Did you know that about 5% of English words originate from Old Norse? Yes, those were the Vikings. These include common words such as give, get, knife, window, which means wind eye and husband, which means master of the house, though not wife that comes from Anglo-Saxon. It is estimated that between 600 and 900 hundred modern English words come from Old Norse. How did this happen? Today on Let Them Talk TV. We look at the history and if English is not your first language, I'll show you how you can improve your level of English and your understanding of English with words and expressions of Viking origin . So get into your longship. If you don't have a longship, then a chair will do and let's go. As you can see from this chart, Old Norse makes up about 5% of English words, far less than old English, also called Anglo-Saxon or French or Latin, but nevertheless a quite significant amount. And some of the most common words in the English language are from Old Norse. They are given an ugly steak knife. There you are, I just made up a sentence almost entirely made up of Old Norse vocabulary as well as ARE and THE, THEIR and THEM. So really fundamental words. By the way, I explain why I use these statistics in a separate article. Definitely check it out if you want to know more about the origin of English words. Back to the Vikings. Let's start with a little linguistic history of Britain. Now, Britain had been invaded several times before the Vikings arrived. Various Celtic tribes inhabited these islands from the first millennium, B.C..
The Brittonic Tribes
And they were called the Britons. They spoke a Celtic language which historians refer to as Brittonic. The Brittonic language was the ancestor of the Celtic languages, which you still find in the British islands today. Welsh and Scots Gaelic and Irish, as well as Breton in Brittany in France and other Celtic languages include Manx, spoken on the Isle of Man and CORNISH spoken in Cornwall, and these two languages had all but become extinct. But there has been an effort to revive them in recent years.
In AD43, the Romans invaded and they stuck around for about 400 years, finally abandoning the shores in A.D. 410. A huge number of English words entered English through Latin, but only a very small number of these words can be traced back to the Roman occupation. The vast majority entered the language much later, especially after the Norman conquest of 1066. Let's move on to the next part of our linguistic journey, and that is the migration of perhaps invasions of Germanic tribes to Britain.
These took place after the departure of the Romans until the early eighth century, and these were the Angles. The Saxons and the Jutes among other tribes will refer to them here as the Anglo-Saxons. During this period, Celtic tribes got kind of squeezed out or pushed to the west, to the western part of England, to Wales, Cornwall and parts of Scotland. And the angles and the Saxons gave us their language. Anglo Saxon, which as I already said, is also referred to as Old English. And if you look at our chart, it makes up about 30% of English words which can be traced back to Anglo Saxon or old English. Most, but not all of the most basic words come from Anglo Saxon the verb TO BE conjunctions AND BE prepositions WITH OF etc. and much more. And if you want to know more about the Scots language, check out this article here.
And finally, we get to the Vikings. When exactly the Vikings arrived in Britain is a matter of historical debate, but most historians put it that the raiding of the monastery at Lindisfarne in 793 AD over the next few centuries, the Vikings consolidated their hold on Britain. England got divided into the areas controlled by the Vikings and the areas controlled by the Anglo-Saxons. The Viking controlled areas became known as the Danelaw. Look at this map. It shows how much land the Vikings controlled at their peak at the time of Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon King. In 888 AD, Wessex was controlled by Alfred, but the rest of the country was controlled by the Vikings.
Viking names in modern Britain
The Vikings first conquered England more than 1200 years ago. But if we look at this map of modern Britain, we'll see that the names of Scandinavian towns and settlements are still with us today. In the areas once under the Danelaw, for example, -BY meant a village such as in Derby. Borough meant Fortress such as in Scarborough. Kirk meant church such as in Falkirk. NesS meant a headland such as in Skegness. Thorpe meant farm such as in Scunthorpe and Toft meant homestead such as in Lowestoft. Surnames ending -son such as Peterson, Johnson, Donaldson are Viking and to this day the prevalence of these names are higher in the areas once controlled by the Vikings.
