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Author Topic: English is a Scandinavian Language  (Read 12290 times)

peter horn

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English is a Scandinavian Language
« on: December 01, 2012, 05:13:18 PM »
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Horsa

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2012, 04:11:30 AM »
I've been saying something this for years. I never had the balls to say that English was a Scandinavian language, but i have felt that its influence is greater than "window" and "first". I've felt that modern English word order and grammar is much more similar to Icelandic than Old English. The tense system in Icelandic is very similar to that in Modern English. They have a very similar way of forming and using perfect tenses, and English has separable particle verbs and particle verbs with two particles ("get along with") like the Scandinavian languages and not like it's closest West Germanic relatives.

Linden

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2012, 09:53:51 AM »
There are several hints that this may be so in surviving Old Norse/Icelandic texts.  For example, in the 12th C. 'First Grammatical Treatise' there is a passage that appears to state that English and ON are 'one tongue' although going on to qualify that by stating that one or both languages have changed/diverged a bit.

In the 13th C. 'Gunnlaug's Saga'  there is an account of a visit to Aethelred's court in about 1002 where it is said that there was the same speech in Engliand as in Norway and Denmark and that this only ceased to be true after the Norman Invasion.  According to this saga not only was Gunnlaug able to converse with the king but also to recite poetry to him in the full expectation that it too could be understood.  Since ON poetry is complex this would indicate that the languages were still very similar - probably not differing by more that what we might consider to be 'dialect' differences today.

(Source 'Anglo-Saxon England in Icelandic Medieval Texts' by Magnus Fjalldal 2005 University of Toronto Press)
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Iohannes

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2012, 10:59:05 AM »
I'm sorry, but I don't agree with this theory. It is true that English has undergone a lot of linguistic influences in the course of its history, and that ON - Danish or whatever - left deep marks in English vocabulary and syntax due to liguistic contact and the two peoples' need to communicate. It's also true that English underwent a process of partial creolization due to this. But, for a number of reasons and its fundamental characteristics, IMHO English is and remains a West Germanic language and derives directly from OE without any breaks. It cannot be considered a North Germanic language.

To give you an example of a similar process, during the many Spanish dominations in Naples, the Neapolitan language underwent a similar linguistic influence from Spanish, again both in vocabulary and in syntax. In fact, Spanish is much easier to learn and speak for people from southern Italy because Neapolitan shares a lot of syntactic features with Spanish that don't exist in Italian. But this doesn't mean that Neapolitan derives from Spanish: Neapolitan derives directly from Latin, like Spanish does in its own right.

One more aspect that shouldn't be forgotten is that related languages often have common developments even apart from mutual influences, which can play a role, anyway. For instance, I have the feeling that pre-migration Anglian may have had some Nordic features, due to contact with the Danes on the continent, and that may have favoured the Nordic influence on English between the 8th and the 11th centuries.

leofwin

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2012, 10:13:38 PM »
It is well said, Gianni!

Linden

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2012, 11:29:29 PM »
Given the tendency these days to postulate the quite late existence of a 'NorthWest Germanic' (well past the split with 'East Germanic' ) plus the known continuing contacts between the areas involved, it is perhaps a question that will never be fully resolved.  I do find it interesting that there is some evidence that ON and OE in the 10th century and thereabouts appear to have been similar enough to be mutually intelligible even to the extent of their poetry.  Is there any evidence for this level of mutual understanding between speakers of OE and the rest of 'West Germanic'?
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leofwin

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2012, 10:54:19 AM »
I understand that OE and Frankish were very similar, although there are very few extant Frankish texts.  There's at least one early text where scholars can't decide if it's one or the other

Blackdragon

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2012, 11:59:53 AM »
Maybe the answer to Brythnoths questionable decision to let the Vikings over the causeway at Battle of Maldon was due to a language mis-interpretation after all! Do we know what language they spoke in during the infamous parley?

Mind you, if he had refused, they would probably gone off elsewhere to raid without opposition, something they seem to have been doing for some time according to the AS Chronicle (when they were in the East, our forces were in the West etc.)
Pete

Jayson

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2012, 05:49:45 PM »
---I would say that Old English is a Germanic language, as are the Scandinavian languages and Frankish.

And while talking to an Indian I found that 'uppa (e?)' is a Bengali word originating in Sanskrit and then discovered in a Thesaurus that the word came into England in the 7th century with the A-S.
Wessex Woman

Mark Case

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2012, 08:20:49 AM »
More on this:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2012/12/language-families#comments

There are many comments at the bottom of the page. Might be worth a look.

Horsa

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2012, 10:36:57 PM »
Woh! Don't get me wrong. I wasn't saying that I think English is a Scandinavian language. I just like that the considerable Norse influence is being recognized, in typical style these days, by saying something outrageous. The Frisian dialect still spoken in Denmark is apparently showing very Danish features.

Here is an article that counters the statement that English is a Scandinavian language - http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4351

(I can't do hyperlinks apparently).

harryamphlett

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #11 on: December 12, 2012, 09:06:59 PM »
Whilst english is classified as a west germanic language now, this question has a lot to do with the nature of common germanic around say 400AD. The east germanic group had separated but how different were the north and west germanic branches? At that time, in Jutland, north of the river Eider, the Elder Futhark with 24 runes was in use. The later younger futhark, from about 700 AD , which is the futhark used in Old Norse uses a simplified 16 runic set. The earliest runes in England are found in anglian areas and use the elder futhark and predate the use of the anglo frisian futhorc, which uses even more characters. Runes around 400-600 AD are rare south of the river Elbe in Germany.

