Anglish-Language Thoughts

No, not English. Anglish.

This is something I became aware of quite recently. If you’ve read a few of these posts, you’re probably aware that English is a largely Germanic language, but has been influenced by languages of different origins, particularly French. When we look at the words English speakers use today, we can find an interesting mix of Germanic, Norse, and Romance languages, and the occasional bit of languages from farther afield.

As English is used all around the world, this still happens today, as the occasional word will come from another language in recent times, or be created by non-native speakers to fill a niche (French word).

And that’s fine. Most of us aren’t even aware of this, as the words were already there when we were born, or gradually found their way into daily usage. We don’t need to be aware of where words come from to use them. The same is true of other languages too: it’s just basically how languages work. They don’t exist in isolation.

But of course there are those who’d prefer it didn’t work that way. This is where Anglish comes into it. Anglish isn’t really an officially-recognised language or dialect. It’s basically an attempt at linguistic purism, involving using only words of Anglo-Saxon origin. Begin instead of commence, make instead of create, for example. And in cases where there are no Anglo-Saxon equivalents for Latin-based words, well, they could be made up. Not completely out of the blue, in fairness, but using the conventions of pre-modern versions of English. Like coining words like wordstock to replace vocabulary.

I have to admit, I don’t really understand people wanting to limit English to words of purely Germanic origin. I could understand if an immortal person grew frustrated with the changes over the centuries to the language of their childhood. But why would someone who grew up naturally acquiring modern English want to avoid everyday words they and other English speakers use with ease, just because hundreds of years ago it gradually evolved from a French or Greek word?

There have always been people who wanted to make English purely Germanic, and nowadays this wiki, The Anglish Moot seems to be their online home (want to read about Star Wars in Anglish!?).

I don’t completely disagree with proponents of Anglish. I’m with George Orwell in my dislike of inkhorns. An inkhorn term is a borrowed term from another language (generally French, Greek, or Latin) which is considered unnecessary or pretentious. I never like to use such a term when there’s a common simple word that will do. And even though many established English words began as inkhorns, it’s natural to resist them when they’re being newly introduced to English, as we remain attached to the form of the language we grew up with.

But I don’t understand why anyone now would want to limit themselves to using purely Germanic words, and force themselves to create new words based on ancient linguistic conventions. It’s an interesting linguistic experiment, and as a purely mental exercise I like the idea of coining new terms using Germanic conventions.

I don’t want to assume what people’s motivations are, but I can imagine that people might support Anglish because they don’t like different cultures interacting and influencing each other. But that’s just the way cultures and languages work, so don’t expect me to be changing the site’s title to Anglish-Tung Thoughts any time soon!

10 thoughts on “Anglish-Language Thoughts

  1. The author of this article acts like Anglish is an irrationally purist reaction to English borrowing a few loanwords, but it’s not, it’s a reaction to French speakers invading England and forcing that language on the country.

    Anglish wouldn’t even exist as a concept or project if English had developed naturally and just borrowed some loanwords here and there. Anglish exists because English didn’t develop naturally, that much of its modern vocabulary was determined by violence and subjugation.

    Would you find it silly if an African tribe wanted to get back in touch with its native language after colonialism ravaged its culture? I don’t think so. I think you’d have to be a real jerk to sit around snickering at them.

