Do you speak Viking?

Unless you come from the Scandinavia countries, you might not think that the language you speak has anything to do with the Vikings. Well, if you speak English you may be in for a big surprise! Many words in English are descended directly from words used by the Vikings. In Irish, German, Dutch, and even French, Viking words are still in use. Maybe in other languages as well. Check your own language for Viking words and tell us about them. Even more exciting, you might find that some of the local words you use (local dialect words) are descended from Viking words.

The Vikings have a reputation for being more men of deeds than words, but the links between England and Scandinavia during the Viking Age (and later) made a lasting impression on the English language.

We at The Viking Network are aware that there remain many ‘maybes’ and uncertainties in the field of linguistic history, with issues on which experts do not always agree. We have therefore tried to avoid being too dogmatic and, where appropriate, we would qualify our observations as sometimes ‘speculative’ or ‘based on the best available evidence’.

The Old Norse and Old English spoken languages were closely related (more so before the French influence on English), sharing the same Germanic language ancestry . This means that we cannot always be certain that a particular lexical item came into modern English via Old Norse, via Old English or by some other route from a common Germanic ancestry. The English word droll, for example, seems to have followed a tortuous route from Scandinavian, to Dutch, to French, to English ! Furthermore, some Scandinavian words were ‘borrowed’ by English after the recognized Viking Age.

Many of the words in this dictionary will, therefore, be found to have cognates (words similar in spelling, pronunciation and meaning) in other Germanic languages, such as German or Dutch. We are not attempting to show that all the words presented here necessarily came into the English language directly from a Scandinavian ‘origin’ or were “….introduced by Vikings”. Many will have already existed in Old English and, perhaps, merely underwent some slight modification in sound and/or spelling through Scandinavian influence. The dictionary is ‘etymological’ only in the sense that it offers a particular ‘window’ onto a shared linguistic heritage, drawing attention to similarities, links and associations, rather than because it claims to identify the origins of words.

The point we are making is that many of the words presented here would have been known and used (though perhaps in a slightly different form) by the Vikings who explored and settled away from their homelands.

With these qualifications in mind, it is hoped that visitors to The Viking Network Web site will find much in this particular presentation to interest them and to stimulate their own thinking about language in general. Speakers of Germanic languages other than English and the Scandinavian languages will, we hope, also find much of interest by looking for cognates for some of the words in the own native language.

The language of the Vikings is very much alive today and has a future!

The Vikings spoke a language very similar to the language spoken in Germany and the Netherlands at the time. When the Vikings landed their longships in Britain, they had no problems understanding the language of their cousins the Anglo-Saxons.

The Vikings settled on several of the islands in the North Atlantic, among them the Faeroe Islands and Iceland. Here they still talk the original Viking language almost unchanged!

This post is also available in: Norwegian Bokmål, Danish

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