In this question, I would like to make a comparison between two settlements that occurred in the Early Middle Ages in Europe, that seem to be very similar, however they had very distinct outcomes linguistically speaking.

The settlements in question are the Gothic/Vandal invasion of Iberia and the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain. I shall talk first of the latter:

Britain had been controlled by the Romans for almost 400 years, and the population was mainly Celtic, with a Latin-speaking governing elite. I suppose that the language spoken in Britain at this time would be some sort of a mix between Celtic languages and Latin, similar to what happened in other areas of Europe where romance languages developed (e.g., France).

Then, the Saxons, Angles and Jutes started to arrive to Britain (at the same time the Romans were leaving for good) and drastically changed the language of the country, from Celtic languages/vulgar Latin to the Germanic Old English. In later centuries, with the influence of Latin, Norman, Old Norse and other languages this language would evolve to modern English.

Genetic studies show today that approximately 20-40% of British DNA is Anglo-Saxon, so we could expect a normal mixing between the immigrants and the native population at the time, and not a massive immigration of Germanic tribes nor the Saxons completely wiping out the native populations. Even so, English survived.

Now, I'd like to talk about the invasion/settlement of Iberia by the Goths. We had an area controlled by the Romans for a long time and other native tribes as well. Germanic invaders came and established their kingdoms. It is important to notice that the Germanic Kingdoms in Iberia lasted until 711 AD, when the Muslim Conquest happened. So we had approximately 300 years of Germanic rule in Iberia.

However, we know that the languages of Iberia are romance languages (Portuguese and Spanish), which shouldn't be very intriguing as I expect that the number of immigrants was slightly less significant than the number in Britain (I'm not aware of the numbers in the Iberian case). My first question is Why is that? Why did Iberia remained Latinized, even after the Germanic and Muslim conquests?

And for me the most surprising is that (as a native Portuguese speaker I can say): The Germanic traits were completely wiped out of Iberian languages (if they ever existed).

Why is that? What is the major difference between the Iberian and the Anglo-Saxon settlements that made in one case the Germanic language to be the most dominant language, and in the other case made the Germanic influences in the language nearly undetectable?

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    @AlbertoYagos that (maybe with some references) looks like an answer. – SJuan76 Nov 11 '18 at 15:54
  • @AlbertoYagos some of the words you mentioned are of undefined origin (e.g: to win) and others are indeed of germanic origin but only appeared in spanish after the 15th century (possibly from Middle English trough french) e.g: sur). However it is interesting that there are indeed important words of germanic origin that came from Goths indeed. Thank you for noticing it. – Vitor C Goergen Nov 12 '18 at 16:48
  • @VitorCGoergen - No "single trace" is a very excessive formula. – user8690 Nov 13 '18 at 7:56

(Note that there are definitively many traces of Germanic influence on Spanish/Portuguese. For example, as @AlbertYago's pointed out, the Iberian vocabulary contains several Germanic imports; Wikipedia even has a section on this subject. Nonetheless, the underlying question is valid: the Germanic influence is obviously way, way weaker in Iberia than it is in Britain. Unlike Spanish or Portuguese, English is a Germanic language.)

1. Hispania was much more Roman than Britain.

Latin simply had a much stronger foundation in the Iberian Peninsula than in Britain, which was something of a backwater. Roman Hispania was so thoroughly Romanised that all of the original Iberian languages, with the sole exception of Basque, became extinct under Roman rule. By the time the Western Empire fell, Latin was not just the language of government, but also the language of everyday life throughout the Peninsula.

This was not the case in Britain, where Latin never actually displaced the indigenous Brittonic languages. The elites spoke Latin, but the vast majority of the population remained Celtic. In other words, Latin was much less entrenched in Britain than it was in Hispania, which inevitably means it was also much more easily displaced by the Anglo-Saxons.

In fact, Latin couldn't even survive among the native Britons. After Rome fell, the native language eventually reasserted itself in the remaining Celtic areas. This gave rise to the later Welsh, Cornish, and Cumbric languages.

