British Isles languages

june/jule/august/sept 2016

British Isles languages

English language and all variants are under investigation here, so i changed the title into languages of the British Isles.

These are languages in the Great Brittain, England, Scotland, Ireland, United Kingdom. Or: the languages on the continents we now call United Kingdom, Ireland, Isle of Man and some more like Bretagne.

To start of with an easy one: here you see the language Modern English, the text is Genesis, King James version:

dna english
English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years. The earliest forms of English, a set of Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the fifth century, are called Old English. The well known Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England.  -source-

The Anglo-Frisian family tree is:

Goran tek-en [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
English: Phylogenetic tree of the West Germanic languages with emphasis on the Anglo-frisian.



We have these islands that lie in the Atlantic Ocean with their variants:

Maunus at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The history of English,  – > good source.

Summary of Excerpt:

  • Vikings spoke Old Norse.
    500-1100. 8th century: Vikings (=Norsemen) raid east coast of Britain. Came from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. established the Danelaw.
  • Old English, also called Anglo-Saxon
    “Beowulf” 8-11th Century
    oldest surviving text Old English is “Cædmon’s Hymn” 658-680
  • Anglo-Norman or Norman French
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Gaelic
    dialect regions: Northern, Midlands, Southern and Kentish.  although were really from
  • Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon and Kentish dialects of Old English
    universities of Oxford and Cambridge were founded in 1167 and 1209.
  • Middle English:
    The Hundred Year War against France (1337 – 1453).  14th Century London dialect of Chaucer around 1380.



Middle English

According to Shakespeare’s Resource Center, old English ends around 1066 and that is where Middle English begins till it ends on 1455:

Era Approximate
Time Period
Example: The Lord’s Prayer
Old English 450–1066 Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum; Si þin nama gehalgod to becume þin rice gewurþe ðin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
Middle English 1066–1450 Oure fadir that art in heuenes, halewid be thi name; thi kyndoom come to; be thi wille don in erthe as in heuene.
Early Modern English 1450–1690 Our father which art in heauen, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdome come. Thy will be done, in earth, as it is in heauen.
(Shakespeare 1564-1616)
Modern English 1690–Present Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.

-source-    and more info on English

We see the Middle English is conventiantly classified in the period 1100-1500.

Old English is also called Anglo-Saxon.  Other sources write old English language is from period 450–1150. Abbreviation: OE.

So I am convinced i must examen the period of Middle English and  searched for some good text. And it is here that I’ve found two which indeed are lengthy enough for analysis:

  1. the canterbury tales by geoffrey chaucer ( from around 1380
  2. the wycliff bible from 1380 in Middle English (M.E.)

Example bible text:

Chapter 1

1 In the bigynnyng God made of nouyt heuene and erthe.

2 Forsothe the erthe was idel and voide, and derknessis weren on the face of depthe; and the Spiryt of the Lord was borun on the watris.

Because these entire documents are very big i used only Genesis and since the original manuscript of the Canterbury has not survived i used a copies. This copy is the Harley 1758 and  the transcription is based on that, but since not all text is available i used The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin, 1957. The text used is mentioned in the title of the graph:

dna middle english

Let’s take some more documents in Middle English (M.E.):

dna mandeville egerton ME

dna me kot

As you can see the King of Tars poem is a little bit too short, written probably before 1330.

dna me aofi

dna me cant1

dna me margery kempe 1430


Anglo-Norman,  also known as Anglo-Norman French

Over time the language Northern French dialects and mix of (English) dialects evolved from Old Norman to Anglo-Norman language. -read more on wiki-

dna anglo norman mandeville cotton

Just to show the method of “mixing two languages” i show the artificial mix of statistics of ME and French below, so this can be compared with the Anglo-Norman:

dna mix middle eng en french


Celtic languages

Scholarly handling of the Celtic languages, distinguish Continental Celtic and Insular Celtic, arguing that the differences between the Goidelic and Brittonic languages arose after these split off from the Continental Celtic languages.

