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Old 09 March 2007, 06:24 AM
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Icon105 A United Kingdom? Maybe

Britain and Ireland are so thoroughly divided in their histories that there is no single word to refer to the inhabitants of both islands. Historians teach that they are mostly descended from different peoples: the Irish from the Celts and the English from the Anglo-Saxons who invaded from northern Europe and drove the Celts to the country’s western and northern fringes.

But geneticists who have tested DNA throughout the British Isles are edging toward a different conclusion. Many are struck by the overall genetic similarities, leading some to claim that both Britain and Ireland have been inhabited for thousands of years by a single people that have remained in the majority, with only minor additions from later invaders like Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/06/science/06brits.html
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Old 09 March 2007, 07:09 AM
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This is fascinating; I hope to hear from my Snopester cousins in the UK, Ireland, Canada, NZ and Oz.

I'm an Anglo-American, and as a Mormon, quite familiar with my family history for the last few centuries or more. In recent history, it looks like just over half of my ancestors came from England. My earliest American ancestors - Puritans - came from England, but later immigrants came from Scotland, Wales, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy (Vaudois people who fled persecution from the Catholic King of France to the mountains of Piedmont), especially coming to the US after becoming Mormons between 1840 and 1860.

So, I've been telling people I'm Celto-Germanic - a descendent of Celtic and Germanic tribes (with maybe a little Roman in there). I thought it was true; what else would someone like me be? I fit the traits; I'm 5'10+" (about 179cm), light-skinned with some freckles, I have blue eyes, light brown or ash blond hair, and a red beard. Interestingly, there have been times - once each in Spain, London, and San Francisco - when German tourists came up to me and started speaking German. So, I don't know what to think!

I hope to read more on the matter. This reminds me of the Cheddar Man, whose descendents were found in the same locale after 9000 years.

So, maybe we're related to the Basques, who were apparently a pre-Celtic people? Were they the Cro-Magnons, or what? Please advise, you UK folks. I have my degree in anthropology, but this is all fairly new!
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  #3  
Old 09 March 2007, 08:57 AM
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Historians teach that they are mostly descended from different peoples: the Irish from the Celts and the English from the Anglo-Saxons who invaded from northern Europe and drove the Celts to the country’s western and northern fringes.
That's always been an oversimplification, though, if indeed it wasn't known to be untrue. The Anglo-Saxons didn't displace the existing majority population of what's now England - there was no genocide or large scale slaughter; they just colonized and took over politically. The people there before the Anglo Saxons arrived, after the Romans left, were Britons, who are usually described as "Romanized Celts" (so descended from people who were culturally Celtic.) I also think Celts have been seen as a cultural, rather than genetic, grouping for a while.

The only people as far as I know who think the English are "pure Anglo-Saxon" in anything other than a metaphorical sense are the far right and BNP members. There is one geneticist in the article arguing for a 50% - 100% replacement of the indigenous population with Anglo-Saxons, but I think that's definitely a fringe view these days. It seems there's another way to interpret his findings, and there just isn't any archaeological or historic evidence for large scale slaughter. (He was looking at the Y-chromosome, so I guess he could just be trying to argue that the indigenous male population suddenly didn't get to father any children.)

So it isn't a surprise that the majority genetics in England show pre-Anglo Saxon influence, and that some of that is shared with Ireland. I guess the newer part is the emphasis on the pre-Celtic people rather than the Celts as the basis for the majority population. Although if the Celts were a cultural group rather than a genetic one, then according to one theory the influx of Celtic culture didn't actually need a large scale migration of people, so that's not a completely new idea either.

There's quite a bit about these issues in Norman Davies' book The Isles for one. That's a very clear and interesting article, but I think it's based on new evidence for an existing theory, rather than anything radically new itself.

I'm not sure where Dr. Forster is coming from, with this part:

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But Dr. Forster argues that the Angles and the Saxons were both really Viking peoples who began raiding Britain ahead of the accepted historical schedule. They did not bring their language to England because English, in his view, was already spoken there, probably introduced before the arrival of the Romans by tribes such as the Belgae, whom Caesar describes as being present on both sides of the Channel.

...

Germanic is usually assumed to have split into three branches: West Germanic, which includes German and Dutch; East Germanic, the language of the Goths and Vandals; and North Germanic, consisting of the Scandinavian languages. Dr. Forster’s analysis shows English is not an offshoot of West Germanic, as usually assumed, but is a branch independent of the other three, which also implies a greater antiquity. Germanic split into its four branches some 2,000 to 6,000 years ago, Dr. Forster estimates.
I've not heard that before, and it seems to contradict most of what I've read about the linguistic development of Anglo-Saxon and English. It sounds rather unlikely, as the change from Anglo-Saxon (Old English) into modern English after the Norman invasion is quite well-understood and well-documented as far as I know, and surely there isn't any doubt that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (written in Old English) was actually written by Anglo-Saxons rather than the existing population? I think that's a more radical new idea than the part about genetics... I mean, even the language is called "Anglo-Saxon" as well as "Old English"; if he's right then it's not Anglo-Saxon. Interesting, though.
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Old 09 March 2007, 09:40 AM
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If asked to identify myself beyond "British", I identify as a Celt (being red-haired, hot-tempered and having Irish and Scottish ancestors). My sisters, being blonde, were often described as Saxon blondes.

