The headlines in the British Isles feature a sensational find of Viking treasure uncovered in Dumfries, north of the Scottish borders. The haul is said to be worth a six figure sum, but has been described as priceless by academics studying Scotland’s past.
Silver and gold ingots, brooches and armbands were found by a retired businessman from Ayrshire who was using a metal detector, which once again reminds us how connected communities already were several thousand years ago.
It was only treasure they left behind but suprisingly amount of their ancient language. By the time that the Norman conquest brought the irreversible influence of French, Old English had already been transformed beyond its Anglo-Saxon roots. This is still in evidence today; modern English grammar and syntax are more similar to modern Scandinavian languages than to Old English.
This suggests that Old Norse didn’t just introduce new words, but influenced how the Anglo-Saxons constructed their sentences. Some linguists even claim that English should be reclassified as a North Germanic language (along with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish), rather than a West Germanic language (with Dutch and German). The Viking influence may be most apparent in the Yorkshire dialect, which uses even more Norse words in daily speech than standard English does.
Here’s some examples!
- berserk/berserker – berserkr, lit. ‘bear-shirt’. A berserkr was a Viking warrior who would enter battle in a crazed frenzy, wearing nothing for armor but an animal skin.
- club – klubba. People have been bashing each other with heavy things since time immemorial, but not until the Danes started bringing this weapon down on English heads did this blunt weapon receive its fittingly blunt name.
- ransack – rannsaka (to search a house)
- These days, the adjective scathing is reserved for sharp criticism, but in the context of the original meaning of scathe(to injure), skaða takes on a much more visceral quality.
- slaughter – slatra (to butcher)
- Even though the gun wasn’t invented until centuries after the Viking era, the word comes from Old Norse. The most common usage was in the female name Gunnhildr: gunn and hildr both can translate as “war” or “battle”. Only truly badass Vikings named their infant daughters “Warbattle”.
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