Because I spend too much time on my own I marathon listen/watch radio and television, and today I’ve been listening to BBC Radio 4’s Making History. It’s an historical and archaeological news programme. The recent episode covers a variety of subjects, including the finding of some pre-Roman coins in East Anglia with Germanic script on them. The hypothesis put forward to explain this is that the North Sea united everyone around it in trade, so while the native Britons would have spoken a Brythonic language many would also have spoken a Germanic language, or a pidgin version of it, to help trading. It makes perfect sense; it’s obvious really that people would be bilingual in order to trade effectively, but I think they’re stretching a bit in stating that the existence of these coins means a form of English was spoken in Norfolk long before 449C.E.. There’s something of the Victorian narrative about jumping from ‘we found coins with Germanic writing on them’ to ‘people have been speaking English in the British Isles since before the Romans came here’; it might satisfy your xenophobia and nationalism, but it isn’t accurate.
There is later evidence from Continental Europe that shows mingling of Celtic and Germanic languages and cultures along the Rhine. The artefacts from this area and others are younger than the coins discussed but they do show a continuation in communication, and suggest that these two cultures weren’t as distinct as we like to think. The same could be said for Slavic cultures, in relation to Celtic and Germanic, as well; it’s more a spectrum, of meeting and interaction, than solid lines demarcating language, culture, religion and identity.
[These words – Germanic, Celtic, Slavic – more accurately refer to language groups anyway and it’s sloppy to use them to mean a culture, but it is common usage to do so. To use language families to describe cultures ignores the blurred edges between those cultures. Rant over, sorry for the digression.]
Anyway, here’s the link to the programme:
And now I’m going to listen to today’s Inside Science. There’s a new study about memory and memory loss that I want to listen to.