This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode on the effect the Vikings had on the English language.
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Hello and welcome back to English with Stephen, the podcast that gives you everything you need to learn English in under 10 minutes. My name is Stephen Greene and today we are looking at some of the reasons why English has some strange and peculiar aspects to it.
Today, we are talking about the Vikings.
Now, the Vikings have a bad reputation. In modern pop culture, they are depicted as violent and aggressive raiders. In their famous longboats, they would appear at a town or a city, quickly attack it, taking all the gold, treasure, and people they could carry. If a person was too young or too old, the Vikings would just kill them. And then, just as quickly, they would disappear to sell their loot for a big fat profit.
And while a lot of that is true, there was also another side to the Vikings. A side that would have a huge influence on the English language that we speak today.
All of that, coming up after the break.
One way you can improve your English is to listen and read something at the same time. I usually recommend my students listen to something once without reading, and then listen again with a transcript. This is a highly effective way of improving listening and reading skills, as well as improving your vocabulary and grammar. If you would like to read the transcript of this episode, you can find it on my site, EnglishwithStephen.com
And now, back to the Vikings.
We have already talked about how the Vikings could raid towns and villages. But in England, they didn’t always just attack and disappear. They also stayed. At one point, England was divided into two, with a Danelaw in the north controlled by various Vikings, and the rest of England in the south, controlled by the House of Wessex from the Anglo Saxons. I will post a map on my site so you can see how much land the Vikings controlled.
The first recorded appearance of the Vikings in England is in the year 793 when they attacked a religious community in the north of England. From the year 860, though, they stopped just attacking and started to spend time in England, especially in the north.
They didn’t kill all of the local people. Instead, they mixed with the local Anglo-Saxon people. Trade was important for everyone. And slowly, the two communities began to mix with marriages, friendships, and business relationships. To do all of this, they needed to speak to each other.
This contact between the two communities had lots of long-lasting consequences for the English that we speak today.
There are many words in modern English that come from the Vikings. They are often associated with family, farming, battle, and the days of the week. The north of England also has a lot of places with names that come from the Vikings. Indeed, the language spoken in the north of England still to this day has local words that originated with the Vikings and are only used there.
Old English, spoken by the Anglo-Saxons, and Old Norse, spoken by the Vikings, both came from Old German. Modern linguists think the languages were similar and that with a bit of imagination it would have been relatively easy to communicate.
The thing that was very different was the inflections used by the two languages. Inflections are the way words end. For example, in modern English, the verb ‘play’ is the present, and ‘played’ is the past. The ‘ed’ we put on the end is an inflection or conjugation. Another example is in the present. ‘I sing’, ‘she sings’. The final ‘s’ is also an inflection.
Old English had a lot of inflections, not just on verbs, but also on nouns. The problem was that while the main part of a word might have been the same in both languages, the inflections were different. So, instead of agreeing on new inflections, they just decided not to use them at all.
This is one of the reasons why English has very few verb conjugations compared to other languages. It also partly explains why English doesn’t have masculine and feminine forms like many other languages do.
While this has made English a lot easier for students to learn, a second effect the Vikings had made English a real pain: phrasal verbs.
Before the Vikings came, the preposition was before the verb and was incorporated into the verb to make it one complete word. We still have some words with this structure in modern English, for example ‘forecast’.
However, the Vikings liked to have their prepositions after the verb, and this started to become popular in English. This spread of phrasal verbs was dramatically stopped in 1066 when the Normans, who spoke French, invaded England and totally changed the language, culture, and society. However, by the time Shakespeare was writing in the late 1500s, phrasal verbs were back in a big way and are still with us today.
By the way, if you need some tips on how to learn phrasal verbs, make sure you listen to episode 31, Learning Strategies: Phrasal verbs, which has some advice for you.
So, while it is not fair to say that the Vikings made English use phrasal verbs, it is probably true that they introduced the idea of phrasal verbs, and later on the English went mad for them.
That is just a quick story about some of the effects the Vikings had on modern English. If you would like to know more about the Vikings in England, I have some links on my site, as well as maps you can take a look at that show where the Vikings came from and where they lived in the British Isles. You can find these links at EnglishwithStephen.com
Also on my site, you can find all of the previous podcast episodes. If you liked this one, I would recommend you have a listen to episode 35, ‘Where doe English come from?’ which tells the story of English before the Vikings arrived. All that, and more, at EnglishwithStephen.com
Thank you for listening and I hope to speak to you again next week.