Dialect in Diaspora: Linguistic Variation in Early Anglo-Saxon England

Academic advisors: Dr Phillip Shaw, Dr Jayne Carroll, Professor Joanna Story
Research Associate: Dr Martin Findell

The origins of the English language present a complex problem of historical reconstruction. The diasporic contexts for the development of the language and its writing systems present numerous challenges: the nature and extent of migration, the homelands of migrants and their continuing contacts with their homelands, and the Germanic dialects represented amongst those who came to the British Isles, all represent important variables in the development of the language. The various contacts between Germanic speakers and speakers of Latin and the Celtic languages also contribute to the complexities of the problem. Its many complexities, however, offer numerous opportunities for analysis. Our increasing understanding of the impacts of diaspora on languages at present and in the recent past presents the opportunity to develop comparative models for developments in Migration Age Britain, and interdisciplinary analyses working across linguistic, historical, archaeological and genetic evidence also offer up the possibility of developing a richer understanding of how the English language came into being, and how it came to assume the forms represented in the Anglo-Saxon textual evidence. This project will consider how diasporic contexts shaped the earliest development of the English language.

Linguistic variation in early Anglo-Saxon England

Academic advisors: Dr Phillip Shaw, Dr Jayne Carroll, Professor Joanna Story

Research Associate:
Dr Martin Findell

This project will considered how diasporic contexts shaped the earliest development of the English language. The origins of the English language present a complex problem of historical reconstruction. The diasporic contexts for the development of the language and its writing systems present numerous challenges: the nature and extent of migration, the homelands of migrants and their continuing contacts with their homelands, and the Germanic dialects represented amongst those who came to the British Isles, all represent important variables in the development of the language. The various contacts between Germanic speakers and speakers of Latin and the Celtic languages also contribute to the complexities of the problem.

Its many complexities, however, offer numerous opportunities for analysis. Our increasing understanding of the impacts of diaspora on languages at present and in the recent past presents the opportunity to develop comparative models for developments in Migration Age Britain. Meanwhile, interdisciplinary analyses working across linguistic, historical, archaeological and genetic evidence could lead to developing a richer understanding of how the English language came into being.

People and places

Supervisor: Dr Jayne Carroll
PhD Student: Eleanor Rye

This project was carried out at The Institute for Name-Studies at the University of Nottingham, a collaborative partner in the programme.

Eleanor Rye contributed to the ‘Dialect in Diasporas’ strand of the programme by writing a PhD on the minor names of specified areas in England - such as fields and landscape features rather than settlements - which are thought to have been settled by Scandinavians during the Viking Age. New genetic research on the living population of parts of northwest England shows that men who bear surnames used in the area in medieval times have markedly greater Scandinavian ancestry than those who do not. This supports the idea that Scandinavians settled in these areas in the Viking Age and offers a methodology whereby different regions can be compared for relative levels of Viking ancestry. Place-names, particularly minor names, have the potential to provide a linguistic correlative to these relative levels of Scandinavian ancestry, and Eleanor worked closely with members of the team to assess the contribution that can be made by linguistic analysis of these names to a wider, multidisciplinary approach.