From the Middle English word overmorwe, the influence of Norse languages can be seen when comparing the now obsolete overmorrow, or ‘day after tomorrow’, to the Dutch word overmorgen, Sweden’s overmorgon, and the German word ubermorgen.
In between the era of Old English and the Norman invasion in 1066, there was a period of Viking rule in England known as Danelaw. Though one may often think of the Vikings as ship-faring marauders, their governorship of the British Isles from the 9th to 11th centuries is far more nuanced. Their influence on the English language was so much that some scholars believe English should be reclassified as a Northern Germanic language (along with Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Swedish), rather than a West Germanic language (with Dutch and German). This is not only because the English language is so well peppered with Old Norse vocabulary, but the very grammatical structure of Old English itself underwent a drastic change during Danish rule. It’s speculated that about 5% of our contemporary language is owed to the Vikings. This influence may be most apparent in the Yorkshire dialect, which uses more Old Norse words in daily speech than standard English does.
The legacy of the Old Norse language is found in our days of the week, with the word Thursday (Þorsdagr), meaning “Thor’s day” after the Viking god. Although “Tuesday,” “Wednesday” and “Friday” are actually Anglo-Saxon equivalents of Norse Gods, their similarity points to the common ancestry shared by various German tribes in prehistoric northern Europe.
More vocabulary includes words of war and violence like berserk, club, and gun. The influence is evident in our social, cultural, and legal lexis as well, with words such as husband, law, thrift, and yule for the pagan holiday. Beasties of the fields and forests include bug, reindeer, and bull. Muck, mire, and dirt are so common in contemporary English, we’ve long forgotten we’re speaking in an Old Norse dialect.
Danelaw and the rule of the Vikings came to an end with the Norman invasion lead by William, the Duke of Normandy. As English moved into its Middle English period, many features of Old English, along with the influence of Old Norse vocabulary and grammar, became simplified or disappeared altogether.
If you’d like to read more about the rich history of the English language, check out my post, The History of English. You might also be interested in the cultural and linguistic influences of Greek, Spanish, and Native American dialects on the English language!
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