Old Norse influence on Modern English
So how has Old Norse influenced modern English? The Vikings ruled and colonized large areas of England from the ninth to the 11th centuries. The rest of England was ruled by Anglo-Saxons. However, the king in Danelaw might have been Viking. But Anglo-Saxon villages and towns continued to exist alongside Viking settlements. There was significant trade between the Danelaw and Mercia, the Anglo-Saxon parts. The Vikings would have interacted with the Anglo-Saxons on a daily basis. There would have been intermarriages. There would have been children who were bilingual in both languages. They mixed at every level. Anglo-Saxons and Old Norse were similar languages. They are both Germanic languages. Anglo-Saxon as West Germanic and Old Norse, North Germanic or Scandinavian. So they could have understood each other to some degree. How much so is hard to tell. And what happens when two people who speak similar languages come together? A modern day equivalent would be a Spaniard and an Italian or a German and a Dutch speaker. Well, they simplify their languages. They talk in a way that makes it easy for the interlocutor to understand. Old English was a complex language. It was a highly inflected language, which means that the words change according to the person. Gender, number. Mood, voice. Old English had masculine, feminine and neuter nouns. By the 13th century, there had been an enormous simplification of English and all this was gone. Modern English is an analytical language, which means that sentences are based more on word, order and prepositions. In modern English, there is no grammatical gender. Unlike other European languages, gender only continues to exist for nouns referring to persons of a particular sex such as widow, widower or waiter waitress. Grammatical cases no longer exist in modern English, with the exception of the Saxon genitive. Also known as the possessive case. That's why we say Bob's guitar and not the guitar of Bob. Anglo-Saxon grammar was more complex than Old Norse, but the mixing of communities led to its simplification. Most linguists consider English to be a West Germanic language, along with German and Dutch. And then this branches off to the Anglo Frisian group, which includes English, Frisian and Scots. Modern English, it is argued, is a direct descendant of Anglo Saxon with a huge amount of French and Latin vocabulary thrown in. Do watch our other article. For more on the French influence on English, most linguists consider Old Norse to have influenced modern English only to a limited extent, and that essentially English is still a West Germanic language. However, there is a theory
Is English a Scandinavian language?
that English is in fact a Scandinavian language and that it should be classified in the same group as Swedish, Danish, Norwegian , Faroese and Icelandic. The argument goes as follows Modern English is not a Germanic language influenced by Old Norse with a large French vocabulary, but rather a Scandinavian language influenced by Anglo-Saxon. Of course, a large French influence. They say that old English died out, but contributed a great deal of vocabulary to modern English. But the Danes or Vikings, or whatever we call them, ruled England for a long time. And they point out that the area where modern English developed was the South East Midlands region, and this was the most densely populated area by the Danes. These were the areas today around Leicester and Peterborough and these have been declared by some linguists as the birthplace of modern standard English. It was the largest and most prosperous area of England. It's far easier for a Norwegian to learn English than even for a German or a Dutch person. And the reason for this is that its structure is so remarkably similar. The argument was put forward by Jan Terje Faarlund, professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo. This is what he says. There are many English words that resemble ours, but there is something more. Its fundamental structure is strikingly similar to Norwegian. We avoid many of the usual mistakes because the grammar is more or less the same. Norwegians find it easy to learn English because of the similarities to their language. We often find that when grammar in modern English is different from other West Germanic languages such as Frisian, our supposed closest cousin or Dutch is the same as in the Scandinavian language. It's very unusual for a language to borrow syntax from another language. For example, word order in English and Scandinavian. The object is placed after the verb. I have read the book. Eg har lese boka German and Dutch and old English put the verb at the end. Ich habe das Buch gelesen English and Scandinavian can have a preposition at the end of the sentence. This we talked about Dette har vi snakka om English and Scandinavian can have a split infinitive. That is when we insert a word between the infinitive marker and the verb. I promise to never do it again. Eg lovar å ikkje gjera det igjen Group genitive. The Queen of England's hands. Dronninga av Englands hatt. All of this is impossible in German or Dutch. And these kind of structures are very unlikely to change within a language. The only reasonable explanation, then, is that English is in fact a Scandinavian language, and the continuation of the Norwegian Danish language, which was used in England during the Middle Ages. But why the inhabitants of the British Isles chose the Scandinavian grammar is something we can only speculate on. Do I think English is a Scandinavian language? Well, frankly, I have no idea. I read the debate with interest, but as I don't know any Scandinavian or Germanic language apart from English, I can't really say. But let us know in the comments what you think. Let's look at a little more vocabulary and an English idiom, which is over a thousand years old.
Old English/Old Norse doublets
First of all, I want to show you how close the vocabulary of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse were. Here are a few doublets. Doublets are when two words from different languages have the same etymological roots. So in the case of Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse, the root would have been proto Germanic. In modern English, the meanings have something in common, but they are different. So we get in old English ditch in Old Norse dike. In Old English shin in Old Norse skin. In Old English shirt, in Old Norse skirt and also shriek and screech in whole and hale. You'll notice that words with a SH sound often come from old English and words with a SK sound come from Old Norse. Other examples of this are ship and shell and fish from old English, while sky, scrape and scrub come from Old Norse.
