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?

  • 5
    @AlbertoYagos that (maybe with some references) looks like an answer.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 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. Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 16:48
  • 5
    @VitorCGoergen - No "single trace" is a very excessive formula.
    – user8690
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 7:56
  • 4

3 Answers 3


(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.

  • 5
    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
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 15:56
  • 2
    @AllInOne Anglo-Saxon given names went out of fashion in England after the Norman invasion.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 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. Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 23:03
  • 4
    @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
    Commented Nov 13, 2018 at 6:10
  • 1
    Excellent answer! You might want to expand your point about modern-day Britain. Consider not just an immigration level twice what Britain currently has, but all of them speaking the same language (more or less!) and them replacing most of the existing government and upperclass -- filling most of the prestige position in local society.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 15:42

The accepted answer is very good at giving context and explaining the difference of the Iberian languages with England (where a Germanic language replaced previous romance and Celtic languages) and France (where Germanic languages had an strong influence on French). However, the question makes a very strong statement that there isn't "a single trace of Germanic influence in Iberian Languages". Although small, that influence exists and it's well attested with a lot of loanwords.

I will keep the scope of my answer on Catalan, that is what I know and what my sources are about, but I suspect that in any other Iberian language you could find some "traces" of Germanic influence dating to the Visigothic and Frankish times.

According to my high school textbook on Catalan (Badia, Joan. Llengua catalana, COU [1a. ed.]. Barcelona: Teide, 1991. ISBN 84-307-3290-X.) Germanic loanwords arrived to Catalan by three ways:

  • From vulgar Latin, which had gotten Germanic loanwords from contact with Germanic peoples at the borders of the Empire.
  • From Germanic invaders.
  • From relations with neighbouring languages.

Wiktionary has even a category of Germanic loanwords in Catalan.

It seems that most of those loanwords didn't come from Visigoths but from later Franks. In fact, the example I like the most, "blau", that is the word for blue both in Catalan and German, arrived to Catalan in the IX century when Franks were the dominant power in Catalonia but Visigoths were a distant memory.

Other Iberian languages may have a similar Visigothic (or Suebian) influence but less Frankish influence. However, at least some of the Germanic loanwords listed in my Catalan textbook have clear cognates in Spanish (bandera, guerra, guàrdia, brodar, sabó, carpa, areng, parra, blanc...).


The title of the question is excessive - given that there are Germanic (not necessarily Gothic) words in both Spanish/Castilian and Portuguese, as well as Catalan, as said in the other answer. But the body of the question — rather than a comparison between England/Britain and Iberia — is asking for a separate discussion of the two cases

  1. Why is England a land of Germanic language, unlike Iberia (and most other Roman lands)?

  2. Why did Iberia remained Latinized, even after the Germanic and Muslim conquests?

Considering the former question, we could even asks ourselves "why is England (almost) the only Germanic-speaking land of the Roman Empire". - Because that's a striking fact, if we look at the map of the Roman empire, the British case is a sort of singularity: it is the only part of that empire where we have a Germanic language now, beside Raetia and Noricum (present South Germany, Austria and Switzerland; see this and this). And let's not forget that in Britain only England proper became a land of Germanic language, while the rest stayed Celtic.

The comparison between Britain and Iberia cannot be made on the ground of some structural similarity - as the OP seems to think, while at the same time announcing facts that point to the contrary: if 20-40% of British DNA is Anglo-Saxon (although I guess the OP means English DNA, not British), that is a huge percentage compared to any other area of the Roman Empire conquered by Germanic tribes — again with the exception of Switzerland and Austria. The Goths were always a minority in all the territories they ever conquered: England, Switzerland and Austria became Germanic lands because of other conquerors than the Goths! Northern France and Lombardy might be better elements of comparison (with England) than Iberia.

England is among the few territories of Germanic languages that fall within the Roman Empire frontier at it maximal extension.

enter image description here

Like Austria/Noricum/Raetia, England was not only on the fringe of the empire, but facing (on its eastern shores) the main body of Germanic peoples (Germania and Scandinavia).

The short answer could be that for a Germanic language to become dominant on a former Roman territory a few conditions had to be met:

  • the "barbaric" invaders had to come en masse; (not the case of Goths, who were groups of warriors, not "entire peoples"; Longobards were probably in the same situation — unlike the Slavs, who came in larger numbers;)

  • their language had to be non-Latinized; (probably the Goths also failed that condition, at least in Iberia;)

  • their numbers should have been larger than that of the local Latin speakers (obviously not the case of the Goths).

For these conditions to be met it seems that another condition, as already pointed out, had to be satisfied: the invasion had to be a frontier expansion, like Bavarians and Allemani (and especially Slavs!) did, instead of a long migratory spread (like the Goths did).

The Franks did conquer through a such "frontier expansion", but still didn't impose their Germanic tongue (which was close to present Dutch and Frisian, and thus to old Anglo-Saxon) because they entered and spread on a larger territory (Gauls) which (like Iberia) was one of the most populated and most Latinized. The Franks came in far greater numbers than the Goths and still failed to impose their language; probably they would have succeeded on a smaller territory, like that of Austria, and closer to their homeland, at the northern border of Gauls. That being said, one could imagine that without the Arab conquest of Iberia more Gothic traits would be present in that area, in the same way Frankish ones are present in northern France.

As for the fact that Iberia stayed Latinized not only after the Gothic/Germanic, but also after the Arab conquest, another aspect needs to be pointed out, with regard to all Latinized populations of Europe. Notwithstanding the fact, specific to the Iberian peninsula, that Arab populations were expelled during the Reconquista and also assimilated by force, a central aspect of the initial Roman-speaking populations that came under the rule of "Barbarian" conquerors is that the absolute majority of these people were (more or less) exploited (or exploitable) peasants. Some of them lived under the same conditions under the Roman rule, and some were people that used to live in towns but became peasants after the fall of the imperial administration. These conquered peasants did not really "mingle" with their Barbarian noble masters. There was some cultural exchange but the linguistic assimilation was by the exploited majority over the masters, not the other way around. Also, the masters changed sometimes (in Iberia from Goths to Arabs, in Southern Gauls from Goths and Burgundians to Franks, in Italy from Goths to Lombards to Franks, and much faster in Dacia/Romania) so that not all had the time to put a linguistic mark on the land folk.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.