Modern Language: FAEROESE

Indo-European > Germanic > North Germanic > West Norse > Faroese

The language of the Faeroe Islanders is descended from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings who settled there over a thousand years ago, many of whom had migrated from Norse settlements in the Irish Sea, bringing (philologists believe) some traces of Celtic vocabulary with them. While it closely resembles its West Norse cousin Icelandic, Faeroese (føroyskt; also spelled 'Faroese') shares more mutual intelligibilty with spoken nynorsk of Norway. It is the first tongue of approximately 45,000 islanders, plus about 20,000 or so in Denmark, which still nominally governs the isles.

The Faeroes were for many centuries ruled by the kingdoms of Norway and Denmark, and the use of Faeroese for official purposes was suppressed in favour of Danish. For several centuries Faeroese was not written down, but in the mid-nineteenth century a new written standard was published by one Venceslaus Hammershaib. The new orthography was designed to resemble Old Norse, containing the letter ð (which is usually silent), but not the dental fricative þ (found in Icelandic). It also contains the æ and ø of Danish. Slowly the language gained official recognition, eventually replacing Danish in schools and in the media.

Given the historical importance of Danish, Faeroese literature was non-existant until the past century or so. The medieval Færinga Saga (‘Saga of the Faeroes’) is Old Icelandic, while Faeroese ballads (kvæði) and tales (ævintyr) were passed down orally for centuries. With the revival of the written language more writers began to emerge, notably the poets Nólsoyar-Poul Poulson (19th C), William Heinesen and Rói R. Patursson (late 20th C). The first monolingual dictionary did not appear until 1998, but Faeroese writing has continued to grow with the advent of the internet. Vocabulary-wise it has, predictably, not given English many words, save 'skua', which is a type of gull.

examples of faeroese

Tú alfagra land mítt, mín dýrasta ogn!
á vetri so randhvítt, á sumri við logn,
tú tekur meg at tær so tætt í tín favn.
Tit oyggjar so mætar, Gud signi tað navn,
sum menn tykkum góvu, tá teir tykkum sóu.
Ja, Gud signi Føroyar, mítt land!

Mítt Alfagra land”, Faeroes national anthem, by Símun av Skarði c.1906
(Translation: "My land, oh most beauteous, possession most dear,
Thou drawest me to thee, embracing me near;
becalmed in the summer, in winter snow covered,
magnificent islands, by God named beloved.
The name which men gave thee when they thee discovered,
Oh, God bless thee, Faeroes my land".)

Eg eri ein föroyskur nasjonalistur.
Undir fótunum túsund ára bonska heimlandið,
millum fingrarnar pennurin,
í munnklovanum ein sigarett og ein skón av tugdum orðum,
og eg havi ongar ætlanir um at stinga í sekkin.
Eg eri ein föroyskur nasjonalistur,
og tað sum pínir,
er at föroyingar sjálvir tola ikki gronina á sínum
frælstu landsmonnum.

"Eg eri ein föroyskur nasjonalistur", Joanes Nielsen, c.1980s ("I am a Faeroese Nationalist")

a short faeroese bibliography

  • to follow

some faeroese links


Modern Language: ICELANDIC

Indo-European > Germanic > North Germanic > West Norse > Icelandic

Cast adrift for centuries in the lonely North Atlantic, Icelandic has retained many features of its parent Old Norse that the continent-bound North Germanic relatives in Scandinavia have long lost. Spoken by over a quarter of a million people, íslenska is highly conservative, not least typographically – it still uses the dental fricative letters Þ (thorn) and ð (eth), once common in most Germanic alphabets, now reserved to Icelandic and its Atlantic neighbour, Faeroese.

Icelanders themselves are proud of their isolation, and have made many efforts to preserve the traditional nature of Icelandic. They have avoided many modern terms and foreign borrowings, preferring home-spun coinages. For example, ‘electricity’ is rafmagn (“amber power”), and ‘radio’ is útvarp (“broadcast”). This purism has been taken a few steps further by some, such as those who promote háfrónska (“High Icelandic”), an artificial form which aims to create a language free of all non-Icelandic words, even to the point where painstakingly literal translations are used for place-names (such as Góðviðra for ‘Buenos Aires’).

