Who Were the First English?

Since my blog is written in English, and we have been talking about the origins of the Japanese and the Koreans, I though it was fitting to talk about who the first people in the British Isles were.  I am an English professor, and because of this, my studies about the English have been surrounding the English language. The British Isles is a group of islands that have had many people groups join them and influence the language.  If you talked to the very first people who spoke the language  of the British Isles, you wouldn’t understand them at all.  Who were these people?

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From my studies, history records that the very first people on the Island of Briton were called Picts.  People called them that because they were small people with black hair, whiter skin, and blue eyes who painted pictures on their skin.  They are recorded to be there during the Iron age which ended in 550 B. C. They were located in what is today Scotland.  They were considered of Celtic origin and spoke a Celtic language.

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To join the Picts, next came the Gaelic.  The Gaelic came onto the big island of Briton from Ireland.  They had red hair and blue eyes.  The Gaelics also went into France and mixed with the Romans there.  If you go to islands further north of the British Isles, you will find the same kind of people, and their ancestors were probably from north of the British Islands.  Their language was called Gaelic, and the modern Irish, from what I understand, would like to be sure this language isn’t forgotten and want to teach it in some of their schools.  They also came to the big island of Briton in the Iron Age.

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After them, the Romans came with the Roman empire. The Romans spread out all over the place in Europe and north Africa back then. The Romans are the ones who called the island Briton.  If you go to Bath, England, you can still find an old Roman bath.  The Romans had bath houses, and the Romans were used to more luxury than any of the others.  The Romans ruled the island of Briton from 43 A. D. to 410 A. D.  They brought civilization with them.  We always think of the Romans as being like the Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanians since they evolved into those cultures.  Their language was Latin, and they influenced the languages that were already on the British Isles.  However, many people don’t know that many, many of the Roman soldiers were from Germany.  The Germans were known for being good soldiers and hired themselves out to Rome. We can see a lot of Latin influence on the developing language of English, though.

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The Romans left because the Anglo- Saxons moved in.  They were a warlike tribe with lots of blond hair and blue eyes.  They came to Briton to farm and set homes up.  The Picts and the Gaelic were attacking the Romans on one side, and the Anglo-Saxons were attacking them on the other side, and the Romans decided it just wasn’t worth it, and they went home.  The Anglo- Saxons were Germanic tribes.  They spoke a kind of German and ruled the island of Briton pushing the Picts and the Gaelic further on into Scotland and Wales.

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Somewhere in this time, the Norseman or Vikings also showed up in England in 878.  They first went to Ireland, and then onto the big island of Briton.  They also influenced the English language.

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The next group of come on the scene on the island of Briton was the Normans.  They were a combination of the Gaelic people and the Romans.  They came in 1066.  They came because William the Conqueror of Normandy decided he had a claim to the British throne and came to take over.  He brought 20,000 Normans with him.  He was unable to establish the stability of his throne until 1072.  From that time until the 13th century, the upper class of Briton all spoke French.  If you wanted to be upper class in Briton, you had to speak French. If you wanted to do any legal papers, it had to be done in French.  This was during a time that is called by the linguists Middle English that spanned from about 1100-1500 A. D.  The common people were speaking a kind of off shoot of German back then.  Before that time, the linguists call Old English. Old English spanned from 450-1100 A. D.  If a modern day speaker of English heard someone from either of those time periods speak, they would not understand them at all.

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Eventually, the English language evolved and became accepted among the elite classes in English even though for a long time, you had to speak French if you were upper class.  the Modern English period as it is classified by the linguists began in 1500 to the present.  However, in 1500, they still didn’t speak the English that we speak.  If you have read the King James translation of the Bible, it was translated in 1611.  It has lots of strange grammatical patterns, strange words that have evolved to the point a modern speaker doesn’t understand them, “thee” and “thou,” and “th” on the end of verbs instead of “s.”  Shakespeare also wrote his plays around this same time.  Many people are amazed when I tell them that Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible are considered Modern English, but at least we have some hope of understanding them unlike the language of Middle and Old English.

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For many years, there was no standard for the English language.  If you read things written in 1500 or 1600, you will see that everyone spelled just however they pleased.  They were using the Latin alphabet brought by the Romans, and they were destroying it.  Something needed to be done.  Finally, in 1755, a dictionary was made that was accepted by everyone as the standard for English. Dr. Samuel Johnson put the dictionary together.

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All of these people were of European heritage, and the English and Scottish, the main people who came out of this mixture on the island of Briton were gradually born. They were white with black hair, red hair, and blond hair.  They had blue eyes and brown eyes.  When I was a little girl in England, I was utterly amazed at the people with the blue eyes and blond hair, and throughout history people have always been amazed at how they look.  From what I understand, there were Roman missionaries who went into Briton just because they encountered slaves from Briton with blue eyes and blond hair and decided they looked like angels and so, therefore, should be taught about God.  Until Christianity came, these people were all pagans.  Before the Roman missionaries, the first missionary in England was Joseph of Arimathea right after Christ  was crucified and rose from the grave.

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The English had a huge empire under the Mercantile system, a system that existed for many years that said that for a country to be rich, they had to conquer other countries. The English conquered and took a lot from other countries, but they also gave a lot to other countries.  They took English all over the world. In many ways, they have been a civilizing force on the world.  They stopped widows from being burned with their husbands in India.  They spread Christianity everywhere.  Rudyard Kipling, one of the major authors who was British, but grew up in India wrote a poem called “Take Up the White Man’s Burden” urging people to go out and help the other nations. Everyone knows the British went into America, and the England is America’s mother country.  They went into Nigeria when there were still many heathen practices of human sacrifice, of cannibalism, of witchcraft, of letting twins die as babies in the bush because they were afraid of them, of wars between tribes, and they completely changed the face of Nigeria to eradicate those practices, except there are still some who still practice witchcraft.  The British went into Ireland, and that is why the fighting was taking place in Ireland for so long. The British went in as overlords sent by the Pope. The Irish wanted them gone, but they have been there for so long, they consider themselves Irish, so now you have Irish with red hair from the Gaelic and black hair from the English.  They went into Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and even to the Falkland Islands south of South America. If you go into England today, it is no longer just a country of white people. It is full of people from the early heritage of white people who went into England as well as people of East Indian heritage, Nigerian heritage, and even middle Eastern heritage.  They accept them all.


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