Modern English derives from Scandinavian rather than from Old English

Linguists at the University of Oslo – Jan Terje Faarlund and  Joseph Emonds – believe they can prove that English is in reality a language  belonging to the Northern Germanic language group which includes Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese rather than deriving from Old English where Old English, in turn, was derived from the West Germanic language group brought into Britain by the Angles from Northern Germany and Saxons from Southern Jylland  in the fifth century.

I found learning Swedish from English a lot easier than learning German from English. The number of words similar to English in the other two languages are not so different. So I have always assumed that my ease of learning was due to the similarities of grammar and syntax between Swedish and English.  All the more understandable with this connection between English and old Scandinavian.

New linguistic research has concluded that residents of the British Isles didn’t just borrow words and expressions from Norwegian and Danish Vikings and their descendants. Rather, claim two professors now working in Oslo, the English language is in fact Scandinavian.

Jan Terje Faarlund, a professor of linguistics at the University of Oslo (UiO), told research magazine Apollon that new studies show English “as we know it today” to be a “direct descendant of the language Scandinavians used” after settling on the British Isles during and after the Viking Age. 

…. Faarlund and his colleague Joseph Emonds, a guest professor at UiO from Palacky University in the Czech Republic, believe they can now prove that English is a Scandinavian language belonging to the group of northern Germanic languages that also include Danish, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese, spoken on the Faroe Islands.

Their research and conclusions are brand new and break with those of earlier linguistic professors who believe English is rooted in “Old English,” also known as the Anglo-Saxon language believed brought to the British Isles by settlers from northwestern and central Europe. Faarlund claims Scandinavians settled in the area long before French-speaking Normans conquered the British Isles in 1066.

Faarlund and Edmonds also contend that Old English and modern English are two very different languages. “We think Old English simply died out,” Faarlund told Apollon. “Instead, the Nordic language survived, strongly influenced by Old English.” …..

….. Scandinavian settlers, Faarlund notes, gained control towards the end of the 9th century of an area known as Danelagen, which forms parts of Scotland and England today. Faarlund stressed that “an extremely important geographic point in our research” is that the East Midlands in England, where he says the modern English language developed, was part of the relatively densely populated southern portion of Danelagen.

Edmonds and Faarlund also contend that sentence structure in what developed into modern English is Scandinavian, not western Germanic as previously believed. Both today’s Scandinavian languages place the object after the verb, for example, unlike German and Dutch which place the verb at the end of a sentence. Possessive forms can also be the same in both the Scandinavian languages and English, which also can end sentences with a preposition and split infinitives. While that’s sometimes frowned upon in other variations of modern English such as American English, Faarlund argues it’s not possible in German, Dutch or Old English.

ScienceDaily has more on the grammar and syntax that the linguists believe proves their contention.

The language adopted many words from the Danelaw’s inhabitants who were of Norwegian and Danish descent. For example, all the lexical words in this sentence are Scandinavian: He took the knife and cut the steak. Only he, the and and come from Old English.

“What is particularly interesting is that Old English adopted words for day-to-day things that were already in the language. Usually one borrows words and concepts for new things. In English almost the reverse is true — the day-to-day words are Scandinavian, and there are many of them,” says Faarlund.

Here are some examples: anger, awe, bag, band, big, birth, both, bull, cake, call, cast, cosy, cross, die, dirt, dream, egg, fellow, flat, gain, get, gift, give, guess, guest, hug, husband, ill, kid, law, leg, lift, likely, link, loan, loose, low, mistake, odd, race, raise, root, rotten, same, seat, seem, sister, skill, skin, skirt, sky, steak, though, thrive, Thursday, tight, till, trust, ugly, want, weak, window, wing, wrong.

The researchers believe that Old English already had 90 per cent of these concepts in its own vocabulary.

But the Scandinavian element was not limited to the vocabulary, which is normal when languages come into contact with each other. Even though a massive number of new words are on their way into a language, it nevertheless retains its own grammar. This is almost a universal law.

“But in England grammatical words and morphemes — in other words the smallest abstract, meaningful linguistic unit — were also adopted from Scandinavian and survive in English to this day.”

