1066 Wrixled Everything

1066 and all that. It wrixled everything, it did. Sorry, I mean, it changed everything. Wrixle was the Old English word for “change” (the noun form being wrixling, the title of this blog). One of the most obvious and longlasting legacies of Harold’s defeat at 1066, as you can see, was the English language itself. But how big a change was effected? Take a look at any Old English text, or a quick glance at German, Swedish, or Frisian, to get a clue. The changes affected the vocabulary (wordstock), the grammar, and even the spellings of English.

Many native (homeborn) words were immediately ousted — those relating to law and governance and suchlike — but the deeper changes to our language only came later after the influence of French grew deeper. A great deal of words were pushed out to the margins of our language or shoved out altogether. Many of these formations were of great beauty; how can we best threeness when trying to express the concept of the “trinity”, for example?

It even became illegal — or should I say “unlawful” — to speak English in English courts(!) Don’t believe historians who downplay the importance of 1066 and the wrixlings it brought; 1066 and its aftermath wrixled everything!

One thing that happened was a fetish grew for foreign (outlandish) borrowings. One commentator has remarked that English hasn’t so much borrowed words from other languages, but rather ‘chased languages down alleys, beat them up, and rifled through their pockets for spare vocabulary’.

Now, this all makes learning foreign languages all the more easy: we feel quite at home with Swedish man and kvinna (“woman”), hand, knä, or fot; likewise, Spanish cerebro (brain “cerebrum”), lengua (tongue), humano, and persona are easily intelligible to us. However, I can’t quite help but feel we do ourselves and the richness of our language down when we throw away our own gems, gems that other Germanic languages keep (e.g. Swedish befolkning “population”, from be- + folk + ning, which would translate almost exactly into English as befolking; that is, the noun form of ‘to folk’, i.e., to people, to populate).

A “Purer” English

I’m not the only person who has worked on creating a “pure” or more English version of English. There are many others out there (it turns out). However, when you find them and you speak to these, you would suppose, likeminds, you find they have some very different ideas indeed. This apparently clear goal of creating a de1066ified English is not so straightforward, after all.

There are, I think, two broad schools of thought which are quite different (albeit with a gray area in between). These are what I call (1) Modern Old English, and what is known as (2) Anglish.

Modern Old English

What I call “Modern Old English” is a language that could have been, it’s English as it would have been had Harold not lost the battle of Hastings. This involves, in effect, creating an alternative history, a timeline of the word different to the one we have had over the last 950 years.

This is a very fun project, but quite different to the beast commonly known as Anglish.

Anglish

Anglish is an attempt to make better use of the resources we still have. So this could even include grasping enthusiastically foreign words as being thoroughly anglicised.

Modern Old English versus Anglish

If you still aren’t sure on the difference between these two projects in real terms, I will illustrate it with a couple of choice examples.

(1) Face it

Modern Old English (ModOE) supporters might insist on chucking out “face” because it came from French. The word we used to use was onsyn which evolved into, and would still be today if it were used, “ansene”.

Anglish-ers might just say, ‘well, “face” is pretty basic and highly naturalised, so let’s just keep it’. They might respell it “fase”, though.

(2) Starry-eyed Surprise

ModOE proponents might say ‘let’s replace “astronomy” with “tongelcraft”‘, which is a modified form of the word in Old English.

Anglish folk might say, ‘”tongel” is deader than the dodo — quite literally — so let’s just stick with originally foreign “star” and say “starlore”, “starcraft”, or even “starology”‘

Dialects

There are, of course, many, many possibilities even within these two schools of thought. For example, do ModOE proponents start their alternative history off from 1066? Or do they start it earlier from before Edward the Confessor? Perhaps they go back to the before the Danelaw, or maybe they start after 1066, having Hereward the Wake overthrow William and take the throne back for an English king.

Schools?

And of course that is assuming that people even recognise these schools; from having spent quite a bit of time on these projects, I feel as thought most people likewise engaged have actually not stopped, in their passionate rush, to think about what their own goals in fact are. And so they end up with an ever-wrixling, hodgepodge mess.

Conclusions

I think that, before we can even discuss the project of a “pure” English (or whatever), all people interested in such things should really think about what it is exactly that they themselves are striving for. Why? Well, otherwise, there’ll never be any progress on this matter, and these projects, whatever forms they may take, will never become greater than the sum of their parts; rather, we will remain with isolated eccentrics and their yellow, stained notebooks.

So, yes! These English “projects” of mine are open to dialog with likeminds. Join me!

Bryan Parry

April 2012

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14 Responses to 1066 Wrixled Everything

  1. þ says:

    Some good points here, especially the need to find a shared ground on our goals and beliefs. The thought behind this project means as much as the words themselves.

