Language Contact and Vocabulary Enrichment: Scandinavian Elements in Middle English

By Fekete, Tamas | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Language Contact and Vocabulary Enrichment: Scandinavian Elements in Middle English


Fekete, Tamas, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


Language contact and vocabulary enrichment: Scandinavian elements in Middle English. By Isabel Moskowich, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2012. Pp. 173.

Isabel Moskowich's monograph, Language contact and vocabulary enrichment: Scandinavian elements in Middle English (published in 2012 by Peter Lang) is the 34th volume of the Studies in English Medieval Language and Literature series, launched in 2002 and edited by Jacek Fisiak. The series itself covers quite a wide variety of topics related to Old and Middle English language and literature, including, among others, contact linguistics, semantics, pragmatics, grammaticalization, syntax, poetry, postcolonialism and issues of standardization. Moskowich's book deals with a lexicological question related to language contact examined in a framework of historical linguistics and sociolinguistics.

The monograph under review focuses on the changes in the English lexicon from the perspective of contact linguistics. The historical era in which the language contact situation in question took place is the time period between the 8th and 11th centuries, which forms part of an epoch known as the Viking Age, during which raiding Norsemen conquered rather vast areas in Europe, and also ruled over the Eastern and North-Eastern parts of England, known as the territory of the Danelaw. The contacting languages that are therefore surveyed by the author are English and Old Norse, the mixture of which she terms "Anglo-Scandinavian" in the Introduction (p. 12).

The book itself consists of six chapters, the first three of which provide a historical, social and sociolinguistic background and context, chapter four describes the corpus on which the author carried out her investigations, in chapter five the results of the corpus analysis are discussed and interpreted against the background outlined in the first three chapters, and finally in the sixth chapter the author summarizes the results of her investigation and provides a final conclusion. In what follows, a chapter by chapter review will be provided of the book, concluding with an overall impression and evaluation.

The first chapter of the book (pp. 15-39) focuses on the historical background, describing the reasons of Scandinavian expansion, the waves of Scandinavian migration and also the nature of the Norse presence in England. The chapter begins with a brief, introduction-like section on preliminary considerations in which the author levels criticism against previous studies written about the Anglo-Norse contact situation for being biased and vastly overgeneralizing, and surveys some of the historical documents and early scholarly papers written on the questions of Norse migration and the language that might have been in use during the Norse presence in England. In the rest of the chapter the reader is introduced to the possible reasons behind the Scandinavian expansion, and presented with an overview of the historical events leading up to the Viking eruption. Moskowich dismisses those theories which claim that the motivation behind this eruption was solely pillaging and raiding, and proposes that the Viking expansion happened as a result of a much more complex series of historical and socioeconomic events that include the search for more arable land, which was of rather short supply in the harsh conditions of Scandinavia, the superiority of Norse seafaring and the disappearance of the Danish royal dynasty in 854. In Chapter One, the author also discusses the second wave of Viking migration that took place shortly after the first group of Norse warriors, some one thousand men, who were defeated in England, began to settle down and assimilate. This second wave of migration was of a much larger scale and also included peasants and women, and presumably it had a more pronounced linguistic influence than the first wave, as Moskowich suggests.

The second chapter of the book (pp. 41-60) is centered on addressing the questions of the social structure, social organization and economy in Viking Age England. …

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