English itself is very much a mongrel language. The influences of of different settlers in our isles can still be seen in the dialect words of different regions.

Anyone for an animated discussion on The Great Vowel Shift and how understanding it helps in learning Dutch? (Well I found it helped me!)
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  #5  
Old 09 March 2007, 10:12 AM
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Originally Posted by llewtrah View Post
English itself is very much a mongrel language. The influences of of different settlers in our isles can still be seen in the dialect words of different regions.
When talking about this, I like to illustrate how farm animals in English change their name on the way from the meadows to the plate:

cow (and even more so the Scots coo) is very similar to the German word Kuh for the same animal. Beef is easily recognised as a variant of the French boef.

This shows the the word for the living animals is Anglo-Saxon (because they tended the animals), while the word for the meat is Norman (because they ate them for dinner).

The same works for sheep (Schaf) and mutton (mutton).


But you probably knew that already.

Don Enrico
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Old 09 March 2007, 10:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Don Enrico View Post
cow (and even more so the Scots coo) is very similar to the German word Kuh for the same animal. Beef is easily recognised as a variant of the French boef.
The modern French for a cow that isn't on your plate is "vache", though.

"Boef" is old French, from Latin Bos for ox apparently, but at some point in France a similar distinction happened between the meat (boeuf) and the animal (vache) - and in this case, the word used for the meat is indigenous. Where does "vache" come from?
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Old 09 March 2007, 10:56 AM
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Eh.....I'm always very skeptical of studies looking at the genetics of race. Given race is a social construct in which geneticsare generally incidental, these types of study strike me as either waste of time, or a (deliberate or non) means of fuelling "racial purity" groups.

Surely archaeology, linguistics and suchlike are a better means of determining the migration and mixing of different peoples? Wouldn't intermarriage make most genetics dodgy at best in this regard?

it's interesting sure, just not sure of its significance.
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  #8  
Old 09 March 2007, 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Jonny T View Post
Eh.....I'm always very skeptical of studies looking at the genetics of race. Given race is a social construct in which geneticsare generally incidental, these types of study strike me as either waste of time, or a (deliberate or non) means of fuelling "racial purity" groups.
That's only the way it's presented for popular consumption, really - it's not about "race", it's about population migration. The trouble is that to talk about the various populations and when they moved, you need to label them, and the labels then become "races". Genetics is a legitimate means of working out population movement.

Labelling the populations does presuppose that most migration happened in waves, with large groups moving at the same time, but that's reasonable as far as I know. There were probably individuals moving around at all times, but movement on a large scale usually happens when conditions change in the place of origin (or in the place they're aiming for, but that seems less important historically - as opposed to prehistorically) and a lot of people emigrate at once.
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Old 09 March 2007, 11:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Don Enrico View Post
When talking about this, I like to illustrate how farm animals in English change their name on the way from the meadows to the plate:

cow (and even more so the Scots coo) is very similar to the German word Kuh for the same animal. Beef is easily recognised as a variant of the French boef.

This shows the the word for the living animals is Anglo-Saxon (because they tended the animals), while the word for the meat is Norman (because they ate them for dinner).
Animal names are a real mish-mash! You get singular forms from one language, but plurals and food-forms from other languages.

Singular/plural/flesh:-

Cow/cattle or kine/beef
Pig/swine/pork (hog has largely fallen from use)
Sheep/sheep/mutton
Deer/deer/venison

Goat/goats/goat (probably as it is rarely eaten here)

Horse/horses/unthinkable!

Coney (from Latin cuniculus) got changed to rabbit as it sounded too much like cunny. The fur is still called coney though.

If we did start eating horse, we'd probably have to call it cheval to diguise the fact.
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Old 09 March 2007, 11:54 AM
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Wasn't rabbit originally the term for the young (now called kits) whereas coney referred to the adults?
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  #11  
Old 09 March 2007, 01:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
Where does "vache" come from?
Well, in Spanish it's Vaca, in Romanian Vacă. This suggests a Latin, or at least a "Roman" origin (there might be a Celtic influence in Spanish but not likely in Romanian).

