‘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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