What would English be like if 1066 hadn't happened? I don't mean that in the “freakish calendric anomaly” sense, obviously; I mean it in the ordinary sense of allohistorical linguistics. I've already got “what‐if” pages about the languages of 3,000 AD and 40,000 BC (plus a new one from 500 million BC), but now I'm taking a step sideways in time to consider an “alternative history”: a world where William the Conqueror never earned that name, where Greece is the centre of the most prosperous and stable economy on the planet, and where the only city with an anglophone population of four million is Wolverhampton. How different would the language sound, if you were visiting that city and eavesdropping on some casual conversation about the weather?
The answer is that eliminating the Battle of Hastings might make less of a systematic difference than you'd imagine, except to the spelling (which admittedly is enough to make the language look thoroughly foreign). But unsystematic changes are another matter! Once things are running in an Alternate Time‐Line (hereinafter “ATL”) they naturally start accumulating random divergences from Our Time‐Line (“OTL”). Even if Genghis Khan's parents conceived a child on the very same night in both histories, it's a coin‐toss whether that child is a boy or a girl (unless of course there's some remarkably powerful history‐conserving force to keep things from diverging; but that's a topic for my SF Chronophysics page). And even if they still have Lutherans, Americans, and Zeppelins, they're pretty much bound to end up with unrecognisable names for them! With different people getting born to fill the approximate roles of Caxton, Shakespeare, and Johnson (as well as every other Tom, Dick, and Harry), the result is likely to be obviously different from “our” English.
However, that doesn't tell us anything about the importance of this one allohistorical hinge‐point, since much the same would be true in any ATL of similar age, such as the one where William I died in 1067 and left his followers to squabble over the kingdom. The way you can distinguish an Alternative English that comes from a history without a Norman Conquest is by listening until the conversation switches topics from the showery outlook to that courtroom drama on the TV last night: if the legal system never got rewritten in Norman French, suddenly the vocabulary will be double Dutch.
(This one's been done before, but usually badly. Of course, you need to bear in mind that the genre of alternative history is about as scientifically rigorous as alternative comedy, which makes it only slightly more trustworthy than alternative medicine.)
Before I start I'm going to need to give a bit of linguistic
background. However, just for a change I'll try to avoid
having to define “phoneme” yet
again – talking about “allohistory” is bad enough
without getting bogged down in alloallophony! Instead I'm
going to stick to using IPA phonetic symbols in
brackets for pronunciation guides and rely on the everyday ATL
spellings everywhere else, in angle‐brackets for the
traditional version and double‐angles for the
post‐spelling‐reform version. (If you're
wondering where the brackets are, sorry: it'll be because your
browser is ignoring my CSS…)
Pre‐Conquest Old English (also known as Anglo‐Saxon) was a fairly typical Germanic language, closely related to Dutch and German, and less closely to Danish and Norwegian. The French‐speaking invaders had a significant impact on the development of English, but the result isn't some sort of hybrid; the most you can say is that it's an atypical Germanic language.
ʒsound in “invasion” or “treasure” is common in words that English acquired from French, and relatively uncommon outside the Romance languages, so people often assume it was brought to England by the Norman régime – but Modern French uses plain
zin “invasion” and “trésor”, and Norman French didn't have a
ʒsound at all!
The thing about the Norman Conquest that had the biggest immediate impact was the way it wiped out an existing social hierarchy. The dialect of Wessex had been an acknowledged standard for generations, associated with the dominant dynasty and forming the basis of the conservative literary register. Once that ruling class was gone, speakers of regional dialects such as Kentish or Mercian were left with no reason to bother learning to read and write their mother‐tongue, let alone affecting fancy Winchester accents while they did it. So the dialects spent a couple of centuries drifting apart before the sociolinguistic dominance of the francophone aristocracy faded and a new regional variety came to be regarded as prestigious.
It's almost time to start revising history, but first, here's some history revision.
King Harold had two invasions to deal with in the autumn of 1066. He was waiting for the Norman force to cross the channel, but in OTL it was delayed by bad weather; and then a larger army (Harald III of Norway supported by Harold's brother Tostig, ex‐earl of Northumbria) landed in Yorkshire. Harold dashed north, and defeated the invaders in the Battle of Stamford Bridge; but three days later the Normans landed at Pevensey! The depleted English forces had to march all the way south again in time to intercept the new threat, and very nearly won this round too. So what would have happened if the weather had been slightly better, especially around September 8, when Harold had to temporarily disband his standing army? If William had been tempted to attack at that point things might have ended differently.
History: William the Bastard dies at the Battle of Hythe, but King Harold loses so many men that he is forced to negotiate with the Viking king Harald Landwaster. England is divided between a Saxon south and an Anglo‐Norse north. Seen from a distance this becomes just one more incident in a seething mess of unclear successions and flimsy unifications: Harald leaves to mount a disastrous invasion of Iceland, and control of the north passes to a local dynasty. Meanwhile the Normans in southern Italy are distracted just enough to reduce the threat they pose to Rome at the crucial point, so the Pope is never inspired to redirect their ambitions eastward, and the Crusades never happen.
