When did Middle English end

The influence of Scandinavian on English syntax



1. Scandinavian settlements
2. Scandinavian place names
3. Lexical borrowings from Scandinavian
4. Grammatical borrowings from Scandinavian

1. Reanalysis
2. Extension
3. External Mechanisms: Borrowing
4. The spread of syntactic change

1. Old Scandinavian (Old Norse)
2. The syntax of the old Scandinavian language
1. Object displacement
2. Generalization of Holmberg
3. Object scrambling
3.1. Object scrambling in Old and Early Middle English

1. V2 in Germanic languages
2. V2 in Old English
3. V2 in Middle English
3.1. The southern dialects of Middle English and V2 syntax
3.2. The V2 syntax in the dialects of the north in Middle English

1. Subject gap
2. The accessibility hierarchy




Numerous conquerors, such as the Romans, the Saxons, the Angles or the Normans, have had a lasting impact on the historical past of the country that we now call Great Britain. They all introduced numerous innovations into the socio-cultural life of the local population. Language was not closed to this influence either and was changed or enriched in one way or another.

The Scandinavians, or the influence of their languages ​​on the development of the related English language, is the subject of the present work.

The "Viking Age" stretched from the second half of the 8th century to 1042, when the Vikings finally lost their power. During this time the Scandinavians (Norwegians, Danes and partly also Swedes) settled in the parts of England they had conquered. Bit by bit they penetrated further inland and in the course of time their status changed, from feared conquerors they became peaceful inhabitants who maintained friendly relations with the Anglo-Saxon population. The result was a complete dissolution of Scandinavian ethnic consciousness in the Anglo-Saxon region. We will go into this later in this paper.

The assimilation process of the Scandinavian population in England had a concrete impact on the further development of the English vocabulary - and not only on it. The influence of Scandinavian on the lexical and morphological structure of the English language is a topic with which numerous philologists and linguists from Europe (and also Eastern Europe) have long been concerned. I was able to convince myself of this during my research for the present work. For this reason, this topic did not spark any further research interest in me.

But the influence of the Scandinavian languages ​​on the grammatical structure and especially on the syntax of English has not, in my opinion, been adequately investigated. Consequently, I have set myself the goal, insofar as this is possible within the scope of such a work, to examine in detail the influence of the Scandinavian languages ​​on the changes in the syntax of the English language. This work is based on the works of numerous authors, such as Trips, Holmberg, Vikner, Kroch, Pintzuk, Ilyish, Arakin and v.a.


The time of the Vikings[1] stretched from the 8th to the 11th century AD. In Europe, their first raids took place around 750th.[2] The Scandinavians were known as excellent seafarers, they had an excellent fleet of ships with navigation aids that enabled them to reach the coast of North America - long before Columbus, who only managed to do so in 1492. In addition, the Scandinavians engaged in intensive trade (128), not only with one another, but also with the English, the Irish, the Teutons, the Frisians, the Slavs, the Greeks, the Turks from Constantinople, as well as with the inhabitants of the islands in the Atlantic Ocean.[3]

In history, the Vikings are known more as barbaric warriors than as traders: the countries of Western Europe, especially England and Ireland, suffered from the constant raids of the Vikings. Why the British Isles were so important to the Scandinavians can be explained as follows: on the one hand, their own overpopulation and, on the other hand, the barreness of the Nordic landscapes. And there may have been another reason: the legacy of the paternal inheritance to the eldest son, which meant that the younger sons had to seek their happiness elsewhere, including at sea. This opened up new sea routes for the Scandinavians, thanks to which they penetrated south.[4]

The Vikings first invaded England around 800 AD. Their advances were primarily predatory and became increasingly brutal over the next fifty years. At that time, entire Viking armies wintered in Britain. If they previously considered winter unsuitable for their raids, they now realized that it was not so hard in more southern climes, and that there was no longer any reason to go home; You could conquer land here at any time of the year.[5]

The British resistance was poorly organized and ineffective. Since the 6th century England consisted of seven minor kingdoms, the so-called heptarchy: Kent, Essex, Sussex, Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia and North Humbria. Some of these small kingdoms often waged wars against each other and vied for overall rule.[6]