I once read about a theory that Latin wasn't really the everyday language spoken by the common Romans. Supposedly, Latin was merely the language of culture and literacy, while the ordinary Roman soldier spoke a different, though related, plebeiian Italic dialect. Hence we have Cheval and Caballo rather than Equus.
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Old 09 March 2007, 02:03 PM
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Originally Posted by llewtrah View Post
If we did start eating horse, we'd probably have to call it cheval to diguise the fact.
You could always do as we do in Sweden. We call it hamburger meat (when smoked and used on sandwiches).
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  #13  
Old 09 March 2007, 03:24 PM
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You could always do as we do in Sweden. We call it hamburger meat (when smoked and used on sandwiches).
Or make smoked sausage, somewhat like a mild salami, out of it and call it Gustavskorv (the place where it's made is called Gustavs, which, through some coincidence or something, lies next to the horse race track).
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  #14  
Old 09 March 2007, 03:30 PM
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Or make smoked sausage, somewhat like a mild salami, out of it and call it Gustavskorv (the place where it's made is called Gustavs, which, through some coincidence or something, lies next to the horse race track).
Which reminds me of something I read ages ago: it's not the garlic that makes the salami but the donkey meat in it.
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Old 10 March 2007, 11:24 AM
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I'm not sure where Dr. Forster is coming from, with this part:
Quote:
But Dr. Forster argues that the Angles and the Saxons were both really Viking peoples who began raiding Britain ahead of the accepted historical schedule. They did not bring their language to England because English, in his view, was already spoken there, probably introduced before the arrival of the Romans by tribes such as the Belgae, whom Caesar describes as being present on both sides of the Channel.

...

Germanic is usually assumed to have split into three branches: West Germanic, which includes German and Dutch; East Germanic, the language of the Goths and Vandals; and North Germanic, consisting of the Scandinavian languages. Dr. Forster’s analysis shows English is not an offshoot of West Germanic, as usually assumed, but is a branch independent of the other three, which also implies a greater antiquity. Germanic split into its four branches some 2,000 to 6,000 years ago, Dr. Forster estimates.
Quote:
I've not heard that before, and it seems to contradict most of what I've read about the linguistic development of Anglo-Saxon and English. It sounds rather unlikely, as the change from Anglo-Saxon (Old English) into modern English after the Norman invasion is quite well-understood and well-documented as far as I know, and surely there isn't any doubt that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (written in Old English) was actually written by Anglo-Saxons rather than the existing population? I think that's a more radical new idea than the part about genetics... I mean, even the language is called "Anglo-Saxon" as well as "Old English"; if he's right then it's not Anglo-Saxon. Interesting, though.
Well, Dr Forster is a geneticist, rather than a linquist, so that needs to be borne in mind – as far as I know, language isn't genetically encoded. The same can be said about Oppenheimer's reported claim that his purported pre-neolithic Iberian migrants spoke Basque. For a linquist's reaction to this story, have a look here.

Even the genetic component of this seems to be on the speculative side, if you ask me (though of course I'm as qualified to critique DNA research as Dr Forster is to pontificate on language ).
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Old 11 March 2007, 02:33 PM
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Originally Posted by snopes View Post
But geneticists who have tested DNA throughout the British Isles are edging toward a different conclusion. Many are struck by the overall genetic similarities, leading some to claim that both Britain and Ireland have been inhabited for thousands of years by a single people that have remained in the majority, with only minor additions from later invaders like Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans.
Does this mean you're all Picts? Groovy.
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Old 12 March 2007, 12:02 PM
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Originally Posted by VeebleFetzer View Post
Well, Dr Forster is a geneticist, rather than a linquist, so that needs to be borne in mind – as far as I know, language isn't genetically encoded. The same can be said about Oppenheimer's reported claim that his purported pre-neolithic Iberian migrants spoke Basque. For a linquist's reaction to this story, have a look here.
I'm glad to see that I can still pick out the parts of an article that are rubbish, even when I don't know much about the subject and they claim to be statements from a "doctor"...

The most speculative part of the genetics work seems like the statement that between 50 - 100% of the indigeneous population was displaced by Anglo-Saxons, as I said. Not only does it completely contradict the other findings in the article (I suppose that's why it was included, as a counterpoint), but it contradicts archaeological and historical evidence, and there are clearly other possible interpretations of his findings, even taken at face value as described.

The other parts are more interesting, and I'd say more reliable because they seem to be backing up what you'd expect from current thinking based on other evidence (as far as I know).
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Old 12 March 2007, 04:43 PM
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The most speculative part of the genetics work seems like the statement that between 50 - 100% of the indigeneous population was displaced by Anglo-Saxons, as I said. Not only does it completely contradict the other findings in the article (I suppose that's why it was included, as a counterpoint), but it contradicts archaeological and historical evidence, and there are clearly other possible interpretations of his findings, even taken at face value as described.
I don't know about that – the Anglo-Saxon invasion/migration is the period for which there's the least reliable history or useful archaeology, as far as I know. You can read the paper on Thomas & co's survey here, if you like – I'm not qualified in any way to critique it myself, but simple common sense tells my that the argument Oppenheimer puts forward in that New York Times article doesn't hold water.

He claims that the similarity in DNA between men in central England and in Friesland is "because both regions were repopulated by people from the Iberian refuges after the glaciers retreated", and yet earlier in the article he's estimating "DNA from invaders accounts for 20 percent of the gene pool in Wales, 30 percent in Scotland, and about a third in eastern and southern England." But who are these invaders if they're not the self-same northern Europeans he claims can't be distinguished from native Britons?

Quite honestly, I don't think there's any hope of judging any of this from that article: a number of things in it don't add up, but whether that's down to the scientists, the writer, or his editor (or all three) I have no idea.
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