VIKING INFLUENCE on the English Language!
October 20, 2019
Hello everyone, welcome to the Langfocus Channel and my name is Paul. Today we’re going to go back in time and talk about an important influence on the English language, the influence of the Vikings and their language Old Norse. It’s almost universally accepted that English is a West Germanic language along with Frisian, Dutch and German and that modern English descended from Anglo-Saxon also known as Old English the language spoken by Germanic tribes that migrated to Great Britain in the fifth century. As I mentioned in my video: is English really a Germanic language? English vocabulary was highly influenced by French after the Norman invasion in the 11th century in the subsequent control of England by the Anglo-Normans. But there’s one more piece of the puzzle English was also highly influenced by Old Norse after Viking invasions and Danish and Norwegian settlements in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries. A large section of England was under Danish Viking control from the year 878 to 954 at its largest around half of England under a regime known as the Danelaw. Both English and Scandinavians lived in the area of the Danelaw and through extensive interaction and intermarriage the culture of the area became heavily Scandinavian influenced and of course there was contact between their languages: Old English and Old Norse. After the English reasserted control over this area, the culture of the area remained heavily Scandinavian influenced and Danish attacks against England continued. There was even a period of 26 years from 1016 to 1042 when the Danes controlled all of England. This period of Viking influence continued until the Norman invasions which began in 1066. The exact linguistic situation of that time period is not known but we know that Old English and Old Norse were closely related. Before the Viking invasions began in the year 793, the Anglo-Saxon tribes had arrived from across the sea between the 5th and 7th centuries. They spoke Ingvaeonic dialect, Anglo-Frisian and Old Saxon dialect, and existed in close proximity with speakers of Proto-Norse. Before the Anglo-Saxon migration, these dialects were likely all mutually intelligible, so with only a couple of hundred years between the Anglo-Saxon migration and the Viking invasions their languages were likely still mutually intelligible at least to a limited extent, at the very least there were many similar cognate words. Despite the Germanic connection between Old English and Old Norse we can see that the differences between Old English and Middle English are striking. That English underwent a change and simplification in grammar and that many Old Norse words were adopted into English. Vocabulary. As we know, Norman French had a big impact on Middle English making up around 30% of English vocabulary by the end of the Middle English period, but if we leave French aside and just look at the Germanic vocabulary of English it looks like this: words with cognates in both Old English and Old Norse make up 50% of the words, words found only in Old English make up 36%, and words found only in Old Norse make up 14%. You might be thinking only 14%? That’s not so many Old Norse words! But also notice that 50% of the words had cognates in both languages. This could mean that as Middle English developed, the English and Scandinavians had the tendency to choose words that were common to both languages as this would obviously make communication easier and while 14% may seem like a fairly low number a lot of those words are very basic and common words that’s important because when a language borrows vocabulary from another one it usually borrows words that are more advanced or more literary or words for concepts that couldn’t be expressed in the language before. Borrowing basic words usually requires an intense prolonged period of contact between the two languages. Here are some examples of basic words that entered English from Old Norse. The third-person plural pronouns came from Old Norse. These are the ancestors of “they”, “them” and “their”; words related to animals “reindeer” from Old Norse “hreindyr”; “gosling” from Old Norse “gaeslingr” which was borrowed into Middle English as “gesling”; the word for “egg” from Old Norse “egg”; “wing” from Old Norse “vaengr”, which became Middle English “winge” or “wenge”. Nature and landscape: “bark” from Old Norse “borkr”; “root” from Old Norse “rót”, this was borrowed into Late Old English “rot”; “sky” from Old Norse “sky” and the original meaning was “cloud”. Negative words: “anger” from Old Norse “angr”; “die” from Old Norse “deyja”; which entered Old English as “digan”, which became Middle English “deyen”; “ill” from Old Norse “illr”, which entered Middle English as “ille”; “rotten” from Old Norse “rotinn” which entered Middle English as “roten”; “ugly” from Old Norse “ugga” or “uggligr”, which entered Middle English as “uglike”; words related to the body: “leg” from Old Norse “leggr”; “skin” from Old Norse “skinn”; words for common objects: “bag” from Old Norse “baggi”; “ball” from Old Norse “bollr”; “knife” from Old Norse “knifr” which entered Late Old English as “cnif”. Verbs: the plural present tense of the verb “to be” in other words “are” came from Old Norse “eru”; “call” from Old Norse “kalla”, which entered Middle English as “callen”; “hit” from Old Norse “hitta” which entered Middle English as “hitten”; “take” from Old Norse “taka” which entered Late Old English as “tacan”, which became Middle English “taken”. These are just some examples to give you an idea of the types of basic everyday words which were borrowed