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The Scandinavian Invasion and its effect on English




 

In the 8th c. raiders from Scandinavia (the Danes) made their first plundering attacks on England. The struggle of the English against the Scandinavians lasted over 300 years, in the course of which period more than half of England was occupied by the invaders and reconquered again. The Scandinavians subdued Northumbria and East Anglia, ravaged the eastern part of Mercia, and advanced on Wessex. Like their predecessors, the West Germanic invaders, the Scandinavians came in large numbers and settled in the new areas. They founded many towns and villages in northern England; in many regions there sprang up a mixed population made up of the English and the Danes. Their linguistic amalgamation was easy, since their tongues belonged to the same linguistic group. The ultimate effect of the Scandinavian invasions on the English language became manifest at a later date, in the 12th-13th c., when the Scandinavian element was incorporated in the central English dialects; but the historical events that led to the linguistic influence date from the 9th and 10th c. Under King Alfred of Wessex, by the peace treaty of 878 England was divided into two halves: the north-eastern half under Danish control called Danelaw and the south-western half united under the leadership of Wessex. The reconguest of Danish territories was carried on successfully by Alfred’s successors but in the late 10th c. the Danish raids were renewed again; they reached a new climax in the early 11th c. headed by Sweyn and Canute. The attacks were followed by demands for regular payments of large sums of money. In 1017 Canute was acknowledged as king, and England became part of great northern empire, comprising Denmark and Norway. On Canute’s death his kingdom broke up and England regained political independence; by that time it was a single state divided into six earldoms.

Though the Scandinavian invasions of England are dated in the OE period, their effect on the language is particularly apparent in ME. The new settlers and the English intermarried and intermixed; they lived close together and did not differ either in social rank or in the level of culture and customs; they intermingled the more easily as there as no linguistic barrier between them. In the aries of the hearviest settlement the Scandinavians outnumbered the Anglo-Saxon population, which is attested by geographical names. Altogether more than 1400 English villages and towns bear names od Scandinavian origin (with the element thorp meanings «village», e.g. Woodthorp, Linthorp; toft ‘a piece of land’, e.g. Brimtoft, Lowestoft and others). Eventually the Scandinavians were absorbed into the local population both ethnically and linguistically. They merged with the society around them, but the impact on the linguistic situation and on the further development of the English language was quite profound. Due to the contacts and mixture with O Scand, the Northern dialects (to use OE terms, chiefly Northumbrian and East Mercian) had acquired lasting and sometimes indelible Scandinavian features. As the result of the Scandinavian invasion there were some borrowings: fallow, husband, wrong, to call, to take.

 







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