A Conversation for CELTIC DEVON

Celtic language in Devon

Post 1

Ozzie Exile

I came across this interesting site today.

"Fast forward a few years more. The Saxons were giving land grants out for these occupied territories (more on this later). We come to a very unusual one in 974 AD (only 92 years before N-Day). Land grants tend to be written in Latin but the boundaries of the land being granted are given in English. These grants are so formulaic that some research is suggesting that the Saxons actually had some form of Chancery as individual scribes are being identified. Yet S 795 is different. It's from King Edgar to Ælfhere, his faithful minister for a grant of 3 hides (mansae) at Nymed (now Woolfin in Down St Mary, Devon). The odd thing is the formulation of the name. It reads like this "for the place which in the common tongue is called Nymed". Who's common tongue? Not the Saxon's - as Nymed is actually a Celtic name meaning holy place or sacred grove (just for info this is Limet in DB from 1086 and then Nimet Rollandi in 1242, and Nemethe Tracy in 1270). So the common tongue of an area which had been under Saxon control for 264 years was still Celtic... and I don't know of too many languages which die out within the space of 92 years barring total catastrophe."


I have yet to confirm the translation, but it is interesting (to me at least)

Celtic language in Devon

Post 2

Ozzie Exile


Whilst publications from that era are often from "non-professionals" and sometimes ignored as a result, in cases of dialect of that era there are no other reliable sources.

In this case the introduction gives an interesting insight not only into Somerset dialect of the day, but also that of Devon.

Here are two extracts from the book.

"I submit that we have in the West of Somerset and in Devonshire in the pronunciation of the vowels; a much more trustworthy criterion than a mere vocabulary. The British natives learnt the language that their masters spoke, and this is nearly the same as in Wilts, Dorset, Gloucester, Berks, and Hampshire, and seems to have formerly extended into Kent. But they learnt it as the Spaniards learnt Latin: they picked up the words, but pronounced them as they did their own. The accent differs so widely in the West of Somerset and in Devonshire from that of the counties east of them that it is extremely difficult for a native of these latter to understand what our people are talking about, when they are conversing with one another and unconscious of the presence of a stranger.

The river Parret is usually considered to be the boundary of the two dialects, and history records the reason of it. We learn from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 658, that “Cenwealh in this year fought against the Welsh at Pen, and put them to flight as far as the Parret.” “Her Kenwealh gefeaht æt Peonnum wiþ Wealas, and hie geflymde oþ Pedridan.” Upon this passage Lappenberg in his “England under the Anglo-Saxon kings” remarks: “The reign of Cenwealh is important on account of the aggrandisement of Wessex. He p. ixdefeated in several battles the Britons of Dyvnaint and Cernau [Devon and Cornwall] who had endeavoured to throw off the Saxon yoke, first at Wirtgeornesburh, afterwards, with more important results, at Bradenford [Bradford] on the Avon in Wiltshire, and again at Peonna [the hill of Pen in Somersetshire], where the power of the Britons melted like snow before the sun, and the race of Brut received an incurable wound, when he drove them as far as the Pedrede [the Parret] in A.D. 658.”

The same author in another passage says (vol. i. p. 120): “In the south-west we meet with the powerful territory of Damnonia, the kingdom of Arthur, which bore also the name of ‘West-Wales.’ Damnonia at a later period was limited to Dyvnaint, or Devonshire, by the separation of Cernau or Cornwall. The districts called by the Saxons those of the Sumorsætas, of the Thornsætas [Dorset], and the Wiltsætas were lost to the kings of Dyvnaint at an early period; though for centuries afterwards a large British population maintained itself in those parts among the Saxon settlers, as well as among the Defnsætas, long after the Saxon conquest of Dyvnaint, who for a considerable time preserved to the natives of that shire the appellation of the Welsh kind.”

In corroboration of Lappenberg’s opinion, one in which every antiquary will concur, I may notice in passing that many a farm in West Somerset retains to the present day an old name that can only be explained from the Cornish language. Thus, “Plud farm,” near Stringston, is “Clay farm,” or “Mud farm,” from plud, mire. In a word, the peasantry of West Somerset are Saxonized Britons. Their ancestors submitted to the conquering race, or left their country and emigrated to Brittany, but were not destroyed; and in them and their kinsmen of Cornouailles in France we see the living representatives of the ancient Britons as truly as in Devonshire and Cornwall, in Cumberland, or Wales.

The characteristic feature of their dialect, and the remark p. xapplies of course equally to the Devonian which is identical with it, is the sound of the French u or the German u given to the oo and ou, a sound that only after long practice can be imitated by natives of the more eastern counties. Thus a “roof” is a rüf, “through” is thrü, and “would” is wüd. The county might consequently be divided into a “Langue d’oo” and a “Langue d’ü.”

An initial w is pronounced oo. “Where is Locke?” “Gone t’ Ools, yer honour.” “What is he gone there for?” “Gone zootniss, yer honour.” The man was gone to Wells assizes as a witness in some case. In a public-house row brought before the magistrates they were told that “Oolter he com in and drug un out.” (“Walter came in and dragged him out.”) Ooll for “will” is simply ooill. An owl doommun is an old oooman. This usage seems to be in accordance with the Welsh pronunciation of w in cwm."

and later, as an addendum

"Since the above has been in type I have had the satisfaction of learning from Mr. G. P. R. Pulman, of the Hermitage, Crewkerne, that at Axminster, the river Axe, the ancient British and Saxon boundary line, divides the dialect spoken to the east of it (the Dorset, to judge from a specimen of it that he has enclosed) from the Devon. He goes on to say: “On the opposite, the west side of the river, as at Kilmington, Whitford, and Colyton, for instance, a very different dialect is spoken, the general south or rather east Devon. The difference between the two within so short a distance (for you never hear a Devonshire sound from a native Axminster man) is very striking.” That after a period of 1,200 years the exact limit of the two races should still be distinguishable in the accent of their descendants, is an interesting confirmation of the view that I have taken of the origin of these dialects, and at the same time a remarkable proof of the tenacity of old habits in a rural population; the more so that the boundary line of the dialects does not coincide with that of the two counties."

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Celtic language in Devon

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