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Matters Arising (The History of Britain Revealed)
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This thread is for discussing things specifically arising from the book.
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Elizabeth


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I have a little problem with MJ Harper's explanation of the Celts. If, as he says, they invaded from the west, then where did they 'come' from? It's rather a big pond to cross.

Is it not more likely that, assuming they were not indigenous, they came from the east and Europe and would therefore not just arrive at westerly points. Surely, like the Danes and Vikings, or like the Anglo Saxons, their arrival would be more general. And what about Lindisfarne off the east coast?

Also, how could Wales be so Celtic without the Lancashire coast having been at some time similarly affected? And the east coast of Ireland not be Celt-colonised too? The Holyhead~Dun Laoghaire ferry is still one of the most direct routes from mainland Britain into Ireland and its 'Pale'.
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Elizabeth


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The Lancashire plain would give way easily to any insurgent cultures ~ from either direction. My feeling is that Lancashire was always predominantly 'English' and Wales was always predominantly 'Welsh'. Cheshire which, anciently, and until the early 70s, had only one bit of coastline ~ the Wirral ~ was perhaps always torn between the two.

Wirral is particularly interesting. The place name Wallasey is given as 'Island of the Welsh' if local historians are to be believed. But Birkenhead means 'headland of birch trees' and must, I think, be more Germanic in origin. The reason I say this is because (and I haven't read this anywhere) is that the full name of the place where the Auschwitz concentration camp was built is actually Auschwitz-Birkenau, so called because birch trees surrounded it.

With the Viking arrival, place names ending in 'by' abounded: Irby, Greasby, West Kirby and so on, and are nicely intermingled with more 'English' names like Moreton, Upton, Claughton.

It all sounds like a melting pot to me, and perhaps a micro-model of what might have happened elsewhere. Is it not possible that both 'English' and 'Celtic' populations have always been native to these islands? Might not the British Celts in their heyday have invaded western Europe?

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Ishmael


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Elizabeth wrote:
Is it not more likely that, assuming they were not indigenous, they came from the east and Europe and would therefore not just arrive at westerly points. Surely, like the Danes and Vikings, or like the Anglo Saxons, their arrival would be more general.

Your comparison with Danes seems well chosen. So let's examine it. Here's a map that shows (as I understand it) the general orthodox position on Danish settlement of Britain.


Apart from the highly anomalous (and, might I add, suspiciously anomalous) situation north of Hadrian's Wall, the Danish settlements do tend to favour the eastern sides of the British Isles -- that is, the coasts facing Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Compare that map to this one:


This map shows Irish colonies on the coast of Britain. This appears in miniature, a virtual duplicate of the 'Celtic' pattern, which you dispute.

Here is that situation with the 'Celts', focused on Britain (the dark green area is 'Celtic').


Here is the same situation from another Orthodox source presenting the larger picture of 'Celtic' settlement:


I suggest that, in light of the Danish and Irish examples, invasion from the west offers the most-likely explanation for this settlement pattern (and is, therefore, the one explanation that passes Occam's test, in lieu of contradictory evidence).

And what about Lindisfarne off the east coast?

In the Danish case, west coast settlements dominate though counter-examples exist -- some extensive.
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Mick Harper
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Heigh-ho, Elizabeth, welcome to the AEL.

I have a little problem with MJ Harper's explanation of the Celts. If, as he says, they invaded from the west, then where did they 'come' from? It's rather a big pond to cross.

I don't make it clear in the book because I have no firm idea where the Celts are from (or rather I am not prepared to put that particular card on the table right now). All I meant to say is that they come from the sea-ward side (ie the west) rather than the landward side (ie the east). Actually it's not a very Big Pond to cross because
a) they may have come from, say, North Africa and anyway
b) the Atlantic is not so difficult west to east (it's a bitch going the other way).

Is it not more likely that, assuming they were not indigenous, they came from the east and Europe and would therefore not just arrive at westerly points. Surely, like the Danes and Vikings, or like the Anglo Saxons, their arrival would be more general.

