English? Non, il est français

The English language: Is it Angln-ish? Or is it French?

Right. Now I’ve grabbed your attention, I’d best explain what I mean by ‘French’. What I don’t mean is all that silver plate and Come on, Sapphire stuff.

[s’il vous plaît and comment c’est vas. French wasn’t Iris’s best subject at school. CP].

See, that kind of ‘French’, as in France-say, is actually Latin, evolved, a thousand years on. Same with Italian, Romanian, Spanish and Portuguese. But what I mean by ‘French’ is Frankish, id est the language spoken by the confederation of Germanic tribes that called themselves Franks. Germanic, see, like Anglo-Saxon is Germanic. West Germanic, I best had add cos there is also North Germanic (Scandinavian) and East Germanic (Goths, as in Visi- and Ostro- not as in black clothing, black lipstick and distressed tights)

Much is made of the etymology (which isn’t the study of what we eat). But, frankly, does it matter if the word ‘frank’ means ‘free from taxation’ (though to the Franks it probably mattered a lot). Or if it was from the Germanic word for ‘javelin’ (Old English franca, Old Norse frakka), which one assumes was their weapon of choice. Or even if it meant ‘bold’ and ‘fierce’ (Middle Dutch vrac, Old English fræc), and I’m sure that they were. No, my concern in espousing this theory is less the origin of their name and more the origin of whence they came.

According to the 7th century Chronicle of Fredegar the Franks originally came from Troy. He cites the works of Vergil as his source. Perhaps Geoffrey of Monmouth had access to the same; he derived the ancient Britons from the same populous Troy. But no, Fredegar gives a completely different story. He has Priam, king of Troy (and father to the handsome and love-racked Paris) not Trojan at all but a Frankish king who, at the fall of Troy (thanks to the horse named Helen), led his people to Macedonia. There they divided. One branch settled the vicinity to be ruled by King Turchot and thence to be Turks, while the other branch, led by King Francio, headed out to ‘Greater Germania’. My lips are sealed on my comment to that, except to remark of these early historians’ , how determined they were to explain the similarity between Latin catus, Germanic kater, and Tuirkish kedi.

We might laugh at Fredegar, yet other writers of the period did no better. All were determined to trace Frankish origins back to Troy. It seems Troy was the Mecca of its day. Of course, it just shows that even then Vergil’s Aeneid was the book de rigueur for every schoolboy. Of Celtic ancestry (Cis-Alpine Gauls), Vergil grew up knocking knees with the Etruscans who, culturally, had much in common with the Trojan locality

So, whence the Franks?

The answer is simple. Since they first were encountered as they streamed over the Rhine, they must have come from east of that divisive river.

Ah, but the Rhine is a rather long river – by European standards; it perhaps doesn’t compare with the Nile, or the Amazon or the Mississippi but . . . In the third century CE, the confederation of tribes known, for whatever reason, as the Franks, occupied land in the Lower and Middle Rhine. You want I should draw you a map? But someone has already done it, and kindly uploaded it to Wiki, so why double-invent the arts of cartography (cartography isn’t my obsession).

People of the Rhine

This is considerably better than the Roman’s Tabula Peutingeriana which, being an atlas of Roman roads paid no heed to geography. Yet the above map does include information from that 5th century Tabula, which in turn drew upon 3rd century data.

To quote Wiki’s article on Frankish origins, “In the middle Rhine region of the map, the word Francia is close to a misspelling of  Bructeri” – which the above cartographer has placed between the Rhine and the Wesser. “Four tribes at the mouth of the Rhine are depicted: the Chauci, the Amsivarii  (‘Ems dwellers’), the Cherusci , and the Chamavi, followed by qui et Franci  (‘who are also Franks’). On the above map these are given as the Chauques (Chauci) the Ampsivariens (Amsivarii), the Cherusques (Cherusci) and the Chamaves (Chamavi).

By the way, the ‘Saliens’ marked on the map were the Frankish tribe that grew up to be the Merovingians (Clovis and sons) and later the Carolingians (Charlemagne and Louis the Pious).

