Can English be a Scandinavian language?

The English language as we know it today is descended from Old English which was brought by the Angles and Saxons during the early Middle Ages in Britain, hence being alternatively known as Anglo-Saxon. Over the centuries that followed, the Norse incursions and the Norman conquest after the Battle of Hastings from 1066 considerably contributed to the lexical enrichment of the English language by adding a pronounced Scandinavian influence.

Thus, English became quite an eclectic language, absorbing many lexicons within the one of its own. Although English is considered by mainstream linguists as a West Germanic language (part of this linguistic sub-branch alongside German, Dutch or the Frisian languages), some academicians make a stunning claim, namely that English is, in fact, a North Germanic language.

An artistic depiction of a group of Norsemen setting shore. The Vikings recurrently raided and plundered the British Isles from the 8th century to the 11th century.

Artistic depiction of a Norse crew landing on the shores of Ireland by Angus McBride. The Norsemen recurrently raided and plundered the British archipelago from the 8th century to the 11th century.

A study made by two professors at the University of Oslo concluded that English pertains, at least according to their research, to the North Germanic sub-branch, rather than to the West Germanic one. They claim the fact that there are many words of Scandinavian origin in the English lexis, quite too many to have actually been mere loanwords. While it goes without saying that words such as ‘ski’ or ‘ombudsman’ are recent loanwords stemming from Norwegian, from here to ‘them’, ‘their’, ‘anger’, ‘want’, ‘take’ or ‘sale’ (just to name a few of them) is indeed an evident discrepancy given that these words are derived from Old Norse.

The two professors at the University of Oslo, the Norwegian Jan Terje Faarlund and the American Joseph Emmonds, a visiting Professor from the Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, done extensive research on the matter and claimed additional facts. While grammar is concerned, the two researchers reasoned that the syntax and word order in English differs very much from the syntaxes of the other West Germanic languages and is very similar to the syntaxes of the North Germanic languages (i.e. Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese).

Pie chart depicting the origins of words in the English language. Note that the combined amount of words with French and Latin origins outnumbers those with Germanic roots or stemming from other Germanic languages. Image source:

Many words of Scandinavian origin can be used in a day-to-day conversation in English, and the total amount of them can be easily estimated at 5,000. Consequently, between 20 and 60 English words of Old Norse origin are used in a daily conversation. As such, one can conclude that history does influence the development of a language in considerable ways.

From the Anglo-Saxons who had brought the Old English language from northern modern day Germany and southern Jutland, to the tumultuous Viking Age and Danelaw’s emergence, and then once more with the arrival of the Normans, English was indeed shaped in a very unique and original way, with many lexical influences stemming from the Old Norse language and its dialects.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t necessarily mean that being visibly influenced by Old Norse English can be classified as a North Germanic language, and so the recent theories or premises that surround this matter seem quite inaccurate to the vast majority of the scholars. In the end, such claims are more or less contradictory and may potentially trigger heated debates among academicians and mere unspecialized people alike.

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