Monday, May 4, 2009

English from the land of angels

The letter English first appears as Englaland around the year 1000, and means "the land of the Engle," that is, the Angles. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes were the three Germanic tribes who emigrated from what is now Denmark and northern Germany and settled in England beginning about the fourth century A.D. Early on, the Angles enjoyed a rise to power that must have made them seem more important than the other two tribes, for all three tribes are indiscriminately referred to in early documents as Angles. The speech of the three tribes was conflated in the same way: they all spoke what would have been called *Anglisc, or "Anglish," as it were. By the earliest recorded Old English, this had changed to Englisc. In Middle English, the first vowel had already changed further to the familiar (ĭ) of today, as reflected in the occasional spellings Ingland and Inglish. Thus the record shows that the Germanic residents of what Shakespeare called "this sceptered isle" knew that they were speaking English long before they were aware that they were living in England.

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