Echoes of the Viking Raiders: The Old Norse Imprint on English
in the mid-8th century, the settled, Christianized lands of
the Vikings in
Old Norse contributed a number of short, pithy, monosyllabic words for concrete objects and actions that are basic to everyday speech. The third-person plural pronoun of English, they, and its object form them, was imported from Old Norse and replaced its Anglo-Saxon predecessor. (Compare German sie and Dutch zij.) Anglo-Saxon niman, akin to modern Dutch nemen and German nehmen, became replaced by the Old Norse taka, modern take. (Compare Swedish tar, ta, tager, Danish tage.) An open-aired or glass carving into a wall became known as a wind’s eye from the Danish words for these concepts, modern Danish vindue and English window. Words like husband and fellow streamed in from Scandinavian social practices of the time, while sister, of Old Norse derivation, supplanted the native Anglo-Saxon (yet closely similar) term meaning the same. A few other Old Norse words adopted upon the Viking migrations closely resembled the Anglo-Saxon counterparts which they replaced: loose, booth, egg, give, both, guest, seat. In most cases however, the Old Norse term was not present at all in Anglo-Saxon (or had a cognate signifying a completely different concept):
glitter, skill, ugly, leg, lift, loft, bag, skin, wing, thrive, steak, race (footrace), happen, happy, root, hit, guess, die, thrust, thrive, crash, low, raise, raft, log, skull, scab, sky, score, get, take, log, loose, link, call, slaughter, guest, knife, ill, hurry, crazy, anger, bait, blunder, bulk, gap, blend, scold, raise, smile, want, thwart, ban, dirt, skein, sister, wrong, worry, weak, leak, rug, rag, sag, scare, trust, lag, law, ransack, gear, kid, mire, skip, loan, clip, stack
As a result of the Old Norse infusion (as well as of later imbibings of Dutch, Low German, and High German vocabulary), English has a richness in its Germanic wordstock that is unparalleled in the other Teutonic languages. Indeed in some cases the Old Norse word has been lost in most other modern Germanic tongues (with the exception of Icelandic, which has preserved its ancient Old Norse character so well that modern Icelanders can read the old Viking sagas without translation). For example the roots of ugly, get, happen, happy, get, want, ill, wrong, and rag have been lost or rendered nearly archaic in modern Danish and Swedish (though, again, they can be found in Icelandic). Other words have shifted in their meanings over time. For example Danish anger signifies “repentance” while Danish læg means the “calf” muscle, not the leg itself. However, in most cases modern Scandinavia tongues retain equivalents for these ancient loanwords into English, which can of course be applied to advantage for anyone aiming to speak them from an English background.
-- Wes Ulm
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