The ill- prefix
I'm sure you know that in English we have two words with a very similar meaning. Ill and sick. Why do we have two words which are virtually interchangeable? I feel sick. I feel ill. Same meaning in the context of feeling unwell. So what's happening here? Sick is an Anglo-Saxon word and has always had the meaning of well, sick. Ill is an Old Norse word. And originally it meant bad. And somewhere along the line, it took on the meaning of sick. However, when we put ill before an adjective, it still has the meaning of bad or badly. For example, if you come into the room at the wrong moment, I'd say that your entrance was ill-timed. And there are many English words which have this prefix ill. If you try to reach the top of the mountain wearing a t-shirt and flip flops, I would say that you are ill-prepared for the climb, or perhaps that you are ill advised if somebody told you that this was the suitable attire for a hike. If your hairdresser tries to cut your hair with a nail scissors, I'd say that he or she is ill-equipped to do the job. If you're walking in a dark alley late at night in a city you don't know, you might feel ill-at-ease. If your neighbor robs a bank, I'd say that the money he got from the robbery or his ill-gotten-gains and this is a noun, by the way, are the words with this ill prefix include ill-afford. I'm very busy. I can ill-afford wasting time reading YouTube articles except this channel of course, ill-fated the Titanic. Now, that was an ill-fated voyage. Ill-mannered. I've had enough of your ill-mannered children. Get them away from me. Do you know the phrasal verb to egg on?
Egg on and Scot free
It means to encourage in a bad way or to incite. For example, I'm not the type of person to get drunk and cause trouble, but my friends, my so-called friends egged me on. And you're thinking of eggs. Got to do with encouraging someone to do something in a bad way. Well, nothing actually egg in this context comes from the old Norse word egje, which means to incite, actually an egg. The actual egg that the pen lays also comes from Old Norse. Have you ever heard the idiom to get off scot free? It means to escape without punishment. So, for example, the corrupt politician had €500 million in a Swiss bank account, but they decided not to press charges. He got away scot free for a long time, until quite recently. I wondered, what has a Scots got to do with escaping punishment? Well, nothing, actually. The phrase has nothing to do with Scotland or Scottish people. Scot was the Old Norse word for a tax, and as far back as the 10th century, the Scot was a municipal tax levied for poor relief. So somebody who didn't pay or is not liable to pay the tax was scot free. So yeah. Wow, this expression is more than a thousand years old and it's still in use today in modern English.
Viking words to improve your vocabulary
And here are some other words of Old Norse origin that you can use to spice up your vocabulary if you're learning English . Awkward. You know, several meanings. One of which means to feel ill at ease. Uncomfortable in a situation. For example, they asked me to make a speech, but I felt a bit awkward speaking in public. To haggle this means to negotiate, usually for smaller items, the sort of thing you might do on holiday when you're in the markets . They wanted $500 for the ring, but I managed to haggle them down to 300. Oh, no, no, I just paid you. Burt yeah, this bloke Barnacle won't go to ransack, which means to go through a place in a disorderly and chaotic way. Often used about thieves who break into a property while I was out. Some thieves ransacked my apartment and stole the ring I had bought in the market. Just this means a sudden and strong wind. I was walking down the road when a gust of wind carried away my hat. Muggy, this is another word you might hear on the weather forecast. It means unpleasantly warm and humid. The winters are mild in Tokyo. But the summers are hot and muggy. Thwart. Which means prevent someone from reaching their objective. We wanted to take our group on a world tour last year, but the COVID epidemic thwarted our plans. Blunder, which means a stupid mistake. Leaving the window open was a serious blunder. And that's how the thieves got in and stole my ring. Teem. Which means to be full of or swarming with something. LetThemTalkTV. is teeming with good articles about the English language. Stagger another word with several meanings, and it can also mean a great surprise. He was staggered to find out that it was his wife who had tried to poison him. Snub which means to be ignored and not in a nice way. Despite all my hard work, I was snubbed for a promotion when they gave the job to the boss's nephew. Nigel. Damn Nigel. So we can see that Old Norse
Norn and Nynorn
had a great influence on modern English. But did you know that a descendant of Old Norse Norn continued to be spoken on the British Isles until 1850? Norn was spoken in the far north of Scotland and on the Shetland Islands and the Orkney Islands. They formed part of the Kingdom of Norway until 1470, after which they were pledged to Scotland. Gradually the use of Norn declined. But as I said, the last native speaker died in the Shetland Islands in 1850. Today only a few place names in Shetland and openly have Norn names as well as a few dialect works. There has been an attempt to revive Norn and this language is called Nynorn New Norn, but has so far met with limited success. But who knows if it does. If it is successful, then the Viking tongue could soon be spoken once again in the United Kingdom. And how cool would that be? I hope you enjoy that article. A big shout out to Ina-Marlene Hanssen from Tromso for providing the Norwegian in this article. Have a great day. See you soon. Bye.