The two researchers show that the sentence structure in Middle English — and thus also Modern English — is Scandinavian and not Western Germanic. “It is highly irregular to borrow the syntax and structure from one language and use it in another language. In our days the Norwegians are borrowing words from English, and many people are concerned about this. However, the Norwegian word structure is totally unaffected by English. It remains the same. The same goes for the structure in English: it is virtually unaffected by Old English.”

“We can show that wherever English differs syntactically from the other Western Germanic languages — German, Dutch, Frisian — it has the same structure as the Scandinavian languages.”

Here are some examples:

* 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 have talked about.

Dette har vi snakka om.

* English and Scandinavian can have a split infinitive, i.e. we can 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 hat.

Dronninga av Englands hatt.

“All of this is impossible in German or Dutch, and these kinds 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 a 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,” says Jan Terje Faarlund.

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6 Responses to “Modern English derives from Scandinavian rather than from Old English”

  1. sm Says:

    Since we are approaching that time of the year…
    Scandinavian: jul, juletid, kristmesse
    English: christmas, yuletide
    German: Weinachten

  2. D Says:

    Dutch: Kerstmis

  3. K.vd.Berg Says:

    “Word order: In English and Scandinavian the object is placed after the verb” only in the past perfect tense,

    In past simple it’s the same as Dutch and German.
    Example:
    I read the book(English)
    Ik las het boek(Dutch)
    Ich las das Buch(German)
    Jeg leste boken(Norwegian)
    Norway’s the odd one out there.

    “English and Scandinavian can have a preposition at the end of the sentence.”

    I am unsure about German, but Dutch has “achterzetsels”(prepositions at the end).

    Again, bad research.

    “English and Scandinavian can have a split infinitive, i.e. we can insert a word between the infinitive marker and the verb.”

    In Dutch and German, split infinitives are the NORM, again bad research.

    Group genitive, Mijn broer’s jas(my brother’s coat), I’m not sure if this is possible in German, it is possible in Dutch though.

    All of this is possible in either German, Dutch or both and these kinds of structures are very unlikely to change within a language. My conclusions are:
    -That the Linguists at the University of Oslo should try to do actual research before they make claims.
    -If they have done an honest attempt at researching the matter, they should have their skills re-examined before they should be allowed to work again.
    -That English is in fact, a West-Germanic language until proven otherwise with factual information.

    • ktwop Says:

      The key perhaps lies in the researcher’s claim that they first look at dissimilarities:
      “We can show that wherever English differs syntactically from the other Western Germanic languagesGerman, Dutch, Frisian — it has the same structure as the Scandinavian languages.
      For the group genitive in Dutch I think you would have to compare with “the Queen of Netherland’s hat” rather than “my brother’s coat” — but I am no scholar of linguistics……

      • K.vd.Berg Says:

        “The key perhaps lies in the researcher’s claim that they first look at dissimilarities”

        Possible, but then, this article suffers from confirmation bias, if an untrained hobbyist can counter their arguments during lunch, it should not be posted.

        For the group genitive in Dutch I think you would have to compare with “the Queen of Netherland’s hat” rather than “my brother’s coat”

        Correct me if I’m wrong please:
        The/my both adjectives.
        Queen of England/Brother both singular nouns
        ‘s same suffix
        Hat/coat both singular nouns.

        Another problem is that the Kingdom of the Netherlands is plural whereas England is singular so that would make it “the queen of the Netherlands’ hat” which I would then have to compare to “the queen of the United Kingdom(united so singular) and the British Commonwealth(which refers to multiple realms as a single entity)” this would corrupt the comparison, so I can’t run a good comparison on that part.

        Scrap that, I should be able to solve it if I use either in both languages and plural Netherlands in Dutch is kind of archaic.

        Hmm, Google translate really messes it up(translates directly to “the queen of the hat of England”) so I’ll try manually.

        The Queen of England’s hat.
        Die Königin von England ihren Hut.(German)
        De Koningin van Engeland d’r hoed.(Dutch)
        La reine de l’Angleterre chapeau(French)
        Dronninga av Englands hatt.(Norwegian)

        I must say though, it was hard to fit that sentence construction, I tended to translate it into:
        “De hoed van de Engelse koningin”(Dutch)
        “The hat of the English Queen”
        “Hatten av dronningens”(Norwegian)
        Der Hut der englischen Königin(German)

        Anyway, assuming it’s not a French influence, I suppose I must concede the point there giving them 1 out of 3.

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