But then you'd have to explain why the Celts are nowadays confined to the west coast. Is it really very likely that the Anglo-Saxons pushed them west in England but didn't quite finish the job, that the English-speakers in Ireland and Scotland and Wales pushed them westwards and didn't quite finish the job, that the French-speakers pushed them westwards in France and didn't quite finish the job, that the Spanish-speakers pushed them westwards in Spain and didn't quite finish the job? Puh-lease! Much easier (or as we say here, more Occamite) to assume they came from the sea and settled near the sea where they first made landfall and where they developed their maritime trading routes.

And what about Lindisfarne off the east coast?

Do tell! What's Lindisfarne got to do with the Celts? It's true that Celtic-speaking Irish monks set up there in the seventh (?) century AD but that's several thousand years later. The name Lindisfarne turned out to be quite interesting when we discussed it yonks ago...does anyone know where it can be dredged up?

Also, how could Wales be so Celtic without the Lancashire coast having been at some time similarly affected? And the east coast of Ireland not be Celt-colonised too? The Holyhead~Dun Laoghaire ferry is still one of the most direct routes from mainland Britain into Ireland and its 'Pale'.

Well now you're getting into "Don't Know" territory since this degree of detail can only be rationally speculated about...but here goes. The Lancashire coast probably was Celticised -- it was part of Cumbria, which has the same root as Cambria (memo to place name freaks: check out what "Furness" is all about). I assume in the book that Ireland is like Britain, France and Spain ie Celtic in the west, native in the east. But I agree that the Pale ends up as an island of English-speakers in a morass of Celts.
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The Lancashire plain would give way easily to any insurgent cultures ~ from either direction. My feeling is that Lancashire was always predominantly 'English'

Lancashire has always been prime "recusant" territory (ie Catholic in Protestant times) but what that means I cannot say...perhaps it's always been weird. Of course both Manchester and Liverpool have Catholic/Celtic and Protestant/English football clubs (like Glasgow and Edinburgh) but I assume this reflects 19th century (AD) population movements.

and Wales was always predominantly 'Welsh'.

I disagree. In the east and especially the north-east of Wales, the English place names are legion. "Wales" is, I agree predominantly Welsh, but the actual border is Offa's legacy rather than a strictly linguistic one.

Cheshire which, anciently, and until the early 70s, had only one bit of coastline ~ the Wirral ~ was perhaps always torn between the two.

Yes, even the Romans used it as a nexus for trade with Scotland, Ireland and Wales. But the position is further complicated by the fact that Cheshire happens to be just about the best source of salt in the whole of Western Europe. You can be sure this didn't go unnoticed in very Ancient times.

Wirral is particularly interesting. The place name Wallasey is given as 'Island of the Welsh' if local historians are to be believed.

...I tend not to believe these things.

But Birkenhead means 'headland of birch trees' and must, I think, be more Germanic in origin. The reason I say this is because (and I haven't read this anywhere) is that the full name of the place where the Auschwitz concentration camp was built is actually Auschwitz-Birkenau, so called because birch trees surrounded it.

Yes but "Germanic in origin" might as well mean English as it does Viking or Anglo-Saxon. But, yes, the hard k sounds rather alien.

With the Viking arrival, place names ending in 'by' abounded: Irby, Greasby, West Kirby and so on, and are nicely intermingled with more 'English' names like Moreton, Upton, Claughton.

We did talk some while ago about whether -by was in fact Danish. Dan will know.

It all sounds like a melting pot to me, and perhaps a micro-model of what might have happened elsewhere. Is it not possible that both 'English' and 'Celtic' populations have always been native to these islands?

Don't be such a wet liberal. One lot must have arrived first.

Might not the British Celts in their heyday have invaded western Europe?

