‘English is a Scandinavian language’

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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. An article by Apollon’s editor Trine Nickelsen was published in Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday.

Breaks with the past
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.”

While many native English-speakers struggle to learn Norwegian, Faarlund believes it’s no coincidence that Scandinavians, especially Norwegians, learn English relatively easily. “It’s true that many of the English words resemble our own (in Norwegian, for example),” Faarlund said. “But there’s more behind it: Even the fundamental structure of the language is amazingly similar to Norwegian. We often avoid mistakes that others (speaking other languages) make in English, because the grammar is much the same.”

Importance of geography
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.

All this, he claims, boosts the similarities between Norwegian and English, for example, and the differences between other Germanic languages and English. “The only reasonable explanation is that English is a Nordic language, and that this language is a continuation from the Norwegian-Danish language used in England from the Middle Ages,” Faarlund told Apollon. “Why the residents of the British Isles chose the Nordic grammar, though, is a matter of speculation.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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  1. While I never had a way to prove this, I have always noted that Norwegian and English had similar grammatical structure. I learned Norwegian when I was fifteen and as a native speaker of English it was a case of learning words, the grammar was easy.

  2. No wonder the Scandinavians are very good at English.

    • Sven Ekeberg says:

      Not all of us are, only the young ones. But it is true that English in many ways feels more similar to our native language than German does, for those of us that/who/which also studied German.

  3. A minor correction to the above comparison of English and German. German does indeed put the verb at the end of relative clauses, but in a full sentence the verb always takes the second position in that sentence. If an auxiliary verb is used, its declined form takes second position in the sentence and the infinitive used with it comes at the end of the sentence. E.g., “I want to travel to Europe” becomes “I want to Europe to travel” (Ich will nach Europa reisen). As is the case with a compound verb.

    • Bryan DUe says:

      Isn’t also possible to end a German sentence with a preposition? Separable prefixes are withou exception (I believe) prepositions. zum Beispiel:
      – ich rufe meine Schwester “an”
      – Macht das Licht “aus”

      • Класс Ейдема says:

        It is, but in such cases the preposition is part of the
        verb (in given cases “anrufen” and “ausmachen”), not a part
        of speach on its own; Dutch (hij belde mij gisteren op) and Frisian (hja die it ljocht út) do exactly the same.

        By the way, what tdminton says, should be taken broader: in
        every subordinated clause (relative or adverbial) German and Frisian put the
        inflected verb at the end, whereas Dutch (and Flemish) allows various positions
        for the inflected verb.

  4. Chris Burgess says:

    “While many native English-speakers struggle to learn Norwegian” – Many English speakers also struggle to learn French. Norwegian is one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn.

  5. When Old Norse (ON) made its way to the island, it and Old English (OE) were in some cases mutually understandable. OE speakers and ON speakers would in many cases have to extend their conversation beyond this point of mutual understanding by innovation creating a pidgin like tongue. When children grew up hearing this pidgin they began to speak it as a native language, a ON-OE creole. A similar situation could occur if populations of two dialects (say Hiberno English and African-American English) met and were forced to exchange, the dialects would pidginize. If one says OE “died out”, one must say ON did too in the sense that they merged from two separate languages into a single dialect continuum with speakers in the far north (more ON) only barely understandable to speakers in the western areas (more OE). (funny enough, the word “die” may be an ON loan) Also, this completely overlooks Brittonic substratum influence on English to promote 19th century ideas of national Anglo-Saxon purity.

  6. This is silly. Old English was moving already very consistently in the direction of Modern English word-order — and the form and pronunciation of English words more typically resembles those of the OE rather than the Old Norse. There was a lot of influence, but Old English certainly did not “die out.”