    One disagreement would be your characterization of the two camps. I do see the split you’re arguing, and would find myself in the “Anglish” camp (though I do not use that name). I mislike the “Modern Old English” belief that Old English is a good source of words or some kind of setshape to base our work upon. There’s no need for “tungol” or “fraign”, ever (also, I don’t think “star” is borrowed).

    However, I would disagree that word acceptance is based on how native they’ve become. I’m against FLaG words (French, Latin and Greek) brought in after 1066, and believe all of them are potential targets for replacement, even though it may be hard. I think that when we lack a good replacement in modern English, we should seek the “last best” word for something like “face”, basically the word English folk were using before the FLaG word came in. In this case it would be “leer”, which is not great, but still survives a little, and deserves a chance however slim.

    The point, if you forgive my rambling, is that the characterization should have two dimensions: 1) what are the target words to remove, and 2) what are the source or sources for their replacement? I hope that makes sense.

    • bryanajparry says:

      Hi there,

      Of course the split I’m arguing for I wouldn’t contend was 100%. I refer to a “gray” area between the two, but it’s probably a more accurate image to think of a Venn diagram where the circles standing for “Anglish” and “Modern Old English” overlap to a large degree.

      I do believe there is a justification for bringing back words like “tungol”. The point is this: what is the motivation underlying your personal project? If you are doing a piece of alternate timeline fantasy work, or trying to artificially create a native language for Englishmen, then of course you fall squarely in the “Modern Old English” camp and are perhaps justified in rewinding the tape of history. But, if like you and me and probably most people undertaking this effort, you are doing largely Anglish, then I don’t know on what basis you would justify “tungol” and others. Like I say, if I were to (for example) write a story about England in 2012 in a world where Harold had won, then I would probably need to go right back, and words like “tungol” might therefore be justifiable [actually, as it happens, “tungol” is probably a bad example, as I’m pretty sure the word was always going to turn out as it has, that is, “star”; but by “tungol”, I here mean ‘words of the ilk of “tungol”, from OE, which have long been ousted and with virtually no trace in Modern English’].
      Incidentally, I’m not sure about “leer”. There were a few words for face in Old English which survived into Middle English and beyond. Another one is “anleth” (OE ondwlyta, as I recall). But for me, there really does seem to be no adequate equivalent for “face”, and the word itself is so far naturalised that I take no issue with it personally. I think 1066 is a good date, but there are other good dates; Edward’s exile in France, the increasing interwovenness between the English and continental aristocracies, and so on, all led to an increase in outlandish words. Nothing compared to 1066, of course! But I think to only target after-1066 words tends to fall into the same trap as those who would suggest replacing “cheese” as it’s ultimately from Latin.

      I agree with your two points, but the point is that before you can even answer those two questions (what words to remove and what words to replace them with), you must ask yourself what you are doing and why. Again, if you are, for example, doing an experiment in alternative timelines for a kind of aesthetic project, then your goals are quite different to, say, mine, where the goal is to inliven the homeborn element in English.

      And by the way, you’re quite right about star. Slip of the brain. I will try to edit my post accordingly.

      [EDIT]
      I would also like to just add, for the record, that “wrixle” wasn’t the only homeborn word for “change, exchange”, but I imply it was (I say “the” word) for the sake of readibility for the casual reader. So why choose it? I like how it sounds, and it comes up in the “Battle of Brunanburh” poem, which a lot (…wæpen gewrixle…)

      • Gallitrot says:

        Sorry folks, but still having a problem with the ”a piece of alternate timeline fantasy work, or trying to artificially create a native language for Englishmen” bit of Modern Old English. Naturally the examples you’ve given would be a delusional goal, or worse still make the process of activating truer English words an utter farce. Though Cowley did this in his book, then I believe he did so by pure way of example. I believe in Anewed English, as I’ve said before. I did totally follow the lines of Anglish until I was left aghast upon finding out that it was purely created as a linguistically masturbatory exercise – its potential is goldstruck!

        Always opting for the best English-root word, and referring to the last example used in the language before it was subjugated, is obviously the most logical deed, but so is ‘shaping words from English components and forming compounds, IMAO… and sometimes that may mean resurrecting a forlorn suffix and/or prefix. But fanaticism it is not… fervent maybe.

        Reading your ‘venn’ suggestion then I’m inclined to agree that I share many ideas that fall into the Anglish camp, but I do believe that only by making Anglian and Saxon dialectal documents accessible by pushing their existence to the fore of literature in English lessons and the likes is the way to popularise the roots of English and create a renaissance if you will – the main thing you’d have to concede to though is the spelling and script being updated so as to make easy reading, pronunciation and publishing/ forefolking. Marketing is everything in extolling the virtues of a truer English tongue to the masses, if you don’t captivate minds through imagination then the whole thing is dead in the water.