Other scholars distinguish between P-Celtic and Q-Celtic, where Proto-Celtic is P-celtic.
The first language to split off from Proto-Celtic was Gaelic.

There are the Gaelic languages (i.e. the Irish language and Scottish Gaelic – both descended from Old Irish), and the Brittonic languages (i.e. Welsh and the Breton language – both descended from Old Brittonic).
The other two, Cornish and Manx, died in modern times and were renewed again.


Celtic Language
Local name
Main area's of interest
Focus on
Welsh Cymraeg Wales, England Middle Welsh
Irish Gaelic Gaeilge Ireland on Middle Irish (1200-1600)
Breton Brezhoneg N-W France: Brittany
Scottish Gaelic Gàidhlig Scotland
Cornish Kernewek Cornwall (UK)
Manx Gaelic Gaelg Isle of Man (UK)

To confuse a little bit more, let’s make a list of name that resemble:
Gaelige (ga) = Irish = Gaelic or Irish Gaelic
Gaelg (gv) = Manx = Gaelg = Gailck = Manx Gaelic, and also historically spelt Manks
Gaidhlig (gd) = Scottish Gaelic = Scots Gaelic, Gaelic = Gàidhlig
Galego (gl) = Galician (Iberian, Spanish language family of Portugese)


You could also read:



In old literature often languages are mentioned. Very confusing because around 1300 these terms on languages must be interpreted different from what we call them. If i use an old term and i know it must be renamed into a modern term i will put it between brackets from now on.

The transition is as follows:    [source: Sarah Woodbury ]

(Old term yr 1300)   ->  current term
(French)  ->  Norman French

(Scottish)  ->  Scottisch Gaelic

(English)   ->  Scots

“By the early 16th century, the Gaelic language had acquired the name Erse, meaning Irish, and thereafter it was invariably the collection of Middle English dialects spoken within the Kingdom of the Scots that came to be referred to as Scottis (whence Scots).”



Breton is a Celtic language spoken in Brittany (Breton: Breizh; French: Bretagne), France. -wiki-
ince the Scots in the early Middle Ages had good ties with the French a new language emerged, Breton.  Old Breton is attested from the 9th century.

dna breton gospels

dna breton buhez



Irish is a Goedelic Celtic language closely related to Scottish Gaelic and more distantly related to Welsh, Breton and Cornish. In fact, many words in Irish and Scottish Gaelic are identical, but spelled with differently angled accents.  –more from there-

Earliest texts in Old Irish also contain Latin, around 7th and 8th centuries AD. Würzburg Glosses.

Hiberno‐English (from Latin Hibernia: “Ireland”) or Irish English refers to the set of English dialects natively written and spoken in Ireland. English was brought to Ireland as a result of the Norman invasion of Ireland of the late 12th century

Middle Irish (Middle Gaelic) is the Goidelic language which was spoken in Ireland, parts of Scotland and the Isle of Man from the 10th to 12th centuries.
Seen as contemporary of late Old English and early Middle English. The modern Goidelic languages—Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx—are all descendants of Middle Irish.

Old Irish: years <1100
Middle Irish: years 1000-1200
Early Modern Irish: ( Hiberno‐English or Anglo Irish) : years 1200-1600
Modern Irish year: years 1600 >

Ireland was invaded by the English Crown in 1170 but never fully conquered until 1603. Norman and English settlers began to take on Irish language and culture and so attempts were made to reverse this when the Statutes of Kilkenny (1367).

