Is English a Scandinavian Language?

July 6, 2015 |

By Sarah-Claire JordanNicholas_Roerich,_Guests_from_Overseas

If you have ever talked to someone in English whose native tongue is a Scandinavian language, you probably noticed that they speak almost perfect English. The same thing happens with native German speakers, as German is very similar to English, but it might be less obvious as to why native speakers of Scandinavian languages speak English with such ease. Europe in general is famous for putting more importance on language education in its schools, but the uncanny ability to speak such perfect English can’t be due to education alone.

New linguistic research by Jan Terje Faarlund and Joseph Emmonds suggests that the reason may be because English is actually a Scandinavian language. This sounds ridiculous, of course, as we have always been taught that English is more closely related to German than Norwegian. How could generations of linguists not have seen that?

While Scandinavian languages and English are both categorized as Germanic languages, English is usually put in the Western Germanic subcategory while Scandinavian languages are considered Northern Germanic languages. So they do have similar roots if they both belong to the general Germanic languages group, but the connection may be deeper than we previously thought.

Going back in language history, we can take a look at the differences between Old English and Modern English. There are quite a lot of them, so much so that it led Faarlund and Emmonds to believe that maybe they don’t have as much to do with each other as we previously thought. They proposed that maybe Old English simply died out, and that the Scandinavian peoples that came to populate some areas of the British Isles took Old English and mixed in some of their Scandinavian languages, and that’s how Middle English was born, which later evolved into Modern English.

If you need more proof, you can find it in the words that we use regularly in English that clearly come from Scandinavian languages. Words as common as law, hug, and guest all come from Scandinavian languages, and yet we use them all the time and don’t even consider that they would be anything but descendants of Old English. The most interesting thing about these words is that they aren’t words that didn’t already exist in Old English. In fact, the majority of the words borrowed from Scandinavian languages already had a counterpart in Old English. We’re not exactly sure why this happened, but at least it gives us good evidence that English did descend from the Scandinavian languages.

The last (and probably best) bit of linguistic evidence is the grammar and syntax used in Middle and Modern English. It looks like it was ripped right from the pages of any book on Scandinavian languages. The sentence structure of Middle and Modern English is much more similar to Scandinavian languages than Western Germanic languages like German or Dutch. Originally, it was thought that those languages were the ones that English most closely resembled in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, but this new discovery proves otherwise. For example, German and Dutch sentences always have the verb at the very end, whereas in English and Scandinavian languages it doesn’t have to be that way. Also, both English and Scandinavian languages can have split infinitives and prepositions at the end of a sentences, things that don’t happen with Western Germanic languages.

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Category: Foreign Language

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