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    • I think that’s a false equivalency. And as a native English speaker from a country whose original native language was effectively deliberately suppressed in recent history, I say that with confidence. If a country has had its language suppressed by a colonial power, there’s an understandable post-colonial desire to revive that language to some extent. To revive elements of a specific culture that was recently suppressed, a culture that has a direct relevance for the (post-)colonised population. Here in Ireland that’s in many ways the case, as in the 19th century the Irish language was suppressed by British authorities. People were still interested in the language as a means of reasserting an independent Irish cultural identity. It also still has a clear cultural relevance to many Irish people. Most placenames and personal names are directly derived from the language, as are many of the structures of Hiberno-English. Even if people don’t speak it or even like it, it’s still got a very clear and recent connection to a specific culture.
      Is that the same with Anglish? Not remotely. First of all, there was never an original singular English to be invaded. Before the Norman conquest of Britain, the Old English that many people spoke was heavily influenced by Norse languages, which were spoken in some parts of Britain. And Old English was constantly evolving, as it itself had evolved from Saxon and Frisian languages mingling with Celtic and Norse languages. Why stop at Old English? Why not insist on maintaining the purity of one specific Anglo-Frisian dialect before it became influenced by other languages, eventually becoming Modern English? Or why not insist on maintaining the languages of the Britons before the Anglo-Saxon settlement led to the decline of their languages? It seems aribtrary to set Old English as the point at which one wants the language to stop evolving.
      Old English had also been borrowing loanwords long before the Norman conquest. The spread of Christianity introduced many Latin loanwords long before William arrived. That’s just how languages evolve. Sure, the Norman conquest saw a clear influence of Norman on Old English, but English was already a mongrel language, borrowing and lending many words from and to many languages. It continues to happen. That’s just how languages work, and it seems odd to try to deny that natural exchange.
      Finally, what relevance does the Anglo-Saxon culture that existed at the time of the Norman conquest have to most English speakers now? I’m Irish, so how is Anglish relevant to me, or to a New Zealander, or a mixed-race Californian, or a student in Bangalore? Is Anglish only for people who can trace their DNA back to a specific corner or Britiain in 1066, with no mingling along the way?
      English has evolved by interacting with other cultures, just as English speakers have. I don’t know why anyone would want to ignore that history by creating an imaginary version of a language (I mean, Anglish never actually existed!)
      As an intellectual exercise, I find Anglish really interesting. But as an attempt to create a relevant dialect, I find it ridiculous.

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      • —> “It also still has a clear cultural relevance to many Irish people.”

        And English roots still have a clear cultural relevance to many English people, Anglish shows that.

        —> “Why not insist on maintaining the purity of one specific Anglo-Frisian dialect before it became influenced by other languages?”

        For one because that would be impossible. Old English lives on in writing, but Proto-Anglo-Frisian and beyond doesn’t.

        —> “Or why not insist on maintaining the languages of the Britons before the Anglo-Saxon settlement led to the decline of their languages?”

        I think that would be a wonderful thing to do. But I’m busy with Anglish, and I don’t speak Celtic.

        —> “It seems arbitrary to set Old English as the point at which one wants the language to stop evolving.”

        Haven’t you looked at Anglish before? Didn’t you notice it’s a kind of Modern English? Anglish isn’t about stopping change, it’s about bringing our vocabulary along for the ride.

        —> “Old English had also been borrowing loanwords long before the Norman conquest.”

        The common attitude among serious Anglishers is that those such words are alright. They get a pass because they were borrowed naturally and usually stand for things we didn’t already have words for. Our qualm is with the unnatural, arguably violent displacement of thousands of words we like.

        —> “Sure, the Norman conquest saw a clear influence of Norman on Old English, but English was already a mongrel language”

        I don’t think many linguists would agree with you on Old English being a mongrel.

        —> “I’m Irish, so how is Anglish relevant to me?”

        It isn’t necessarily relevant to you.

        —> “Is Anglish only for people who can trace their DNA back to a specific corner or Britain in 1066, with no mingling along the way?”

        It’s for whoever’s interested in it. I like it because: it’s fun; I feel like I’m getting in touch with my roots; it’s educational; it’s potentially productive (learning Anglish helps one read Medieval texts, and understand other Germanic languages better); I generally don’t like the sound and look of Latin loanwords.

        —> “I don’t know why anyone would want to ignore that history”

        We’re well aware French speakers invaded and displaced a bunch of our words, and that’s exactly why we’re doing something about it. That’s not ignoring history, it’s the opposite.

        —> “by creating an imaginary version of a language (I mean, Anglish never actually existed!)”

        The act of creating something causes it to exist. Also, Anglish has existed; the broad definition of Anglish is any kind of English that makes thorough use of its native vocabulary. Old English and some forms of Middle English qualify as Anglish.

        —> “As an intellectual exercise, I find Anglish really interesting. But as an attempt to create a relevant dialect, I find it ridiculous.”

        It’s ridiculous to think Anglish will become a relevant dialect, but that doesn’t mean it’s ridiculous to have fun trying. Also, there are all kinds of uses Anglish can have beside being a spoken dialect; I’ve already seen a few posts on Reddit where people are using Anglish in their stories and games.

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