  7. As an American when I first began studying Norwegian I was amazed at the similarites between the two languages and immediately realized that English descended from the Scandanavian languages of the Viking era. The reason it is more difficult for those whose home language is English to learn Norwegian and yet the Norwegians find it easy to learn English is because Norwegian langauge has differences in the pronunciation long and short vowels and three letters that most English speakers don’t have a corresponding sounds to match it not to mention elongating certain sounds and the lilting up and down of the phrases. Also Norwegians have more access to hearing and opportunities to practice speaking English beginning in grunnskole as well as through British and US tv programs, internet, music, study abroad programs etc… whereas English speakers have very few opportunities – even in Norway since most young Norwegians would rather speak English to me than to listen to my “darlig norsk.” 🙂

  8. It’s amazing what some folks will do to draw attention to their academic careers! This comparison between modern English and modern Scandinavian languages draws attention away from the well documented medieval histories of these languages.

    Old English (in particular later Old English) generally uses a word order very similar to Modern English. Unlike in Old Norse, it is at least theoretically possible to split an Old English infinitive (although surviving texts don’t often show much interest in adverbs); this is because the distinctive English “to ” style of infinitive already existed. Old English was able to end a sentence very strikingly with a preposition, as in line 19b of Beowulf, “. . . Scedelandum in.”

    It would seem possible to argue that Old English is itself a Scandinavian language, because a large number of Anglo-Saxon settlers came from Jylland (Jutland), but this is a very different argument to the nonsense proposed here.

    The resemblance between modern English and Scandinavian grammars probably stems from the fact that the languages went through similar processes of creolisation. In England this began with the Viking settlement, and in Scandinavia with the Hanseatic League when English merchants were among those who influenced Scandianvian grammar.

    • I do agree…. the last paragraph is extremely clear …

      • Sven Ekeberg says:

        Not clear at all. The English were not exactly dominant in the Hanseatic League, especially not in Sweden. However, there are clear (written) evidence of the Plattenduch influence on Swedish grammar during the late 1300s to early 1600s.

  9. I said this at least ten years ago. See my website.

    Charles Harrison-Wallace

  10. akatsukami says:

    Foolishness. Dutch, modern German, and Old English all use SVO for main clauses (as several other commenters point out). OTOH, SOV subordinate clauses occur in modern Swedish, as well as in late Middle English (see the Lollard translations of the Bible), half a millennium after the supposed Norse influence. SVO word order in subordinate clauses is a feature of the so-called “Chancery English” that evolved into Early Modern English in the 15th and 16th centuries, possibly exacerbated by the use of auxiliary verbs in what has become the least inflected of all Indo-European languages.

    • Myrtonos says:

      Acutally, in continental west Germanic languages does a finite verb go second in declaritive main clauses, first in questions, not counting to interrogotive, and all other verbs go to the end of all clauses.
      In modern English the order of a subordinate clause is generally the same as a *neutral* main clause, like ‘I ate pizza yesterday,’ exceptions to the standard main clause order, as in ‘Yesterday I ate pizza’ are less common in subordinate clauses.

  11. Norwegians trying to claim responsability for the most spokn language. Funny. If the had found that Norwegian was the ancestor of flemish or Basque or some other similarly unimportant language this wouldnt even be published with such aplomp. Tipical little nation attention grabbing. Look at me!

    • Judging from your tone dear sir, you MUST be from England

      • My nationality is not the issue. It is typical behaviour of all the other little countries I’ve lived in. Pretenses of being cosmopolitan and worldy. In any case the issue is that the current world language is English, with its imports from the Latinate and other languages, and not Norwegian, inspite of similar Indo-Aryan, and thereafter, Germanic roots.

        • What does your comment even mean?

          English is a Germanic language. It has many words that come from Latin (the word you’re looking for is “Romance,” not “Latinate”), but also many that come from Old Norse (whence Norwegian also comes) and the old Anglo and Saxon languages (these Germanic ones are where we get most of our suffixes and basic vocabulary).

          Also, Norway isn’t that small.

  12. Given Scandinavian langauges are just dialects of German and Dutch anyway, this article is like arguing that Double Gloucester cheese is actually a type of Guløst and not a type of cheese as first thought.

  13. As seen from Australia, those hands-on acquainted with a “find a job in own community” system based very much on biologically-linguistic preferences paraded de-facto with a local British-style multiculturalism heralded could rejoice: English like King Arthur (no wonder, the most known and popular outside England/British Commonwealth), is an imported product-cum-native and as so a proudly own produce according to experts visiting Norway.

