How old is English?
The other day I came across an interesting site about the history of the English language. It argues that English has been spoken in Britain for a lot longer than is conventionally assumed, and that there wasn’t sufficient time for the native population to adopt English after the Anglo-Saxons starting settling in the 5th century. The site cites examples for various parts of the world of how long it takes for one language to completely replace another, and concludes that it’s unlikely that the relatively small numbers of Anglo-Saxons could have imposed their language in a few centuries.
The conventional story is that before the Roman invasion the Britons all spoke Celtic languages, and that the Anglo-Saxons brought the languages that would develop into English to Britain during the 5th century when they started settling in the eastern parts of the country. They eventually took over most of what is now England and parts of southern Scotland and the existing population adopted Anglo-Saxon customs and language, abandoning their Celtic languages. At the same time, part of the population fled westward to Wales, Cornwall, Strathclyde and Cumbria, where they continued to speak their Celtic languages.
An alternative history proposed by this site is that Germanic languages of some form or another have been spoken in eastern parts of Britain for around 10,000 years, and that Celtic languages have been spoken in western parts of Britain for a similar length of time. Evidence from place names in eastern Britain suggests, according to the site, that most places have had Germanic names for a long time, and that the conventional Celtic-based etymologies are mistaken.
I find speculations like this that challenge conventional wisdom interesting. I don’t know whether to take them seriously though. What do you think?