Most surnames in Iceland also follow a conservative fashion, usually being patronymic: a son or daughter will usually take their father’s first name as their last, adding ‘–son’ or ‘–dóttir’ to the end (depending on if they are the son or daughter). Thus, Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson’s father’s first name was Ásgrim, but they did not share a surname. This means that in Iceland it is common for people to be addressed formally by their first and not their last name.

While Old Norse was an enormous influence upon the English, Icelandic has given us but a few words, most notably geyser and eider. It also gave us Saga, the great epic tales of Norse myth and heroism. The grand-daddy of Icelandic literature was perhaps Snorri Sturluson, who recorded many of the great Eddic tales that had been passed down over the centuries. Perhaps its most notable writer of the modern age was the Nobel-prize winning novelist Halldór Laxness, but culturally the most famous Icelander today is probably the singer Björk.

examples of icelandic

Kringla heimsins, sú er mannfólkið byggir, er mjög vogskorin. Ganga höf stór úr útsjánum inn í jörðina. Er það kunnigt að haf gengur frá Nörvasundum og allt út til Jórsalalands. Af hafinu gengur langur hafsbotn til landnorðurs er heitir Svartahaf. Sá skilur heimsþriðjungana. Heitir fyrir austan Asía en fyrir vestan kalla sumir Evrópu en sumir Eneu. En norðan að Svartahafi gengur Svíþjóð hin mikla eða hin kalda. .
From Snorri’s ‘Heimskringla: Ynglinga Saga' c.13th C (Old Icelandic/West Norse) (transl: 'It is said that the earth's circle which the human race inhabits is torn across into many bights, so that great seas run into the land from the out-ocean. Thus it is known that a great sea goes in at Narvesund, and up to the land of Jerusalem. From the same sea a long sea-bight stretches towards the north-east, and is called the Black Sea, and divides the three parts of thee arth; of which the eastern part is called Asia, and the western is called by some Europa, by some Enea. Northward of the Black Sea lies Swithiod the Great, or the Cold.')

'Maður er nefndur Sigvaldi, hann var Árnason, Sigurðarsonar, Hjaltasonar, Gunnarssonar glænefs , úr Grafningi. Móðir Gunnars glænefs var Þorgerður í rauðum sokkum, Eyjólfsdóttir hins digra, Jónssonar, Finnssonar, Bjarnasonar skyrbelgs; hann dó í svartadauða og andaðist, eftir að hann hafði étið í einu átta merkur af ólekju. Þessi ætt verður ekki lengur rakin, því að fáar ættartölubækur ná fram yfir svartadauða.’.
From ‘Maður og Kona', by Jón Thoroddsen (elder), c. 1876.

Það er óskaland íslenzkt,
Sem að yfir þú býr –
Aðeins blómgróin björgin,
Sérhver baldjökull hlýr.
Frænka eldfjalls og íshafs,
Sifji árfoss og hvers,
Dóttir langholts og lyngmós,
Sonur landvers og skers
"From a speech on Icelanders' Day", Stephan G. Stephansson (transl: "For the land of your wishes has an Icelandic form, but the rocks grow with flowers and the glaciers are warm, kin of ice and volcano, child of stream and defile, daughter of lava and ling-moor, son of inlet and isle.")

a short icelandic bibliography
  • Snæbjorn Jónsson, APrimer of Modern Icelandic (Oxford: 1927)
  • Sigfrid Valfells & James E Cathey, Old Icelandic: An Introductory Course (Oxford: 1981)
  • more to follow...

some icelandic links


Old Language: OLD NORSE

Indo-European > Germanic > North Germanic > Old Norse

Few old languages excite the imagination as much as Old Norse. To think of Old Norse is to conjur up images of marauding Vikings braving the waves in longships, performing epic sagas by firelight, carving tales of Gods and Giants into mystical runes. Old Norse represented the northern branch of Germanic, and was divided into two varieties, East Norse and West Norse, the latter often being called Old Icelandic. These forms were the parent dialects of today's modern Scaninavian languages.

Old Norse is credited with some of the earliest inscriptions in any Germanic language, even Gothic, written in the runic script or 'elder futhark', an alphabet common among many Germanic languages (including Old English). Norse poetry and heroic literature is among the most celebrated of the early Middle Ages. Norwegian skaldic poets performed in the halls of kings and lords, and their style was 'more ornate and more melodious' than most other Germanic poetry (Gordon, p.xxxix).