Their disunity made their land easy prey for the Vikings. The latter, mainly known as the "Danes", gradually conquered English territory. Towards the end of the 9th century, you turned your attention to Wessex, the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon minor kingdoms, which was still not under Danish control. However, King Alfred and his army put an end to the conquests here and forced the Vikings to surrender in 878. Alfred reached an agreement with Guthrum, the leader of the Vikings. In the "Treaty of Wedmore" the Vikings promised to withdraw from Wessex and to profess Christianity.[7] The Danes already owned the northern and eastern territories and now their land was also delimited in the south. The entire area bore the name Danelag (Danelaw).

What began with looting ended with the conquest of England.

1. Scandinavian settlements

As the name implies, it was Danelaw the part of England where people lived according to Danish law and traditions. The border with the English territories ran in a rough line between London and Chester on the West Coast and included the settlement areas of Northumbria, East Anglia, the southeastern Midlands and the five boroughs Stamford, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Lincoln.[8]

Despite the fact that most of the Vikings were supposed to be Danes, their armies also included numerous Norwegians and Swedes. This is proven by runes found in England.[9] Obviously, the founding of Danelaw to a huge wave of emigration from Scandinavia in the late 9th century and early 10th century.[10] Most of the Danes settled in the eastern Midlands and East Anglia, while the Norwegians preferred the north and settled in Yorkshire, the Isle of Man and Ireland. Although little is known about the relationships between the settlers and the local population, it appears that the Scandinavians seldom forced the Anglo-Saxons to relocate,[11] rather, they founded their own new settlements in less populated areas. Numerous Norwegians came to the north of Scotland via the Orkney Islands and settled there; Their settlements survived until the 17th century.[12]

2. Scandinavian place names (topographic names)

Hundreds of place names of Scandinavian origin still bear witness to the Scandinavian settlements in Danelaw, in contrast to the rest of the territories of England. The most common Scandinavian word elements are: - by (Tenby), - beck (Hollbeck), - ness (Skegness), - kir (k) (Ormskirk, Kirkwall), - thorp (e) (Cleethorpes) and - toft (Lowestoft). Most significant appear endings in - by and - thorp,[13] where one - by mainly found in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Lincolnshire. (which the author of this work can also attest to). Numerous - bys are an interplay of Danish proper names and settlement names, which were established after the successful conquests around 850 and up. Trips[14] counted more than 600 names starting with - by end - almost all on "Danish territory". The suffix - by originally meant "farm" (small agricultural enterprise) or "village"[15]. Numerous settlements developed into villages and towns over time, but retained their suffix. Grimsby, Ingleby, and Irby can serve as examples. As well as the names in - by also formed the names in - thorp Scandinavian compounds to designate secondary settlements, hamlets or farms. In Yorkshire they are mainly related to sheep farming. Yorkshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire are the counties with the most on- thorp ending name. Nevertheless, it is important to be careful with this suffix, because in Old English it also has the ending - throp / -trop which was also used in the establishment of the Scandinavian - thorp could have played a role.[16]

In addition, there is an equally high number of place names with - thwaite end - "a lonely piece of land" (Thornthwaite)[17] as well as names with the ending - toft, i.e. "a piece of land".[18]

“Hybrid names” are also a common phenomenon, with one element being Scandinavian and the other being English. For example, Nawton (the Scandinavian proper name “Nagli” and the Anglo-Saxon geographical element -ton (-tun), which means “village” or “farm”).[19] Usually those villages bear these names, which were then taken over and renamed by the Scandinavians.[20]

Also important is the fact that not all populated places in Danelaw got their names from the Vikings. It is quite possible that the Anglo-Saxons took up the Scandinavian tradition and simply gave the settlement areas new names. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to say whether one or the other settlement was really founded by Scandinavians. Some introduce three variants of place names that are the result of contact between two different languages:[21]

- The immigrants simply used the old names without changing them;
- The immigrants used their own names, independent of the existing ones;
- They have adapted the old names to their linguistic habits.

