January 5, 2018, by Roderick Dale

Vikings in your Vocabulary

By Dr Richard Dance

What do English words like egg, husband, law, leg, sky and window have in common?  And what about words used in the dialects of northern and eastern England, like lug (‘ear’), mun (‘shall, must’) and rammy (‘disgusting’)?  The answer is that all these probably came into early English from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings.  And in fact it’s here, in English vocabulary, that we see some of the most vivid and enduring evidence for the influence of the Vikings on British life and culture.

Bone comb case from Lincoln with runic inscription reading ‘Thorfast made a good comb’. © The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

In my talk in Nottingham on 10 January — called ‘Vikings in your vocabulary’ — I’ll be exploring this linguistic legacy from medieval Scandinavia and how we know about it.  We will trace the journey of some everyday English words from the languages of the Viking Age to the present day, and consider the crucial role played by the East Midlands in that story.  The talk will introduce the languages of the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, including how to pronounce some words and phrases, before we consider the ways in which elements from Old Norse moved across into early English, and the reasons why we can still identify them.  We will also ponder what the English language might have looked like if this hadn’t happened!  As well as words in modern standard English, and in regional dialects, we will look at the language of medieval literature — focusing in particular on the rich and colourful language of Middle English poetry from the North Midlands, whose remarkable vocabulary shows a great deal of possible Viking influence.

This talk is part of ‘The Gersum Project’, a three-year, AHRC-funded research project taking place in Cambridge and Cardiff — and named after a medieval English word for ‘treasure’ borrowed from Old Norse.  You can follow The Gersum Project on Twitter (@GersumProject).

If you could not get tickets for Dr Dance’s lecture, you can see the lecture live-streamed on the Lakeside Arts Facebook page from 1-2pm on Wednesday 10th January 2018.

Posted in Lunchtime Lectures