Norse loanwords in Old and Middle Irish – a semantic analysis of the Irish-Norse (language) contact situation
By Aukje Borkent
Master’s Thesis, University of Utrecht, 2014
Abstract: Ever since we found records of the coming of the Norsemen to Ireland, this topic has been a major area of interest within the fields of history, archaeology, literary studies and linguistics. As a result, much research on the Norse impact on Ireland has been done in the past, and already a large part of its mystery has been revealed. One of the aspects that has been researched in the past is the evidence of Old Norse loanwords in Old and Middle Irish. These studies often focussed on the phonetic developments of those borrowings, and although the borrowings have been catalogued and discussed according to their semantic value, no clear study exists on the semantic development from the source language (i.e. Old Norse) to its target language (i.e. Old and Middle Irish).
It is my objective to detect what the semantic development of Norse loanwords in Old and Middle Irish can tell us about the language and social contact situation of the Irish and the Norse raiders and settlers during the Viking Age. In order to obtain this objective I have created a database containing all Norse loanwords in Old and Middle Irish. These loanwords are then categorised according to their semantic specifics, semantic development and semantic similarities to Irish native lexicon. This database forms the foundation for my analysis.
In the first chapter I will discuss the general historical background, giving an overview of the historical impact of the Norsemen from the perspective of other academic fields. I will discuss matters like Irish society before the arrival of the Vikings, reasons for the Norse expansion towards Ireland, the development of the Norse from raiders to settlers, and the contact situation that arose in this period between the Irish and the Norsemen.
The second chapter comprises the main body of this thesis. In this chapter I will subdivide the loanwords into ten different semantic categories. Within each category I will discuss the loanwords separately and finish with an analysis of the category as a whole, focussing on what the semantic changes can tell us about the language and social contact situation between the Norse and the Irish.
Finally, I will combine the different analyses into a single conclusion that describes what loanwords can tell us about the social and linguistic impact of the Norsemen in Ireland.