If you take a closer look at Anglo-Scandinavian relations, you have used all three variants, although the latter was probably the most common.[22]

The Scandinavianization of the names of Old English places is the best proof of how well the Scandinavian settlers mastered the Anglo-Saxon language.

In fact, not only do place names testify to the influence of the Vikings and their language on Old English, there are also a large number of words of Scandinavian origin that are still used in English today.

3. Lexical borrowings from Scandinavian

When the Old Scandinavian speaking Vikings arrived in the British Isles, Old English was the main language there. For many linguists, both languages ​​come from Germanic, so mutual understanding of both languages ​​was possible, although one certainly had to make a little effort. If you look at their basic structure, the two languages ​​were very similar. Bilingualism that has developed over the years should also be taken into account, although there is no definitive confirmation of this. It is unclear whether the English, the Danes or both peoples achieved bilingualism.[23]

At the beginning of the twelfth century the Scandinavians finally mingled with the local population. This happened towards the end of the Viking Age, but it in no way means that Old Scandinavian has disappeared from Britain. On the contrary, it lasted for many years. The seafaring was still of great importance, which was reflected in the relations with the Isle of Man, the Irish ports as well as the Northern Isles and contributed to the preservation of the language. At that time there were a large number of people in these places who spoke Old Scandinavian.[24] Orkney and Shetland Islands also played an important role in “language preservation”. Old Scandinavian was spoken here beyond the Middle Ages and was the normal colloquial language until around 1472. At that time, the language was absorbed by Scottish.[25]

Anglo-Saxon literary history shows some features of long-term coexistence between the two languages, and the influence of the Scandinavian language has been far-reaching.[26] The majority of lexical borrowings from Scandinavian are first recorded in the Middle English epoch after 1100; The main reason for this is that there are hardly any Old English texts from the Danelaw available.[27] Kastovsky also suspects that Danish was exclusively a spoken language. This is supported by the character of the Scandinavian borrowings, which mostly come from everyday vocabulary, as well as the lack of written texts. In addition, a word sometimes takes a very long time, even if it is often used orally, to enter the written-literary language. A very important borrowing that shows the beginning of the Scandinavian influence is the verb to call, which was first recorded in the ninth or tenth century.[28]

The huge waves of immigration and the Scandinavian settlements have led to a strong spread of the old Scandinavian language on the Danelaw territory. Their influence can still be felt in today's English. The Scandinavian vocabulary penetrated almost all language areas,[29] but the majority of words of Scandinavian origin come from everyday language. Here are a few examples:

The nouns bank, birth, booth, egg, husband, law, leg, root, score, sister, skin, trust, wing, window etc ...

The adjectives awkward, flat, happy, ill, loose, low, odd, sly, ugly, weak, wrong etc ...

The verbs to cast, clip, crawl, cut, die, drown, gasp, give, lift, nag, scare, sprint, take, want etc and of course the plural of the verb to be, are.

The pronouns both, same, they, them, their.

The fact that even the pronouns they, them, their were borrowed shows the enormous influence of the Vikings on the local population. Certainly the Anglo-Saxon pronouns that were already in existence at that time were similar to the Scandinavian ones, which is why it was not difficult to acquire the Scandinavian variant.[30] Nevertheless, the borrowing of function words is very atypical. In addition, it seems they to have been adopted earlier than other pronouns.[31]

Sometimes it is difficult to recognize Scandinavian words because the two languages ​​are very similar: many words look Scandinavian but are of English origin. E.g. poor, foot, tree, cow, stone, land eat, drink documented in early Old English.[32] Arakin suggests a few methods for detecting Scandinavian borrowings:

The Germanic sk changed into sh. The mutation occurred much later in Scandinavia, leading to the conclusion that words like shall, shoulder and shirt actually English while skin, skirt Scandinavian are.

In early Old English, the Germanic / g / before a vowel changed to / j / and / k / in / t /. In Old Scandinavian, / g / and / k / were retained. So are child, choose and yield local origin while give, poison, kid and kindle Scandinavian words are.