from Old Norse. Around a thousand words of Old Norse became part of standard English. But that number is significantly higher if we include some of the northern dialects of English like the Yorkshire dialect. Grammar. In the transition from Old English to Middle English, English went from being a synthetic language with lots of inflection to a highly analytic language which relies on word order and prepositions instead of inflection. Nouns lost their case inflections, nouns used to occur in four different forms: nominative, genitive, dative and accusative, and occasionally in a fifth case the instrumental case, for example in Old English there was this phrase meaning”the heavy stone” with the word for stone being a masculine strong a-stem noun: “se hefiga stan”, “paes hefigan stan-es”, “paem hefigan stan-e” “pone hefigan stan”; and in the plural form meaning “the heavy stones”: “pa hefigan stan-as”, “paera hefigra stan-a” “pa hefigum stan-um”. In Middle English these different forms were mostly lost, for the singular there was just “the heviy stan” and for the genitive form, in other words the possessive, there was “the heviy stanes”, in the plural there was just “the heviy stanes”, with the ending of the nominative and accusative cases becoming the plural “s”, in the noun distinct cases were lost except for the genitive and the different forms of the definite article were all reduced to “pe”, which was a variant of “se” from Old English and unstressed it was pronounced “thə” and all case and number distinctions were lost in the adjectives. Also in Old English the definite article and adjectives were declined differently in the feminine and neuter genders. But all of those gender distinctions were lost. There were various other plural endings for different genders and classes of nouns in Old English. But the plural form from this particular class of nouns became generalized to most nouns. Another plural ending was also common “en” which still lingers on in a few words like “oxen” “brethren “and “children”, though this one: “children” actually combines two plural forms “childer” plus “en”. This is a form of simplification in which a particular irregular form becomes regularized. Another change, many verb inflections were also lost. Old English verbs mainly fit into two groups strong verbs and weak verbs. Strong verbs formed the past tense through a change in a vowel in the verb stem and weak verbs formed the past tense by adding a suffix after the verb stem “-ode” and “-odest” in the singular, and “-odon” in the plural. In Middle English, the past tense endings in weak class two verbs developed into regular past tense endings, which today are just “-ed”. Many strong verbs disappeared and new verbs adopted the weak past tense forms. This is another example of how English became simplified and regularized. In Middle English the use of auxiliary verbs to supplement verb tenses also began. For example, in Old English there was no specific future tense. The future was expressed with the present tense conjugation. But in Middle English “schulen” meaning “shall” and “willen” meaning “will” began to be used as future markers. “he schal loke” meaning “he will look” or “he shall look” and “Silden he us wille” meaning “He will shield us”, in other words “He will protect us”. This was a sign of English becoming a more analytic language as it lost its inflections. The word order of English also became more fixed as English lost its inflections. In Old English “se hefiga stan” would be clearly nominative. Normally the subject of a sentence so you could move that phrase around and it would still be clear that it was the subject but In Middle English “the heviy stan” could be nominative, dative or accusative. So to show it’s the subject it would normally be first followed by a verb and then an object or a compliment, if there was one. So, how did the contact between Old English and Old Norse caused or influenced these changes? A lot of this comes down to speculation, based on small bits of information that we have. Despite the violence of the initial Viking invasions, in the areas under Scandinavian rule it seems clear that the Anglo-Saxons were not driven out or kept separate from the Scandinavians. They lived in close proximity with each other and at least in certain areas and at certain times they were highly integrated. With this context in mind there are several theories about the contact between Old English and Old North. The traditionally held consensus is that Middle English descended directly from Old English without interruption and that outside influence from Old Norse did not change the West Germanic core of the language. In this traditional view Middle English developed with an Old Norse substrate this means that as Scandinavians adopted English changes entered the language through imperfect learning on their part or borrowing from Old Norse on the part of English speakers there’s a minority view that Middle English was a Creole, in other words a new language that arose from contact between Old English and Old Norse with influences from both. Creoles usually arise when communities of people who share no common language come in close contact with each other and they come up with a new language out of necessity. This pidgin language is created by adults. Then, it becomes a native language of the next generation. One typical feature of Creoles is that the vocabulary is mostly derived from the higher prestige language, while its grammar is a drastically simplified version of the lower prestige languages grammar if English is a Creole that means that it cannot be classified as either West Germanic