Yup. That's precisely what they did. Pushing the English-, French- and Spanish-speakers out of the western coastal regions. Just like the Arab-speakers along the shores of North Africa pushed the Berber-speakers into the hinterland.
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Mick Harper
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Readers of The History of Britain Revealed might like to know that it is being mentioned (the bloke says favourably) on a Newsnight piece about the Antiquity of the English language on Wednesday 3rd January. Library members outside Britain can access the broadcast here
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/default.stm
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Komorikid


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I don't make it clear in the book because I have no firm idea where the Celts are from (or rather I am not prepared to put that particular card on the table right now). All I meant to say is that they come from the seaward side (i.e. the west) rather than the landward side (i.e. the east). Actually it's not a very Big Pond to cross because a) they may have come from, say, North Africa ).

Linguistically and genetically the Irish/Welsh/Scottish are closest to the Moroccan Berbers who were a coastal people before the Arabs converted the area to Islam.

b) and anyway the Atlantic is not so difficult west to east (it's a bitch going the other way)

This is not strictly correct. It is difficult to cross west to east at the latitude of Ireland but the ancient route was south to the Cape Verde Islands and then west across the Mid-Atlantic to the Caribbean then north along the east coast of America to Newfoundland then across the North Atlantic to Ireland.

The other route was part of the Ancient Tin Route from the Med. It was known as the Straight Run by some ancient mariners. From Cape St Vincent in Portugal, in the sailing season with favourable winds, the route ran north paralleling the Iberian coast following the North Star and the rising and setting of circumpolar stars like the Pleiades and Draco. It used the Three Land's Ends -- Finisterre in Galicia, Spain, Finistere in Brittany, France and Land's End in Cornwall as waypoints as well as numerous Megalithic 'navigation markers' along the way. This led to the Irish Sea or a more westerly course reached the west coast of Ireland.
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Mick Harper
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Most valuable, Komoro. We've got some material wondering how all these various Land's Ends were linked. But in view of the now fast-vanishing connection with THOBR I'll dig 'em out and shove all this into a new thread.
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Mick Harper
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You'll find it all on Way Out West in the British History section.
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DPCrisp


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Myths of British ancestry

Extracts from Oppenheimer's little ditty:
http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=7817

Everything you know about British and Irish ancestry is wrong.

Can't argue with that.

Our ancestors were Basques, not Celts.

Oh yes?!?

Yet there is no agreement among historians or archaeologists on the meaning of the words "Celtic" or "Anglo-Saxon."

A sure sign of a faulty paradigm.

What is more, new evidence from genetic analysis indicates that the Anglo-Saxons and Celts, to the extent that they can be defined genetically, were both small immigrant minorities. Neither group had much more impact on the British Isles gene pool than the Vikings, the Normans or, indeed, immigrants of the past 50 years.

= THOBR

{Even Pete Clarke on Ma'at supports that claim -- while rejecting THOBR.}

The genetic evidence shows that three quarters of our ancestors came to this corner of Europe as hunter-gatherers

A lovely obfuscation: as though hunter-gatherer-ness is evident in genes.

{Remember horses: "these are obviously wild ancestors... but turn out to be no more genetically diverse than domestic horses... so we had best posit what we otherwise reject as impossible as the explanation."}

Our subsequent separation from Europe has preserved a genetic time capsule of southwestern Europe during the ice age, which we share most closely with the former ice-age refuge in the Basque country. The first settlers were unlikely to have spoken a Celtic language but possibly a tongue related to the unique Basque language.

"Possibly" related to Basque? Why do definitely related to Basque? Never mind that some scholars link Basque and Celtic languages and genes!

But why do the Basques still speak a Basque-like language when they have had just as long to veer off as far as we have (allegedly)?

Another wave of immigration arrived during the Neolithic period, when farming developed about 6,500 years ago. But the English still derive most of their current gene pool from the same early Basque source as the Irish, Welsh and Scots.

Eh? What about all the studies that say the English are quite distinct from the Irish, Welsh and Scots? Are the "Basque" genes he's talking about Mediterranean genes... European genes... human genes?

These figures are at odds with the modern perceptions of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon ethnicity based on more recent invasions.