Dialectology: in southern Britain the West Saxon dialect of Wessex is preeminent, though it's not the native accent of most of this century's kings. In the north, Northumbria is as closely associated with the Kingdom of Alba as it is with England, and its dialect is seeping into the Scottish lowlands.
Grammar: at least according to the formal literary standard, Old English still has a rich set of affixes for marking dative case, adjective agreement, past‐subjunctives, and so on; but as trailing unstressed vowels become indistinguishable in speech, they are falling out of use like the dual number and instrumental case before them (and like the locative, ablative, and vocative cases over a thousand years earlier). This trend wasn't due to any direct foreign influence, in either timeline (after all, the loss of adjective endings makes English less like its neighbours); languages like Old English just have a natural tendency to develop in the direction of an isolating groundplan.
Phonology: at the start of this period there are already
several sound changes in progress, including some intricate but
regular vowel length changes (giving blind, climb,
and mild their long í). The
Another change is subtler but further‐reaching. The Old
English fricatives such as f have always been basically
voiceless, but with alternative voiced forms that occur between
voiced sounds. Double fricatives used to be pronounced long
and voiceless (ff as in “half‐fill”), but
have now shortened to a single unambiguously voiceless sound:
f contrasting with
v (and likewise for
Orthography: the writing system is still based on the one the Irish missionaries devised back in the 600s.
ɑ(like the “O” in midwestern‐US “cot”)
ɑː(a prolonged version of the above, as in BBC‐English “car”)
b(as in “bob”)
k(as in “coca” – never spelled with a k)
tʃ(“CH” as in “church”)
dʒ(like the “J”/“DG” in “judge”)
d(as in “did”)
e(as in Spanish “peso”)
eː(a prolonged version of the above)
f(as in “fife”) or
v(as in “verve”)
g(as in “gag”)
ɣ(as in Spanish “amigo”) or
j(like the “Y” in “yoyo”)
ç(as in “hue”), or
x(like the “CH” in “loch”)
i(as in Spanish “vino”)
iː(a prolonged version of the above)
l(as in “lull”)
m(as in “mime”)
n(as in “nine”) or
ŋ(as in “hanging”)
o(as in Spanish “poco”)
oː(a prolonged version of the above)
p(as in “pop”)
r(as in Spanish “zorro”)
s(as in “sass”) or
z(as in “zigzag”)
ʃ(“SH” as in “sheepish”)
t(as in “tat”)
u(as in Spanish “mucho”)
uː(a prolonged version of the above)
y(a vowel, like German “Ü” or French “U”)
yː(a prolonged version of the above)
w(as in “wigwam” – a rune standing in for the as‐yet‐uninvented letter w)
θ(“TH” as in “thigh”) or
ð(as in “thy”)
æ(like the “A” in “can”)
æː(a prolonged version of the above)
Things aren't really as regular as I'm representing them: Old English spelling worked by rough consensus, not strict well‐defined rules, and the diacritics shown here over some letters (long vowels and “soft” consonants) are purely a modern addition. If you looked at a page of actual Old English script you'd have trouble even recognising the letters – for example ᵹɑꞅꝺꞃιꝼꞇ spells “gas drift”.
Vocabulary: for its day, Old English society is above‐averagely literate, with a written law‐code, a tradition of poetry, and historical chronicles in the vernacular; but some fields are dominated by Latin as the international language of scholarship, so the language has yet to develop a full technical lexicon.
For those who are curious to see just how much of it they would understand, here are the opening lines of “Beowulf”:
HǷÆT ǷÉ GÁRDENA in ǵeárdaǵum
What! We of spear‐Danes in yore‐days
þéodcyninga þrym ǵefrúnon
of clan‐kings glory heard
hú ðá æþelingas ellen fremedon.
how those athelings heroics wrought.
Fairly incomprehensible, even with the interlinear gloss; because as well as being unrecognisable words, they're organised by an unfamiliar heavily inflected grammar. An intelligible translation would be something more like: “Lo! We have heard of the glory in former times of the kings of the folk of the spear‐wielding Danes, and how those nobles performed brave deeds.”
History: the downside of not being subjugated by a power‐hungry military junta is that the land remains disunited; a hundred years of war between the northern kingdoms (with dwindling support from Norway) and the southerners (who ironically enough are by this stage allied with France) shove the border back and forth until it settles at Hadrian's Wall. Meanwhile the surplus knights of christendom end up fighting the infidel in Spain.
Dialectology: it can be hard to tell from the surviving texts, which still follow traditional literary norms (and the choice of standard is determined by ecclesiastical rather than political boundaries), but on the ground the Wessex dialect is socially dominant, spreading especially in the south‐east (so we won't hear any more about Kentish).
Grammar: different dialects subject inflectional paradigms to different forms of erosion, not reflected in the written language, so ordinary people from across the land who come into contact find that the only way they can understand one another's speech is to ignore the word‐endings and depend on things like prepositions and articles and word‐order rules. The noun‐gender system is mostly gone even in formal writing, and now adjective agreement, case‐marking on nouns, and person‐marking on verbs are unreliable.
