Why doesn’t England speak a Celtic language? 1,500 years ago, most of the people on the island of Great Britain spoke the Celtic language of Brythonic (or Brittonic), but nowadays the Germanic language of English dominates the landscape. This Celtic language does survive into the modern day, through its descendants of Welsh, Cornish, and Breton, but in England itself it is very rare to find these languages spoken.
So what really happened to the Celtic language in England? Why don’t most of the people in the United Kingdom speak Brythonic today? What are the misconceptions surrounding the topic, and where do they come from?
In this video I aim to provide an overview of two of the most popular explanations for the decline of the Celtic language in England, one of them is a common, and ancient, misconception, and the other is a more robust, modern interpretation as to why this Celtic language faltered.
0:00 – A Tale of Two Victorians
6:36 – The Fate of Brythonic
On the High-Prestige/Low-Prestige interpretations:
Higham, N. and Ryan, M.J. (2013). The Anglo-Saxon World. Yale University Press, pp.95–103, 29–30.
Davies, John. (2007). A History of Wales. London: Penguin, pp.64-67, 44-45, 48, 37.
Davies, Janet. (2014). The Welsh Language: a History. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, pp.6–13.
Leslie, S., Winney, B., Hellenthal, G. et al. The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population. Nature 519, 309–314 (2015).
Wade-Evans, A.W. (1937). The Chartres Historia Brittonum. Archaeologia Cambrensis, 92(1), p.80.
On the number of Welsh, Cornish, and Breton speakers:
Office for National Statistics (2017). Number of Welsh, Gaelic, Irish and Cornish Speakers from the 2011 Census. https://www.ons.gov.uk/aboutus/transp….
Welsh Government. Annual Population Survey: Welsh language. https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogu…
Jones, H. (2007). Estimation of the Number of Welsh Speakers in England. https://calls.ac.uk/wp-content/upload…
Région Bretagne (2018). Enquête socio-linguistique: Qui Parle Les Langues De Bretagne Aujourd’hui?. https://www.bretagne.bzh/actualites/e…
Giles, J.A. and Habington, T. (1842). Gildas’ ‘On the Ruin of Britain’, (chapters 23-26)
Attenborough, F.L. (1922). The Laws of the Earliest English Kings. Cambridge University Press, pp.43–46.
Stellar, A.M. (1907). Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England. London: George Bell and Sons, (chapter VI p.146-147)
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Music by © Chris Zabriskie – CC BY-SA 4.0
Flag of Wessex by 1219279135, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…, via Wikimedia Commons
“Berthold Schwarz”, Jacob Gole, Yale Center for British Art (YCBA), CC0
Vortigern, National Library of Wales (NLW), CC0, http://hdl.handle.net/10107/4396654 (p.113)
“The Seven Bold Swabians”, John Doyle, YCBA, CC0
Romano-British Brooch, Johnbod, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Medieval Brooch, The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…, via Wikimedia Commons
Welsh Dragon – Tobias Jakobs, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Vexilloid – Ssolbergj, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons