Is English a Scandinavian Language?

Philip Andrews writes:

It is surprising how little attention is paid to the influence of the Danelaw on the English language. no one in Old English academia seems to want to touch it. It’s a Norwegian article that has claimed English is a Scandinavian language.

Anglo-Saxon and the Early post-Norman Conquest English church put the dampers on the Scandinavian influence. Even the story of the Norman Conquest’ reads quite differently in the Norse Saga version to how it comes through the AS Chronicle.

AS lost most of its grammar to the Norse of the Danelaw. That’s why English has not the inflection system of Continental Germanic but rather that of Norse. I’m happy to think of English as Norse in grammar and Syntax but mostly Latin-French in vocabulary. About 60+% of English derives from Latin-French.

Personally I question the old story of the Normans being ‘Northmen’. Another AS/Norman manipulation. It was 1,000 years ago but the Normands were in what is now France earlier. Records 1,000 years ago as now were subject to political manipulation.

Why did William go to the Pope for a Blessing for a Crusade? Because he was intent on driving the pagan Vikings out of England and Christianizing the place under Norman tutelage. Hence the Harrying of the North. Yorkshire is still far more ‘Norse’ than any other part of England. Listening to people north of Watford speak English and you’re listening to Norse accents speaking English. With Norse words in dialects. If William hadn’t come with mounted archers (from the East) he could never have defeated the Vikings.

Much of English history abroad (empire etc.) equates to versions of Viking raiding. Old Norse habits die hard.

I don’t really agree with this, but it is an interesting idea anyway.

I did some research on this question recently. England was settled by the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes.

There is a Low German language called Anglish which is spoken in an areas of the far north of Germany called Schlesweig-Holstein. Anglish is apparently the remains of the Low German language spoken by the Angles. This is a peninsula that connects Germany with Denmark. The southern half of the peninsula is Germany, and the north half is Denmark. Anglish is not readily intelligible with any other Low German language, even those nearby.

The Saxons were found a bit to the south, but I believe that they also came from this peninsula.

And it is interesting that in this part of Germany, especially around Fleisburg on the border, the dialect of Low German that they speak is more or less intelligible not with Danish but with a Danish dialect called South Jutnish that is so divergent that in my opinion, it is a separate language from Danish. Danish speakers have poor intelligibility of South Jutnish. From the Net:

Sønderjysk is often seen as very difficult for other speakers of Danish even other Jysk or Jutnish dialects to understand. Instead of the normal Danish stød, it has tonal accents like Swedish. Many of the phonemes are also different, including velar fricatives much like in German. It also has the definite article before the noun, as opposed to the standard Danish postclitic article. South Jutlandic is surely a separate language.

So in this part of Germany, there are Low German lects that are actually intelligible with Danish lects. So here is where “German” and “Danish” are nearly transitional. However, Standard German and Standard Danish are not intelligible with each other at all. Nevertheless, German speakers can pick up Danish and other Scandinavian languages pretty easily.

And South Jutnish itself is interesting in that Jutnish was one of the languages spoken by one of the tribes that invaded England, the Jutes. So one of “Anglo-Saxon” tribes that invaded England actually spoke something like “Danish.” South Jutnish itself is said to be quite a bit like English, especially the older forms of English. There are stories about speakers of the pure Scots language spoken in Scotland going to the South Jutnish area and being able to converse with South Jutnish speakers.Scots can be thought of as English  from 500 years ago because Scots split from English about 500 years ago. So in this case we have West Germanic and North Germanic speakers who are able to actually converse.

There is also a suggestion based on the fact that North Germanic South Jutnish is intelligible with whatever odd West Germanic Low German lect is spoken near Fleisburg that South Jutnish itself may be nearly German-Danish transitional.

A few take-home points: the “Anglo-Saxons” actually something a lot more like Low German than Standard German. Low German and Standard German are separate languages and German speakers cannot understand Low German. And the “Anglo-Saxons” also spoke something like “Danish” in the form of Jutnish. Also all of these Low German lects that made up “Anglo-Saxon” came from the far north of Germany where “German” and “Danish” start to nearly blend into each other or better yet where West Germanic and North Germanic are almost transitional.

In addition to the evidence coming from the Danelaw area of England where actual Danish speakers settled, it appears that the Scandinavian or North Germanic influence in English is more with Danish than with any other Scandinavian language.

However, 2/3 of the Anglo-Saxon components were actually from West Germanic Low German lects which are not readily intelligible with any Danish, not even with South Jutnish.

It is often said that the closest language to English is West Frisian, spoken in the northwest of the Netherlands. This is a Germanic language that is close to Dutch. In fact, some say that West Frisian itself is straight up from Old Saxon, which is the language that the Saxons of the Anglo-Saxons spoke. A man who is able to speak Old English went to the West Frisia area of the Netherlands and spoke to an old farmer there who spoke good West Frisian. They were actually able to hold a conversation in English from 1,000 years ago and West Frisian of today. West Frisian of course is a West Germanic language.