Like most Germanic languages (and like Old French), Old English generally put a sentence's finite verb in second position (“rarely was this rule broken”), but the mechanism differed slightly between more and less Scandinavian‐influenced dialects, and caused trouble as it became harder to tell subjects from objects. In OTL the long‐term result was a complete switch to Subject–Verb–Object order (unlike Modern French, which mixes SVO and SOV); here a few traces of the old verb‐second pattern persist in English.
Phonology: so far the ATL sound‐changes are hardly
distinguishable from their counterparts in OTL. The
front‐rounded vowel y loses its rounding and merges with
i (just as happened in OTL, even though
y was a
common sound in French loanwords); meanwhile non‐onset h
and especially ǵ are tending to weaken. Bryht,
“bright”, goes from
briht; sequences like
rɣ in burǵ, “stronghold, fortified town”, become
syllabic (later buru).
However, one Wessexism that didn't take off in OTL is that initial fricatives become voiced in unstressed function words (such as the article þe) and prefixes (such as the intensifier for‐).
Orthography: the writing system has escaped being
Frenchified, but that doesn't mean it's static. Schemes
involving the use of double consonants to mark short vowels
eventually prove not to be tempting enough to make scribes abandon
the traditional system, but ǵ and ƿ fall out of
fashion as ways of writing
w, being replaced
by i and u (transcribed here as ĭ, ŭ
until j and v develop as separate letters);
þ/ð is consistently written þ; and æ
is increasingly confused with plain a.
Vocabulary: the layer of Norman loanwords fails to arrive, leaving native Old English (or occasionally Norse) words in those positions. Instead of “battle”, “pork”, and “duchess”, the language retains híld, sŭínflǽsć, and ĭærlen, which end up as hayld, swaynfleisj, and yarlin. The Norman French word “castle” arrived well before 1066 as a technical term for the new continental style of burǵ, but is now replaced by the Parisian French form (giving cjatél).
History: the northern and southern nations consolidate their positions, so it's rather a dull century unless you're Welsh (in which case it's just grim). Meanwhile with the crusaders heading west instead of east, the Reconquista goes further and faster, and Constantinople (known in these parts as Mićelgarþ) keeps a firmer grip on its empire. On the other hand, even without Temüjin son of Yesügei the Mongol hordes still end up with a Great Khan.
Dialectology: linguistically much more eventful, as the communities that were in the war zone between the northern and southern kingdoms establish new lines of communication and go through a phase of rapid change. The disputed areas ultimately come to be known as the Marklands, echoing the name of the former kingdom of Mercia. Meanwhile the Northumbrian dialect begins to take over from Gaelic throughout lowland Scotland.
Grammar: in Old English the third‐person pronouns
|First person singular||ić/
|First person plural||ŭee/
|Second person singular||þou/
|Second person plural||ĭee/
|Third person common singular||hoo/
|Third person common plural||hee/
|Third person neuter singular||hit/
|Third person neuter plural||þim/
The disappearance of the “he”/“she” distinction may seem weird, but in the Old English lexical gender system wifmann (meaning “woman”) was a “he”, byrne (“mail‐coat”) was a “she”, and mæǵden (“girl”) was an “it”. Languages losing such a system may repurpose their masculine vs. feminine gender‐marking pronouns as male vs. female sex‐marking pronouns, the way OTL English and Afrikaans have; but they're equally likely to follow the example of Persian, Armenian, and Bangla, which have just given up on the distinction.
Phonology: some syllable‐initial consonant clusters are
simplified. The h is dropped in words like
hlaaf, “loaf”, and hnutĕ, “nut”, though it survives
for longer in words like hŭeatĕ, “wheat”, and hring,
“ring”. Meanwhile gn‐ and kn‐ come to be
tn (but “knight” and “night”
aren't homophones yet).
Open vowels shift differently in different regions. The
currently dominant Saxon dialects pronounce æ/ǽ as
ɛː, with a/á shifting to
ɑː. Dialects in the Marklands and north
merge short æ with a as
a, while pronouncing
the long forms distinctly as in the south. Midland dialects
complicate things, usually following the southern system in the
vicinity of a labial or lateral sound
Orthography: new spelling conventions arise to accommodate the new vowels, though most of these aren't consistently applied until centuries later.
a(as in Spanish “casa”)
ə(schwa, like the “A” in “about”)
ɛː(like the “Ê” in French “fête”)
The ii and uu spellings may seem logical, but they were little used as they were harder to read; å and ĕ were never used at all until modern scholars started adding accents for clarity.
Vocabulary: in OTL, this period is when the torrent of Old French imports really began. In this ATL, most of the Old English vocabulary survives it unreplaced, though that doesn't mean it's safe from later invaders: ŭeinberĭĕ (“wineberry”) may escape being supplanted by “grape”, but then in the eighteenth century it falls out of fashion in favour of French “raisin”, borrowed as rezéng.
History: another shoving match ends with the northern kingdom losing heavily and falling back almost to the Antonine Wall. War is followed by famine and then pestilence: the Black Death disrupts the succession of Wessex and allows a Midland‐based dynasty to rise to preeminence.