A further Act, in 1537, attempted to do the same and set up English schools in the parishes. Gaelic bards were also discouraged.
The final conquest of Ireland (1603) and plantation of Ulster (1609) led to the break-up of the old Gaelic learned class and leadership and to a decline in the fortunes of the Irish language. Attempts to convert the population to Protestantism were made with the translation of The New Testament into Irish in 1602, followed by the Old Testament in 1675, and the first works printed in Gaelic, in Ireland, appeared in 1571, though the Scots had already printed a Gaelic text in 1567.  -source- Bord na Gaeilge at the University of Dublin exists to promote the teaching of Irish at the university and offers courses in the language. An online English and Irish dictionary. The official body in Ireland for promoting the language. It has news, history, school resources and details of government policies.

dna old irish

dna middle irish

As you can see the Hiberno versions do not resemble old or middle Irish: they resemble either French or English, Anglo-Norman or Middle English, which is exactly the point of this exercise.

dna hiberno irish anglo norman around 1200 dna hiberno irish middle english kildare poems






dna welsh 1350

Welsh (Cymraeg)

Middle Welsh = Cymraeg / Gymraeg

Of all the minority indigenous language in the British Isles, Welsh is certainly the most vibrant in terms of institutional and political support. Welsh first emerged as a distinct language between AD 400 and 700 when it diverged from the common Brittonic spoken also in England and southern Scotland. The earliest Welsh text is believed to be Llyfr Teilo (aka Lichfield Gospels) dating to the mid-9th century.

Wales was united culturally from an early age but remained politically divided and she was conquered by England at the end of the 13th century. Wales remained a distinct polity until 1536 when she was shired and annexed to England. The Act of Union of 1536 attempted to outlaw the use of Welsh from the administration in favour of English. However, from an early period the Welsh language was used to foster religious reform and so the New Testament was translated into Welsh in 1567 and the Old Testament in 1688.

The 1967 Welsh Language Act gave some legal protection to the language for the first time but it was not until a further Act, passed in 1993, that Welsh was given equal status with English in public life in Wales. In 1891 Welsh was the subject of a census question for the first time when a total of 910, 289 people (54% of the population) said they could speak Welsh (of which 508, 036 could speak Welsh only). At the time of the 2001 census 611, 000 people in Wales were enumerated as speaking the language or 20.5% of the Welsh population. In 1993 it was also claimed that 133,000 Welsh speakers were living in England.

Wales is officially bi-lingual with English and Welsh language options often found throughout the UK (for instance public telephones) even where Welsh is not natively spoken.




Early Scots was the emerging literary language of the Northern Middle English speaking parts of Scotland in the period before 1450. Comes from Middle English descended from Northumbrian Old English. In that peiod speaker referred to the language as “English” (Inglis, Ynglis).

Northumbrian Old English had been established in south-eastern Scotland as far as the River Forth in the 7th century. It remained largely confined to this area until the 13th century, continuing in common use while Scottish Gaelic was the court language.  After the 12th century early northern Middle English began to spread north and eastwards and from that emerged Early Scots.

Eventually the royal court and barons all spoke Inglis. Further spreading of the language eventually led to Scottish Gaelic being confined mostly to the highlands and islands by the end of the Middle Ages, although some lowland areas, notably in Galloway and Carrick, retained the language until the 17th or 18th century. From the late 14th century even Latin was replaced by Inglis as the language of officialdom and literature.

Middle Scots was the Anglic language of Lowland Scotland in the period from 1450 to 1700

Scotland was somewhat divided into the Gaelic Highlands and the Anglic Lowlands around 1600-1700. By the early 16th century Scottis (previously used to describe Gaelic in Ireland as well as Scotland) had been adopted for what had become the national language of the Stewart kingdom. The term Erse (Irish) was used instead for Gaelic, while the previously used term Inglis was increasingly used to refer to the language south of the border. The first known instance of this terminology was by an unknown man in 1494.

Modern Scots describes the varieties of (Lowland) Scots traditionally spoken in Lowland Scotland and parts of Ulster from 1700.

Scots, the language of lowland Scotland descended from Northern Middle English, often called Broad Scots or Scotch, the Doric, the Buchan Claik, the Patter, Lallans (Lowland Scots), and to some, simply Scottish dialect.