As is clear on this map, in the third century the ‘Frisons’ were thoroughly hemmed by the Franks. Thus it is possible, probable, and even likely, that the Frisons spoke a lingo closely alike to, if not actually identical with, the tribes of the Frankish Confederation.

Ah, but which Frisons are we speaking of here?

Frisons 1: Or more correctly, the Frisii.
In 150 AD (see map below) this ‘ancient Germanic tribe’ was living in that marshy, low-lying, easily floodable region twixt Zuiderzee and river Emms. They were related to the Chauci (a tribe of the Frankish Confederacy) – and to the Saxons and the Angles of southern Jutland (that’s the finger of land that juts out between the North Sea and the Baltic). These three peoples are distinguishable, one from another, only by their Rome-given names. As far as their material culture is concerned, i.e. archaeologically, they all pass as the same.

Continental Coast 150CE

Source: Wikipedia
From John Haywood’s Dark Age Naval Power: Frankish & Anglo-Saxon Seafaring Activity (1999)

The Frisii weren’t Franks. Witness: When the Romans stomped through their mud-slicked land they hardly put up a fight (no javelins here, no bold and fierce men). Neither were they ‘free of taxes’. In fact, by 28 CE the Frisii were so hard-taxed that they took on the persona of the fierce and bold, javelin-brandishing Franks and finally fought back. They even strung-up the Roman soldiers come to collect their nasty taxes. War ensued. The final score, Romans 1: Frisii 0. The fall of Rome’s heavy hand split the surviving Frisii into two groups. Group 1 was taken by Rome and resettled elsewhere – probably on the left bank of the Rhine, in what was the fifty year old province of Gallia Belgica. Group 2, escaping, set up their farms on empty land they’d found on the banks the Rhine. Oops, that was Roman land. Of course, the Frisii were told to quit. Again, the Frisii fought back.

All this occurred in the early days of Rome’s conquest of Gaul. And though Rome gathered together the ragged remnants of the Frisii freedom fighters and, as with their compatriots, resettled them within the Empire as laeti, many Frisii remained in situ, near the Zuiderzee at the mouth of the Rhine.

But alas for these Frisii, this was no time to inhabit low-lying land. From c.250 to c.450 CE the sea-levels were rising. It wasn’t due to additional water from melting icecaps, but from the rebounding action of Scandinavia now freed from its massive weight of ice. As northern Scandinavia rose back up, so the low lands around the Baltic and southern North Sea coast steadily subsided. Result, rising water table, storm surges – and flood. The Frisii fled, some to join the Frankish Confederacy, some to blunder head-on into battle with an immovable force called Rome. In c. 296 CE, with the Frisii again defeated, they were again resettled as laeti within Roman territory. That territory, as the archaeological record shows, was in Flanders, and Kent.

So much for Frisons 1. Dispirited, they left behind them a land unpopulated. And so it would remain for the next 200 years. Enter Frisons 2.

Frisons 2: Or more correctly, the Frisians.
Between 250 and 450 CE the lands of the Frisii had emptied. Circa 450, with sea levels stable, they began again to fill – with Angles and Saxons. These (two names for one people) had been pushed from their homeland in the southwest of Jutland by the Danes – who in turn were probably pushed by Finns and Balts and Slavs and others from the Baltic coastlands in a domino effect, Odinn-and-Thor orchestrated. The Anglo-Saxons settling here adopted the name of their new land, and so become known as Frisians.

Linguistically, and genetically, the English are most closely akin to the Frisians – the second Frisons who really were Anglo-Saxons. So no surprise there.

Why then, you might ask, am I shouting loud of my theory? Said theory states that English, language and people, is akin to that of the Franks, which in turn is akin to (read that as indistinguishable from) the first Frisons, the Frisii. 

Well, it stems from the current trend amongst archaeologists to kick out any notion of folk migration and assign any sign of cultural innovation to the workings of the indigenous mind.