All this leads to the question, what was the nature of the germanic language around 400AD? Henrik Jørgensen from the Nordisk Institut of Aarhus Universitet replied:

"as far as we are able to tell today, the whole of Scandinavia (including Schleswig, but not Holstein)  was relatively homogenious around 400 from a linguistic point of view. The sparse evidence from the geographic region you mention shows that a relatively uniform runic tradition could exist here. We assume that the spoken idioms did not differ much too much either. In fact when historical evidence becomes available (from ca. 1100 onwards) mutual intelligibility is no matter of debate between Jutland and the Danish islands. The more interesting question is whether the Angles (if they really did speak early North Germanic) could communicate with the Saxons (assuming that they did speak early West Germanic). We do know of a few early sound changes that have made a difference between North and West Germanic languages by 400, but there is definitely room for the possibility that Angles and Saxons were able to perform semi-communication by the time of the invasion. We do know that Low German (deriving from Early Saxon) and North Germanic (including Danish) were used in semi-communication during the Middle Ages, but whether this was due to some kind of multi-linguistic surrounding or was spontaneously possible, is difficult to say."

Of interest is that the saxon counties in England, Sussex, Essex etc. do not have examples of early runes, broadly reflecting the situation on the continent. Yorkshire and east anglia however, do have runes which predate 650 AD and the earliest appear to match those north of the river Eider, ie in Schleswig, but not Holstein.

Horsa

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2012, 01:29:19 AM »
What does "semi communication" mean?

What I get from this is a further iteration that thinking of languages as monolithic entities is, at best, unhelpful in trying to understand the history and development of languages.

Linden

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2012, 11:24:37 AM »
What does "semi communication" mean?.............................
  Einar Haugen (1950's) coined this phrase to describe a situation where, in communicating together, speakers speak their own language but understand other speakers using one or more other languages. The more modern term 'receptive multi-lingualism' appears largely to have replaced the term. An often-quoted example is the ability of the inhabitants of the Scandinavian countries to hold such a conversation although various border areas between countries also enable this phenomenon. There is much discussion about how much shared knowledge and culture is required to support such communication.
See e.g. 'Receptive Multilingualism as a Language Mode in the Dutch-German Border Area' by Roos Beerkens (2010)
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harryamphlett

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Re: English is a Scandinavian Language
« Reply #14 on: December 18, 2012, 12:55:28 PM »
What does "semi communication" mean?

It's one of those linguistic terms used to describe situations such as exists in Scandinavia:

"The default in inter-Scandinavian communication between Danes, Swedes and Norwegians is the use of the respective mother tongue together with the willingness to accept and understand the neighbouring standard languages. Einar Haugen in 1966 called this form of asymmetric communication ‘semicommunication’. This term has, however, been misleading because it suggests that the interlocutors will only understand roughly ‘half’ of what has been said, which is clearly not the (normal)case. The paper focuses on the relationship between semicommunication and accommodation and discusses two longer extracts from a large corpus of authentic communication. It is argued that semicommunication can adequately be described in terms of accommodation (convergence)." (Semicommunication and accommodation:observations from the linguistic situation in Scandinavia)


What I get from this is a further iteration that thinking of languages as monolithic entities is, at best, unhelpful in trying to understand the history and development of languages.

That is about the nub of it yes. The divergent tree like model of language development, where for example east, west and northern branches stem from an earlier common germanic main trunk is convenient but oversimplistic. In fact, linguists such as Garrett propose convergence models rather than divergent ones. Either way, the germanic language family is noted for having a 'remarkably untreelike structure'.

What may have happened is that the Angles spoke an early form of a proto north germanic language and that the saxons, whoever they were but assuming that they were south of the river Eider spoke an early form of a proto west germanic language. However, after the adventus in England, the saxon proto west germanic language prevented the anglian proto north germanic language from developing along the same lines as their earlier danish neighbours. Because most of our knowledge is from saxon elite and ecclesiastical texts, we don't really know what anglian speakers in Yorkshire or East Anglia sounded like. If we stick too much to a divergent tree like model, we simply assume that they must have sounded like west saxons, but that's all it is, an assumption.

More recent research exists in publications such as Comparative Syntax of Old English and Old Icelandic :

"It has long been recognised that Old English and Old Icelandic have a high proportion of common lexis and very similar morphology, yet the convention has been to emphasise the differences between the two as representatives respectively of the West and North sub-families of Germanic. The argument of this book is that the similar word-order of the two should instead lead us to stress the similarities between the two languages. Old English and Old Icelandic were sufficiently close to be mutually comprehensible. This thesis receives copious support from historical and literary texts. Our understanding of the Old Germanic world should be modified by the concept of a common «Northern Speech» which provided a common Germanic ethnic identity and a platform for the free flow of cultural ideas."

If all this is true, the claim however that English is a North Germanic Language is as wrong as a claim that it is a West Germanic Language. It was probably a north germanic language so heavily influenced by west germanic that it gets simplistically classified as west germanic. It's the tree like model that cannot accurately describe what was going on. Claiming it is a Scandinavian language is just a headline grabber and designed to attract publicity which academic institutions need thesedays as they compete for funding.