AD's English Literature : Scandinavian Influence upon the English Language

Friday, March 11, 2011

Scandinavian Influence upon the English Language

Aside from Greek, Latin and French, only Scandinavian, the language of the people of whom the Anglo Saxons called ‘Danes’ has made a really substantial contribution to the  English  vocabulary. Read More Philology The Scandinavian (Scandinavia, today’s Norway, Sweden and Denmark: Scandinavian invaders are known as Vikings) colonization of the British Isles had a considerable effect on the English language and vocabulary, as well as culture. The similarity between old  English and the language of the Scandinavian invaders makes it at times very difficult to decide whether a given word in Modern English is a native or a borrowed word. Read More Philology Enormous similarity is found between these two languages in nouns like ‘man’, ‘wife’, ‘father’, ‘folk’, ‘mother’, ‘house’, ‘life’, ‘winter’, ‘summer’; verbs like ‘will’, ‘can’, ‘meet’, ‘come’, ‘bring’, ‘hear’, ‘see’, ‘think’, ‘smile’, ‘ride’, ‘spin’; and adjectives and adverbs like ‘full’, ‘wise’, ‘better’, ‘best’, ‘mine’, ‘over’ and ‘under’. In addition, very interesting to note that when we work with Scandinavian loan words, the word ‘loan’ itself seems to declare its descent from the Scandinavian.

Scandinavian influence gave a fresh lease of life to obsolete native words. For instance, the preposition ‘till’ is found only once or twice in Old English texts belonging to the pre Scandinavian Period, but after that, it becomes common in Old English. Read More Philology
Further, some native words lost their original meaning the moment they encountered their Scandinavian counter part. Read More Philology For example, the word ‘dream’ originally meaning joy changes its meaning into ‘an experience of viewing images in sleep’, the meaning is derived from Scandinavian sources. Similarly, ‘bread’ changes its meaning from ‘fragment’ to ‘an item of food’.

There exist a large number of places that bear Scandinavian names. More than 600 places in English have names ending in - by which is a clear evidence of Scandinavian influence. Numerous examples can be cited: Grimsby, Whit by, Derby, Rugby etc. (the Danish word –‘by’ means town or farm) Names like Althorp, Bishopsthorpe, Linthrope contain the Scandinavian word ‘thorp’ which means village. Read More Philology  Similarly we have Applethwaite, Braithwaite, Langthwaite, thwaite meaning an isolated piece of land’ while Brimtoft, Eastoft, and Nortoft ending in ‘toft ’meaning a piece of ground. Such examples can easily be multiplied.

In the earlier period of borrowing, the number of Scandinavian words that appear in Old  English is small due to the hostile relations of the invaders with the  English people. Gradually, with the case of tension, we find a number of words relating to law or social and administrative system entering in the English language. Read More Philology  The ‘law’ itself is of Scandinavian origin. The words like nioing (criminal), mall (action of law), wapentake (an administrative district), husting (assembly), stefnan (summon) etc sojourned a while only to be replaced by French words after the Norman Conquest.

With the proper setting down of the Scandinavians in England, Scandinavian words entered the  English language in large numbers. Read More Philology But unlike the case of Latin, where borrowings were usually learned, the Scandinavian borrowings were in the realm of daily give-and-take transactions.

Here is a specimen of common words in  English that owe their origin to the language of the Scandinavians: bank, birth, bull, dirt, egg, gap, kid, link, race, skirt, sister, window, low, meek, rotten, shy, tight, weak, bait, crawl, dig, gape, kindle, lift, screech, thrust, they, their, then, aloft, athwart and many more.

In the case of grammar, many of the pronominal forms like ‘they’, ‘them’, ‘their’ etc are of the Scandinavian origin. The use of ‘shall’ ,’will’ , prepositional use of ‘to’ ‘fro’, use of relative clause with out any pronoun are due to Scandinavian influence.

Even though the Scandinavian loans abound in  English this is not fair to say that the magnitude of loans affected the native style of  English. Read More Philology It is worthwhile to point out that the very Englishness of English remains unaltered even at the face of abundance of Scandinavian loans in  English.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sir, would you please help me giving a precise note on Scandinavian influence on English language of 15 marks. I will be highly obliged if you do so.

  3. Thanks Nur for your comment. You can search the blog for the answer.

  4. sir, could you help me with some question?
    i think its difficult
    1. approximately how many scandinavian words appeared in Old English ?
    2. what inflectional elements have been attributed to scandinavian influence?
    3. from what language has english acquired the pronouns they, the, them and the present plural are of the verb tobe? what were the equivalent old english words?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. sir, I will be too much helped if you please kindly posta note of 10 marks on "Native Resources in the Development of the English ", a hard question of VU's new syllabus..

  7. Nicely written..... Thank you sir....

  8. great!! helped me a lot!! thank you! :-)

  9. A nice article, really helpful for me. I am also a student of literature and follow your blogs.


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