It would seem reasonable to assume that they were acquired in Old English during the period after the arrival of Augustine and his followers, i.e. the sixth century. At such a time, for example, the Pope would be referred to, deacons and other clerics would be appointed, ritual involving such items as canons, canticles, and candles, would be instituted, and the activities of preaching and making an offering would become familiar.

The grounding of these two sets of words in the period around 600 in the circumstances of the Augustinian mission means that the words in Group 2 logically belong to an earlier, pre-Augustinian period. As has already been argued, the religious orientation of many of them, and the absence of West Germanic cognates of several, rule out borrowing during the continental West Germanic period of history.

This framework means that the set of basic ecclesiastical terms found in Group 4 that one would expect to have come into English use in the century after the Augustinian mission fall into that chronological slot, as do the various names of Latin and other origin that would have been adopted by English speakers at this time. Furthermore, the major phonotactic changes of Primitive Old English, and especially those involving syllabic structure, such as syncope, contraction, and the shortening of unstressed long vowels, are assumed to have been complete by about 600. Hence compounds formed at this time or afterwards retain essentially the same shape until later Old English, and compounds showing significant reduction of either element are to be referred to an earlier period.

It might also provide an explanation for the doublets we find among the Latin loanwords in Old English.  Among these are:

cellendre and coliandre
cyrfette and cucurbite
leahtroc and lactuca
lempedu and lamprede
spynge and sponge
tæfl and tabule
teped and tæpped, tæppet

It makes sense to assume that most of the ‘Latinate’ borrowings occurred in a flood at the time of the Conversion, when Latin speakers assumed cultural dominance, and that, as part of that flood of borrowings, some duplicates of earlier borrowings of the same Latin words were acquired; or in some cases, perhaps, the earlier loanword was recognized as the reflex of the Latin word and refashioned to resemble it more closely.

An alternative framework.

We could locate all three groups of loanwords after the Augustinian mission, on the assumption that Christian loanwords could only have appeared at this time. There are two difficulties with this framework.

Firstly, it is difficult to explain why, after the Conversion, two such very different kinds of loanword are found. Why do some basic Christian terms have a very assimilated Old English form while others have forms close to ecclesiastical Latin? You would expect all the basic terms to be borrowed at around the same stage in English phonological development, once the Church began to take root within the English-speaking community. One would be forced to assume that the words of Group 4 did not appear until a century or so after the Conversion. But why should such a long time lag have occurred?

Secondly, and more seriously: it places the main primitive Old English sound changes, and especially I-umlaut, impossibly late. The next post returns to this subject.

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