Alternative Histories of English

By Richard Watts; Peter Trudgill | Go to book overview

2

The history of thelesser-known varieties of English

Peter Trudgill

Histories of the first thousand years or so of the English language obviously have to have a rather narrow geographical focus. Four hundred years ago, in 1600, English had no very important role as a foreign or second language anywhere, and was spoken as a native language in a very small area of the globe indeed: it was the native language of the indigenous population in most of England, and in the south and east of Scotland. It was, however, absent from much of Cornwall and from Welsh-speaking parts of Shropshire and Herefordshire; most of the population of Ireland was Irish-speaking; nearly all of the population of Wales was still Welsh-speaking; the inhabitants of the Highlands and Hebridean Islands of Scotland spoke Gaelic; those of Orkney and Shetland spoke Scandinavian Norn; the population of the Isle of Man was Manx-speaking; and the inhabitants of the Channel Islands were still French-speaking.

During the course of the 1600s this situation changed dramatically. English arrived as a native language - as a result of colonisation - in Ireland, in what is now the United States, and in Bermuda, Newfoundland, the Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. It also spread during this time into many island and mainland areas of the Caribbean: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, the American Virgin Islands, and the mainland areas of Guyana and Belize. And it is not widely known that areas other than these (in modern times cricket-playing Commonwealth) countries were also settled by anglophones: eastern coastal and island areas of Honduras, Nicaragua and Colombia remain English-speaking to this day. The Dutch island colonies of Saba, St Maarten and St Eustatius have also been English-speaking since the early 1600s; and the mainly Papiamentu-speaking Dutch colony of Bonaire has a sizeable number of indigenous anglophones too.

During the eighteenth century English began its expansion into Wales and north-western Scotland, and into mainland and maritime Canada.

In the nineteenth century, again as a result of colonisation, English expanded to Hawaii, and into the southern hemisphere - not only to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as is well known, but also to the South Atlantic Islands of St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and the Falklands, and in the Pacific

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