By extension, at the time of the Germanic migration, Britain was more linguistically divided than the solidly Latin Hispania. The former is more fertile grounds for a new lingua franca to emerge, than the latter.

2. The Goths who conquered Hispania were also Romanised and used Latin.

Furthermore, Visigothic Spain had no need for a new language. Not all Germanic peoples were alike - the Goths had long been in proximity with the Romans; they had converted to Christianity (albeit Arianism) and substantially adopted the Latin language even before entering Hispania. As a matter of fact, the first known codification of Visigothic Law - the Code of Euric, c. 480 - was written in Latin.

That is to say, the Visigothic Kingdom apparently continued to use Latin as the language of administration. Unsurprisingly, then, Visigothic rule did not diminish the status of Latin in Hispania.

The Visigoths were partly romanized before their entry into the Peninsula and it is likely that from the first they spoke Latin, bilingually with their East Germanic vernacular. The latter never achieved the status of written language in Spain and Latin continued to the language culture of administration throughout the Visigothic period.

Penny, Ralph, and Ralph John Penny. A History of the Spanish Language. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

In contrast, the Germanic pagans who settled in England had next to no contact with Rome, and they established governments in their own native languages. The early 6th century Law of Æthelberht, from the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Kent, is even thought to be the first Germanic-language legal code.

3. The Germanic influx to Britain was comparatively far larger than the Visigoths in Iberia.

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult for us to now reach through the mists of history and discern exactly what happened in sub-Roman Britain. Nonetheless, the available evidence still points to a mass movement of peoples from the continent.

The OP notes that genetic studies found Germanic contributions are "20-40% of British DNA"; the study in question is probably the Oxford / Wellcome project on British genetics. Which states that:

The best estimates for the proportion of presumed Anglo-Saxon ancestry in the large eastern, central and southern England cluster (red squares) are a maximum of 40% and could be as little as 10%.

Whether 10% or 40%, such numbers could not have been achieved without mass immigration. In fact, scholarly estimates such as Bryan Ward-Perkins in "Why Did the Anglo-Saxons Not Become More British?" have argued as an upper bound about 200,000 Anglo-Saxons to 800,000 native Britons. Imagine 17 million immigrants in the United kingdom today. Even in our current era of mass migrations, the foreign-born population of Britain is still only 12%. And yet, look how much that #has transformed the United Kingdom since 1945.

For comparison, the Visigoths in Spain have been estimated to number between 80,000 and 200,000. However, the total native population of Spain was somehwere in the vicinity of six million at the time of the Visigothic conquest. In other words, even the upper bound of plausible Visigothic numbers was still less than 5% of the Hispania's population - whereas the lower bound of Germanic presence began at 10% in Britain.


In sum, the Visigoths were far too few in numbers to impose Germanisation even if they didn't already speak Latin, which eliminated the need of locals to assimilate into their language. Meanwhile, while the Anglo-Saxons were outnumbered in absolute terms, their political superiority combined with relative local concentration of numbers meant their neighbours had a strong impetus to learn their tongue.

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    It has always been interesting to me that modern personal names in Spanish reflect Gothic origin to a greater extent than modern English personal names reflect an Anglo Saxon origin. – AllInOne Nov 12 '18 at 15:56
  • @AllInOne Anglo-Saxon given names went out of fashion in England after the Norman invasion. – Semaphore Nov 12 '18 at 16:18
  • What about the Swabians? The Kingdom of the Suebi lasted some 175 years. After the Visigoths conquered it, they had "only" some 125 years to undo any existent Germanization. – Rodrigo de Azevedo Nov 12 '18 at 23:03
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    @RodrigodeAzevedo The Suebi were essentially limited to a corner of the peninsula, and they also used Latin to some extent - King Rechiar minted coins with Latin text on them. Given their fewer numbers (some 30,000) they weren't going to impose much Germanisation that would require undoing. – Semaphore Nov 13 '18 at 6:10

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