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SCANDINAVIAN LANGUAGES

SCANDINAVIAN LANGUAGES A group of languages in northern Europe. Strictly speaking, Scandinavian relates only to the peninsula of Scandinavia (Norway and Sweden), but the term usually includes Denmark and sometimes Finland. The languages spoken in this area are the GERMANIC LANGUAGES Norwegian, DANISH, and Swedish and the Finno-Ugric languages Lappish and Finnish. In LINGUISTICS, the terms Scandinavian and North Germanic both refer to a subgroup of the Germanic language family. The languages of this subgroup are Danish (in Denmark, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland), Faroese (in the Faroe Islands), Icelandic (in Iceland), Norwegian (in Norway), and Swedish (in Sweden and Finland). The Scandinavian language NORN was spoken in Scotland until the 17–18c. Originally, there was little variation in Scandinavian, the common language of the Viking raiders and settlers of the 9–11c. At the present time, in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, educated people seldom have difficulty in communicating across frontiers, speakers using their own languages. Icelandic and Faroese, however, are no longer immediately intelligible to other Scandinavians, even though they retain many features of original Scandinavian. The justification for regarding Danish and Swedish as distinct languages lies largely in their separate literary traditions, dating from the 16c. The distance between them is like that between STANDARD ENGLISH and Lowland SCOTS. The situation in Norway is more complex, but can also be compared to the linguistic situation in Scotland.

Scandinavian and English

During the early Middle Ages, the Viking invasions led to settlements in Britain and Ireland: in the Northern and Western Isles, the northern and western coasts of Scotland, parts of Ireland (including DUBLIN), the ISLE OF MAN, and large parts of England, resulting in the DANELAW. As a consequence, Scandinavian was for several centuries a major language of Britain and Ireland, competing with GAELIC and English, on both of which it had a powerful impact. By 1200, however, Scandinavian (also referred to as Danish, Old Danish, NORSE, Old Norse) had ceased to be spoken in England, but survived elsewhere: for example, as Norn in Orkney and Shetland. In England, the long period of contact and ultimate fusion between the Anglo-Saxon and Danish populations, especially north of a line between London and Chester, had a profound effect on English. More recently, Scandinavian influence has been slight and sporadic, in such loans as ombudsman, ski, smorgasbord, tungsten.

English and Scandinavian

English influence, for centuries slight, began to increase from c.1750, and in the 20c, especially since the Second World War, has become extensive in such fields as journalism, computer technology, and aviation, as well as in areas of life where American influence has been predominant: youth culture, leisure activities, sport, business, advertising. The influence is particularly noticeable in journalism. The impact of English includes: (1) LOANWORDS: nouns are the largest group, followed by verbs and adjectives. Before c.1900, borrowings usually conformed to local conventions (English strike became Danish strejke, Norwegian streike, Swedish strejk), but recent loans generally undergo little or no modification. (2) LOAN TRANSLATIONS: blood bank has become blodbank; self-service has become Danish and Norwegian selvbetjening, Swedish självbetjäning. Phrasal verbs are a feature of Scandinavian as well as English and loan translations have been increasing: Danish tone ned (tone down); Danish ende op med, Norwegian ende opp med (end up with). In addition, idioms like drag one's feet and conspiracy of silence have entered Scandinavian usage in TRANSLATION. (3) Loan constructions: usages of the type wall-to-wall carpets and lovely 20-year-old So-and-So are no longer foreign to Scandinavian usage, although older people may object. (4) Semantic borrowing: the word for ‘to sell’ used in the sense ‘to convince people of the worth of (a product, idea, etc.)’. (5) VOGUE WORDS from English competing with adequate existing terms: while personlighed or personlighet is usual, an advert for a new car might claim instead that it has personality. (6) Many existing BORROWINGS from LATIN have gained in frequency under the influence of their use in English: status; Danish and Swedish kommunikation, Norwegian kommunikasjon.

The above remarks apply to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In Iceland, English influence is felt on the colloquial level, but a purist tradition has kept the written language unaffected, neologisms being Icelandicized: hamborgan a hamburger. Recently, however, some authors have broken with the more extreme form of purism and English is making inroads in television. The Faroese situation is comparable. In Scandinavia proper, emphasis is placed on the teaching of modern languages and English is compulsory in all schools. Scholarly and scientific publications are often in English. University regulations usually allow doctoral theses to be submitted in English, GERMAN, or FRENCH as an alternative to a Scandinavian language, and English is a frequent choice. See INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGES, ORKNEY AND SHETLAND DIALECTS.

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