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Old Norse Influence in Modern English: The Effect of the Viking Invasion

Old NorseOld Norse Influence in Modern English: The Effect of the Viking Invasion

By Sandra Dögg Friðriksdóttir

Bachelor Thesis, University of Iceland, 2014

Abstract: The Vikings from Scandinavia invaded the British Isles during the late eighth century. They prevailed there for the next 300 years, until the Normans arrived. Despite having been such a dominant force they left behind diminutive evidence of their reign. That was the general assumption up until the second half of the nineteenth century when philologists began investigating English. Their investigations successfully established the definite evidence of the Vikings language in English.

The Vikings spoke a language called ‘Old Norse’, which today is an extinct language. Old Norse and Old English were in many ways similar since they belonged to the same language family, Germanic. Therefore, the Old Norse constituents integrated with ease into Old English. These borrowings went undetected for centuries but remain in the language up to the present-day.

It is estimated that there are around 400 Old Norse borrowings in Standard English. These borrowings are amongst the most frequently used terms in English and denote objects and actions of the most everyday description. This thesis determines which aspects of the language were and still are influenced by Old Norse and if these borrowings are still productive in Modern English. Moreover, it examines the varied influence Old Norse had on different English dialects.

Introduction: This thesis attempts to answer the question what remains of Old Norse (ON) in Modern English (Mod.E), that is the aspects of the English lexicon where ON borrowings can be found and if these borrowings are still productive in English. The thesis will also examine the diverse influence ON had on different English dialects. During the second half of the nineteenth century philologists began to examine English with the intention of exploring the surviving remnants of the Vikings in the British Isles. This examination resulted in studies which revealed that a large part of the English lexicon is undeniably derived from ON, in some instances by lexical borrowing and/or semantic fusion.

Before the nineteenth century, it appeared as if the evidence of the Vikings in the British Isles had been obliterated. Thankfully, there were philologists who took interest not in what remained of the Vikings in British soil, but what remained in the language of the islanders themselves. The philologist Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae, examined and scrutinized every linguistic and historic document available. He finally succeeded in establishing the unmistakable evidence of the Vikings, not only in Britain but also in Scotland and Ireland. He published his findings in his survey Minder om de Danske og Nordmændene i England, Skotland og Irland in 1851.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Iceland

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