Nikolas Gunn, Contact and Christianisation: Reassessing Purported English Loanwords in Old Norse

Nikolas Gunn, Contact and Christianisation: Reassessing Purported English Loanwords in Old Norse, Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2017 (Université d’York)

Résumé/abstract :

This thesis reassesses a corpus of Old Norse words which previous scholars claimed to have been loaned from English. It has been over sixty years since the last concerted study of these purported borrowings, and research has not moved much beyond the foundations laid by Absalon Taranger in 1890. This thesis seeks to establish a more plausible corpus of English loanwords in Old Norse, focusing particularly on lexical material relating to the spheres of Christianity and literacy. Chapter 1 offers a detailed survey of the literary material relating to language contact between English- and Norse-speakers, with a special focus on the English missionary effort. I suggest that we should see the Anglo-Saxon church as a distinctly international, multilingual institution during the Viking Age. A case study focusing on the twelfth-century First Grammatical Treatise contributes to the debate over Anglo-Norse mutual intelligibility and explores Norse-speakers’ integration within a wider European cultural sphere. In Chapter 2, I assess 113 supposed English loanwords in Old Norse in order to ascertain which ones we can confidently ascribe as English borrowings. I suggest that the number of loanwords that are unambiguously English in origin are fewer than previous scholars have suggested and that some conceptual fields demonstrate more English influence than others. I also indicate that a large number of purported English loans are more likely to be polygenetic in origin. Chapter 3 categorises and interprets the reanalysed lexical items. I devise a number of new categories into which our corpus of loanwords can be grouped. I use these new groupings to reflect on Anglo-Norse language contact more generally, and place my work within the context of recent research on institutional religion as an engine for language change and the emergence of Anglo-Scandinavian identity in England.

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