Now while I’ll agree that it’s great that we Brits now can lay claim to Stonehenge, and not have to share it with Ancient Egyptian or Mycenaean envoys (as happened before the advent of C14 dating), it seems to have gone a little but too far. Harken, in brief summary, to the theories arising over the past decade:

  • There was no fifth century Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain.
  • The archaeological evidence of an Anglo-Saxon presence at this time can be easily accounted by trade links with the Frisians and Saxons settled at the Rhine’s mouth.
  • The Anglo-Saxon language (English) was learned from said traders
  • The existence of a few Anglo-Saxon warrior elites, archaeologically attested, does not imply an Anglo-Saxon migration.
  • The Anglo-Saxon language (English) was learned from the few Anglo-Saxon warrior elites that archaeologists now allow to exist.

Excuse me for asking but why, when with 300 years of Norman Warrior Elite occupation the English did not adopt their foreign language, are we to believe that their Celtic speaking predecessors adopted the language of ‘a few Anglo-Saxon warrior elites’ after the same number of years?

And why do our English genes say we are Frisians, while our neighbouring Celtic genes link strongly to Iberia and all stops between? If all we English had done was to imitate fashions why then don’t we still sport those same Celtic genes? There is a gradation from west to east across Britain, with numbers of ‘Germanic’ genes dramatically increasing as one nears the east coast. And these aren’t recently inherited genes.

So maybe the archaeologists who deny the migration might like to offer a better explanation. But in that absence – here’s one I made earlier (I admit, it is shared by a few others).

Look at that map again, of the Franks and Frisons.

People of the Rhine

See that ‘Germanie Inferieure’, well it’s better known in Latin as Germania Inferior. It was originally part of Gallia Belgica – and it was probably to there that the first Frisii were forcibly sent. A few Frankish tribes lived there too. In fact it was the Roman bar on Trans-Rhenish Franks visiting their Cis-Rhenish pals that sparked the first of the Franco-Roman fracases.

Now consider this. Germania Inferior was originally part of Gallia Belgica. And, as said, there dwelt tribes with Frankish affinity, including the Frisii. Including also a tribe known as the Atrebates. And oh, what a surprise! The Atrebates also dwelt over the waves, in Britain. In fact, the Atrebates’ territory included modern-day Hampshire, West Sussex and Berkshire. And here’s another surprise. This is the exact same place as the West Saxons first showed their face – according to the hair-tearing rant of Saint Gildas, though he was writing some several years after (around about 50 years, in a period of peace).

What’s more, these Atrebates weren’t the only tribe with cross-channel cousins. To their south and west – in fact occupying Dorset through Somerset (oh, and that too is Wessex country) –were the Belgae.

I ought to point out that these Belgic tribes were in Britain before the Romans arrived. Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe is at pains to point out that they probably consisted only of their ruling elites. Indeed. But it’s a known fact that ruling elites lay many maidens, beget many sons, who lay many more maidens and beget many more sons . . . and daughters. Meanwhile, all these increasingly numerous offspring are aping their parents, talking the talk, spreading the lingo as they spread the genes round.

But, while that sweetly takes care of the southern Saxons, and explains how the genes and the lingo arrived in Britain – and the archaeologists are right, as far as the south of Britain is concerned, there was no fifth century Saxon invasion.

But what of East Anglia, the one region that still bears its Anglian name? And here I must produce my own map since Wikipedia Commons appears to have none.(Okay, so Crimmie did the work but under my direction).

C5th Eastern Britain

(The distribution data is taken from Barry Cunliffe’s Facing the Ocean. Great book, but weighs too heavy for bedtime reading)

Amongst the archaeological finds are the brooches that women used to secure their peplos-like pinnies, their distinctive style houses and accompanying ‘Grubenhausen’ (pit-hut). For a long time it was thought people lived in these semi-subterranean places (which in England are generally smaller than the one illustrated below) but from the nature of the accompanying archaeological finds they’re now believed to have been used as weaving sheds and barns.

Anglo-Saxon dress

Source: The English Companions. If you’re interested in the Anglo-Saxon culture in England, this is the place.


Source: Wiki

This might be a dinky little drawing but it shows the construction more clearly than the photos of reconstructions.

And it’s that construction that gives lie to the claims of ‘No Anglo-Saxon Migration’.