There is more to it than that: the fixation on recent invasions endures because we know the English and the Welsh are different...

Celtic languages and the people who brought them probably first arrived during the Neolithic period.

That's a turn up for the books -- well, one of the books: the one that says Celts are indigenous, contrary to the "Celtic invasion" brigade -- but in agreement with my view.

The regions we now regard as Celtic heartlands actually had less immigration from the continent during this time than England.

I love the way they always gloss over what immigration entails. He's got evidence (differences between east and west experiences) that the host population has something to say about who comes and goes -- that there is a political aspect to it -- but at the same time, immigration is assumed to be laissez-faire.

Ireland, being to the west, has changed least since the hunter-gatherer period and received fewer subsequent migrants (about 12 per cent of the population) than anywhere else.

"Being to the west". That's it then: it's all explained.

Wales and Cornwall have received about 20 per cent, Scotland and its associated islands 30 per cent, while eastern and southern England, being nearer the continent, has received one third of its population from outside over the past 6,500 years.

Oh, I see: immigrants come inexorably from the east and fill the continent right up to the shore, but run out of steam crossing the islands. The west coast is suddenly out of reach.

If the Celts were not our main aboriginal stock, how do we explain the wide historical distribution and influence of Celtic languages?

What I want to know is how orthodoxy evidences a wide historical distribution and influence of Celtic languages.

The orthodox view of the origins of the Celts turns out to be an archaeological myth left over from the 19th century.

This is the new orthodoxy. And it's wrong.

The swirling style of decoration is immortalised in such cultural icons as the Book of Kells, the illuminated Irish manuscript and the bronze Battersea shield

Bollocks. The Battersea Shield is dated to 300 BC and is clearly in the La Tène style, which can be most clearly identified as Celtic. The Book of Kells is dated to 800 AD and is clearly in the Viking style, incorporating some elements of La Tène.

But unfortunately for this orthodoxy, these artistic styles spread generally in Europe as cultural fashions, often made locally. There is no evidence they came to Britain and Ireland as part of an invasion.

Well, the Romans definitely invaded. Did they bring their villas with them; or did they make Roman-style stuff locally? What is the archaeological evidence of an invasion supposed to be?

Many archaeologists still hold this view of a grand iron-age Celtic culture in the centre of the continent... But there is absolutely no evidence, linguistic, archaeological or genetic, that identifies the Hallstatt or La Tène regions or cultures as Celtic homelands.

Yes, we know why that is.

The notion derives from a mistake made by the historian Herodotus 2,500 years ago when, in a passing remark about the "Keltoi," he placed them at the source of the Danube, which he thought was near the Pyrenees. Everything else about his description located the Keltoi in the region of Iberia.

It's both!

"Celt" is now a term that sceptics consider so corrupted in the archaeological and popular literature that it is worthless.

That includes the worthless deconstructions and pointless conjecture about whether anyone called themselves Celts.

This is too drastic a view. It is only the central European homeland theory that is false. The connection between modern Celtic languages and those spoken in southwest Europe during Roman times is clear and valid.

It is???

Further evidence for the Mediterranean origins of Celtic invaders is preserved in medieval Gaelic literature. According to the orthodox academic view of "iron-age Celtic invasions" from central Europe, Celtic cultural history should start in the British Isles no earlier than 300 BC. Yet Irish legend tells us that all six of the cycles of invasion came from the Mediterranean via Spain, during the late Neolithic to bronze age, and were completed 3,700 years ago.

That's assuming they were Celtic invasions! I need to know about this, but so far, it's entirely in keeping with my view.

The idea that the Celts were eradicated-culturally, linguistically and genetically-by invading Angles and Saxons derives from the idea of a previously uniformly Celtic English landscape. But the presence in Roman England of some Celtic personal and place-names doesn't mean that all ancient Britons were Celts or Celtic-speaking.

True...

