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The earliest form of English (called Old English) emerged during the 5th century, when Germanic-speaking tribes (the Anglo-Saxons) migrated to Britain and eventually established the Kingdom of England. Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the language borrowed extensively from Norman and to a lesser extent from other Romance languages.
Anglish is thus an attempt to "revitalise" the native Germanic element in English, or even to "purify" it of non-Germanic elements. This is achieved by using existing Germanic equivalents of Romance words ("fathom" rather than "ascertain"), by resurrecting archaic or obsolete words ("forbus" for "example"), borrowing from Old English ("fraign" for "question"), and sometimes by using new words coined from Old English roots ("owndom" rather than "property").
In the 1500s and 1600s, controversy over unnecessary foreign borrowings (known as "inkhorn terms") was rife. Writers were introducing many complicated words, mainly from Latin and Greek. Critics saw this as unnecessary and pretentious, arguing that English already had words with identical meanings. However, many of the new words gained an equal footing with the native Germanic words, and often replaced them.Writers such as Thomas Elyot flooded their writings with foreign borrowings, whilst writers such as John Cheke sought to keep their writings "pure". Cheke wrote:
I am of this opinion that our own tung should be written cleane and pure, unmixt and unmangeled with borowing of other tunges; wherein if we take not heed by tiim, ever borowing and never paying, she shall be fain to keep her house as bankrupt.In his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote:
Bad writers –especially scientific, political, and sociological writers– are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones.
A contemporary of Orwell, the Australian composer Percy Grainger, used a similar language for his writings which he called "blue-eyed English". Lee Hollander's 1962 English translation of the Poetic Edda (a collection of Old Norse poems), written almost solely with Germanic words, would also inspire many future "Anglish" writers.
In 1966, Paul Jennings wrote a number of "Anglish" articles in Punch, to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the Norman conquest. He gave "a bow to William Barnes, the Dorset poet-philologist". The pieces included a sample of Shakespeare's writing as it might have been if William the Conqueror had never succeeded.
In 1989, science fiction writer Poul Anderson wrote a text about basic atomic theory called Uncleftish Beholding. It was written using only words of Germanic origin, and was meant to show what English might look like without foreign borrowings. In 1992, Douglas Hofstadter jokingly referred to the style as "Ander-Saxon". This term has since been used to describe any scientific writings that use only Germanic words.
Anderson used techniques including:
- extension of sense (motes for 'particles');
- calques, i.e., translation of the morphemes of the foreign word (uncleft for atom, which is from Greek a- 'not' and temnein 'to cut')
- calques from other Germanic languages like German and Dutch (waterstuff from the German wasserstoff / Dutch waterstof for 'hydrogen'; sourstuff from the German sauerstoff / Dutch zuurstof for 'oxygen');
- coining (firststuff for 'element'; lightrotting for 'radioactive decay').
Another approach, without a specific name-tag, can be seen in the September 2009 publication How We'd Talk if the English had Won in 1066, by David Cowley. This is based on updating known Old English words to today's English spelling, and seeks mainstream appeal by covering words in 5 Steps, from easy to "weird and wonderful", as well as giving many examples of use, drawings and tests.
- Paul Jennings, "I Was Joking Of Course", London, Max Reinhardt Ltd, 1968
- Poul Anderson, "Uncleftish Beholding", Analog Science Fact / Science Fiction Magazine, mid-December 1989.
- Douglas Hofstadter (1995). "Speechstuff and Thoughtstuff". in Sture Allén (ed.). Of Thoughts and Words: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 92. London: Imperial College Press. ISBN 1860940064. Includes a reprint of Anderson's article, with a translation into more standard English.
- Douglas Hofstadter (1997). Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-08645-4. Also includes and discusses excerpts from the article.
- List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents in English
- High Icelandic and Høgnorsk
- Inkhorn term
- Classical compound
- Plain English