Scandinavian influence on the vocabulary
The Scandinavian invasions had far-reaching linguistic consequences which became apparent mainly in ME; the greater part of lexical borrowings from Old Scandinavian were not recorded until the 13th c.
A considerable part of the vocabulary was common to English and to Scandinavian dialects. In many words the root was the same, while endings were different. Compare the following list of OE words and their Scandinavian counterparts:
OE Scandinavian OE Scandinavian
dōm ‘judgement’ dōmr sunu ‘son’ sunr
fisc ‘fish’ fiskr heorte ‘heart’ hiarta
cynin¥ ‘king’ konongr tīma ‘time’ tīme
stān ‘stone’ stein oxa ‘ox’ oxe, uxe
wind ‘wind’ vindr fæder ‘father’ fader
dæy ‘day’ dagr ic ‘I’ ek
Another part of Scandinavian vocabulary did not correspond to English. It is in this sphere that Scandinavian dialects influenced English. This influence covered a considerable semantic field: they mostly pertain to everyday life and do not differ from native words, e.g. wrang ‘wrong’, skye ‘sky’, ‘cloud’, sister. Both in ME and nowadays it is difficult to distinguish Scandinavian loans form native words. The only criteria are some phonetic features of borrowed words: the consonant cluster [sk] is a frequent mark of Scandinavian loan-words, e.g. sky, skill. The sounds [s] and [sk] are sometimes found in related words in the two languages: native shirt and the Scandinavian loan-word skirt are etymological doublets (which means that they go back to the same Germanic root but have been subjected to different phonetic and semantic changes).
Other criteria of the same type are the sounds [k] and [g] before front vowels, which in native words normally became [±] and [®]. Cf. kid (from O Scand) and chin (native, from OE cin), girth (from O Scand) and yield (from OE ¥ieldan).
Only the earliest loan-words deal with military and legal matters and reflect the relations of the people during the Danish raids and Danish rule. These early borrowings are Late OE barda, cnearr, sce¥þ (different types of ships), cnīf (NE knife), liþ ‘fleet’, orrest ‘battle’. Among legal terms are Late OE la¥u ‘law’, ūtla¥u ‘outlaw’, feola¥a ‘fellow’, hūsbonda ‘husband’, and also the verb tacan ‘take’.
The word law is derived from O Scand lóg which meant ‘that which is laid down’. It was adopted as early as the 10th c. and was preserved together with its derivatives: ME outlaw, NE in-law, lawyer; ME bylaw goes back to bÿr ‘town’ and lawe and denotes ‘town’ or ‘local law’. The word husband was originally a legal term ‘house holder’, one who owns a house; similarly fellow which stemmed from O Scand fēlagi indicated one who lays down a fee, as a partner or shareholder. In the subsequent centuries many Scandinavian military and legal terms disappeared or were displaced by French terms.
Even the 3rd person plural personal pronoun was taken over from Scandinavian into English. The Scandinavian þeir penetrated into English and, superseding the OE pronoun hīe, became ME they. In a similar way the genitive of the Scandinavian pronoun, þeirra, superseded the native hira and became ME their, and the dative þeim superseded the native him and became ME them.
Scandinavian elements became parts of many geographical names, e.g. by ‘village’ in Kirkby, Whitby, Derby; toft ‘grassy spot’, ‘hill’ in Langtoft; beck ‘rivulet’ in Troutbeck; ness ‘cape’ in Inverness, Caithness, etc.
Examples of everyday words of Scandinavian origin which have been preserved in present-day Standard English are given below. Nouns – bag, band, birth, brink, bulk, cake, crook, dirt, egg, freckle, gap, gate, keel, kid, leg, link, loan, raft, root, score, scrap, seat, skill, skim, skirt, skull, sky, slaughter, sneer, steak, thrift, window, wing; adjectives – awkward, flat, happy, ill, loose, low, meek, odd, rotten, scant, scarce, sly, tight, ugly, weak, wrong; verbs – bait, bask, call, cast, clamp, crawl, cut, die, drown, gape, gasp, hit, happen, lift, nag, raise, rake, rid, scare, scatter, scowl, snub, take, thrive, thrust, want.
Penetration of French words into English started in the 12th c. and reached its climax in the 13th and 14th c.
After the Norman Conquest French was introduced as the language of the law courts; debates in Parliament, which was inaugurated in 1265, were also conducted in French. Under such circumstances considerable layers of the population became bilingual. This bilingualism created preconditions for a mass entry of French words into the English language. At the same time the opposite process took place: English words were adopted into the Anglo-Norman language.
Many words adopted at the time denoted things and notions connected with the life of Norman aristocracy. Also, many everyday words penetrated into English, which denoted ideas already having names in English. As a result of borrowing, pairs of synonyms appeared in English, and a struggle between them would ensue. There were three main possibilities of the outcome of this struggle:
1. The struggle ends in favour of the French word; its native English synonym disappears.
2. It is the native word that gets the upper hand; the French word, after existing in English for some time, is ousted again.
3. Both words survive, but a difference in meaning develops between them, which may be either purely semantic, or stylistic.
Many French words were connected with the life of the ruling class, the French nobility. The main semantic spheres of French words are as follows:
(1) Government, the court and jurisdiction, e.g. prince, baron, noble, government, royal, court, justice, judge, condemnen, sentence. However, the words king and queen survived and were not replaced by their French synonyms.
(2) Army and military life, e.g. werre (NE war), army, bataille (NE battle), castle, banner, victory, defeat.
(3) Religion and church: religion, saint, preyen (NE pray), conscience, chapel.
(4) Town professions: bocher (NE butcher), peintre (NE painter), tailor. However, words of OE origin are used to denote country professions: miller, shoemaker, shepherd, smith.
(5) Art notions: art, colour, figure, image, column, ornament.
(6) Amusements: plesir (NE pleasure), leysir (NE leisure), ese (NE ease), feste (NE feast), dinner, soper (NE supper), rosten (NE roast).
Many other words were also taken over, which were not connected with any specific semantic sphere, such as: air, place, river, large, change and others.
Some words taken over in that period did not survive in English; thus, the word amity, which is still found in Shakespeare (about 1600), gave way to the native English word friendship; the word moiety (also found in Shakespeare) gave way to the native word half, etc.
When both the native and the French word were preserved in English, there arose a differentiation of their meanings. A well-known example of such differentiation quoted in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe concerns names of animals. The native word is used to denote the living animal, while the French word denotes the dish made of its flesh: ox – beef, calf – veal, sheep – mutton, pig – pork. The living animal was named by the Anglo-Saxon shepherd who took care of it, while the dish was denoted by a word from the language of the French nobility who used it at their dinners.
Another type of differentiation may be found in the pair of synonyms of the type beginnen – commencen. French loan-words preserve a more bookish, literary character. The native word beginnen has stayed on as a colloquial word, while the French commencen is an official term and is mainly used in documents. In a number of cases the native word has acquired a more concrete character, while the French one is more abstract. Cf. work – labour, life – existence.
Sometimes the intruding French word forced its native synonym into a different sphere of meaning. E.g. OE hxrfest ‘autumn’ was superseded by the French word autumn, but survived in the English language with the meaning ‘harvest’.
The degree to which French words penetrated into English depended on two factors: on the geographical region and on the social layer. The farther North, the fewer French words, and the closer to the lower strata of society, the fewer French words.