However, if you look into the mater a bit more, the language that is closest to English is the endangered North Frisian, with 66% cognates with English in the most frequently used words, a bit more than West Frisian. Nevertheless, 66% cognates in the most frequently used words doesn’t do any good for intelligiblity. I listened to a 10 minute broadcast of an old woman speaking North Frisian and I could not understand one word.

North Frisian, which actually may be up to five separate languages, is also spoken in that same peninsula of far northern Germany that Anglish, Saxon and Jutnish were spoken in. However, it is spoken on the east coast of the peninsula whereas Anglish and Saxon were spoken more to the west. So once again with North Frisian and English we see one more connection with this far northern part of Germany that borders on Denmark. Yet North Frisian is a West Germanic language, not a North Germanic Scandinavian language.

A language called Ingeavonic was spoken long ago in this region, and some put “Anglo-Frisian” in a West Germanic node under Ingeavonic. For a long time there was something called the North Sea Fisherman’s lect that originated in this same part of Germany but over on the west coast by Fleisburg rather than on the east coast by the North Frisian language. It was said that fishermen from all over the North Sea from the nations of Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Norway and Sweden spoke this lingua franca or trade language. This North Sea Fisherman’s language is said to have looked a lot like Ingaevonic.


Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Britain, Danish, English language, Europe, European, Frisian, German, Germanic, Germany, History, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Low German, Regional, Scots, West Frisian

10 responses to “Is English a Scandinavian Language?

  1. Jm8

    One of the major differences of English with Scots is that Scots has less Norman French influence (and retains some Gemanic sound and grammar features that English lost).

    The Normans never had to the tight control over the Scotish lowlands they did in Egland, and the Anglo-Saxon (or the mixed Anglo-Saxon/British Celtic) communities kept more autonomy in parts of the lowlands (eg: the culturally Saxon autonomous towns known as Burghs). Some Norman lords eventually drifted North and gained lands here and there by the permission of Scottland’s Gaelic rulers (who sometimes ruled parts of the lowlands, but where their people—the Gaels—did not settle.) but the regime founded by Willimam’s conquest was never fully recreated there.

    • Jm8

      I think Scotts is also very similiar to Frisian

    • Jm8

      Edit: “…(and retains some Gemanic sound and grammar features and vocabulary that English lost).”

      • Jm8

        In some (albeit limited) ways Lowland Scots culture seems like an alternate universe version of Anglo-Saxon culture, without the massive societal restructurings of the Norman conquest, if it had continued more autonomously and with less of its societal structure (and in some ways its sense of cultural identity) replaced with one from France.

        • Jm8

          I meant to say:

          “In some (albeit limited) ways Lowland Scots culture seems like an alternate universe version of Old English culture (ie Anglo-Saxon culture in England), without (if not for) the massive societal…”

        • Jm8

          EditL ” of English culture (ie Anglo-Saxon culture in England)”

  2. Jm8

    I would guess Platt-Deutch migh be the closest to English, since they share a common ancestor in Saxon, but perhaps “mainstrean German” influence on modern Saxon/Platt-Deutch has made them less mutually intelligible.

  3. Lon Spector

    Did you ever hear the song “Never Been To Spain,” by
    Three Dog Night? What does it matter? Dozens of German girls
    the other day were raped by refugees. Does that matter?

  4. William

    I’m not very knowledgeable in this field, but speaking of the “Anglish” (more generally, the guys near the Danish-German border), seemed to have also had some Scandinavian influence in and off itself.

    I.E. Beowulfe, I believe involved some Kingdoms of Sweden with a Anglish-type Kingdom in modern day Denmark?

    That could also add, in addition to the turn of millenia, Viking/Norwegian advances, bring some Scandinavian influence.

    I may have no idea what the hell I am talking about, though.

  5. James Schipper

    Dear Robert

    English is classified as a West Germanic language, but it really is the odd man out. First, its vocabulary has undergone heavy Latinization after the Norman Conquest in 1066. As someone said, English is not a daughter of Latin, but it is a stepdaughter. Second, in some ways, English resembles the Scandinavian languages more than Dutch or German.

    Some examples:
    En – They are glad.
    Sw – De är glada.
    Du – Ze zijn blij.
    Ge – Sie sind froh.

    En – He has sold the house.
    Sw – Han har sålt huset.
    Du – Hij heeft het huis verkocht.
    Ge – Er hat das Haus verkauft.

    En – I read the letter you sent me.
    Sw – Jag läste brevet du skickade mig.
    Du – Ik heb de brief gelezen die je me gestuurd hebt.
    Ge – Ich habe den Brief gelesen, den du mir geschickt hast.

    En – The result he had hoped for didn’t happen.
    Sw – Resultatet han hade hoppats på hände inte.
    Du – Het resultaat waarop hij gehoopt had, is niet gebeurd.
    Ge – Das Ergebnis, auf das er gehofft hatte, ist nicht passiert.

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