Scots can be divided into:

  • Early scots:  <1450. From Northumbrian early English. On the court Gaelic was used.
  • Middle scots: 1450-1700. Resembles early Northumbrian Middle English. By the early 16th century what was then called Inglis had become the language of government, and its speakers started to refer to it as Scottis. Which had previously been titled Scottis, as Erse (Irish), now Scottish Gaelic.
  • Modern Scots: 1700+  (Dialect divisions: Insular scots, Northern scots, Central scots, Southern Scots, Ulster scots, and more sub-dialects)


dna scots 1603

dna scots 1581



Scottish Gaelic

Gaelic introduced in Scotland from around 6th century AD.  Began to fall out of favour from the 12th century onwards, first in favour of French, and then the emerging Lowland Scots language.  Irish linguists refer to this period as Early Modern Irish (1200-1600) while Scottish Gaels call it Common Gaelic. 

The earliest surviving Gaelic now written in Scotland consists of notes and glosses in the Book of Deer dated to the 1130s and there is a single charter, the Islay Charter of 1408, also in Gaelic, but neither of these differs from the strict written standard shared with Irish.
John Carswell’s translation of Knox’s Liturgy was the first work ever printed in Gaelic (in 1567) but it was in the common Gaelic standard rather than Scottish Gaelic.

The spoken language gradually diverged until, in the 16th century, the first Scottish Gaelic texts began to emerge, such as The Book of the Dean of Lismore, and, by the early 1600s, people had begun to speak of Scottish Gaelic as a distinct language. Indeed, earlier Scottish Gaels had often embraced Ireland as the ‘mother culture’ and the term ‘Scottish’ was often taken to mean ‘Irish’ in a Gaelic context but, after 1600, this pan-Gaidhealtachd (Gaelic-speaking region) broke up into separate national identities.


Classical Gaelic (Scottish Gaelic: Gàidhlig Chlasaigeach; Irish: Gaeilge Chlasaiceach) was the shared literary form that was in use in Scotland and Ireland from the 13th to the 18th centuries.[2] The language may be thought of as a high-register version of Early Modern Irish. Although the first written signs of Scottish Gaelic having diverged from Irish appear as far back as the 12th century annotations of the Book of Deer, Scottish Gaelic did not have a standardised form and did not appear in print on a significant scale until the 1767 translation of the New Testament into Scottish Gaelic[3]—though John Carswell’s Foirm na n-Urrnuidheadh, an adaptation of John Knox’s Book of Common Order, was the first book printed in either Scottish or Irish Gaelic.



dna scots gaelic dna scots gaelic 1913

Nice Australian newspaper piece about the days in Gaelic:

and here on wikipedia.



P-Celtic Cornish (Kernowek)

Cornish was spoken in Cornwall and Devon in the early Middle Ages and is the sister language of Welsh. The earliest texts in Cornish date from the 10th century AD and there are several plays in the language dating from the Middle Ages. Originally a kingdom, Cornwall came under English domination from the 920s and it was created a duchy in 1337 for the eldest son of the English king. The Cornish revolted in 1549 when London tried to impose Protestantism and services in English and for a long time the county was known as ‘West Wales’. It was not officially made a part of England until the late 19th century. Slowly, however, Cornish gave ground to English until, by the 17th century, it had become a minority language even in Corwall. The last native speaker was long thought to be Dorothy Pentreath (d. 1777) but John Nancarrow and William Bodinar, who died in the 1790s, are now thought to have been the last.

However, Celtic activists revived and recreated the language (borrowing somewhat from Welsh) from the late 19th century onwards. Henry Jenner (1848-1934) was the father of the modern language revival. Cornish was recognised officially under Part II of the European Charter (ratified 2003). It is estimated today that there are, perhaps, 3,500 speakers and there is a campaign for a Cornish Assembly to be established to run Cornish affairs. The history of the language with a language course (Cornish to English) and English to Cornish dictionary. Local government website which has information on the status of Cornish and the role of local government in its promotion. The Cornish language partnership. It gives the political background to the language movement and provides online translation and phrases in the language. Gives a brief history of the language, key dates and useful phrases.


