stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
[personal profile] stoutfellow
I just read an interesting post from Linguist List, a review of a book by Joseph E. Emonds and Jan Terje Faarlund with the above title.

As background: in the century or so before the Norman Conquest, there were two Germanic languages spoken widely in what is now England, the West Germanic language called Old English, and the North Germanic Old Norse. The latter had been introduced by Danish invaders; the Danish kings Canute and Hardicanute even ruled all of England, a generation or two before the Conquest. After 1066, Norman French rolled over the island, and both languages pretty much disappeared from the written record. Afterward, a new Germanic language resurfaced - Middle English. As the name suggests, the standard assumption has been that it was a descendant, much modified, of Old English, but with significant Old Norse influences. (Among other things, IIRC, the third-person plural pronouns "they/them/their" are of Norse origin - and the borrowing of pronouns is a very rare phenomenon!)

The authors of the book under review propose, largely on syntactic grounds, that Middle English (and, perforce, Modern English) is best understood as a descendant of Old Norse, rather than Old English. I've read a fair bit about the development of English, but am in no way qualified to judge; still, it's quite intriguing. (There's a third contender, the theory that Middle English was a creole developed from the collision of the two older languages, but the books on creoles that I've read seem to be dubious about that one.)

The review is here:
http://www.linguistlist.org/pubs/reviews/get-review.cfm?SubID=36048357

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