Dialectology: the Black Death is conventionally seen as marking the end of Old English and the start of New English. As in OTL, the Midland Angle dialects become the basis of a new standard, though instead of the London–Oxford–Cambridge triangle as its origin it has something closer to a Coventry–Norwich–London triangle (Coventry at this point is both a university town and the seat of the royal court, while Norwich is almost as wealthy and populous as London).
Grammar: there are three competing standards for
subject‐agreement endings on verbs. The southern version
involves ‐ĕþ endings (“it goes” is hit ŭendĕþ); the
northern version is similar, with ‐ĕs (hit ŭendĕs);
but in between is a Midland contender with
On the other hand, verbs retain the distinctive participial ending ‐ind which in OTL merges with the nominaliser ‐ing/‐ung. Where we have an ambiguous sentence “flying planes can be dangerous”, they have flayin ero (planes that are flying) vs. flayang ero (the act of plane‐flying).
Phonology: south of the Marklands, h in syllable
coda tends to disappear. In some contexts (such as
lah “laugh”) it is replaced by
f; but usually it
softens to a semivowel (so for instance riht “right”
rijt). Such semi‐diphthongs then tend to
merge with the long vowels (riĭt →
riːt), and there
is also lengthening of stressed short vowels in open syllables
before the unstressed final vowels are lost (writĕ “write”
wriːt). Again, dialects vary in how
they treat “A‑sounds”, in this case long
aa – in southern accents, or near a
labial/lateral, it comes to be pronounced
merging with lengthened å–); otherwise it becomes
aː (ae, merging with lengthened a–).
iːmerging with ei
eːmerging with ee
æi(very roughly “EH‐EE”) written ai
ɔi(roughly “AW‐EE”) written oi
ui(roughly “OOH‐EE”) written ui
iu(roughly “EE‐OOH”) written iu
ɛʊ(roughly “EH‐OO”) written eu
ɒː(like a prolonged BBC‐English “cot”) written oa
ɔː(BBC‐English “broad”) written oe
oːmerging with oo
uːmerging with ou
Orthography: the writing system directly reflects the sound
system of English for slightly longer than in OTL. Changed
vowels are given spellings appropriate to their new
wriːt are written with
long vowels as reit, wreit.
Meanwhile in the Byzantine Empire there's a mathematical revolution going on which establishes the eastern variant of Arabic numerals (٠١٢٣٤٥٦٧٨٩) as the dominant style in Europe.
Vocabulary: Church Latin is still the common language of western civilisation, and cross‐channel cultural ties bring a huge number of new vocabulary items during the Renaissance, though without the layer of naturalised Norman French impositions to prepare the way they tend to stand out more. They are often borrowed directly from Latin or Italian rather than through French: “experimentation” instead ends up as esperimentásjon, “painting” as pentúra, “prayer” as preger, and “surgery” as cirúrgja.
History: dynastic union with Denmark (and subsequently all of Scandinavia) leaves day‐to‐day governance in the hands of the English parliament (or colocŭiom), meeting in Coventry. Meanwhile, the Northlanders – or maybe I should be translating that as “Scots” – manage to conquer Ulster; further afield, the Byzantine Empire's pagan Tatar mercenaries successfully fend off the Turks. By the end of the century the Tatars have learned Greek, converted to Christianity, and seized the throne, launching a short‐lived expansion into Central Asia.
Dialectology: the introduction of movable‐type printing presses (and paper) helps the Midland standard to become entrenched as the language of literacy; for instance it's the dialect of Peer Aeclee's epic poem Macsim (an elegy for the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus). As it becomes fashionable to be heard speaking with a Midland accent, this encourages the prestige variety to shift under sociolinguistic pressure while marginalising non‐prestige dialects.
Grammar: ‐ĕs has been adopted as the generic regular plural ending (aen hound, tŭoa houndĕs), but there are many surviving noun plurals in ‐ĕn (aen ocs, tŭoa ocsĕn), and many other words use zero inflection (aen hors, tŭoa hors). These unmarked plurals were originally a feature of the Northumbrian dialects, which retained a distinct plural form for the definite article.
The last traces of adjective agreement disappear at this stage, as does the dative inflection ‐ĕ on nouns (with a few exceptions that survive as fossils, such as houma “homeward”). This leaves only the genitive, which is another ‐ĕs ending.
Phonology: the First Vowel Shift (what we would call the
start of the Great Vowel Shift). As unstressed final vowels
are dropped, the stressed long close vowels
uː begin on the other hand to adopt exaggerated diphthongal
uː is affected less in northern varieties
which have a less crowded inventory of back vowels, and resists
the shift entirely if it's near a labial sound). Then the
other long vowels each take a step in the direction of the gap
they've left. The short vowels meanwhile tend to lose
contact with their long partners and become more lax.
ɪi(roughly the “IY” in “Riyadh”)
iː(like Old English í)
eː(like Old English é)
ɛː(like French “fête”)
ɔː(as in BBC‐English “broad”)
oː(like Old English ó)
uː(like Old English ú)
ʊu(roughly the “UW” in “Kuwait”)
juː(as in “you”)
ɛw(vaguely like the “AYW” in “Baywatch”)
ɛːmerging with the long vowel ae
ɔj(roughly as in “void”)
ɔjmerging with oi above
ɪ(as in “bid”)
ɛ(as in “bed”)
aunchanged (as in Spanish “casa”)
ɔmerging with o below
ɔ(as in French “objet”)
ʊ(as in “put”)
Orthography: the other main effect of mass production for documents is that spellings start to be seen as fixed manifestations of particular words, rather than as reflecting naturally changeable speech‐acts. Once Aeclee is established as the representation in black and white of a particular name, there's a tendency to use that spelling even after people have started pronouncing it in a way that used to be transcribed as Eeclei.