or North Germanic. But one problem with this theory is that true Creoles are usually more grammatically simplified and regularized than Middle English. Creoles usually begin as pidgin languages created by speakers of mutually unintelligible languages, so rather than combining both languages they create a simple new language from scratch and they normally don’t have gender and case in pronouns, singular plural distinction verb inflections for person or tense passive forms and so on, but Middle English retained all of those things Maybe that’s because Old English and Old Norse were so similar to begin with, that they didn’t need to create an entirely new language to communicate. Even if some creolization did take place, if they already shared a lot of common vocabulary but the grammatical inflections caused confusion, maybe they spoke in a dumbed-down or a simplified sort of way with fewer grammatical inflections in order to communicate. That doesn’t really fulfill the criteria of a pidgin but maybe we could call it a semi-pidgin or something like that, and if their children grew up in that household hearing their parents speak a semi-pidgin and they adopted that as their native language then maybe we could call that native language a semi-creole. There is also a controversial new theory that English is actually a North Germanic language. That means that Scandinavians didn’t learn Old English but rather the English learned Old Norse so Middle English is actually based on Old Norse at its core with lots of influence from Old English. So according to this theory English doesn’t descend directly from Old English but rather from Old Norse along with Swedish, Norwegia, Danish, Icelandic and Faroese. The basis of this theory is that the syntax of Middle English and Modern English reflects Old Norse in numerous ways. Here are some examples: in English the verbs come before the object. “I can play the piano” This is similar to the North Germanic word order in Norwegian “Jeg kan spille piano”, in the West Germanic languages Dutch and German the second verb comes at the end, after the object: “Ik kan piano spelen”. “Ich kann Klavier spielen” Old English was similar to Dutch and German in this regard, another difference: preposition stranding This means that prepositions can come at the end of clauses without the noun that usually follows them So in English we have “That issue was talked about” in Norwegian “Den saken ble snakket om”. Preposition stranding is actually very rare among the languages of the world Split infinitives: despite whatever your high school English teacher may have taught you split infinitives are very common and normal in English. Modern North Germanic languages are the same. In English you can say “I promise to not do that again” with “to not do” in Norwegian you can say “Jeg lover a ikke gjore de igjen”. In both languages the negation adverb is placed in the middle of the infinitive splitting it. Not only the negation adverb but other types of adverbs can go there as well. Split infinitives did not occur in Old English and they do not occur in Dutch or German. They did however occur occasionally in Old Norse Those are a few of 14 different syntactic elements that occur in both English and North Germanic languages but not in Old English. How do we know that these features weren’t simply borrowed from Old Norse into Old English? well this theory is based on the understanding that when one language borrows from another it usually doesn’t borrow structures it borrows mainly vocabulary. But I don’t think that’s quite true language structures are sometimes borrowed when there is extensive long term contact between the languages and when there is extensive bilingualism amongst speakers of the borrowing language. Old Norse was not simply the language of the elite, it was spoken by people living side by side with the speakers of Old English. So there was likely intense contact as well as a lot of bilingualism. Therefore, Old English certainly could have borrowed structures from Old Norse and not just vocabulary So I’m not convinced that English is based on Old Norse. In my opinion and I freely admit that I’m speculating here I think that the traditional consensus still stands, but there may also have been some degree of language mixing because of childhood bilingualism. It’s quite clear that Old Norse made a bigger impact further north in the Danish controlled areas. So up there there was likely more language mixing but when Middle English was standardized, the East Midlands dialect was chosen as the basis of the standard. It was sort of the midway point between the northern more Scandinavian influenced dialects and the southern more Anglo dialects this definitely limited the amount of Norse influence, so that Modern English today is more West Germanic than North Germanic. Even if some of those northern dialects tend a little more towards North Germanic. The question of the day to speakers of North Germanic languages and people who have studied them: What kinds of similarities have you noticed between English and your language? and to speakers of other languages: Has your language been influenced by others as a result of language contact? Let’s leave Modern English borrowings aside and think more about historical contact between different language communities. Be sure to follow Langfocus on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and once again thank you to all of my patrons on patreon, especially these patrons right here on the screen. They are my top tier patreon supporters. So very many special thanks to them.And everyone, thank you for watching and have a nice stay.