Old English - The Scandinavian Influence on Old English

Textual Work on Bede's Account of the poet Cædmon

Seminar Paper, 2009

14 Pages, Grade: 2,3

Kevin Theinl (Author)



Part I – Textual Work on “Bede´s Account of the Poet Cædmon”
1. Provement of the claim: For a precise classification of Old English inflexional forms it does usually not suffice only to look at the respective form.
2. Formative relationship between OE lār and læran
3. Word formation and Compounding

Part II – Term paper: The Scandinavian Influence on Old English
1. Introduction
2. Historical Background – Viking Invasion on the British Isle
3. Language Family
4. Loanwords, loan-blends, loan-shifts
5. Norse-derived vocabulary
6. Conclusion


Part I – Textual Work on “Bede´s Account of the Poet Cædmon”

1.)It is unprofitable only to look at the respective form, because the –an declension of nouns contains five forms with the ending –an (Sg.a./g./d. - Pl.n./a.)

Next I will specify case, number, gender, declensional/conjugational [1] class, weak/strong inflexion of the following forms from the Cædmon text.

(a) Abudisse (Modern English “abbess”) is a feminine, nominative singular noun and has got a weak declension.
(b) Godes (Modern English “god”) is a masculine, genitive singular noun and has got a strong declension.
(c) Men (Used indefinitely as “one”) is a masculine, nominative/accusative plural noun and is athematic.
(d) Munuchād (Modern English “monastic order”) is a masculine, accusative singular noun and has got a strong declension.
(e) Mynster (Modern English “minster”) is a neuter, accusative singular noun and has got a strong declension.
(f) Gōdum (Modern English “good”) is a strong declensional adjective in a dative case.
(g) Getæl (Modern English “number”) is a neuter, nominative singular noun.
(h) Halgan (Modern English “saint”) is a masculine, accusative plural noun. It has got a weak declension.
(i) Ongan (Modern English “begin”) is a plural past tense verb in a subjunctive form.
(j) Leornodon (Modern English “to study”) is the third person plural form of geleornian in a subjunctive form.

2.)The Old English word lār is a feminine, nominative singular noun and it is the collective knowledge or wisdom on a particular subject. The word lār has changed to Modern English “lore”. The Old English word læran is an infinitive verb form and its meaning is to teach or to instruct. But today in Modern English there is no appropriate verb form to the noun “lore”. Whereas the Old English word leornian which means “to learn” is not extincted. The relationship between both words is a noun – verb relationship and you can see it doubtlessly that læran is the verb, because of the -an appendage.

3.)Gneuss (1991:38) claims that “Old English had a highly developed system of word formation” and that compounding is a particular frequent pattern. Word formation is the creation of a new word and it is sometimes contrasted with semantic change, which is a change in the meaning of a single word. A compound is a lexeme that consists of more than one stem. Word-compounding forms new words by combining together old words. First, I want to present four examples of words which are from compound nature from prose from the Cædmon text. The first example is Engliscġereorde (l. 7) and means “the English language” or in Modern German “Englische Sprache”. It is a compound of “Englisc” which means “English” and “ġereorde” which means “speech”. Ongelþéode (l. 10) which is a compund of Ongel and þéode (="past" 3rd singular of þéon) with the meaning in Modern English is “the English people. leoðcræft (l. 13) is a compound of “leoð” which means “poem” and “cræft” which means “skill”. It means in Modern English “poetic art” or to use the compound modern German term “Dichtkunst”. Léoþsonges (l. 57) which is a compound of “léoþ” and “songes” with the meaning of a poetical rhythm.

Second I prepared the poetry part of Bede´s Account of the Poet Cædmon. The first example is heonfonrīces (l. 36) which is a compound of heofon and rīċe and it means in Modern English “heavenly kingdom”, but it is more similar to the Modern German “Heiliges Reich”. Wuldorfæder (l. 38) is a compound of wuldor (=glory) and fæde (=father) which means “father of glory”. Today no compound does exist neither in Modern English nor in Modern German.

Middangeard (l. 42) is another compound of middan which is a preposition and means “in the middle” and geard which means “yard” (=Garten). Today the word middleyard or something similar does not exist, today we would call it middle-earth. Finally modgeþanc (l. 39) is the last example, it is a compound of mod (=mood) and geþanc (=mind) and it means “minds purpose”.