The date of its first appearance. For example, the old English word for “die” was “steorfan”, but you can find the word “sterven” in late Old English. The corresponding old Scandinavian word was "deyia", so a Scandinavian borrowing seems more than likely. The situation is similar with the word “law”, the earlier “æ”. Later records contain the word “lagu”, which definitely comes from Old Scandinavian.

The various lexical borrowings in the legal field show the great influence of the Vikings on law and order among the Anglo-Saxons. Words such as fellow (partner), law and outlaw. In the legal system, there were even more Scandinavian words in Old English, but these were displaced over time. It can also be added that England adopted the laws introduced by the Scandinavians after Danelaw.[33]

To everything that has been said above, one can also add that the vowel in the word can help to identify a borrowing[34] For example: the Germanic diphthong / ai / changes to / a / in Old English, while it becomes / ei / or / e: / in Old Scandinavian. So are words like aye, nay or swain Borrowings. Observing the evolution of vowels is the best way to distinguish the Scandinavian words from the actual English ones. Every now and then you can do this based on the meaning of the word. For example, the word could be bloom about a derivation from Old English bloma or the Scandinavian blom come. The Scandinavian word means "flower" or "blossom", while in Old English it means "block", "block of metal". Both meanings are still present in English to this day; The Scandinavian "flower" found its way into everyday language and the old English form is still used today as a term from the steel industry. The same could be said of the word poison happened, which has already been written about above. The initial-g indicates a Scandinavian origin, but if you don't know, the meaning of the word can be helpful. The Old English “gift” meant “price for the wife”, while in Old Scandinavian it meant “present” or “gift”.

It is likely that many Scandinavian words found their way into the English language by chance. Old English and Old Scandinavian ran side by side, figuratively speaking, and which word survived depended on the difference in meaning and form.[35] Probably they must have preferred the form that was most intelligible to both one side and the other.

Not surprisingly, numerous Scandinavian borrowings can be found in the maritime and military sectors[36], for example keel, knife and slaughter. Today there are many more Scandinavian borrowings in the Yorkshire and Scottish dialects than in any other part of England. There are words in the northern and Scottish dialects that do not exist in southern areas. For example gate (Meaning "road" or "route"). "Gates" in London (for example Newgate) literally means the place at the gates of the fortress wall, while in the cities in the north, for example in York (the) - gate "Street" means such as Stonegate, Goodramgate, Coney Gate.[37]

There also seems to have been a certain difference between the early and late forms of borrowing: in Old English, substitutional borrowings took on the English form, while in Middle English borrowings the Scandinavian form was retained.[38] One explanation for this could be that at the time of Old English, words were simply borrowed by the English-speaking local population from the then-spoken Old Scandinavian, but Scandinavian borrowings in Middle English were the result of the language change from Scandinavian to Middle English, as the former language slowly began to die out and words simply Were "imported".

Some linguists pay more than 600 (Roesdal) Scandinavian loans in the English language, while others come to 1000 (Illysh). Given the size of modern English vocabulary, that's not very much, but these words are relevant to the English language.

Not only the large number of lexical borrowings testify to the close connection between the two languages, but also grammatical and syntactical ones.

4. Grammatical borrowings

Grammatical elements don't often jump from one language to another. The pronouns once mentioned here they, their and them as both and same are of Scandinavian origin. The prepositions till (Meaning to) and fro (Meaning from) were widespread and persisted in modern English in the expression "to and fro". The Scandinavian preposition “at” (to) was retained in the English “ado” (at-do) and was also often used in this form in Middle English. The adverbs aloft, athwart, aye (ever) and seemly also came via derivation from Scandinavian, as well as the plural form of the verb to be, are, which we discussed above. So is we aron, the Old English form, common in the north, while the South Saxon form we syndron was. That means the modern form are Scandinavian in origin, which in turn shows how deeply the language of the conquerors penetrated the English language. The verb ending in the 3rd person singular - s, but also the endings of the participles - other or - end and - ind Scandinavian influence can also be attributed to the central counties and the south of the country.[39]

Examples of Scandinavian borrowings can be found in Old English literature, for example in Lagamon's brood and in Ormulum. If you only find 40 examples of lexical borrowings in the first, then there are around 120 in the second.[40] The above texts prove syntactic borrowings and show the far-reaching influence of the Scandinavian languages.[41] How far-reaching the influence of the Scandinavian languages ​​on the English syntax is, we will examine below.


