Language and technology: some examples from Seafaring (Germanic and Celtic)


  • This essay is based on a paper presented at the ‘Languages of Early Britain’ symposium in Manchester on 21 May 2009. I am grateful to Philip Durkin, Stephen Laker, Inge Milfull and Paul Russell for spotting weaknesses and contributing thoughts.

Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford University Press
Great Clarendon Street
Oxford OX2 6DP


Language contact and the transfer of technologies are closely linked and often influence each other. This paper examines a few examples from the domain of seafaring at various periods relevant to the history of Anglo-Saxon England and the Old English language. The origin of Old English segl is used to illustrate prehistoric influences reflected in the recorded vocabulary; the fate of ciula, the Latin adaptation of ceol, shows the failing of a borrowing in the course of the Anglo-Saxon period; and floege and cuople are rare Viking Age survivors of oral and literary contact with two very different languages.