Some people have re-imagined English as Anglish, with no words derived from French or Latin

Tom Rowsell examines a replica of an Anglo-Saxon helmet

Tom Rowsell examines a replica of an Anglo-Saxon helmet


Here’s a guest post from Tom Rowsell.

It’s common knowledge that languages are fluid things which merge into one another and evolve to become new languages. But the way they change isn’t necessarily natural or arbitrary. The changes that occur to languages are often the result of wars, genocides, mass migrations, political meddling and religious taboos. The point of any language is to make oneself understood and this fact has meant that geography maintains the distinct character of different languages so that they remain intelligible to those inhabiting a certain area.

Linguistic purism is usually about preserving a language and protecting it from being corrupted by the introduction of foreign words. But Anglish is a bit different from other types of linguistic purism because it isn’t intended to preserve the English language as it is spoken now, nor as it has ever been spoken. Instead Anglish is a form of English stripped clean of the last 1000 years of non-Germanic influence, while also being brought up to date in terms of modern syntax, grammar and spelling.

So words like love, which is derived from the Old English word lufian, remain as they are in Anglish, while words like horticulture, the first part of which is derived from the Latin hortus meaning garden, have to be altered. The Anglish translation of horticulture is wortcraft, which is a compound of wort, meaning plant, and craft, meaning work.

Anglish speakers are a fringe movement of linguistic purists who want to streamline the English language and rid it of words of un-Anglo-Saxon origin. They don’t speak Old English as it was, because they keep the modern versions of words derived from Old English ones, but they replace words derived from French or Latin with what they consider to be the most appropriate Germanic English equivalents.

Anglish speakers haven’t had to invent an entire language as such, because most of the normal English words we use in daily conversation are of Old English origin. But although spoken English is primarily Germanic, the vast majority of words in the English language are of non Germanic origin, and this is where Anglish purists have had to be inventive. The words they have created are quite charming but confusing at times. Fortunately the Anglish Moot have provided an online Anglish Wordbook (wordbook is Anglish for dictionary) to help you learn the lingo.

In many cases you can guess what is meant because Anglish is quite intuitive. “Expand” is replaced by swell while “edit” is replaced by bework. The Anglish movement has roots way back in the late 1800s when Elias Molee advocated an English purged of its Romance components. He made his case in two books; “Pure Saxon English” and “Plea for an American Language, or Germanic-English”. He proposed a language similar to Anglish called Tutonish, which was intended to be a “union tongue” for all the Germanic-language speaking peoples, with a schematised English syntax and a largely German- and Scandinavian-based vocabulary.

In 1989 Poul Anderson wrote a short text about atomic theory in a version of English free from Romance elements. The text entitled “Uncleftish Beholding” is seen as the blueprint for the modern Anglish movement and what it can achieve. These opening paragraphs give you a feel for how Anderson made scientific speech seem more accessible and almost folksy.

    “For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made
    of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began
    to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that
    watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.
    The underlying kinds of stuff are the *firststuffs*, which link
    together in sundry ways to give rise to the rest. Formerly we
    knew of ninety-two firststuffs, from waterstuff, the lightest and
    barest, to ymirstuff, the heaviest. Now we have made more, such
    as aegirstuff and helstuff.”

The compound words like ymirstuff and aegirstuff reference figures from Nordic mythology, like the primordial giant of creation Ymir and the God of the sea Aegir, in order to describe the base elements of the universe in a Germanic context. Anderson also borrowed from German words to create “waterstuff” and “sourstuff”, coming from Wasserstoff (hydrogen) and Sauerstoff (oxygen).

It is unlikely that the Anglish dialect being created by linguistic enthusiasts will ever become widespread, but it is not without value. One thing about Anglish words is that they are more consistent and easier to understand if you have never heard them before. This is a great lesson for journalists, poets and authors struggling with vocabulary. Language is after all, a means of making oneself understood. If we endeavour to express the more complicated concepts of life and science with the most basic Anglo-Saxon language possible, then we may find the language is not only easier to understand but also sounds better.

Tom Rowsell is a professional writer and the director of “From Runes to Ruins”, a documentary film about Anglo-Saxon history. He is currently employed by the translation and interpreting company, EmpowerLingua.


9 Comments

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9 responses to “Some people have re-imagined English as Anglish, with no words derived from French or Latin

  1. Erratum: The link to the wordbook Wiki article ends with a slash that should not be there (“Anglish_wordbook/” instead of “Anglish_wordbook”). This will confuse readers.

  2. Pingback: Anglish: hoe Engels er zou uitzien zonder Romaanse invloed (Engels) | Wat is taal?

  3. haes123

    As a speaker of a Germanic language (Dutch) myself, I recognize the notion that Anglish words are more consistent and easier to understand if you have never heard them before. This seems natural and is of course the result of the Germanic words being more akin to my own language.
    But – strangely enough – as a Japanologist I experience the same in the Japanese language. Like English Japanese has many loans from a foreign language, namely Chinese. To me most real Japanese words are better understandable (more transparent) than Sino-Japanese words. This also applies to the Japanese people themselves; in fact it is the main reason why they employ the most complicated script still in use in the world. If the characters didn’t bear the meaning in it, it would often be completely incomprehensible, even to learned Japanese. (Of course the Sino-Japanese vocabulary is mainly used in the written language.)
    But there must be the other side to. For French people English must be better understandable than Anglish, while for Chinese people Sino-Japanese must be easier than real Japanese. Were lies the border, though? Japanese as well as Sino-Japanese were both as much “Chinese” to me as to any other foreigner first learning Japanese.

  4. Gao

    This sounds like How we’d talk if the english had won in 1066

  5. carlos

    Oh, Lord!! The Aryan nation of Linguistics!!!

  6. Reblogged this on Mighty Battle Maidens and Fairy Magic and commented:
    Normans, you are served.

  7. Although the native language of Britain remains Brythonic, a Celtic language (now evolved into Welsh, Cornish and Breton, all three of which are alive and well, despite ill-informed claims to the contrary).

  8. Interesting. Personally I am for the preservation of local language in it’s purest (i.e. usually the older the better) form. But the guy’s right – sometimes linguitic change is just a natural occurrence.

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