Linguistics in Göttingen - A platform for empirical and theoretical linguistics

Joseph Emonds (Olomouc): English as North Germanic: Modern English is Modern Norse

Based on joint work with Jan Terje Faarlund, University of Oslo

It is well known that Middle English (and its descendent Modern English) has a large number of words of Scandinavian origin. This is conventionally attributed to language contact and heavy borrowing of Scandinavian words into Early Middle English (not into Old English). However, this alleged borrowing was not limited to lexical words, counter to the normal case in contact situations; grammatical words and morphemes were also borrowed. This is unusual, and calls for an explanation. The explanation argued for here is that the roots of Middle English (and therefore Modern English) are North Germanic, with large borrowings from the Old English lexicon, rather than the other way around, as generally assumed, and that the fusion of the two lexicons dates back not to early Scandinavian settlement in England, but about 200 years later, especially the 12th c. during the full impact of the Norman Conquest.
Even more problematic is the fact that Middle English and Modern English syntax is Scandinavian rather than West Germanic. The languages share numerous syntactic properties (e.g. word order, P-stranding, infinitival and directional particles, auxiliaries, infinitival constructions, participles and case inflections), which reflect a deep and typologically significant relation of Scandinavian with Middle/ Modern English. With respect to all these characteristics Middle/ Modern English groups with North Germanic rather than West Germanic.