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Mapping Early Medieval Language Change in South-West England

Duncan Probert

Britons in Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Nick Higham (Woodbridge, 2007), 231-44

THIS paper explores the potential for using evidence preserved in certain place-names to map the linguistic transition from a Brittonic to an OldEnglish vernacular in south-west England. The traditional account of the corresponding political transition is well known. In the late sixth century the English reached the lower Severn, thereby isolating south-western Britons from their compatriots in the West Midlands and Wales. The takeover of what became Dorset and Somerset was complete by the late seventh century and, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, included battles at which the Britons were driven ‘as far as the Parrett’ and ‘as far as the sea’. During the late seventh and early eighth centuries the eastern part of British Dumnonia became English Devon. Cornwall remained independent for longer; but a Cornish bishop had submittedto Canterbury by 870, its last known king died in 875 and West Saxon kings wereholding lands in Cornwall well before this. By the time that Æthelstan formalized the river Tamar as the boundary between Devon and Cornwall in the early tenth century, Cornwall had been incorporated into the emergent kingdom of England.

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