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Norse influence on English in the light of general contact linguistics*

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Abstract

This paper shows (1) that the Old English lexical evidence for Old Norse influence neatly reflects the contact situation in late Anglo-Saxon England, namely Danish dominance much beyond the Danelaw: Loans such as English <i>law</i> and <i>earl</i>, together with numerous words only attested in Old English texts, reflect extended foreign rule and must therefore be characterized as clearly superstratal, very much like later loans from Old French such as English <i>justice</i> and <i>duke</i>. Moreover, this paper demonstrates (2) that the lexical loans from Old Norse first attested in post-Conquest Danelaw texts, typically with very basic meanings, can be paralleled with much more intense borrowing of such basic words from Old French. Based on the findings of general contact linguistics, both types of lexical borrowing from Old Norse and Old French can be attributed to superstratal influence. Finally, this paper shows (3) that structural influences of Old Norse first attested in the (former) Danelaw, which include (a) the integration of function words into the morpho-syntactic system of English and (b) the accelerated reduction of inflections and the fixing of VO order due to attrition of unaccented syllables, must be attributed to the close genetic relationship between the two Germanic languages in contact, not to their stratal relationship. The earliest evidence for phonotactically determined attrition and its consequences for the morphological system occurs in the late10th-century Lindisfarne gloss.

References

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