views updated Jun 11 2018

NORSE Also Old Norse, Scandinavian, and (with particular reference to its use in England) DANISH. The SCANDINAVIAN LANGUAGES in an early, relatively homogeneous form. OLD ENGLISH and Old Norse were related and to some extent mutually intelligible. Despite differences in grammar, communication appears to have been widespread, especially in the early Middle Ages when Danes settled in much of England and the country was ruled by Danish kings (1016–42). The numerous PLACE-NAMES in -by, -thorp, -thwaite, -toft testify to the density of the settlement known as the DANELAW. Many words were identical or similar in the two languages, such as folk, hus, sorg (sorrow), which were both English and Norse, and such correspondences as Old English fæder, gærs/græs, wif, Old Norse faðir, gras, vif (father, grass, wife). Norse came to exercise a marked influence on English, especially when the Norman Conquest in the 11c broke the continuity of the Old English standard based on the West Saxon dialect. Norse influence has taken two forms: influence on English at large and influence on NORTHERN ENGLISH and SCOTS.

Influence on English at large

Much of the everyday vocabulary of English is of Norse origin: call, cast, fellow, gape, happy, hit, husband, ill, leg, loose, low, sister, skill, skirt, sky, take, weak, window, wrong. Occasionally, both the English and the Norse form of the same word have survived as DOUBLETS: shirt (English), skirt (Norse). Norse borrowings include such legal and administrative terms as hustings, law, bylaw, outlaw, and riding (as in the North Riding of Yorkshire and as used in CanE for a parliamentary constituency), but the overwhelming majority of Norse words in English are general, everyday expressions, such as must have arisen from close social contact between the two peoples, an impression reinforced by the Norse origin of a number of English grammatical words: they/their/them, though, both. It is also possible that some syntactic structures common to MODERN ENGLISH and Scandinavian but unknown in other GERMANIC LANGUAGES (such as the house we live in) had their origin in the Danelaw.

Influence on Northern English and Scots

A large number of Norse words which have not spread into English at large survive in the usage of northern England and Scotland: gate a street, ken to know (used in general English only in the phrase beyond our ken), lake to play, neb beak. Sometimes the Norse form is regional while a corresponding English form is standard: garth/yard, kirn/churn, kist/chest, skell/shell. In other cases of north—south doublets, both forms now belong to general English: kirk/church, skirl/shrill, screech/shriek. See SCOTS.


The extensive Norse settlements in the British Isles during the Viking age, followed by a long period of coexistence, have had a profound influence on English. Because of close kinship, Scandinavian influence is less immediately obvious than other foreign influences, yet it has altered basic vocabulary and grammar, and has permeated DIALECT usage even more than the STANDARD LANGUAGE. In its origin and earliest form, English is classed with the West Germanic languages, a group which comprised the ancestors of Dutch, Frisian, and German, but a detailed comparison of the languages in their present form might place English nearer to the North Germanic group. See IRISH ENGLISH, NORN.


views updated May 18 2018

Norse / nôrs/ • n. 1. the Norwegian language, esp. in its medieval form. ∎  the Scandinavian language group.2. [treated as pl.] Norwegians or Scandinavians, esp. in medieval times.• adj. of or relating to medieval Norway or Scandinavia, or their inhabitants or language.DERIVATIVES: Norse·man / ˈnôrsmən/ n. (pl. -men) .


views updated Jun 27 2018

Norse (hist.) Norwegian XVI; sb. and adj. the Norwegian tongue XVII (Old N., the language of Norway and its colonies to XIV). — Du. noorsch, var. of noordsch, f. noord NORTH + -sch -ISH1.