Episode 32: The Oldest English

We explore the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and their regional Old English dialects.  The ‘Saxons’ soon become the ‘English.’  And ‘English’ provides the name of a new nation.


Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

20 thoughts on “Episode 32: The Oldest English

  1. Hi,
    Just a general comment on the podcast as a whole (so far). My friend just turned me onto your podcast by giving it the highest praise; “I usually listen to podcasts to go to sleep, but I can’t do that with this one, because I don’t want to fall asleep and miss anything!!”
    It’s truly fascinating and a joy to listen to. Thank you so much for all the work you obviously put in!

  2. Just a small comment – which I am sure you will think petty – but it is a point that always niggles me, so I might as well share it with you as anyone else. I come from the southern coast of Hampshire – including the Isle of Wight but especially Portsmouth (the most densely populated European Cit, so the guide books tell us) and the Solent shore. It is generally held that the Jutes settled here, yet so many people get no further than saying that they settled the south east corner. Does this make any difference? Well, the Portmuthian is still a distinct character (carrying an distinct accent) – and Corkheads from the Island will say the same. No, I’ve done no serious study of this, but wouldn’t be surprised if some Jutish aspects of talk and vocabulary survives. Any views?

    • I think the Jutes are a bit of a mystery. I mentioned them a couple of times in the episodes about Old English. I think the extent of their influence is unknown. And some scholars doubt that the Jutes had much of an impact at all. I am not sure if the Jutish influence can ever be quantified or delineated.

  3. I think it goes like this:

    In Europe, a Yankee is an American.
    In America, a Yankee is a Northerner.
    In the North, a Yankee is a Northeasterner.
    In the Northeast, a Yankee is a New Englander.
    In New England, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
    In Vermont, a Yankee is someone who eats pie for breakfast.

  4. I just started listening to the podcast recently and am enjoying it very much. One thought has occurred to me which I had never considered before. Why is it Ingland and Inglish with a short I sound rather than an E sound as it is spelt. I know about the vowel shift but if it was down to that would we not say Iggs or Iliphant. Id be interested to see if you can shed any light on this

    • Here’s what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say:

      “England and English (and their derivatives) are the only instances in modern standard English in which the spelling with ‘e’ has been retained in words showing raising of Middle English ĕ to ĭ before /ŋɡ/ [citations omitted], and compare e.g. wing n., string n., and the forms cited at those entries).”

      So essentially, the sound followed the same evolution as “wing” which was written as “weng” in Late Old English. But “England” and “English” retained the spelling with ‘E’, whereas other words received revised spellings over time.

      This is also confirmed by etymonline.com which includes the following comment under its entry for “English”:

      “In pronunciation, ‘En-‘ has become ‘In-,’ perhaps through the frequency of -ing- words and the relative rarity of -e- before -ng- in the modern language. A form ‘Inglis’ is attested from 14c. and persisted in Scotland and northern England, and ‘Ingland’ and ‘Yngelond’ were used for ‘England’ in Middle English, but the older spelling has stood fast.”

  5. Thankyou so much for this wonderful podcast.
    When you spoke about the ‘bretwalder’ (spelling?) I wondered if it would mean ‘the ruler of the brothers’ (brotherhood of kings). Has this been ruled out as it’s meaning?

    • I haven’t come across the connection to “brother” or “brotherhood” in my research. Here is what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say about the etymology of “Bretwalda”:

      “It is uncertain whether the later forms are genuine fuller forms, traditional equivalents, or merely etymologizing alterations of Bretwalda ‘ruler of the Bretts’ (compare Ælwalda, Alwealda, Ealwealda ‘All-ruler, Almighty’). The element bryten- occurs also in several compounds, all poetic, in the sense ‘far-stretching, spacious’, as in bryten-cyning, bryten-grund, bryten-ríce, bryten-wang; whence Kemble wished to explain brytenwalda as ‘wide ruler’. But in the charter of Æthelstán, the equivalence of ‘Brytenwalda ealles ðyses iglandes’ to ‘rector totius huius Britanniae insulae’ shows its identity with Britannia. Kemble’s conjectured derivation of bryten- < bréotan ‘to break’ is etymologically impossible; and there can be little doubt that, even in the poetic compounds, the word is simply a poetic use of Bryten, Breoten Britannia, or of Breotone ( < britum) Brittŏnes, Britons. These compounds may actually have been formed on the model of bryten-walda, or, if earlier, may have had reference to the far-reaching extent of Britain, as compared with any single state in it; or finally, the word 'breotone' Britons, may have been taken poetically for ‘men’, ‘people’, or ‘nations’, as apparently in Satan 1. 687 'burg and breotone' cities and peoples or nations. It is not impossible that Bretwalda was suggested by a British title, such as *Brithon-wletic, *Brython-wledig = Brittonum dux."

  6. Despite Angles and Saxons viewing themselves as English, the word used in Ireland to refer to an Englishman was Sasanach, meaning Saxon. A similar word was used by Scottish Gaelic speaking highlanders to refer to non-Gaelic speakers.

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