Approaches to the study of linguistic identity in the Viking Age

Approaches to the study of linguistic identity in the Viking Age

By Eldar Heide

Published Online (2006)

Introduction: How did the Viking migrations influence linguistic identities in Europe? To my knowledge, this question has hitherto not been addressed by scholars. I will try to define the problem and discuss the types of evidence that may cast light on the question.

My knowledge relevant for this question basically concerns Scandinavia, and through Matthew Townend 2002 I also have some knowledge of language conditions in Viking age England. The expansion from Scandinavia in the Viking age brought the Scandinavian language community in contact with new language communities, or increased such contact, and it brought those language communities in contact with – or in closer contact with –the Old Scandinavian language community.

This language contact obviously had linguistic consequences. Some of those consequences are objective and can be observed in the languages themselves, and they have been addressed by many scholars. Extensive research has been done on words and place-names borrowed between languages because of the Viking expansion. The results of such studies are relevant to linguistic identity, but do not directly concern that topic, because language change does not necessarily imply change of linguistic identity.

 A language can be considerably changed because of contact with another language, but if the users of the language are unaware of the changes – or they are aware of the changes, but conceive the language as one and the same all the time – their linguistic identity may still be the same.

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