Scandinavian Influence on English Language

Scandinavian Influence on the English Language

An Englishman cannot thrive, be ill or die without Scandinavian words; they are to the language what bread and eggs are to the daily fare.

                                                          -Otto Jespersen

In connection with his observation on the democratic nature of the Scandinavian influence on the English language, Jespersen refers to the kingship existing between the two tongues- English and Scandinavian. He asserts that the Scandinavian words have come to be the inseparable part of the English language, and are used constantly by the English people in their very ordinary day-to-day affairs. He insinuates a specific contract between the Scandinavian words and the Latin or French. In the high or fashionable affairs of life, the French or Latin loan-words are invariably used by the English but the situation is Reverse in the case of the Scandinavian words which occur inevitably in the common conversation or in the dull dialogues of daily life. Such Scandinavian words as ‘thrive’, ‘ill’, ‘die’, ‘bread’ and ‘egg’ are needed equally by all Englishmen, high or low, in their day-to-day living. This is because the Scandinavian words are an assuming and common-place and quite homely with the native tongue, and as such, they have become its invariable part.

The Scandinavian and the English words existed side by side for a long time. It is quite interesting to study the effects of linguistic co-existence. In course of time, such an existence is found to have a five-fold consequence.
 In the first place, in some cases, both of the forms, the English and the Scandinavian survive, with a slight difference in meaning such as-
                       English                                Scandinavian
                        No                                           Nay
                        From                                       Fro
In the second place, the Scandinavian form survives in dialects only and the English in the Literary languages, such as,
                        English                              Scandinavian
                         Leap                                      Loup
                         Mouth                                   Mun
In the third place, the native from has superseded the Scandinavian and survived as seen in the following cases-
                         English                             Scandinavian
                          Fish                                       Fisk
                          Naked                                   Naken
In the fourth place, the Scandinavian words have survived supplanting the native forms, such as-
                          English                             Scandinavian
                           Yete                                       Get
                           Yive                                      Give

In the fifth place, in some cases, the old native forms have survived, but they have adopted the significance of the corresponding Scandinavian word. In fact, a sort of sense shifting from the Scandinavian words to the native place. Thus, the present meaning of ‘earl’ has come from and O.N ‘jarl’.

The Scandinavian influence is noticed in the further linguistic as well as grammatical development of English, and this may be traced thus:

First, the pronominal forms ‘they’ ‘than’ and ‘their’ owe their origin to the Scandinavian influence. The pronoun ‘same’ is Scandinavian although the adverbial form of the word in English.

Second, a surprising number of common verbs from the Scandinavian language abound in English, as ‘bait’, ‘bask’, ‘call’, ‘slip’, ‘die’, ‘take’, ‘thrive’, and ‘thrust’. The present plural form ‘are’ owes its existence to the Scandinavian influence.

Third, the rule about the use of ‘will’ and ‘shall’ is formed mainly under the Scandinavian influence. Similarly, the rules for the omission or retention of the conjunction bear some Scandinavian influence.

Fourth, the adverb ‘aloft’, ‘aye’ (ever), ‘seemly’ in addition to, ‘hence’, ‘thence’ and ‘whence’ are all derived from the Scandinavian language.
Fifth, the prepositions ‘to’ and ‘fro’ used together in the phrase ‘to and fro’ from Scandinavian. 

Sixth, relative clauses, without any person, were very rare in Old English, due to the Scandinavian influence, the use of the relative clause, without any pronoun was very common, such as-
           With Pronoun                   Without Pronoun
    The man whom I know            The man I know
    This is the pen which               This is the pen 
Thus, it is clearly evident that the Scandinavian words, in whatever form they exist, are intimately fused with English life and activities and have remained the part and parcel of the  English common vocabulary. In his daily fare of food and health, life and death, an Englishman can hardly miss the Scandinavian words, existing in the English vocabulary, just as he cannot drop bread and egg in the menu of his daily bread food or remain oblivious to the questions of prosperity, illness or death.
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