    Using at least five or so languages fluently engineer is keen to find a place where English is not the most desirable to speak if even Scandinavian-exported.

    Michael Kerjman

  14. As seen from Australia, those hands-on acquainted with a “find a job in own community” system based very much on biologically-linguistic preferences paraded de-facto with a local British-style multiculturalism heralded could rejoice: English like King Arthur (no wonder, the most known and popular outside England/British Commonwealth), is an imported product-cum-native and as so a proudly own produce according to experts visiting Norway.

    Using at least five or so languages fluently, an engineer is keen to find a place where English is not the most desirable to speak if even Scandinavian-exported.

    Michael Kerjman

  15. Класс Ейдема says:

    Well, I can see Old Norse had a very strong influence on

    You wouldn’t expect an imported language (which in fact
    all languages on the British Isles are) to have such a huge influence on basic
    structure and vocabulary of the already present language.

    Just compare the verb “to be” in English and Old Norse:

    ek em [I am]
    þú ert [thou art]
    hann/hón/þat er [he is]
    vér erum [we are]
    þér eruð [you-ye are]
    þeir/þær/þau eru [they are]

    The conjugation in Old English:

    iċ eom / bēo
    þū eart / bist
    hē/hit/hēo is / biþ
    wē/ġē/hīe sind(on) / sint / bēoþ

    The second possibility shows more similaritys with
    Frisian and German, whereas the first of each (at least in the 1st sg and 2nd
    sg.) bears more resemblances to Old Norse.

  16. TheMontgomery says:

    Interesting hypothesis–though I don’t know I’d take it as Gospel at this point.

    Nonetheless, it’s interesting that some of the more fundamental syntactic elements of Middle English and Modern English were borrowings from Old Norse–especially some the third-person pronouns. Essentially, when referring to “others,” one does so using the ON terminology.

  17. Philip Andrews says:

    This is neither ‘nonsense’ nor ‘silly’. But neither is there anything like ‘consensus’. Modern English is at least 50% Nordic. Then Between 25-50% Latin/French. The argument is how far was the language that became known as Anglo-Saxon West Germanic and how far was it Nordic (Danish?). How far were the Angles and Jutes Nordic and how far West Germanic? We have texts but we cannot really hear the sounds except for Old Norse and Modern Icelandic which seem very similar if not identical. So, much academic argument and controversy esp. amongst Anglo academics of Established/Conformist and not so Conformist views. But nothing can really be proved, so the jury will most likely be permanently out on this one.

  18. Prospekt arty says:

    This is true. I’ve studied Anglo Saxon both in terms of vocabulary and grammar and I would say standard Old English or Anglo Saxon is very different from Modern English compared to English and the Scandinavian languages. Anglo Saxon somehow died out, what came to be middle and modern English appears to be based on an Anglo-Norse dialect spoken in the Danelaw which stretched from the Anglian-Viking Kingdoms of northern and central England into East Anglia and up to London. This language was sufficiently different from the West Saxon or Wessex dialect that represented standard Anglo-Saxon before the Norman conquest spoken by Alfred the Great. It should be noted that following the Norman conquest old English was abolished as the defacto language of government and the law and was replaced with norman French for 200 years. When the ban was lifted what was adopted as the standard English language was the Anglo-Norse dialect of central and eastern England. It is difficult to think that modern English could lose a great deal of its Anglo-Saxon features through evolution. The only other explanation is that the Anglian dialects of central and northern Egland may have originally been a form of Scandinavian speech and was quite different from the West Saxon dialect which was closer to West Germanic i.e. Dutch, Frisian and low German. Modern English does appear to be heavily Scandinavian in grammar and syntax as well as in its Germanic vocabulary when compared to Anglo-Saxon and other west Germanic tongues. Please don’t mention latin or french. English is not a latin or romance language it just borrowed loads of latin and french technical jargon to spice up the language, in a similar way that Persian has borrowed a great deal of classical Arabic or Romanian has borrowed heavily from Slavic. Most languages borrow from each other but that does not change the structure and fabric of a language.

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