The Scandinavian influence on English language.

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      The old English language was self-sufficient. But a Scandinavian element, French element and Latin element entered into the texture of the English language in course of time and modified the character of the language as a whole. The Scandinavian element influenced the English language when the English came into contact with the Danes towards the end of the 8th century. The early linguistic influence of the Danes can be felt in the use of the Scandinavian loan-word 'to call' in a glorious patriotic war-poem written shortly after the Battle of Maldon (993).


Scandinavian loan-word
Scandinavian Loan-word


      A great number of Scandinavian families settled in England, specially in Nor folk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Northumbria, etc. Names of places ending in-by-thorp, -back and names of persons testify to the predominance of the invaders in great parts of England.

      There was a great similarity between old English and old Norse though now that resemblance is obscured because of thousand years of little intercommunion and of these two languages being meanwhile subject to foreign influence-English from French arnd Danish from low German. But now there is an essential identity between the two languages. Nouns like man, wife, father, folk and verbs like will, can, meet, come, and adjectives like full, wise, well, better are identical in the two languages. In many cases, again, words were so dissimilar that they were easily distinguished, for instance where they contained an original all, which in OE had become long a (OE.swan=on Sveinn), or an, which in or has become ea (OE. leas-ON. Lauss, louss), or SK, which in English has become sh (OE. SCcyrn, now shirt- No. Skyrta). English often modified a word according to some vague feeling of the English sound that corresponds with the Scandinavian sound; Shift is an anglicosed form of Norse skipta.

      Sometimes the Scandinavians gave a fresh lease of life to obsolete native words. The preposition Till, the words like dale, learn, blend would have disappeared had they not been strengthened by the Scandinavian words. There were in existence side by side the two slightly different forms of the same word in English-one, the original English form and the other Scandinavian. In some cases both torms survive in standard speech though they have developed slightly different meanings: whole - hole, no - nay, from - fro, rear - raise. In other cases the Scandinavian form survives in dialects only, while the other belongs to the literary language: leap - loup, church - kirk, mouth - mun. In many cases, Danish form of the words has in course of time been crowded out by the native form, as for example, heathen - heythen, fish - fisk, naked - naken. Again in many cases Danish forms drove away the English forms: swuster - sister, swon - stwain. As to the word Gift initial sound is due to Scandinavian and also the modern meaning of it has been given by the Scandinavian. In some words, English has attached Scandinavian significance. Dream in OE. meant joy. It has acquired its present meaning from old Norse draunmr.

      In other instances, Scandinavians placed words at the disposal of the English. Death and dead are OE Words, but the corresponding verbs were Steorfan and Sweltan. The Danish Deya accorded with death and it was adopted, while Swueltan was discarded and the other verb acquired the more special meaning of starving.

      Through this loan-word test, the sphere of human knowledge and activity in which Scandinavians taught English can be ascertained. The earliest stratum of loan words relate to war and navy; orrest ('battle ) fylcian "to collect etc. Next, we find a great many Scandinavian law-terms. The most important of these terms is the word law itself, known in England from the 10th century in the form Lagu which must have been the exact Scandinavian form. The word like 'bonda, lysing, crafian are the Scandinavian forms of peasant, freeman, and crave. All these law-terms except law, by-law, crave have disappeared from the language as a simple consequence of the Norman conquerors taking into their hands the courts of justice and legal affairs.

      Scandinavian loan-words denote objects and actions of the most commonplace description. There are nouns like husband, fellow, sky, skull, adjectives like meek, low, scant, happy, seemly. The same impression of commonplaceness is confirmed by the verbs thrive, die, cast etc. There are instances where the Scandinavians did not bring the word itself, but modified either the form or signification of a native word as get, give, loose etc.

      The bulk of Scandinavian words are of a purely democratic character. The French words introduced in the following centuries represent the rich and the refined. The Scandinavian influence is felt in the English grammar and syntax. The-s of the third person singular in the present indicative tense of verbs is said to have been due to the Scandinavian influence. According to Jesperson the omission of the relative pronoun in relative clauses (This is the book I have lost)-the relative pronoun which is omitted here, and the retention and omission of the conjunction that are also due to the Scandinavian influence. The rules governing the use of will and shall in middle English are much the same as in Scandinavian.

      The Scandinavian loan-words are characterised by common placeness. They denote objects and actions of the most commonplace description and certainly do not represent arny set of ideas. We find such nouns as husband, follow, sky, skull etc; adjectives from Scandinavia are meek, low, scant etc. Happy and seemly are also derived from Danish roots. The same impression of commonplaceness is confirmed by the verbs: thrive, die, cast etc.

      The careful scrutiny of the loan of these non-technical words shows that the English had no new ideas but only new names which are marked by commonplaceness. This reveals no mental or industrial superiority of the Scandinavians. This is historically important. If the English loan-words extend to spheres where other languages do not borrow, the reason must be a more intimate fusion of the two nations thanit is seen anywhere else. The manner in which English intermingled their own native speech with Scandinavian elements shows that the culture of the Scandinavian settlers cannot be of a superior order, because in that case, technical terms indicative of this superiority could be seen in the loan-words. Their state of culture was not inferior to that of the English, for in that case, they would have adopted the language of the natives without appreciably influencing it.

      The bulk of Scandinavian words are of a purely democratic character; they are homely expressions for things and objects and actions of everyday importance. This is clearly brought out by a comparison with the French words introduced in the following centuries, which represent the rich, the ruling and the refined. The words of the French were used by the 'upper ten whereas the Scandinavian words were used in any conversation on ordinary things of daily life. Such words as thrive, ill; die are Scandinavian words; bread and egg which are the daily fare of men are also Scandinavian in origin. Thus although the Scandinavians were rulers for sometime yet, their social standing was not superior to that of the English. It is note-worthy that there had been a close intermingling of the two races linguistically.

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