the unanswered questions.
Although Oosthuizen makes strenuous efforts to induce a Cartesian level of universal doubt regarding everything we were ever taught about the adventus Saxonum, legitimate doubts do not obviate the need to find an explanation for some radical discontinuities. It is perfectly legitimate for a historian to conclude that we simply do not have enough evidence to explain something, but this becomes increasingly difficult when what we seek to explain – such as the advent of the English language – is of such profound historical importance. Some explanation, however sketchy or hypothetical, must surely be suggested for the adoption of a West Germanic language by most of the population of England. There may not have been an adventus of people, but (unless we accept the extremely contentious idea that the Iron Age inhabitants of southern Britain already spoke a West Germanic language) there was an arrival of the English language. Oosthuizen says little about this, but hints at a process whereby a largely Latin-speaking southern Britain became multilingual in the post-Roman period as a result of the freedoms and prosperity consequent upon the withdrawal of Roman authority. I am perfectly happy with this idea, and it is plausible that people on the southern and eastern sides of Britain began to be conversant with West Germanic in this period. But this does not explain why Old English became so dominant within a relatively short period of time, nor why the peoples of southern Britain adopted the name of a Germanic tribe, the Angli, to refer to themselves. Nor does it explain why British people groups adopted specific Germanic tribal identities rather than just a generalised Germanic identity, and the sheer depth of connections between early England and the Germanic northern world.
A further question that Oosthuizen leaves largely unaddressed is that of religion. While she briefly references recent discussions of the persistence of Christianity in pre-conversion sixth-century England, she makes no reference to English paganism. While we know little about the religious beliefs of pre-conversion England, we know that paganism existed and that it bore little if any relation to Romano-British paganism (which, in any case, had probably largely vanished by the end of the Roman period). How did the peoples of southern Britain move from Christianity to paganism, and where did this pagan religion come from? While the persistence of Christianity in this period has no doubt been underestimated, there is little sign that Christianity was anything other than a minority faith in England before the Augustinian conversion. Even if we do not truly know what it was, we can reasonably conclude that something big went down in fifth- and sixth-century southern Britain that transformed the Latin-speaking post-Roman society encountered by St Germanus into an English-speaking, largely pagan society.
the unexplained parallels.
While Oosthuizen makes a number of comparisons between what happened in fifth- and sixth-century Britain and the modern world, the book would surely have benefitted from some comparisons with transformations occurring at around the same time elsewhere in Europe and the Mediterranean. Was England, as a region whose population remained largely stable but which underwent dramatic linguistic and cultural change, an unusual outlier in fifth- and sixth-century Europe? It would be interesting, for example, to compare England to Illyria (modern day Croatia), a region that moved from Latin to Slavonic in around the same period. Was the adventus Slavorum likewise a cultural rather than a population movement? Another example that springs to mind is the Arabicisation of North Africa during the period of the Islamic conquests – once again, the consensus seems to be that the number of Arabs who settled the area was quite small, but their cultural and linguistic influence was immense and completely transformed North African society. The question that Oosthuizen leaves unanswered is why England was not another Francia, which also experienced a cultural shift towards Germanic preferences but where the Latin language prevailed. Why did the language that Oosthuizen calls Late Spoken Latin (the embryonic British romance language I like to call ‘Bratin’) not prevail as it did in other former Roman provinces such as Frankish France and Visigothic Spain?https://drfrancisyoung.com/2019/05/25/review-the-emergence-of-the-english-by-susan-oosthuizen/