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The Romance of Britain?
Thanks to everyone who gave me such useful replies to my classical query yesterday. One part of the discussion reminded me of something else I've always wondered about - I suspect even on this LJ - but of which I don't think I've ever heard an entirely satisfactory explanation.

A topic that came up yesterday was the length of time that subjugated peoples feel resentment. Would someone on the coast of Transalpine Gaul feel as if they were under occupation a couple of centuries after the Romans took over? When exactly did Saxon resentment of the Normans cease to be a live issue (if it has)? What about the Welsh today?

This prompts a few anodyne general thoughts, and one much more specific question. General thoughts first:

a) it's going to depend to some extent on how people are treated. I don't suppose the Helots ever really "got over" being taken over by the Spartans, for example.
b) not everyone is going to feel the same way. Some will come to terms with the new dispensation, while others continue to seethe. Even within individuals there will be some matters of relative indifference while others stir a visceral passion.
c) the extent to which people resent being a member of a subject people may be affected by the extent to which it is possible to change the situation - or to conceive of changing it. Servitude may be less bearable if escape is almost within one's grasp.
d) some communities have a history of surviving under successive elites. If I were an Egyptian at the time of Actium, I don't suppose I'd have been particularly worried that this was going to turn my life upside down. The Romans would simply replace the Greeks, who replaced the Persians, etc. Can being a subject people become a way of life in itself? Or were they still very angry about the removal of Nectanebo II?
e) ignorance renders most of these questions rhetorical, because for the vast majority of people we don't know how they felt. Maybe they were too busy swinking and sweting in the fields to worry much about the political dispensation; maybe they thought of little else. No one capable of wielding a pen cared enough to do a vox pop.

Okay, now the specific question, which may or may not relate to the above, but was in any case brought to mind by it.

Why is there no British Romance language? Britannia was a province for almost 400 years. I can't think of another place in the Western Roman Empire (i.e. the part that didn't use Greek as a lingua franca) that was held securely for that long and yet didn't develop one. Can you?

I seem to remember that the Romans stationed large numbers of troops here throughout their time, which suggests that there was potentially quite a bit of quelling to be done, but after the first century or so was the main part of Britannia, away from the Wall, particularly rebellious?* Did the Romans treat the Britons differently from the way they treated, say, the Gauls - keeping them more at arm's length? Was that extra century or so the Gauls had of being in the Empire what made all the difference, linguistically speaking? Or were the British simply practising early their genius for not learning foreign languages? This has bothered me for years!

*ETA By "rebellious" here I don't mean "given to declaring people Emperor" - which could only happen because there were loads of troops here. I mean "wishing to throw off the shackles of Empire altogether."

No Romance language spoken in the Netherlands, Flanders, Western Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia (Istria apart), Hungary, Bosnia!

Thanks! I assume that in some cases that's due to subsequent population movements (c.f. the English in England): do you know in how many of these places there never was a Romance language?

I suppose the more general question then becomes, why in some places and not in others? Not that there has to be a single reason.

(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-08-08 04:47 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - nwhyte, 2013-08-08 01:20 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-08-08 04:48 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Talking of Wales, it's intriguing that Plaid's electoral strengths still map almost exactly onto Owain Glyn Dwr's northern strongholds. Anglophone Welsh, such as my SiL, complain these days of Gallophone cultural imperialism in the south, which is deeply ironic at some levels.

It's interesting that present historical thinking about Roman Britain is tending back towards Sellar & Yeatman's 'living a semi detached life in Roman villas and taking Roman baths'.

Edited at 2013-08-08 11:22 am (UTC)

You're right about Plaid's territory mapping onto the old northern strongholds, which map pretty well onto the parts that the Romans had the most tenuous grip on. :)

I have visited Caerleon regularly for some years now and it's apparent from the Roman Museum there that there was considerable intermingling of native and Roman populations. Many soldiers retired and settled locally, for example, rather than returning from wherever it was they came from originally. Up here in the north, however, the Roman presence is much less of a permanent settlement and more of a military presence, though there is evidence that at least some the Welsh of the time were adopting "modern" Roman ways, like rectangular houses instead of round ones.

As to language, Britain must have been bilingual during Roman times with the parts that became Wales, England and the South of Scotland speaking the language we now call Welsh, with Latin used for official purposes within the Roman administration and possibly also for trade. Germanic tribes pushed in from the East as the Romans withdrew, bringing the languages that developed into English.

(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-08 03:46 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Is that based on the bilingual road signs? My Anglophone Welsh relatives have been known to complain about that too. My feeling is that they may just survive having two official languages.

