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Language Contact and Vocabulary Enrichment

Scandinavian Elements in Middle English


Isabel Moskowich

The Scandinavian presence all over Europe during the so-called Viking Age is well documented and England is not an exception. However, the influence of their language on the development of English has not always been well interpreted. This volume aims at deciphering the reality behind the legend of a raiding heathen nation. By resorting to the evidence provided by language, the book explores and tries to reconstruct the social networks formed by both the English and Scandinavians. Their relations, needs and lives are inextricably intermingled with the hybrid tongue they adapted for communication and which has largely come down to us in what we know as English.


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Chapter Two: The social structure


Chapter Two The social structure 1. Social organisation in pre-Norse times The social stratification for later periods of the history of England has been successfully reconstructed, and can provide sociolinguistic information useful to us. Such is the case with Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg’s (2003) work on Tudor and Stuart English, for which several sources were used. However, most of the information about how society was structured in Eng- land before the arrival of the Normans in 1066 is obtained from Domesday Book. Once he conquered England, William the Conqueror commissioned a group of officers to compile information about what kind of prerogatives and obligations his subjects had. This constituted a kind of census in which peo- ple, animals and things were recorded, and in this way the underlying social structure of the country is very well reflected indeed. Domesday Book also contains revealing information on both personal and place-names. Both per- sonal and place-names, as well as those relating to geographical features, help us assess the extent to which the Scandinavian influence is felt in each place. It is important, however, to bear in mind that a Scandinavian personal name does not necessarily imply that its bearer is Danish or of Danish descent at all. Such names could simply have been fashionable among Anglo-Saxons. We know that Scandinavian things (clothes and hair-style) were considered highly fashionable among the Anglo-Saxon natives for a long time (Arbman and Binns 1961), and we must therefore agree with Cameron (1971: 149) when he affirms: “Their...

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