Vocabulary: many of the scientific terms that in OTL were picked up from the Islamic world via Spain have instead reached western Europe via the Byzantine world (which frequently means that they have gone from Ancient Greek to Arabic and then back into mediaeval Greek): “alchemy”, “algebra”, “nadir”, and “zero” end up as himía, sinðiasmós, andicorife, and sifar.
The final fate of the Eastern Roman Empire was clearly a big deal for the course of European history in the second millennium, and the survival in this timeline of trade routes to the orient through Constantinople also affected goings‐on across the Atlantic, in that there were never any explorers with desperate schemes for reaching the Indies by sailing west. Instead this world's Columbus‐analogues were driven by Moorish sea‐tales of lands west of Africa (meaning the Azores). However, extending this map to the east would soon show the point where the identifiable causal ripples from the failed Norman invasion are drowned out by random chance: their Great Khan only had two sons to divide his inheritance between.
History: the dynastic union collapses, but the monarchy is by now largely irrelevant anyway. England becomes (straightforwardly) Protestant; a combined Castilian/French invasion to restore Catholicism is repulsed with Scottish and Scandinavian assistance. Meanwhile England entirely misses the opportunity to settle the New World – or even Ireland, which slowly but surely gets taken over by the Scots. Nobody comes to the aid of the Irish Catholics, because they've backed the wrong Pope.
Dialectology: the mercisz (Markland, i.e. northern)
and socsnisz (Saxon, i.e. southern) dialects are
increasingly replaced by mere local‐accented versions of (Midland)
englisz, though with a great many regional variations in
vocabulary. Meanwhile the language of the new rulers of
Ireland, although clearly different from that Midland standard, is
still seen as a form of English, and the territory of the
Grammar: verbs (other than “be”) lose their distinct
infinitive and subjunctive inflections, and there is ongoing
reduction of past tense forms. New compound constructions
develop, including a familiar progressive “is doing” form and an
unfamiliar middle‐voice construction based on the verb verþ
(“become”) plus infinitive, as in hee ar verþind claeþ,
“they are dressing themselves/
Phonology: the First Vowel Shift continues to tug all the long vowels in the same direction.
The Midland standard begins to drop the h and t in
words like hŭistel, “whistle”. The kn‐,
gn‐ sequences also simplify at last, giving a familiar
knight/night merger; but Saxon has instead converted them into
dl, leading to interdialectal borrowings such as
tlov “lackey, minion” (i.e. “knave”) and dlat “bug”
By this stage there's a robust voicing distinction in fricatives,
including in initial position where the spelling never indicates
the difference (initial f/þ/s may represent
The exception is that there's no voiced counterpart to sz
ʒ in loanwords is naturalised as
dʒ (so the
French word for a newspaper is borrowed as gzurnal).
Orthography: in the process of standardisation the writing system has had a slight face‐lift, not necessarily where it was needed.
j(gradually becoming distinct from i)
w(gradually becoming distinct from u)
You'd still have trouble recognising some of these letters, even in print; for instance the word “share” could look more like ſꜧⲀꝛϵ. The z in cz/gz/sz started life as a cedilla‐like modifier, technically based on cursive ǵ rather than z.
Vocabulary: the novel phenomena being discovered in the New World may still be getting their names from whatever the locals seemed to call them, but it's rare for those locals to have happened to be speakers of the same language as their equivalents in OTL, so “tomato” is cveidee, “potato” is estoesza, and “kangaroo/wallaby” is nuncza (but “kiwi” is ceevee).
History: Scotland goes ultra‐Protestant, as in OTL; the difference is that here it drags Ireland with it into a generation of sectarian infighting between the Snorind and Cater movements (so‐called “Droners” and “Cathars”). After a plot by doomsday cultists to blow up Coventry cathedral in 1666, the English generously come to the rescue of the people of Scotland and Ireland by marching in and taking over.
Dialectology: from this point on there is a unified political entity known as “Engelric” covering the whole British Isles, taking the Midland form of English as its administrative standard language. The old north/south divide is modified by a new split between the traditionalist west and the cosmopolitan east coast, with its trade links to the continent.
Grammar: the distinction between þou and jee, once just “you (singular)” vs. “you‐all”, is by now (as in OTL) greatly complicated by considerations of politeness and relative status. However, at this stage a fashion arises of using third‐person‐common‐plural Hee, conventionally capitalised, as a respectful form of address. Over the next centuries þou and jee are marginalised and restricted to informal contexts.