(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-08 05:09 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-08-08 05:46 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-08-08 09:28 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-08-08 09:34 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-08-08 10:05 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - cmcmck, 2013-08-09 07:37 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-08-09 07:46 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - steepholm, 2013-08-09 07:46 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-08-09 07:55 am (UTC)(Expand)
Interesting question. Just guessing, here.

The Romans made a practice of settling retired legionaries in coloniae, but I have a feeling that said retirees had a choice of where they could retire to - and the warmer, sunnier parts of the Empire, places with more in the way of amphitheatres, the chance of growing your own oil and wine, would probably have been more attractive? I know Lincoln was a Colonia, but most of the other Roman settlements here were castra, military encampments. Many of them had towns outside the city walls as well, but not actually occupied by Latin-speakers to the same extent.

Also, Britannia was garrisoned to a significant extent by auxiliary troops from place like North Germany and the Low Countries from a relatively early stage - the romantic image of a guard standing on Hadrian's Wall and pining for Rome is not actually very real. So Latin would have been much more the language of the camps and forts rather than the settlements, at a guess.

Our invaders brought their own language, the varieties of Low German that became Old English. The various Franks, Lombards, Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Huns seem to have been much more ready to learn the local language, after annexing a kingdom wholesale. And the Catalan/Occitan/Provencal/Piemontese languages all seem to have run into each other with a pretty strong shared culture.

Beyond that, I've got nothing.

That's really useful - especially as regards the relative paucity of coloniae. My only explanation for the non-mixing of languages has been that the country was essentially militarized throughout the occupation, but that adds a useful gloss.

(no subject) - swisstone, 2013-08-09 12:17 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - swisstone, 2013-08-09 12:15 am (UTC)(Expand)
The course I did last year with the OU called Worlds of English covered the history of the English language pretty thoroughly. David Crystal has written a multitude of books on the topic. The one the OU recommended for preparatory reading was The Stories of English (2005), published by Penguin.

There's lots of interesting stuff in there, but I didn't read it all because I decided that it was telling me far more detail than I wanted to know and the print was tiny. However, it's worth a look if you want serious answers to your questions.

As to the British not being good at languages, this is a modern phenomenon. At one time gentlemen were accused of wanting to speak French or Italian or any language other than English. :)

I've looked at the Crystal book, though not in detail - I enjoy his work a lot. But English is less of a mystery to me. Except that the way that English imported so many words from Norman French is such a contrast with the way that Welsh didn't import many words at all from Latin.


I was joking about the lack of languages thing - though it would be interesting to know at what date linguistic facility fell so sadly away, and why.

I think a case can be made... - wemyss, 2013-08-08 05:38 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Re: I think a case can be made... - steepholm, 2013-08-08 05:58 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty, 2013-08-08 09:33 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Your other commentators have some great actual explanations. I want to mention here Brithenig, a conlang exploration of the possibilities of such a Romance language having developed in Britain under the influence of Welsh-style sound changes.

Edited at 2013-08-08 04:29 pm (UTC)

That looks really fascinating - thank you!

Might it depend more on the language which the natives were speaking before the Roman invasion - and no doubt continued to speak in their own villages - than the influence of Latin? And also the extent to which Latin could be absorbed into the existing culture, rather than remaining the language of the governing class. As someone else has already pointed out, many of the "Roman" troops stationed in Britain did not come from Italy, but from other provinces, so probably had no very strong tradition of Latin themselves.

You might equally ask why the prevailing use of French as the language of the Court in the Middle Ages did not result in its adoption by the people - and come to that, the use of Latin in church for centuries.

The comparison with French in the Middle Ages is one that had occurred to me. Although it's true it didn't turn English into a Romance language, it had a huge effect on the English language, even though it can only have been the native tongue of a comparatively small elite. The difference between Beowulf and Chaucer is pretty dramatic. It's the relative absence of any similarly transformative effect on Welsh that puzzles me.

Caveat: no doubt English would have changed anyway over the course of several hundred years, and spending most of the two centuries from the Conquest as a non-literary language probably sped the rate of change - but even so, it was drastically Frenchified in that time as well.

Be careful about the conclusions to be drawn from the large numbers of troops stationed in Britain. Yes, it had proportionately more than similar provinces, but I think this is more to do with geographic/logistic reasons rather than an actual greater bellicosity on the part of the Britons. Put simply, if there was a problem in Germany, it was relatively easy to call for help from the neighbouring provinces. This was not the case for Britain, where the Channel was a serious impediment to moving troops into the province. Therefore it was necessary to have more troops in the province itself.

This goes back to my initial question about the relative rebelliousness of the Britons. If they were seen by the troops as a hostile population the degree of fraternization and opportunities for linguistic exchange would be fewer. So, it's not so much a case of drawing conclusions from the large number of troops, as looking at the large number of troops in conjunction with the lack of a Romance language, and wondering whether they combine to tell a story.

?

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