Brooches and other personal adornments might be had off a trader. Fashions too can be copied from the ‘few elite warriors’ (and their wives). Pottery might be imported for their contents (as earlier the Brits had imported Roman amphorae brimming with wine). But the way we build our houses and sheds, that isn’t so easily changed.

We might not think that building such a simple wood house/hut would require specialised skills. Being neither a carpenter nor erector of huts I cannot comment on that. But I do know that traditional crafts are not lightly abandoned. And those traditional crafts included the building of roundhouses, not angular, rectangular things. Indeed, in western Britain the roundhouse tradition held on until late in the Middle Ages.

So we’re to envisage a peasant population forsaking their traditional building skills to struggle with the architectural innovations of a ‘few warrior elites’? I don’t think so. No more than they struggled with a minority language. And though I do believe it’s possible for a few bands of warrior elites to spread their lingo and genes while bedding their way through the native maidens, the swift west and south spread of the archaeological finds (in a matter of a mere 50 years) defies that explanation.

Taking the evidence all together with its swift spread – the fashions and crockery (as likely made by on-the-spot potteries), the buildings, and the later evidence of language and genes, I see nothing less than a folk-migration. Ah . . but from which direction?

We’ve already seen that the Anglo-Saxon-Frisians were indistinguishable from the Germanic tribes of the Frank Confederacy. And that some Belgic tribes – who were of that same Frankish conglomeration – had already settled southern Britain before the Romans ever arrived. One assumes by the presence of East Saxons and Middle Saxons north of the Thames that between their historically-attested first century BCE presence and their C6th-reported mid C5th arrival they had spread their way northward into East Anglia and maybe beyond.

This being so, then the supposed ‘native British’ population that the Angles’ ‘few warrior elites’ encountered on their arrival in the east of Britain would have been Saxons. And as Saxons they’d have already had the lingo, and already bore the genes.

Angle, Saxon, Frisian, Frank, they are the names of a people who shared genes, language and, pre-Migration, a cultural identity. But the Franks migrated to Gaul and in short time became kings, adopting the language and the culture of the Roman Empire. A few Angles, the warrior elites, invaded Britain, and in short time became kings. But they had no need to adopt the language for the Saxons already were there. As for the Frisians, like the little piggy who didn’t go to market, they stayed at home.

So, do we speak English? Or is it francais?

~ ~ ~

Iris Einstein’s next post will be her theory of ‘How Trees Generate Wind’. Let that be her penance for using crimsonprose for her history-based theories. I have told her, Crimson’s History is the place for them. CP.

~ ~ ~

And I have told Crimmie that my theories lack citations, so unless she lightens up on her criterion I cannot post to that blog. IE.

~ ~ ~

Well, if she weren’t so lazy . . .

~ ~ ~

Yea, and were she not such a stickler . . .

_ _ _


About crimsonprose

After years as a multi-colour octopus in entertainment, now chilling and writing
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2 Responses to English? Non, il est français

  1. Brian Bixby says:

    It is interesting how the tides swing back and forth between invasion and cultural influence. Naturally, I’ve seen the same thing about the Irish, eh, Scots, invading Dalriada/Scotland from Dalriada/Ireland. You’d think the genotyping would settle the issue.

    • crimsonprose says:

      I follow the debates regarding origins of Indo-Eurupean languages. Again, you’d think with the advent of DNA profiling we might be getting close to the roots. But not at all. Those with reputations staked upon theories are quite adamant that DNA results cannot be trusted. While to a degree I’ll agree with that (generally the samples are still too small, and don’t take into account the massive folk movements – often enforced- during the days of the Roman Empire. The Dacians were totally wiped and Roman citizens planted in their place) but when the material is taken from bones and/or teeth of the dead, how can it be false? I see evidence of fragile professional egos at play.
      But yea, I have come across the same for Fal Riada. No, no, no, it wasn’t a folk movement. It was merely a few sword-brandishing princelings. Yea, but they didn’t venture to settle alone. Having dug in their feet, they sent back home for their kinfolk. In this respect there is an excellent paper by (I think) David Anthony, in (can’t remember the name, something like) From Steppes to Sown, published 2002. He applies principles from the European migration to America to possible P.I.E. migrations, and he’s not afraid to use the word.

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