Need specific text sources



Manx is a Celtic language spoken on the Isle of Man (Ellan Vannin).

Manx is one of the three descendants of Old Irish (via Middle Irish and early Modern Gaelic), and is closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic.
There are two dialects of Manx, Northern Manx and Southern Manx.

Gaelic was introduced to the Isle of Man from Ireland about AD 500. The language spoken on the island gradually diverged into a distinct form around the 1690.
It was spoken by almost the entire population of the Isle of Man until the 1765.

(see also omniglot )

Written form
Manx first acquired a written form in around 1610, when John Phillips, the Welsh-born Bishop of Sodor and Mann, had the Book of Common Prayer translated into Manx using an orthography based on Welsh, though this translation was not published until 1894. In the early 18th century Bishop Thomas Wilson had his Principles and Duties of Christianity translated into Manx, using an orthography based on English. That orthography, with some modifications, has continued to be used to the present day.

More information about Manx, and language death and revival.
source: omniglot

wiki tells us:

Because Manx has never had a large number of speakers, it has never been practical to produce large amounts of written literature. A body of oral literature, on the other hand, did exist. It is known that the “Fianna” tales and the like were known, with the Manx ballad Fin as Oshin commemorating Finn MacCool and Ossian.[18] With the coming of Protestantism, this slowly disappeared, while a tradition of carvals, religious songs or carols, developed with religious sanction.[when?]

As far as is known, there was no distinctively Manx written literature before the Reformation. By this time, any presumed literary link with Ireland and Scotland, such as through Irish-trained priests, had been lost.

The first published literature in Manx was The Principles and Duties of Christianity (Coyrie Sodjey), translated by Bishop of Man Thomas Wilson.[8]
The earliest surviving texts in Manx are John Philips’ translation of the Book of Common Prayer (c.1610) and some Bible translations.

The first printed work in Manx is Coyrle Sodjeh (‘further advice’) by Bishop Thomas Wilson in 1707. -source-


Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer is the foundational prayer book of the Church of England. It was one of the instruments of the Protestant Reformation in England, and was also adapted and revised for use in other churches in the Anglican Communion. It replaced the various Latin rites that had been used in different parts of the country with a single compact volume in English. First produced in 1549, it was drastically revised in 1552 and more subtly changed in 1559 and 1662. A modern liturgical text bearing the BCP name is widely used in the Episcopal Church of America as well as some Methodist churches. (source:

The 1662 Book has been translated into many languages. Links to all may be found on our Other Languages page. Several of these are on the web thanks to Project Canterbury. Another site hosts the 1662 Book in Manx Gaelic. The Internet Archive has the 1662 BCP in Arabic (1902, Griffiths 8:9) “Ecclesiastical” Greek (1923, Griffiths 45:8), and in Eskimo, or Inuktitut (1900, Griffiths 32:2), all in PDF. Google Books additionally has the 1662 BCP in Mohawk (1842, Griffiths 111:8). There are many others.  source:

read the bible in manx here:¬2=&book=1&mode2=Read&chap=1

Since it is an artificial language anyway, it doesn’t really matter at this point which year you take:

dna manx gaelic gospels


Similarities, Loan words

Many words in the discussed languages found there way inside one of the other languages.

words in eng and scots

Source: John Kirk.

Ulster (Irish: Ulaidh) is the most northern province of Ireland, if you swim towards the UK, you will pass Isle of Man.


Old English. (OE)

Old English language is from period +/- 450–1150. Also called Anglo-Saxon.

Many Isle languages are related to the Old English, that is why it is  interesting.

Northumbrian (dialect of Old English)
Mercian (dialect of Old English)
West Saxon (dialect of Old English)
Kentish (dialect of Old English)


Still to do:

  • if you have a good text let me know

Irish Gaelic period 1400-1500
Early Scots <1450 (probably not existing)
Cornish text (any)
Old English 450- 1150 (with very little Latin)