There is a widely held theory that when the Romans left England in the 5th century AD the island was defenceless against Anglo-Saxon invading armies. In the south and east the Britons were defeated in battle and the Anglo-Saxons established their own kingdoms. They brought their Germanic languages with them -Old English- which became dominant in the new kingdoms and ultimately in Britain as a whole. Only Wales and Cornwall were able to retain their Celtic language and culture.

However, a recent history programme on the BBC disputes this theory. They claim there is no evidence of a border between Celtic and Anglo-Saxon speaking regions, nor of battles along such a border in the 5th century. Instead they claim that Wales and Cornwall were regions in the west that were involved in trade with France and Spain. Whereas the south and east of England had contacts around the North Sea with Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Norway. There was trade, and perhaps some migration of settlers, but certainly no conquest by invading Anglo-Saxon armies.

Assuming that the theory of the BBC is correct, why is it that the common people (farmers, fishermen, villagers) in the south and east of England stopped speaking the Celtic language of their ancestors and instead switched to Old English, the language of a relatively small group of newcomers?

  • 1
    Interesting question, but perhaps more suited to the History forum? Jun 29, 2022 at 7:37
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    It depends how far to the West you go. The further you go the further you are removed from the dominant use of Old and Middle English. Cornish, Welsh, and Gaelic were all well established and widely spoken up until the early 18th century at which point Cornish disappeared with the increasing interaction between fishing and mining interests. Welsh and Gaelic survive. Language follows trade as can be seen in the British and French empires.
    – Greybeard
    Jun 29, 2022 at 9:26
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    The actual fact is that people -- even in Britain -- can learn and speak more than one language. Which one they speak in a given context is what changes, and that can change very fast. Language spread does not mean population spread; it's economic, not martial. Also, a dialect you don't understand of a language you "know" is just another language you don't understand, so language family relations are quite vague to speakers. Jun 29, 2022 at 14:06
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    There is also a theory that when England started being settled by Anglo-Saxon speakers, the Anglo0Saxons were fishermen who lived on the coast, while the Celts were farmers and herders who lived inland. Jul 23, 2022 at 10:49
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    I’m voting to close this question because it's about history, not language.
    – alphabet
    May 28 at 15:36


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