Phonology: the slow pavane of the long vowels continues (after only a slight pause) as the “Second” Vowel Shift. My metaphor is slightly spoiled by the dancers' tendency to collide and fuse together:
iːmerging with ee above
ei(roughly as in “sundae”)
ou(roughly as in “road”)
oumerging with oa above
The vowels that were on each end of that set have now joined the diphthongs (a drastic but natural shift which went similarly in OTL's Middle High German):
ɐɪ(very roughly like “AY” in “Kobayashi”)
æw(very roughly like “OW” in “meow”)
ɐʊ(very roughly like “AW” in “away”)
The vowels in niu (“new”), streu (“scatter”), and
toi (“tool”) have become the exotic
ɤːj in northern English, but all merged as
Old English ý) in Scotland, and then merged with
iː in parts of Ireland (so that
“new” sounds like “nee”). South‐eastern accents on the other
hand tend to drop a j sound after any consonant (giving a
US‐style “noo”). However, the opportunities for this to
occur are rarer than in OTL, since loanwords such as musica
have generally arrived with plain
u rather than a
Some northerners have lost the
(pronouncing both as
ʋ). This general change doesn't
reach the Midlands, but in the context of initial
mainstream accents have dropped the
w, several words are
now replaced by northern loan forms strengthening it to
hence vrecj “outcast, wanderer, refugee” (i.e. “wretch”),
vrisjt “labourer” (i.e. “wright”).
Orthography: new fads include pseudo‐etymological spellings, German‐style capitalisation, and unreadable typefaces. Fortunately all of these fall out of fashion again over the next century. In OTL Europe was adopting a fairly standardised system of punctuation marks, but in this history it takes longer and everyone ends up using raised dots rather than commas.
Vocabulary: when Old English first became the dominant tongue of England, it displaced the language ancestral to Welsh with little sign of being influenced by it. But thanks to several generations of multilingual thinkers and writers, the Celtic language of Ireland in this ATL is more successful at infiltrating the lexicon, providing for instance inyol “engine”; olav “boffin, maven”; and waðúil (i.e. Ó Dubhghaill) “smuggler, rogue trader”.
History: France, Aragon, Castile, and Portugal exhaust themselves squabbling over their New World territories, all of which then declare themselves independent republics. Meanwhile, Germany unifies a century early, and a Bavarian dictator then conquers most of western Europe before foolishly (you guessed it) marching east. Engelric sits it out, establishing trading‐post colonies in Hispaniola, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan.
Dialectology: while the Midland standard remains preeminent, and Coventry is still ceremonial capital, the gradual rise of London as economic capital lends some prestige to south‐eastern accents.
Ireland is beginning by this point to develop its own version of standard Midland English influenced by both Ulster Scots (which is still known as nortimbrisz) and the local Celtic language (which even more disorientatingly is known as scotisz).
Grammar: as in OTL, the verb doo is increasingly
used as a dummy auxiliary. Other modal/auxiliary verbs still
commonly form their own question or negative forms (for example,
ei con, “I can”, has con ei ? and ei
con‐na), but normal verbs now tend (as in OTL) to go through
doo. Thus see
ei it ?/
Phonology: the Second Vowel Shift finally comes to an end,
except that southern accents add one last embellishment: stressed
short a lengthens to a new aa (pronounced
in a small and rather ill‐defined set of contexts – the
change is most likely to happen before l, m, or
n, where followed by another consonant (which may then drop
out in cases like haan, “hand”). Once established,
this sound also tends to be used in foreign loanwords.
Midland r becomes
ɹ; in eastern and southern accents
it further weakens to
ɐ where there's no immediately
following vowel. In other regions r may be either a
rolled or tapped
ɾ or a retroflex
pronounced with friction before consonants; in some accents
r merges with any following alveolar obstruent
(rt/rd/rs) to give a retroflex fricative,
heard by southerners as
ʒ. Thus for instance a
particular style of lowland Scottish weapon comes to be known as a
sjosjvozj, which is just a mangling of “shortsword”.
Meanwhile a regular palatalising shift turns
zj in unstressed contexts into
ʒ (compare “graduation” in OTL),
further boosting the frequency of these sounds.
Orthography: Lamec Bradszoa's pioneering Lecsicon introduces a proposed new orthography (inspired by reforms adopted for the languages of the Americas), which is largely ignored until the following century (q.v. for details). The traditional system on the other hand shows an increasing tendency to use a “ghostly” h to mark lost consonants, though the implied etymologies are unreliable. Thus for example ei (“I”) is from earlier ih, a Midland form replacing the southern ić, while the homophonous eih (“always”) is from Norse ei and has no right to that silent letter.
Vocabulary: English finally gets to import some vocabulary from its colonies. This doesn't happen to the same extent as in OTL, but it does lead to such colloquialisms as bayáca, “crazy” (from Taíno); gouna, “cop” (from Sinhala); muof, “cash” (from Malagasy); and yaal, “to snack” (from a Formosan language extinct in OTL).
History: western Europe is divided between predominantly Germanic‐speaking Protestant republican plutocracies and Romance‐speaking Catholic monarchies, while the east from the Baltic to the Levant is made up of Orthodox Rumelian (neo‐Byzantine) client‐states. Democratic and socialist movements, originating in Engelric but failing to take root there, sweep through the continent. Meanwhile Engelric's colonies expand to make it an up‐and‐coming superpower.