The problem is that the English resemble in [ Y chromosome gene group frequencies ] all the other countries of northwest Europe as well as the Frisians and Germans. Using the same method, I have found greater similarities of this kind between the southern English and Belgians than the supposedly Anglo-Saxon homelands at the base of the Danish peninsula. These different regions could not all have been waiting their turn to commit genocide on the former Celtic population of England. The most likely reason for the genetic similarities between these neighbouring countries and England is that they all had similar prehistoric settlement histories.

Huzza!

When I looked at exact gene type matches between the British Isles and the continent, there were indeed specific matches between the continental Anglo-Saxon homelands and England, but these amounted to only 5 per cent of modern English male lines, rising to 15 per cent in parts of Norfolk where the Angles first settled. There were no such matches with Frisia

So the Anglo-Saxons could well come from where they said they did. We might be able to cut Frisia from the picture.

NB. Wikipedia has a page on Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue that lists erroneous assertions, including

That Frisian so closely resembles Old English that one fluent in Frisian could read Beowulf almost at sight. (Exaggeration, although Frisian retains some archaic features similar to Old English that are not present in Modern English.)

English females almost completely lack the characteristic Saxon mtDNA marker type still found in the homeland of the Angles and Saxons.


But he said the identity of the Angles and Saxons is in dispute! (Some say the Jutes came from Belgium, where he found strong resemblances.)

The conclusion is that there was an Anglo-Saxon invasion, but of a minority elite type, with no evidence of subsequent "sexual apartheid."

Chalk another one up to THOBR.

Tacitus reported that between Britain and Gaul "the language differs but little."

Which language? Oppenheimer has already acknowledged invasions by elites.

The common language referred to by Tacitus was probably not Celtic, but was similar to that spoken by the Belgae, who may have been a Germanic people, as implied by Caesar. In other words, a Germanic-type language could already have been indigenous to England at the time of the Roman invasion. In support of this inference, there is some recent lexical (vocabulary) evidence analysed by Cambridge geneticist Peter Forster and continental colleagues. They found that the date of the split between old English and continental Germanic languages goes much further back than the dark ages, and that English may have been a separate, fourth branch of the Germanic language before the Roman invasion.

So Old English was hanging around for ages before it up and raced into Middle English, eh? Not even the cultural upheaval of the Anglo-Saxon invasion to blame for unprecedented rate of change any more.

Apart from the Belgian connection in the south, my analysis of the genetic evidence also shows that there were major Scandinavian incursions into northern and eastern Britain, from Shetland to Anglia, during the Neolithic period and before the Romans.

How long have I been saying Boudicca could have been a Viking? That the Picts could be, too?

These are consistent with the intense cultural interchanges across the North sea during the Neolithic and bronze age. Early Anglian dialects, such as found in the old English saga Beowulf, owe much of their vocabulary to Scandinavian languages. This is consistent with the fact that Beowulf was set in Denmark and Sweden and that the cultural affiliations of the early Anglian kingdoms, such as found in the Sutton Hoo boat burial, derive from Scandinavia.

That's news to me: Sutton Hoo has always been unequivocally Anglo-Saxon. But...

When it comes to artistic styles I have been vexed: "Celtic" art and "Viking" art are the same and seemingly arose at the same time (9th century) so it is impossible to say which side of the North Sea it really came from. But Sutton Hoo looks like a precursor from the 7th century. (The Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Franks, Vikings... are virtually indistinguishable.) Now they're saying Sutton Hoo is actually Scandinavian rather than Germanic? Why the gap between Sutton Hoo "Anglo-Saxon" and "Viking"?

A picture thus emerges of the dark-ages invasions of England and northeastern Britain as less like replacements than minority elite additions, akin to earlier and larger Neolithic intrusions from the same places. There were battles for dominance between chieftains, all of Germanic origin, each invader sharing much culturally with their newly conquered indigenous subjects.

Now, where have I heard this before?

So, based on the overall genetic perspective of the British, it seems that Celts, Belgians, Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings and Normans were all immigrant minorities compared with the Basque pioneers, who first ventured into the empty, chilly lands so recently vacated by the great ice sheets.

