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and the Gaelic, and continues to be the speech of considerable sections of our people : but it has not exercised on the language of the mass of the nation any appreciable influence. The tongues with which we are at present concerned are embraced in two other European groups: the Gothic, and the Classical or GræcoRoman.
The Gothic Languages of the continent are distributable into two stocks or main branches, the Germanic or Teutonic, and the Scandinavian. Those of the former branch presenting two distinct types, all the Gothic Languages may be said to fall into three great families : and these are distinguished from each other by well-marked characteristics. The First family comprehends those tongues which were used by the tribes occupying the hilly regions of Southern Germany, and which thence have been called High-German. It is one of these that has been developed into the standard German: but our mother-tongue was not among them. The Second family was the Scandinavian, the farthest north of the three. Its principal member still exists with little change in the Icelandic, out of which have grown up the modern Swedish and Danish. The Norwegians and Danes, by whom our blood and speech have been to a small degree affected, were Scandinavians. Thirdly, the name of Low-German has been given to the Gothic languages which were spoken in the plains of Northern Germany, and of which, in modern times, the leading example is the Dutch. The Anglo-Saxon, in all its varieties, was essentially a Low-German tongue. As being such, it is more nearly allied to the High-German than it is to the Scandinavian.
The Classical group of European Tongues embraced, in ancient times, the Greek and the Latin. From the latter of these have flowed three modern languages : the Italian; the Spanish, with its variety the Portuguese; and the French, which, as we learned in our literary survey, was long broken up provincially into two dialects. The French elements of our speech come from the dialect of Northern France, which has since passed into the standard French language.
2. According to the old traditions reported by our historians, the settlers who founded the Anglo-Saxon race in England belonged to three Gothic tribes, whose continental seats had lain along the North Sea, and on the Southern shores of the Baltic.
The Jutes or South Jutlanders were the first invaders, but by far the least numerous. They are said to have hardly occupied more than the county of Kent, and were speedily lost among the more powerful colonies that followed. Accordingly, their history is in every view unimportant.
and that of the Rhine.
Next came, in succession, several large bodies of Saxons. They gradually filled the southern districts of England, between course of the rivers Thames and Severn to the north and north
on the south, Kent on the east, and the west; passing northward also, in their latest migrations, considerably beyond the valley of the Thames. Both the lineage of our Saxons, and their place on the continent, have always been matto several tribes, who spread themselves widely through Germany, and would seem to have been, in part at least, united by confederacy only, not closely by blood. The utmost assertion we can from some part of the seacoast between the mouth of the Eyder
The third tribe of invaders were the Angles or Engle, who are described as having been very numerous, and who, in the end, gave their name to the whole country. The territory which they seized extended northward from the north border of the Saxons to the Frith of Forth ; and it embraced within that range all the provinces, both English and Scottish, to the east of those which were still for a time held by the Cymric Celts. They are usually said to have emigrated from the small district of Anglen, which lies in the west of the modern duchy of Schleswig. Some recent antiquaries have endeavoured to throw
discredit on all the particulars of this ancient story. It does bear one difficulty on the face of it. So narrow a tract as Anglen cannot well have furnished the large body of emigrants which it is said to have poured into England; hardly even if it was left unpeopled, as Bede asserts it to have been for generations afterwards. But, although the doubts thus raised were to be confirmed, our real knowledge of our ancestors would remain as it was, neither diminished nor increased.
The truth is, that very little light is thrown on the origin or character of the Anglo-Saxon tongue, by the venerable history which is perpetuated in its name. When we search for points of comparison among the old Gothic tongues of the continent, we find none such that is attributed to any nation called Angles. As to those, again, that were spoken by the continental Saxons in their extensive wanderings, none has been preserved that comes very close to our insular mother-tongue; excepting only that which our antiquaries at present call the old Saxon : and of it the surviving monuments are neither numerous
nor ancient enough to afford a solid foundation for comparison.
The most instructive fact which has been discovered is this, Of all the old Gothic tongues that are tolerably well known, that which the Anglo-Saxon resembles most nearly is the Old Frisic, a Low-German dialect, which was once spoken extensively between the Rhine and the Elbe, and is the parent of the Modern. Dutch. The Frisic, then, or a Low-German dialect very like it, must have been in use among the mass of our Teutonic invaders, by whatever names they may have called themselves, or been known by the imperfectly informed historians who lived soon after they crossed into our island.
3. Before the battle of Hastings, the Anglo-Saxon tongue had been spoken in England for at least six hundred years. During that period, it cannot but have undergone many changes. Further, those who imported it belonged, almost certainly, to different Low-German tribes; and their descendants, who inhabited our island, were long divided into several hostile nations. Therefore there must have been dialectic varieties in the several regions of their British territory.