Dialectology: Welsh loses its last few native speakers, and the rural English dialects go into a decline, with a small number of urban accents taking over. However, as the seat of government shifts to London, industrialisation confuses the situation by inflating small towns like Wolverhampton and Warrington into major population centres. Now it's a south‐eastern accent that's prestigious, and a mid‐western accent that carries connotations of slum‐dwelling poverty.
Grammar: the genitive falls out of use in favour of direct apposition (with the occasional assistance of the word “own”); thus for instance “the cat's eye” is now just þe cat ee (or þe cat oan ee). The possessive pronouns apart from mein are replaced by object forms: “your eyes” is Him een (or Him oan een).
The dialects of the London area adopt doo as a default
auxiliary in any sentence that doesn't have some other
modal/auxiliary verb (such as ar, haf, or
con), which means that ordinary verbs like vend
(“go”) no longer have past tense forms of their own: it's just
ei doo vend/
Phonology: the distinction between short lax vowels and
long tense vowels is increasingly neutralised in some contexts,
starting with before r: for instance ir and
eer tend to be merged, as a lax vowel (
south‐eastern accents and a tense one (
(The Irish dialect has a tendency to simplify the vowel inventory
more thoroughly, losing distinctions like i vs. ee
in most contexts.)
Londoners also lose some short vowel distinctions before
sonorants: e merges with i before a nasal or
r‐plus‐vowel, while o merges with u before
r‐plus‐vowel or l (and l in syllable coda
tends to be vocalised). As a result, they now pronounce
ˈɪ̃ŋ gəɤ ˌɹɪk (very roughly
Orthography: rationalisation of the writing system becomes associated with political radicalism, like the international movements to reform measurement systems and the Julian calendar; this delays their official adoption across most of the Old World.
iː(former ea, ee)
ou(former oa, oe)
ʃ(former sz, ssj)
Accent‐marks are used to indicate stress (where it doesn't follow the regular rule of falling on the first root syllable), or to distinguish homophones, such as ay (“I”) vs. áy (“always”).
Vocabulary: while ATL English has considerably fewer Germanic/Latinate doublets like “hue” vs. “colour” to bulk out its lexicon, each shift in prestige centre is an opportunity for interdialectal doublets with different shades of meaning – in this case northern farb (meaning one of the basic primary colours) vs. southern yu (colour in a more general, scientific, or poetic sense).
History: Ingalric (as it is now known) develops a grand plan for global domination based on naval power and island bases… which is ruined by the development of aerial warfare; Rumelia, Germany, and Saugamie (francophone New England) unite to win the Hundred Day War of 1958 and carve up the planet. Ingalric fails to learn its lesson, so the One Day War of 1983 leaves central London radioactive.
Dialectology: the London accent turns into a prestigious supra‐regional standard (effectively the dialect of a social class). This “national English” then becomes associated both with the government that led Ingalric into catastrophe and with the refugees flooding the rest of the country, which brings the mid‐western dialects back into fashion.
Grammar: universal education means grammar lessons for all, and the growth of arbitrary linguistic shibboleths. Deprecating all non‐standard usages indirectly encourages the adoption of the past construction with did, which shields speakers from the risk of being caught using a “wrong” inflected form. For instance, the verb meaning “to have, possess” is tu o, with official inflected forms ay oud/ay hav oud; speakers of the dialects that make it ay ot/ay hav oun can avoid potential embarrassment by saying ay did o.
Phonology: as in OTL, the rise of the mass media does nothing to slow the spread of changes. The “Third Vowel Shift”, affecting the previously stable short lax vowels, is initially a much‐derided feature of urban Markland accents; by the end of the century the lack of it is heard as a southern affectation.
ɨ(like the Russian vowel “Ы”, usually transliterated as “Y”)
ʌ(roughly the “U” in “bud”)
Other ongoing sound changes include:
ə. Stressed ar merges with or and aa as a clearly nonrhotic
Orthography: the New Orthography isn't perfect – it fails to account for some minor features of regional dialects – but it is endorsed by the centralising, modernising imperialist party. This of course means that by the end of the century it is losing ground to the Traditional Orthography.
Vocabulary: there's a danger that all this talk of loanwords will obscure the fact that changes in vocabulary are usually a matter of internal recruitment. Most of the new words in ATL dictionaries are built out of local morphological resources; for example instead of importing a word “bureaucracy” they chose to construct ombitdum, meaning “rule by officeholders” (or “officialdom”); instead of “electricity” they preferred sparcnang; and instead of “computability” they built recanbirhud, where the suffixes ‐bir and ‐hud are equivalent to our French‐derived “‐able” and “‐ity”.
Fans of Esperanto may be incredulous to hear
that in the absence of World English this ATL shows no obvious
sign of any hunger for an analogous general‐purpose
interlanguage. French and Russian dominate the fields of
diplomacy and “high culture”, while Greek and to a lesser extent
German function as the common tongues of the
History: on the whole this timeline is still probably a better one to live in than ours. They've never had a Nazi Holocaust, or a Khmer Rouge Year Zero, or any close brushes with global thermonuclear apocalypse; the new century hasn't even featured a September 11 (still not in the “freakish calendric anomaly” sense). It might be hard to persuade Londoners of this, though.