But he just said a Germanic language was spoken here!!! As if building a house of cards isn't daft enough, he swats it down himself.

And the fundamental bit -- the Basque bit -- needs amplification.

The greatest advances in genetic tracing and measuring migrations over the past two decades have used samples from living populations to reconstruct the past.

Notice how migration is at the forefront of their minds when they do these reconstructions.

Study of mitochondrial DNA in the British goes back over a decade, and from 2000 to 2003 London-based researchers established a database of the geographically informative Y-chromosomes by systematic sampling throughout the British Isles. Most of these samples were collected from people living in small, long-established towns, whose grandparents had also lived there.

Just 3 generations speak of continuity? Notice how the exact opposite of migration is in the forefront of their minds when they do they reconstructions.
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You took most of the words out of my mouth. The real nub I thought was this para that you quoted, which I shall comment on:

The common language referred to by Tacitus was probably not Celtic,

This is always a problem for THOBR which claims that the Brits spoke English and the Gauls spoke French and that therefore Tacitus and/or Caesar must be wrong in claiming they spoke a common (or at any rate a similar) language. We usually get round this by assuming that Tacitus/Caesar only spoke to the nobs.

but was similar to that spoken by the Belgae,

Well, yes, orthodoxy claims the Belgae spoke a Celtic language the same as the Gauls and the Brits. THOBR maintains of course that the Belgae spoke Flemish/Dutch.

who may have been a Germanic people,

This is the first time I have seen anybody make this claim. Of course Flemish/Dutch is indisputably Germanic.

as implied by Caesar.

This really is news. Can anybody run this reference down? If it is true why has everybody been running round claiming the Belgae to be Celtic all this time?

In other words, a Germanic-type language could already have been indigenous to England at the time of the Roman invasion.

Again, this is the first time I have seen anybody actually stumble on the truth. I say "stumble" because it appears, on this geezer's argument, to come right out of left field.

In support of this inference, there is some recent lexical (vocabulary) evidence analysed by Cambridge geneticist Peter Forster and continental colleagues.

This is utterly bizarre (even though very useful for us). How on earth are geneticists managing to overthrow lingusitic and historical paradigms?

They found that the date of the split between old English and continental Germanic languages goes much further back than the dark ages, and that English may have been a separate, fourth branch of the Germanic language before the Roman invasion.

This is a retreat back to norm. Nobody has a clue about language splits because, as I keep offering up the challenge, not a single example of a language split (apart from ones they have got spectacularly wrong of course) has ever been identified. So nobody knows how long the process takes, even orders of magnitude.

Quick Addendum: Oppenheimer was the star of the recent Newsnight piece, the only person offering a bit of academic gravitas. I wrote to him offering to form a united front to advance the New Paradigm but no answer came the stern reply.
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Elizabeth


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Of course Oppenheimer will stay silent. You will Steal his Thunder. You will have to Thunder on your own, Mick. And put a Face to it.
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Mick Harper
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Yeah, I know, Lizzo. Coincidentally I am seeing a coupla people tomorrow about making a TV series -- of which the first will be about THOBR. Just me lecturing to camera with computer-generated grapical inserts. By the way, anybody out there with TV experience and/or computer-generated graphics experience should get in touch. As long as you don't say, "Forget it, Mick, it's a pipe dream." I can get that from my family and friends.
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Nick


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I teach English language and literature in a Spanish university. I very much enjoyed The History of Britain Revealed and I wanted to point out another anomaly that may be of interest to M. Harper. As I understand it, there are several hundred words in Middle English from Norse. However, these words do not appear in Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Norman (or at least in the texts that survive from these languages). What was the repository of this substantial lexicon from the 9th and 10th Centuries until the 14th? I have always felt unhappy about the idea that they were hanging around in spoken Anglo-Saxon/old-to-Middle English though never quite making it into the writing until 400 years later. Harper's invisible (i.e. not written) English could be just such a repository.
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