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The Scandinavian invasion and its effect on English.

In the 8th – 9th c. Britain was raided and attacked by the Danes/Scandinavians/Vikings. The struggle of the English against the Scandinavians lasted over 300 years, in the course of which period more than half of England was occupied by the invaders and reconquered again. At first the Danes came in small bands, ravaged the district and escaped with the booty to their ships. About the middle of the 9th c. the raids increased in frequency and entered upon a new phase. The Scandinavians subdued Northumbria and East Anglia, ravaged the eastern part of Mercia, and advanced on Wessex. The Scandinavians came in large numbers to settle in the new areas. They founded many towns and villages in northern England. In many regions there sprang up a mixed population made up of the English and the Danes. Their linguistic amalgamation was easy since their tongues belonged to the same linguistic group. The ultimate effect of the Scandinavian invasions on the English language became manifest at a later date, in the 12th-13th c., when the Scandinavian element was incorporated in the central English dialects, but thehistorical events that led to the linguistic influence date from the 9th and 10th c. Only Alfred the Great of Wessex kept them away. In 878 the Treaty of Wedmore was signed and England was divided into Wessex (belonged to Alfred) and Danelaw (belonged to the Danes). The reconquest of Danish territories was carried on successfully by Alfred’s successors but in the late 10th c. the Danish raids were renewed again. They reached a new climax in the early 11th c. headed by Sweyn and Canute. The attacks were followed by demands for regular payments of large sums of money. In 1017 Canute was acknowledged as king and England became part of a great northern empire, comprising Denmark and Norway. On Canute’s death his kingdom broke up and England regained political independence, by that time it was a single state divided into six earldoms. The Scandinavian dialects belonged to the Germanic group, the Danes soon linguistically merged into the local Old English dialects leaving some Scandinavian elements.

By the end of the 8-th cent Britain was often invaded by Vikings (Danes from Denmark and Northmen from Scandinavia). England was invaded by Danes, Scotland and Ireland by Northmen. At first they came in small groups, than in large bands conquering territories one after another. Wessex kingdom under Alfred the Great began to struggle. But still Scandinavian invasion had made some effect on English:

1. words beginning on “sk” (sky, skirt, skin)

2. the system of personal pronouns (they, them, their)

3. the form ‘are’ of the verb to be/

4. the ending –s- for Present Simple, 3-rd person singular (in verbs) (he makes, she gives).

5. the system of personal names ending on –son-: Davidson, Richardson, Jefferson.

6. there are more then 1500 words of Scandinavian origin in ModE: sister, bad, fog, cake, get, again etc.

[sk’] → [s] NE Etymological doublets in


→ [sk] Sc skjorte (Sc) – skirt (NE)

scierte (OE) – shirt (NE)

The influence was felt in 2 spheres

§ vocabulary – law, husband, loose, root, sky, smile, want;

§ morphology – the verb system was expanding.


Basis for Comparison Scandinavian Borrowings
Time since the 9th c. (Scandinavian Invasion)
Number 1 000
Area Scandinavian borrowings came to English from Northern and North-Eastern Dialects
Ways of Borrowing Scandinavian borrowings penetrated only through oral speech as far as the Scandinavians had never been too eager to come to the power wherever they went. They were just raiders.
Assimilation of Borrowings Scandinavian borrowings were easier to assimilate as far as the Scandinavian Dialects as well as Old English Dialects were Germanic dialects (they all belonged to one and the same language group). So the languages were very similar and the assimilation was easy.
Semantic Fields · everyday life (cake, raft, skirt, birth, dirt, fellow, root, window, to die, etc.); · military (knife, fleet, etc.); · legal matters (law, husband, etc.); · some pronouns and conjunctions (they, their, them, both, though, etc.); · essential notion (N scar, anger; V to call, to take, to want to kill, to cast, to scare; Adj happy, ill, weak, wrong; Pron same, both; Prep till, fro, etc.).
Recognition in ModE Scandinavian borrowings are hard to distinguish from the native words as far as Scandinavian Dialects belonged to the same language group (Germanic). The only distinctive Scandinavian feature in English: Scandinavian cluster [sk] (sky, skill, skin, skirt, etc.);
Contributions · A lot of Scandinavian borrowings disappeared, some were left only in dialects; · Some Scandinavian borrowings replaced the native words (they, take, call, etc.); · Scandinavian borrowings enlarged the number of synonyms in English: native to blossom – Scan. borr. to bloom, native wish – Scan. borr. want, native heaven – Scan. borr. sky, etc.  

Effect of the Scandinavian Invasions

Though the Scandinavian invasions of England are dated in the OE, period, their effect on the language is particularly apparent in ME.

While some of the Scandinavians came to England merely to plunder and return to their homeland, others made their permanent home in North East England.

In the early years of the occupation the Danish settlements were little more than armed camps. But gradually the conditions stabilized and the Danes began to bring their families. The new settlers and the English intermarried and intermixed; they lived close together and did not differ either in social rank or in the level of culture and customs; they intermingled the more easily as there was no linguistic barrier between them.

Altogether more than 1,400 English villages and towns bear names of Scandinavian origin (with the element thorp meaning "village", e.g. Woodthorp, Linthorp; toft 'a piece of land', e.g. Brimtoft, Lo-tttfstoft and others). Probably, in many districts people became biling­ual, with either Old Norse or English prevailing.

Eventually the Scandinavians were absorbed into the local popu­lation both ethnically and linguistically. They merged with the society around them, but the impact on the linguistic situation and on the further development of the English language was quite profound.

The increased regional differences of English in the 11th and J2th c. must partly be attributed to the Scandinavian influence. Due to the contacts and mixture with Î Scand, the Northern dialects had acquired lasting and sometimes indelible Scandinavian features. We find a large admix­ture of Scandinavian words in Early ME records corning from the North East whereas contemporary texts from other regions are practically devoid of Scandinavian borrowings.

In later ages the Scandinavian element passed into other regions. The incorporation of the Scandinavian element in the London dialect and Standard English was brought about by the changing linguistic situation in England: the mixture of the dialects and the growing lin­guistic unification.[1] Yet neither in the South nor in Standard English -did the Scandinavian element ever assume such proportions as in the North-Eastern ME dialects.


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 4527

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