Dialectology: a large proportion of the population are now fluent to a greater or lesser extent in both the old south‐eastern standard (known as liedinglisj) and the mid‐western vernacular (vulgar‐inglisj), using the former for formal and the latter for informal purposes. Nobody outside the British Isles is learning either variety.
Grammar: English has moved about as far in the direction of
an inflectionless grammar as in OTL, but the results are quite
different. Its nouns still have three major alternative ways
of indicating the plural (one of which is to leave number
unmarked), with the commonest nouns behaving the most
erratically. Its verbs are more uniform than ours in most
ways, with even “to be” mostly regular
Phonology: again, the general direction of the changes has hardly been deflected. The vowel inventory has arguably held together as a more coherent system, which may be a consequence of the lack of interference from Anglo‐Norman; but pronunciations are considerably more variable than in most parts of OTL's anglophone world, with a wide range of alternative forms taken for granted as “substandard but normal”.
Orthography: the New Orthography was so much neater than anything we're ever likely to see in OTL that it's sad to see it being abandoned for mostly political reasons. The examples section below includes samples of both systems.
Vocabulary: the English dictionaries in this ATL are significantly smaller than ours, but this isn't necessarily an objective fact about the two languages so much as an indicator of a difference in attitudes. We tend to work on the principle that “if people talk about eating teriyaki then it's an English word now”, while they are more likely to think “when people start using the foreign word teriyaki, that's another sign that English is inadequate for the modern world”.
As promised, here are a couple of contrasting examples: a snippet from a conversation about the weather and another from a conversation about a courtroom drama. Each is presented first in the “national standard”, then again in a “vernacular” form, and then in a regional dialect; in each case I give a detailed phonetic transcription and then an extremely rough pronunciation guide for the IPA‐impaired.
ðə ˈwɛdəɹ ə kʰɔod n̩ ˈwɪ̃ndi ðə dei wɪθ hɐɪ ˈlɐɪkl̥ɪˌhʊd və sm̩ ˈhɛvi ˈʃɐʊɹəz
ðə ˈwɪdəɹ əɹ kʰaɫd n̩ ˈwɨ̃ndi ðə dei wəθ hɑɪ ˈlɑɪkl̥əˌhʌd vəɹ sm̩ ˈhɪvi ˈʃaʊɹəz
ðə ˈwɛdəɹz kʰɔuɫd n̩ ˈblɔːzm̩ ðɪˈdɔː məd ən æe ˈlæekl̥əˌjʊd vəɹ səm ˈɛvi ˈskadn̩
ðə ˈdũːmˌɹad dɪd ˈeĩnˌstɪmənli ˌɐʊtˈspiːk ðə ˈsw̥ɪɹɪ̃nd ˈgɪɤtl̥əs ɔ̃n̪ ðə ˌkɹ̥ɪməˈnaʃn̩ əv ˈlãnˌdzwɪk
ðə ˈdũːmˌɹɛd əv ˈeĩnˌstɨmənli ˌaʊtˈspoʊkn̩ ðə ˈsw̥eiɹənd ˈgɨɫtl̥əs ãn̪ ðə ˌkɹ̥ɨməˈnɛʃn̩ əv ˈlɛ̃nˌdzwɨk
tʰə̥ ˈdõːmˌɾɐd əz ˈjẽnˌstimɪ̃nlɪ ˌutˈspr̥ekən tʰə̥ ˈsʋ̥eɾənd əz ˌɔ̃nˈskuli fr̥əʔt ˌkr̥iməˈnɐsjən əʔt ˈlɐ̃ntˌsʋ̥iʔk
I was hoping to include their standard translation of Beowulf at this point, but it turns out they lost the manuscript somewhere in the Markland Wars. Never mind, there's always Genesis 11:1–9 to fall back on – even if they do number it completely differently. This is from an edition published in the nineties.
By my reckoning the vocabulary of that text is only about two percent post‐1066 imports, while in OTL it's nearer twelve. Both those values are a bit lower than normal, so next for contrast here are three well known laws of motion:
Finally for comparison here's an example sentence I've used before, from the Colloquy of Aelfric.
|“We children beg you, teacher, that you should teach us to speak correctly, because we are ignorant and we speak corruptly…”||Wi cjildar du betal Him⋅ tiecjar⋅ zo Hi me tiecj us tu spiec raytli⋅ vram az wi ar unscuold and wi du spiec corútoli —|
My advice to time‐tourists is not to try to pass yourself off as a local. You may be able to understand their questions; you may even manage to produce what sound to you like plausible replies; but you'll always have great difficulty avoiding giveaway alien vocabulary items. It would be easier to pass for a visitor from some obscure francophone part of the New World, since the old‐fashioned spoken French of the colonies isn't hugely different from the equivalent in OTL.
If they catch you using your time machine, your best bet is to tell them it's the latest Rumelian invention; they'll believe anything as long as you mention Constantinople. Come to think of it, why are you hanging around in a dump like Ingalric when you could be catching the next passenger dirigible to the Queen of Cities?