      • bryanajparry says:

        I should say, as evidently it isn’t that clear, that I don’t find anything “fanatical” or “delusional” about a more Old English-slanted form of this game, such as your approach. It’s just a different approach with possibly a different goal. I think “Anglish”, as I practise it, is better when it comes to what we can desirably and practically popularise of homeborn English, because that fits in with my aesthetic. It doesn’t mean other people are wrong. In this post, I was merely pointing out that different people have different goals and different methods and there is no one “right” or “wrong” way to get back to the roots in English. There are different approaches with different merits and you may go with one or another. As for my “fantasy timeline” example, this isn’t pejorative; “conlanging” is a hobby which I myself engage in, and Anglish is a form of it. There’s nothing wrong or bad about the “alternative timeline fantasy” English which I mention.
        Cheers, Bryan

  2. gallitrot says:

    You say that Norman French altered our grammar, yet most linguists assume that due to the heavy influence of Norse on English that our language would have developed down such grammatical paths anyhow, with or without 1066. Vocab usurpation is, of course, undisputed. As you can see from all the middenly imposing French words I’m forced to wield for our lexicographers and wordwards not having the balls to clean up the exotic mess.

    • bryanajparry says:

      First thing, thanks for checking out my blog!

      For sure, the Norse influence, including on our grammar, was huge. The Norman French (etc) influence on our grammar has been small — relative to its influence on the vocabulary.

  3. gallitrot says:

    Much as I compliment any eager folk for extolling the Germanic nature of our good tongue, then I find Anglish a touch wishy washy in its approach. You make ModOE proponents sound like crazed megalomaniac time-meddlers hell bent on rewinding time – this is a fallacy. There’s nothing wrong with reintroducing dozing OE words, in a modern context and in line with present spelling conventions – Icelandic did it. Anyhow, why take a weak stance on an issue at the outset when the idea will be naturally diluted in due course?

    Best to push for the ideal, i.e. ‘full rejuvenation of all OE words’, and then if only 20% manage to be resurrected then you’re still miles down the track from where you set out. I agree more logical compounds and noun collocations are a great start, such as ‘starlore’ for astrology or ‘farewain’ for vehicle, but absolute dynamism and ambition is the only way of founding any change/ wrixling whatsoever, * IMO naturally *

    • bryanajparry says:

      Check out some of my other blog entries; I will also be returning to the issue of ModOE in future blog entries. I’m not saying ModOE is bad, mind, just that ModOE proponents are on a slightly different part of the spectrum to Plain English-Anglish proponents like me, and therefore our goals are in some ways a tad different.

      However, for now let’s just say that I am *not* against bringing back some OE words — altered in spelling, etc, as you say. Indeed, I am in favour of this, but with certain provisos. I’ll post a blog entry on this soonish.

      I don’t think full rejuvenation is the ideal, however. My ideal is to rejuvenate the living / moribund core of English, not to revive dead words. My ambition is not ModOE, but a ModOE-infused English, if you will.

  4. Gallitrot says:

    It struck me, as hard as daylight in the dark. There is a lodestar for the aquickening of Truer English tongue through Anglish, dialects that exist already. Scots for example/ forbus, it has kept many ordfrim words of Old English – still alive and in use. If they’re in use then as you argue, Bryan, ‘better to use those than attempt to kindle those long dead’… So here’s the link to the Scots Leed Wordbook.

    http://www.scots-online.org/dictionary/search.htm

    • bryanajparry says:

      Yeah, cheers for that. Definitely I think that dialects is a “back door” thru which we can sneak what are, otherwise, dead words. Just last night I was looking thru my Luath Scots Reader for such delights(!)

  5. miekko says:

    I am fairly confident most French words entered English after the normans lost power – keep in mind that French was a very important language in large parts of Europe, England being closer to France than say Sweden naturally had more contact with French, and so on. Some linguists seem fairly convinced that most of the French vocabulary in English is of later vintage.

    • bryanajparry says:

      Hi Miekko, cheers for taking the time to look at my blog and comment.

      You’re actually quite right; the number of words entering English from French, Latin, and Greek actually only really picked up after the Normans lost power. But the contention is that, after the wiping out and disposessing of the entire English ruling class, French (etc) began to take root, and eventually (generations later) take hold of English — something that would not have happened had William not been successful. One only need look at Dutch and German to see that English almost certainly would not have undergone such vast lexical replacement were it not ultimately for the Norman conquest. Remember, in the 14th Century — when the borrowings really rocket — English was very much not the first language of the ruling class or their machinery of government; this was a situation owing to the Norman Conquest.

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