Polemics & Exchanges

Killer Language

Thanks to F.W. Brownlow for an informative article in the February issue (“Of Genes, Vowels, and Violence,” Correspondence), which was a rebuttal to a previous article by Philip Jenkins.  It has become increasingly obvious that the traditional story of the evolution of the English language—that a small, all-male military caste of Anglo-Saxons quickly imposed their language on the mass of indigenous Britons—is not true.  But what is the real story?  Brownlow states that philologists are baffled by the problem: “the best explanation they can come up with is that English . . . is a ‘killer’ language, which . . . drives out other languages.”

The “killer language” theory doesn’t make sense.  It hasn’t happened anywhere else.  There has to be much more to the story.  In The Secret History of the English Language M.J. Harper posits that some form of English was spoken in the British Isles before the arrival of the Celts and Anglo-Saxons.  He says we have only the written record and cannot know what the great mass of illiterate people spoke.  DNA evidence supports his general theory.  Studies now show that the conquering Celts, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and Norman French had only a minute genetic impact.  A population of over 90-percent...

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