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Loan words in Scandinavian tongues

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by killerbee256, Jan 19, 2013.

  1. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    There have been some threads that talk Old Norse and people have talked about Low German and Dutch loan words in Old Norse & Scandinavian tongues. I had some questions about these loan words, do they result in doublets of the same roots, like Latin loans into Romance languages or the layers of latin and romance loan words in english. Or do they replace native Old Norse words?
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2013
  2. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    There are first two possibilities:
    The loan word is based at the same Germanic root as the Norse word
    The loan word is based at another Germanic root (e.g. Norwegian sikker (LG) and trygg (Norse).
    In both cases the old word may be replaced by the new one or they can coexist. I will give some examples later.
    Some sources give the number of Low German words in Norwegian as high as 25%.
  3. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    It has been estimated that 35-40% of the Norwegian vocabulary is borrowed. The vast majority is from German/Low German/Dutch, and these borrowings took place in the time period 1200-1800, with 1300-1500 as the peak. French and other Romance (incl Latin/Greek) borrowing represents a significant, albeit much smaller category. Interestingly, there are fairly few English borrowings in Norwegian. As a matter of fact, there are more Norse words in English than the other way around.

    Traditionally, Swedish was the more conservative of the Scandinavian varieties, and probably borrowed fewer words than the other two. Danish was closer to the German speaking world (also English-speaking), and probably borrowed more heavily (parts of Denmark actually were German speaking)(South Schleswig and Holstein).

    Ben Jamin correctly mentions two possibilities (1)
    And in this case, it can be very hard to tell whether the root is originally West or North Germanic, especially because they could have developed at a time when the different Germanic varieties were much closer. An example is the ending –tøy, which is either from Norse tyg or German zeug. Most likely, the old ending has been “reinforced” by German usage.
    In this case, both words are normally kept, but over time they will usually drift semantically. An example is verk/virke (Norse), arbeid (Ger) and jobb (Eng, ultimately Celtic).

    Another category is semi-calquing or hybrid loans. Many words fall into this category because German prefixes have been around long enough to be productive in their own right. The prefix be- and an- are classic examples, and also the suffixes keit/heit (rendered –hed in Danish and –het in Norwegian), and –bar.

    Another category again is the one where German/Low German word simply filled empty niches in Scandinavian: rente, snekker, spiker, kjøkken, skap, trapp, kontor, støvel, farge (although Scandinavian had words somewhat corresponding)

    A final category (for now) is where loans simply replaced the existing ones: brók > bukser, seðr > skikk, verzla > handle, telja > betale, farm > varer, sútarr > skomaker, lýsa > beskrive, varsam > forsiktig, nytta > bruke/anvende, þó > nemlig.
    Interestingly, words such as sed, varsam/varsom and nytte/nytta are still used, but in Danish/Norwegian, they have taken on more specific meanings after the introduction of the German form.
  4. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    I think that this can be only said about Norwegian about 1940. Since that time Norwegian has absorbed many new English words. I heard recently that Norwegian has now about 4000 words borrowed from English. And this, I think, is a fairly conservative assessment that doesn't take such words like for example 'to fight' (å feite) into consideration.
  5. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Well - I have seen the number 4000, but how many of these 4000 (I have never seen a list) are lasting contributions? There are words like jobb, slips, binders, bag and ok, but 4000? I am sure a lot of technically specific words are temporarily used in Norwegian, or slang and fashionable words, but the number of English loans that have thoroughly penetrated Norwegian are few and far between. It you look at a word such as televisjon or computer; neither is English, but Latin (or Latin-Greek)! Sometimes I even see the word 'skitt' (or shit)being referred to as an English word. Which it is not! It is a Norse words (and expression). It is actually a Norse borrowing into English - not from it!

    Apart from mimicking English slang and words and phrases from movies and tv-series - how many English words do you really see used in Norwegian???
  6. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    I can't answer it now, but I'll begin to make a list.
  7. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    An exchange of 4000 words in 2-3 generations is even below average. There were estimates that during the 40 year where Germany was divided about 10% of the vocabulary diverged. When I compare the divergence in vocabulary between text from the 1950s and recent texts in any language, I can easily believe this. Anyhow, since any decent language contains 200'000+ words, 4'000 new words don't seriously change statistics.

    By the way: skit- is a Common Germanic word (spellings alterations as the result of regular sound shifts like shit in English, schijt in Dutch, Schiet(e) in Low German or Scheiß(e) in High German don't matter) and not a loan in any direction. If you mean forms with short "i" and double "t" (like the adjective skitten in Norwegian), that is a ppl. form you find in different Germanic languages (ich shîte, ich hâve shitten in ME, ich scheiße, ich habe geschissen in ModG) and is not necessarily an indication of a Norse loan.
  8. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Your prognose may be correct. In the XIX century there were about 4000 German loans in Polish (so many I found un the "Wörterbuch der deutschen Lehnwörter in der polnischen Schrift- und Standardsprache"). I made a survey of the list and found out that not more than 400 - 500 are actually in use today, and those that survived are mostly the oldest loans, not any longer recognized as loanwords (for example 'kształt' from 'Gestalt').
    On the other hand, you may be wrong, and here can we take the example of French and Latin loans in English, that are numerous, and dominate the educated speech today.
  9. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    I know this thread in about loanwords in Norwegian, but you raise an interesting point. I have a few Polish-speaking students in my courses, and I used to think that German must have exercised a significant impact on the Polish language over the centuries – given all the political, cultural and demographical interactions between the two. When you say that
    I am surprised, but it makes sense.

    When it comes to
    it is not really as clear-cut. The status of English vocabulary, in terms of loanwords, is a difficult question. Around 1/3 of the English vocabulary is from Germanic (incl. borrowings from Norse as well), and roughly 2/3 from Romance and Greek. The problem is that the majority of the Romance/Greek borrowings see limited use, because they are very topic specific and technical.

    Andreea Cervatiuc of the University of Calgary estimates (2007) that college graduates have an average vocabulary of around 16 500 words. Goulden, Nation and Reade’s study from 1992 (which I read as an undergrad) suggests 17-18.000.
    The interesting part, in my opinion, is that the majority of these words are from OE. Romance borrowings are substantial, but the core vocabulary of an English speaker – reasonably well educated – is mostly “native” words. When people talk about “reclassifying” English as Romance language due to the huge number of Romance words, they seem to miss the fact that a language is really about the words we use, not the words it is possible to record and look up.

    If we look at the 100 most commonly used words in the English language, 92 are from Old English, 6 from Norse (they, get, take, them, their, give), and only 2 from Romance (people, because).
    Broken down further:
    Of the 20 most common nouns, 13 are from OE, 7 Romance, and 1 Norse (life).
    Of the 20 most common verbs, 16 are from OE, 1 Romance, and 3 Norse (get, take, give)
    Of the 20 most common adjectives, 16 are from OE, 3 from Romance, and 1 Norse (big)
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2013
  10. NorwegianNYC Senior Member

    New York, NY, USA
    Indeed it is. My point was rather that it is not from English (which many Scandinavian speakers seem to believe). It might be Norse, but just as likely from LG - if it had been Norse, one would expect it to retain /sk-/.

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