[1] The term Vikings refers to members of belligerent groups of people traveling to sea, mostly Germanic peoples (including Balts) of the North and Baltic Sea region in the so-called Viking Age

[2] Gurevitsh, A.J. Wikingi. Slovar srednieviekovoj kultury, M., 2003, pp. 73-78

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Arakin, Istorija anglijskogo jasyka, M., 2003, p. 30

[6] Catholic Encyclopedia online (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07241d.htm)

[7] Illysh, B.A., Istorija anglijskogo jasyka, M., 1968, p. 166

[8] Arakin, Istorija anglijskogo jasyka, M., 2003, p. 170

[9] Ibid, p. 31

[10] Kastovsky, Dieter. Semantics and Vocabulary. The Cambridge History of the English Language: the beginnings to 1066. Volume 1. Ed. Richard M. Hogg. Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 323

[11] Arakin, Istorija anglijskogo jasyka, M., 2003, pp. 31, 169

[12] Kastovsky, Dieter. Semantics and Vocabulary. The Cambridge History of the English Language: the beginnings to 1066. Volume 1. Ed. Richard M. Hogg. Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 324-325

[13] Fellows Jensen, Gillian. Scandinavian Settlement Names in Yorkshire. Copenhagen, 1972, p. 6

[14] Trips, Carola. From OV to VO in Early Middle English. Linguistik Aktuell / Linguistics Today 60. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing Company, 2002, p. 10

[15] Fellows Jensen, Gillian. Scandinavian Settlement Names in Yorkshire. Copenhagen, 1972, p. 6

[16] Ibid., P. 180

[17] Mills, A.D., A Dictionary of English Placenames. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 239

[18] Arakin, Istorija anglijskogo jasyka, M., 2003, p. 173

[19] Mills, A.D., A Dictionary of English Placenames. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 239

[20] Gelling, Margaret. Signpost to the past. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1978, p. 232

[21] Roesdal, E. Mir vikingov (http://www.gumer.info/bibliothek_Buks/History/Roesdal/14.php)

[22] Ibid.

[23] Trips, Carola. From OV to VO in Early Middle English. Linguistik Aktuell / Linguistics Today 60. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing Company, 2002, p. 11

[24] Ibid, p. 11

[25] Jones, Charles. The Edinburgh History of the Scots Language. Edinburgh University Press, 1997, p. 201

[26] Arakin, Istorija anglijskogo jasyka, M., 2003, pp. 169-171

[27] Kastovsky, Dieter. Semantics and Vocabulary. The Cambridge History of the English Language: the beginnings to 1066. Volume 1. Ed. Richard M. Hogg. Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.331

[28] Arakin, Istorija anglijskogo jasyka, M., 2003, p. 170

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid., P. 172

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Trips, Carola. From OV to VO in Early Middle English. Linguistik Aktuell / Linguistics Today 60. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing Company, 2002, p. 12

[34] Ibid., P. 13

[35] Illysh, B.A., Istorija anglijskogo jasyka, M., 1968, p. 167

[36] Kastovsky, Dieter. Semantics and Vocabulary. The Cambridge History of the English Language: the beginnings to 1066. Volume 1. Ed. Richard M. Hogg. Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.333

[37] Viltsinskaja, T.L., Lingvistitseskaja situatsija v Severnoj Anglii. Avtorferat. Moskva, 2009

[38] Illysh, B.A., Istorija anglijskogo jasyka, M., 1968, S.S. 182-185

[39] Trips, Carola. From OV to VO in Early Middle English. Linguistik Aktuell / Linguistics Today 60. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing Company, 2002, pp. 12-13

[40] Ibid. P. 13

[41] Ibid. P. 14

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