The history, both of our language and of its founders, would be pertinently illustrated by any information that could be gained, regarding either those successive changes, or those contemporaneous local varieties. But of the former we know nothing whatever, and of the latter not very much. The evidence as to both was destroyed by circumstances emerging in the course of the
The long conflict between the several states usually known as the Heptarchy, was brought to a close, early in the ninth century, by the subjection of all of them to the kings of Wessex, or the Land of the West Saxons, whose hereditary realm may be said to have had its centre in Berkshire and Hants. Accordingly, the speech of the Saxons or Southern Anglo-Teutons, with any peculiarities it have had in Wessex, came to be the ruling language, both of government, and of such literature as was to be found. The use of it, as the instrument of literary communication, was extended and permanently confirmed by the example and influence of Alfred, himself a native of Berks.
Now, our Anglo-Saxon remains, with very few exceptions, are of the age of Alfred, or less ancient; and such as are more recent than his time, were naturally, in most cases, composed in the dialect which he had made classical. Nor is this all. Our scanty remains of an older time, even when they must have been first written in other dialects, (as in the case of Cædmon, who was a North Anglian,) have reached us only in manuscripts of more recent date ; and in these the copyists have probably modernized not a little, and have certainly left few traces of local peculiarities deviating from those of Wessex. Indeed, when we consider that our oldest manuscripts are not nearly so old as the time of Alfred, we can hardly believe that we possess even the works of his time, free from all alterations intended to accommodate them to more modern fashions of speech.
In spite of these impediments, however, we do possess some evidence of dialectic differences. It is gathered, in the first instance, from a few ecclesiastical manuscripts written in the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria, which extended from the Humber to the Scottish Friths; and its results are confirmed by a comparison with relics of the middle ages exhibiting dialectic varieties, and by an examination of the modern dialects spoken in the North of England. Inferences may
be founded also on the names of places; although, for several reasons, these must be used with
great caution. *
We are thus entitled to assert that all the local varieties of the Anglo-Saxon were referable to the one or the other of two leading Dialects, a Northern and a Southern. The Anglian or Northumbrian dialect, while possessing the Low-German character in all essentials, was unlike the Southern or Saxon in several minor features, some of which, though not many, were distinctively Scandinavian.
Whence these Scandinavian features were derived, is a disputed question among our philologers. Some have attributed them wholly to the many settlements which, in the later AngloSaxon times, the Danes effected in the north-east of England. One of the proofs by which this theory is supported is furnished by the names of places. Many of these, still preserved, indicate unequivocally the presence of the Danes in the North-Eastern counties of England as far southward as the Wash of Lincoln, and thence a short way to the south-west; while names of the same origin stretch westward into Westmoreland and Cumberland, districts, however, in which the British Celts long kept their ground. It is also a curious fact, that the Scandinavian features are more decided in the more recent Anglian manuscripts than in those that are older. +
Other scholars find, in the Scandinavian features, a confirmation of the tradition which brought the Angles from a land bordering closely on Scandinavia. If this was their old abode, their Low
* One very interesting Northumbrian monument, which has now been fully deciphered, is the inscription engraved on an ancient cross, which stands, at this day, in the manse-garden at Ruthwell in Dumfries-shire.
+ Garnett: in the Transactions of the Philological Society : Vol. II. German tongue may naturally have been tinctured by some Norse peculiarities, * It is admitted, indeed, that the territorial boundaries of the two leading dialects cannot be exactly identified with those which the current history assigns as having separated the Angles and the Saxons. The Northern dialect has not been traced satisfactorily over the whole of the Anglian ground. But it is maintained that this fact has been caused by those political changes, which speedily separated the most southerly sections of the Angles from their Northumbrian brethren, and subjected them in all respects to Saxon influence; that, notwithstanding, Anglian elements are still traceable in dialects spoken as far south as the Thames; and that these can be shown to have prevailed yet more extensively in the same provinces during the middle ages.
It may be worth while to remark, that the two theories are not properly contradictory of each other. The dialect of the Angles may have been in some points Scandinavian; and the Danes may afterwards have ingrafted on it other peculiarities of the same sort.
4. Leaving this question, however, as undecided, we ought to remember, also, that, although the two dialects only are traceable in our relics of the Anglo-Saxon period, dialectic varieties much more numerous showed themselves in no long time after the Norman conquest. A writer of the fourteenth century asserts peremptorily, that there were then spoken in England three dialects, a Southern, a Midland, and a Northern. Some such division had probably arisen much earlier; and several of our philologers insist on distributing our mediæval dialects into a still larger number of
groups. The consideration of dialect, indeed, presents a mine of curious inquiry, which might be worked along the whole history of our language. But the vein has been little more than opened by our philological antiquaries : and the interesting speculations they have proposed are still too fragmentary, as well as too special, to be useful to us in these elementary studies.
We may put ourselves, however, before passing onward to observe the decay of our mother-tongue, one question which some of our scholars have endeavoured to answer. Which of the dialects of the Anglo-Saxon is specifically the parent of the English Language?
* Rask, himself a Dane, is of opinion, not only that his countrymen did not corrupt our tongue, but that we corrupted theirs. The Danish departs further from its Icelandic root than the Swedish does; and the critic dates the deviation from the establishment of Canute's throne in England.