English as a Scandinavian language?

I’ve no idea why I couldn’t find their paper online (only this), but linguistics professors Jan Terje Faarlund (Oslo) and Joseph Emonds (Palacky) claims it is. According to them, Middle English represents too much of a break with Old English for a direct relationship to be plausible. Also, the similarities with Scandinavian languages are found where things normally don’t change - in the most commonly used words and syntax.

Some commonly used words that seem to derive from Scandinavian languages:
Anger, awe, bag, band, big, birth, both, bull, cake, call, cast, cosy, cross, die, dirt, dream, egg, fellow, flat, gain, get, gift, give, guess, guest, hug, husband, ill, kid, law, leg, lift, likely, link, loan, loose, low, mistake, odd, race, raise, root, rotten, same, seat, seem, sister, skill, skin, skirt, sky, steak, though, thrive, Thursday (and the rest), tight, till, trust, ugly, want, weak, window, wing, wrong

Some examples of syntax:

  • Sentence structure (subject - verb - object, as opposed to Old English, ending with the verb)
  • Prepositions allowed at the end of a sentence
  • Group genitives (The Queen of England’s hat)
  • Split infinitive (I promise to never do it again)

I know this is a bit vague without any paper to refer to, but any thoughts?

The abstract sounds very odd.

AFAIK, the biggest change in the English language began around AD900, when Old English changed from being inflected (like Latin) to non-inflected. This coincides with the settlement of the Vikings in Northern Britain. It seems to have arisen as a trade language in the borderlands and it just spread.

The idea that some sort of radical change occurred in the 12th century is going to be hard to prove. We don’t have a lot of English Literature from that period. I’m not aware of anything other than the Anglo Saxon Chronicle which is pretty easy to understand without having to invent a Post Norman German invasion.

Well, there was the “minor” matter of what happened in 1066 and thereafter, when French was the official court language, and English absorbed thousands of French words. That is what led to what we commonly call Middle English, as distinguished from Old English.

Yes, Old Norse had a significant influence on Old English, but not to the degree that Norman French did. And there is some thought that, partly because ON and OE were mutually intelligible to some extent, that OE became much less inflected due to contact between speakers of the two languages. And yes, many loan words came into English due to the extensive contact between the two peoples. These cognates are often easily recognizable (shirt/skirt and ship/skiff) due to the sh/sk sound differences in English vs Scandinavian languages.

But English is a West Germanic language (along with German and Dutch) while the Scandinavian languages are members of the North Germanic branch. One could make a stronger case that English is a Romance language than it is a Scandinavian language.

One of my college instructors actually believed that English is a Romance language. She also believed that Buddha was born about 400 yeas after Jesus. Luckily for me, she wasn’t one of my Linguistics professors. She was simply insane and those were just manifestations of her insanity. I wonder if she finally went full-blown and had to be let go.

Just to be clear, I am not making that claim. I am contrasting that claim with the claim that English is a Scandinavian language, which it isn’t.

I know. You simply reminded me of that lunatic whose class I had to suffer through for an entire semester.

Not just words, but sentence structure too. English fits in a middle ground between Scandinavian languages and the Romance languages in several areas, often employing both forms of sentence structure.

Let’s take the name of the second Star Wars prequel:

French: L’attaque des clones
Danish: Klonernes angreb

The first of those translates directly as “The Attack of the Clones”, the second as “The Clone’s Attack”. Those are the correct ways of writing it in those two languages, but in English we can happily flip between the two.

Basically, English is a mutt.

Basically, aren’t all languages?

Well yes, but I’d argue that English is to a greater extent and more recently than many other languages, definitely when compared against languages where there are national/government agencies regulating the language, such as what happens in France and the Nordic countries.

Yes, as I noted in another thread on this subject, we English speakers are unusual in Europe in that there isn’t another language that is even loosely mutually intelligible with our own. There might be a few language isolates (like Basque) that fall in the same situation, but not the major languages. Even Finnish has Estonian (and vice versa).

Some would make the argument for Friesian.

Yes, but, as James Nicoll famously quipped,

+1 jayjay

It’ll take a lot more than a couple of loan words to convince me, especially when dealing with a language as notoriously inclusive as English.

Finns and Estonians don’t understand each other.
Italians and Spanish can understand each other reasonably well but just about anybody else can’t, even if their languages are closely related.
English is as germanic as dutch and modern german, like estonian is related to finnish, but we can’t understand each other. Being related, it does make it easier to learn the language.

There is some degree of mutual intelligibility between Finnish and Estonian, but note that English has only “Scots”. Link.


Besides english doesn’t have “Scots”. They speak english. True scottish is a gaelic language.

But I suspect you know all this and are just having us on.


Everyone knows that a preposition is an acceptable thing to end a sentence with.

Laddie, ya dinna ken wha yer saying.