Scandinavian Borrowings in Middle E.

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Scandinavian Borrowings in Middle E.

The end of the OE period and the beginning of Middle English is marked by two outstanding political events – the Scandinavian invasion and the Norman Conquest.

The Scandinavian in England remained very strong through centuries, and at the beginning of the 11th century, namely in the period between 1016 and 1042 the whole of England came under the Scandinavian rule – the conquest was completed and the Danish king seated on the English throne, the English king who came to the throne – Edward the Confessor – was to be the last English king for more than three centuries.

The Scandinavian invasion and the subsequent settlement of the Scandinavians on the territory of England, the constant contacts and intermixture of the English and the Scandinavians brought about many changes in different spheres of the English language: word-stock, grammar and phonetics. The relative ease of the mutual penetration of the languages was conditioned by the circumstances of the Anglo-Scandinavian contacts. Due to contacts between the Scandinavian and the English-speaking people many words wer borrowed from the Scandinavian language, for example:

Nouns: law, fellow, sky, skirt, skin, egg, anger, awe, bloom, knife, root, bull, cake, husband, leg, wing, guest, loan, race.

Adjectives: big, week, wrong, ugly, twin

Verbs: call, cast, take, happen, scare, hail, want, bask, gape, kindle

Pronouns: they, them, their etc.

The conditions and the consequences of various borrowings were different:

1. Sometimes the English language borrowed a word for which it had no synonym. These words were simply added to the vocabulary. (law, fellow)

2. The English synonyms was ousted by the borrowing. Scandinavian taken and called ousted the English synonyms nimanand clypian, respectively.

3. Both the words, the English and the corresponding Scandinavian, are preserved, but they became different in meaning.

4. Sometimes a borrowed and an English word are etymological doublet, as word originating from the same source in Common Germanic.

5. Sometimes and English words and its Scand doublet were the same in meaning but slightly different phonetically and the phonetic form of the Scand borrowing is preserved in the English language, having ousted the English counterpart.

6. There may be a shift of meaning. Thus, the word dream originally meant “joy, pleasure”; under the influence of the related Scand word it developed its modern meaning.


The Danish invasion in 878 resulted in the occupation of a great part of the country. The effect of the Danish conquest was a contribution of many Scandinavian words in the English vocabulary.

Many words with k sound before e and i, numerous words with sk sound are to be assigned to Scandinavian origin.

Pronoun same and pronominal forms with initial th – they, their, them.

The borrowing of pronouns is the one case in which English has adopted pronouns from another language. The borrowing of pronouns proves most clearly the close interrelation of the Anglo-Saxon and Danish elements in early English.

A number of Scandinavian law-terms entered old English, but after the Norman conquest when the conquerors took the courts of justice into their own hands, they disappeared (except such as law, by-law, thrall and crave).

The same is true of Scandinavian words relating to naval warfare.

Old English words dead and death had the corresponding verbs steorfan and sweltan. It comes quite natural that the Scandinavian deyawas more easily associated with the noun and adjective than were the old verbs and it was soon adopted in the form deyen (ME to die). The Old English sweltan grew out of use completely, while steorfan has come to mean starve.

There are words in the English vocabulary that exist side by sidefor a long time, sometimes for centuries, two slightly different forms for the same word, one the original English form and the other Scandinavian. In some cases both forms survive in standard speech, though they have developed slightly different meaning: whole – hale, rear – raise, from – fro, shirt – skirt, shot – scot, shirk – screak, true – trig (faithful, neat, tidy).

The Scandinavian element in Modern English amounts to 650 root – words. Old Norse was the language of the conquerors who were on the same level of social and cultural development and who merged rather easily with the local population. Scandinavian loan words denote objects and actions of the most commonplace description and do not represent any new set of ideas hitherto unknown to the people adopting them.



French Borrowings in ME.

It stands to reason that the Norman conquest and the subsequent history of the country left deep traces in the English language, mainly in the form of borrowings in words connected with such spheres of social and political activity where French-speaking Normans had occupied for a long time all places of importance.

For example:

Government and legislative

Government, noble, baron, prince, duke, court, justice, judge, crime, prison, etc.

Military life

Army, battle, peace, banner, victory, general, colonel, lieutenant, major …


Religion, sermon, prey, saint

City crafts

Painter, tailor, carpenter

Words of everyday life

Air, place, river, large, age, boil, branch, brush, catch, chain,


Aunt, uncle, cousin

The place of the French borrowings within the English language was different:

1. A word may be borrowed from the French language to denote notions unknown to the English up to the time: government, parliament, general etc.

2. The English synonym is ousted by the French borrowing.

3. Both the words are preserved, but they area stylistically different.

4. Sometimes the English language borrowed many words with the same word-building affix. The meaning of the affix in this case became clear to the English-speaking people. It entered the system of word-building means of the English language, and they began to add it to English words thus forming word-hybrids. For instance, the suffix –ment entered the language within such words as ‘government’, ‘parliament’ but later here appeared such English-French hybrids as fulfillment, amazement.The suffix –ance/-ence which was an element of such borrowed words as ‘innocence’, ‘ignorance’, ‘repentance’ now also forms word-hybrids such as hindrance.

5. One of the consequences of the borrowings from French was the appearance of ethymological doublets.

- from the Common Indo-European

- from the Common Germanic

- from Latin

6. Due to the great number of French borrowings there appeared in the English language such families of words, which though similar in their root meaning, are different in origin

7. There are calques on the French phrase.


Indo-European and Germanic Ablaut

The most important feature of the system of Germanic vowel is the so-called Ablaut, or gradation, which is a spontaneous, positionally independent alteration of vowels inhabited by the Germanic language from the Common Indo-European period. This ancient phenomenon consisted in alteration of vowels in the root, suffix or ending depending on the grammatical form or meaning of the word. There are two types of Ablaut: quantitative and qualitative, The qualitative ablaut is the alteration of different vowels mainly the vowels e/a or e/o

Old Icelandic bera barn

Old High German stelan stal

Quantitative ablaut means the change in length of qualitative one and the same vowel: normal, lengthened and reduced. A classical exa,ple of the Indo European Ablaut is the declension of the Greek word ‘pater’

Pater pater patros

Ablaut in Germanic languages is a further development of Indo-European alterations. Here we often find cases with both the quantitative and qualitative ablaut. It should be also mentioned that in the zero stage before sonorants an extra-short vowel [u]


Goth giman - gums


OHG stelan - stal

Quantitative+ Qualitative

OE findan-fand – fundan

Ablaut as a kind of an internal flexion functioned in OGERMANIC languages both in form- and word-building, but it was the most extensive and systematic in the conjugation of strong verbs.


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