Part II – Scandinavian Influence on Old English: Introduction

During the 5th century AD three Germanic tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, invaded Britain. With their knowledge of building ships and their skills to navigate the Danes, Norwegians and Swedes, who were collectively known as Vikings, Northmen or Norsemen, crossed the North Sea. Their skills carried them as far as Iceland, Greenland and North America, which they named “Vinland” because of the grapevines which were being found there. Furthermore they were engaged tradesmen, but they were mostly seen as barbaric warriors. Inhabitants of Britain on which they came across spoke a Celtic language. Through their invasion they pushed the people of the Celtic speaking language into the territories of what is now Wales, Scotland and Ireland.[2] ;[3]

If we are looking at languages which still exist, some of the most interesting aspects are the changes of the language. Languages are changing permanently and it is an inevitable, ongoing process, but we do not become aware of this, because the process happens quite slowly during the time we are moving in.

However, the change of a language becomes more obvious if we look back over a remarkable period of time. If we compare English with Swedish for example we do not notice that there are many similarities. These separate languages differ totally in the system of communication, which involves pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. But if we look at the earliest texts which are left behind in the two languages, the differences are pretty smaller and the similarities more considerable. It seems quite difficult to investigate in points of time where no writing material is left behind. But professional linguists are capable of making assumptions about the time which is dated before the 1500 years of written English and then they make reconstructions.

The differences between English and the Scandinavian languages result from the permanent change of a language through time. Even if two groups speak the same language, but live in different countries, the two groups will not affect each other and consequently the language will develop differently because a sound change is a totally arbitrary fashion.[4]

Historical Background – Viking invasion on the British isle

The Viking Age lasted approximately from the eighth century with the Viking attacks around 750 AD on Europe and was finished in the eleventh century. In England the Vikings demonstrated their evilness through plundering raids around 800 AD, but in 851 AD their attacks had become more common and for that reason they spent the winters on the British island with no intention of leaving soon.[5]

During the Age of Migration Germanic groups were migrating in the north from their ancestral homelands and the ancestors of the people who spoke Old Norse had only a few movements in their environment. The Danes moved into Zealand and the Jutland peninsula out of southern Sweden. At the same time the Swedes conquered the Geats and expanded their empire through central Sweden and Götland. The royal house of Norway originally came from Sweden to the Oslo territory. This was proved through Ynglingatal, an Old Norse genealogical poem, it lists the kings of the house of Ynglings. In the mid-eighth century the Vikings, to whom also the northernmost Germanic peoples belonged, initiated their attacks and conquests in Western Europe.[6]

From 787 on, the Danes assaulted the British coasts and the backlands and in 850, they initiated more extensive invasions. At this time, Ælfred the Great, who was the king of Wessex, was requited with recognition because of his great and successful battle against the Danes.[7]

But nonetheless there arose a Norse kingdom in Ireland over the course of the years of the ninth century, where from this point of time a versatile population of mixed Scandinavians and Celtics lived together. The Danes controlled the Kingdom of Northumbria and large parts of eastern Mercia. These areas were later to belong to the “Danelaw”, which was the part where Danish law and custom were followed. Along a line from London to Chester on the west coast ran the boundary between the Danelaw and the English territories. Then Ælfred the Great had again a leading role in the history of Britain when he forced the Danes to retreat while they were assaulting in 878 the last remaining territories of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Wessex. Even if the fighting between the Danes and Wessex still remained, he was able to save his kingdom and to force them to stay in their eastern territories, the Danelaw.[8]


[1] Quirk, Randolph/C.L. Wrenn, An old English Grammar, London 1987, S. 27.

[2] Barbar, Charles, The English language: A historical introduction, Cambridge 1993, S. 128.

[3] Http://www.englishclub.com/english-language-history.htm, zugegriffen am 08.09.2009.

[4] Robinson, Orrin W., Old English and its closest relatives: A survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages, London 1992, S. 1-2.

[5] Barbar, Charles, The English language: A historical introduction, Cambridge 1993, S. 127-128.

[6] Robinson, Orrin W., Old English and its closest relatives: A survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages, London 1992, S. 69.

[7] http://www.uni-kassel.de/fb8/misc/lfb/html/text/3-2-2frame.html, zugegriffen am 08.09.2009

[8] Robinson, Orrin W., Old English and its closest relatives: A survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages, London 1992, S. 71.

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Old English - The Scandinavian Influence on Old English
Textual Work on Bede's Account of the poet Cædmon
University of Rostock
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ISBN (Book)
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Old English, Scandinavian Influence, Bede´s Account of the Poet Cædmon, inflexional form, respective form, word formation, compounding, viking invasion, Britain, loanwords, loan-blends, loan-shifts, Norse, Angles, Saxons, Germanic invasion, Ælfred the Great, Northumbria, Danelaw, United Kingdom, Old High German, Gothic
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Kevin Theinl (Author), 2009, Old English - The Scandinavian Influence on Old English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/179374


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