How English Language Came to England?

In the 4th century a number of barbaric tribes started pressing in upon Rome from different sides and probably because of this trouble in their homeland the Romans returned to Rome leaving the Celts to their own fate and their own ability to defend themselves.

The three hundred years of Roman rule had moderated the savageness of the Celts in a big way and made them accustomed to a reasonably comfortable style of living. Their absolute dependence on the Romans for their defence for three hundred years slowly killed their motivation and their ability to defend themselves and so when the Germanic invasions started, they found themselves unable to repel those invasions.

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These Germanic invaders were not like the Roman invaders; their reasons for invading England were entirely different. The Romans wanted to rule over England but these Germanic invaders were not interested in ruling over England with a base in their own homeland. Stenton (1965:11) has rightly observed, “The Romans saw it as a source of minerals, slaves and corn.

The Saxons and Angles saw it as a good land to settle in a land where a nation could be built”. So in some cases they robbed the Celts of all their movable property and then returned. In most cases, however, they dispossessed the Celts of their land, their women, their cattle and the like and settled there forever.

By A.D. 450, these invading tribes firmly established themselves in the southern and eastern parts of England and the Celts withdrew into the bleak mountains in the north and west of the British Isles. Interestingly enough, these invading tribesmen, though foreigners themselves, started calling the Celtsivealas (foreigners) from which the word Welsh is derived.

These invaders were not all of the same tribe. Irrespective of their differences, the Celts labelled them all as Saxons. Baugh (1942:57) says that probably the reason why the Celts indiscriminately used the name Saxon for all the various groups of Germanic conquerors and settlers was that “they had their first contact with them through the Saxon raids on the coast”. Strang (1970:379) seems to be of the view that it was because of their seax, a special kind of knife characteristic of most of them that all these invading tribesmen came to be known as Saxons.

Places like Essex (east Saxon), Wessex (West Saxon), Sussex (south Saxon) and Middlesex (middle Saxon) were named after them. Following the Celtic usage some Latin writers for a long time used the word Saxonia for England, particularly for those parts of England in which these Germanic tribesmen had firmly established themselves.

The Saxons, however, were not the only Germanic tribe to have forcefully settled in England. In his famous book Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede tells us that the three tribes which invaded and conquered England during the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. were the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons.

The Jutes established themselves in Kent, the south-eastern part of England, the Angles settled in the northern part of England and the Saxons occupied the south-western part of England. These three tribes had one thing in common and that was their language.

With the passage of time, the Angles predominated over the other two tribes. It was probably because of their predominance that the language of all the three tribes was known as Englisc (English) and since about A.D. 1000 the country came to be known as England (land of the Angles). England, the present name of the country, was a later version of this early name.

The Celts, the original inhabitants of England, were driven to places like Wales in the west and the Scottish highlands in the north and with the unchallenged supremacy of these three invading tribes, the English language started, around A.D. 450, the first chapter of its history in England.