The Viking expansions of the eight to eleventh centuries brought Norse into contact with many other languages. In Normandy it influenced the local variety of French, introducing such words as 'vague' (cf mod. Swedish våg); in Russia, many words and names have Varangian origins (such as 'grad' (cf Old Swedish garðr). No language was more influenced by Norse than English. The Danes settled in England in great numbers, particularly in the north and east (the old 'Danelaw'), as is evident in the many northern place-names that end in '-by', and surnames that end in '-son'. The Lakeland 'Fells' are of Norse origin (cf Old icelandic fjall). Even at this point of contact, however, Old Norse still enjoyed a degree of mutual intelligibility with Old English and other similar Germanic languages.

The East/West division became much greater during the later Middle Ages. Danish and Swedish (as well as the Gotland dialect Old Gutnish) came under the increasing influence of Low German, while the isolated Icelanders retained many of the phonological and grammatical features of Old Norse (such as the dental fricatives þ and ð). The thirteenth century scholar and poet Snorri Sturluson has left some incredible works detailing the lives and mythologies of the Old Norsemen, including the prose Edda, the Heimskringla, and (possibly) Egil's Saga.

examples of old norse

Þat er upphaf þessa máls, at Oku-þórr fór með hafra sína ok reið, ok með honum sá Áss er Loki heitir. Koma þeir at kveldi tile ins bónda ok fá þar náttstað. En um kveldit tók Þórr hafra sína ok skar báða; eptir þat váru þeir flegnir ok bornir til ketils. En er soðit var, þá settisk Þórr til náttverðar ok þeir lagsmenn. Þórr bauð til matar með sér bóndanum ok konu hans ok bornum þeira; sonr bónda hét Þjálfi, en Roskva dóttir. .
From Snorri’s ‘Edda’: ‘Þór & Útgarða-Loki’, c. 13th C (West Norse/Old Icelandic).

Þá mællti Haraldr Ænghla konongr viðr Norðmenn þá er með hanum varó, ‘Kenndo þér þenn hinn myckla meðr þæim blá kyrtli oc hin faghra hialm, er þer skaut sér af hestinum frem?’ Þæir svaraðo, ‘Kennom vér; þet var Norðmanna konongr,’ Þá mællti Ænghla konongr, ‘Mikill maðr oc hofðinghleghr er hann, oc hitt er nú venna at farinn sé at hamingiu.’.
From ‘Fagrskinna: the Battle of Stamford Bridge, 1066’, c.1250 (West Norse/Old Norwegian).

A t­­īonda āre hans konungx rīke, thæn gamble ōwinin vekte vp ā mōt hānom ēn man som hæt Magnus, konungxins son aff Danmark, som ā sit mødherne ātte konunger at vara ā mōt laghum, som forbiūdha at ūtlænningia sculu rādha.
From The Life of Saint Eric, in the Codex Bildstenianus, Uppsala, c.14th C (East Norse/Old Swedish).

So gingu gutar sielfs wiliandi vndir suia kunung þy at þair mattin frir Oc frelsir sykia suiariki j huerium staþ. vtan tull oc allar utgiftir. So aigu oc suiar sykia gutland firir vtan cornband ellar annur forbuþ. hegnan oc hielp sculdi kunungur gutum at waita.
From ‘Gutasaga', c.13th C (East Norse/Old Gutnish).

a short old norse bibliography
  • E.V. Gordon, An Introduction to Old Norse (Oxford: 1927)
  • Sigfrid Valfells & James E Cathey, Old Icelandic: An Introductory Course (Oxford: 1981)
  • more to follow...

some old norse links


Modern Language: SWEDISH

Indo-European > Germanic > East Norse > Swedish

Like its close neighbour Danish, Swedish (or Svensk) is descended from the eastern branch of Old Norse. With nine million speakers in Sweden and parts of Finland, it represents the largest of the North Germanic tongues, while it is to some extent mutually intelligible with Danish, its consonants tend to be harder, and there are a couple of typographical differences (see Danish). It can nevertheless be difficult for the learner to discern between the two.

Unlike their Danish cousins who tended to venture westwards, the Swedish Vikings (or 'Varangians') turned east, governing Finland for six centuries and founding many great Russian cities (such as Kiev and Novgorod); the Old Swedish garðr (cf mod engl. 'yard') can be found in the Russian grad ('city'). However, while Swedes held much political sway over the Baltic region for many centuries, their language became strongly influenced by the rich merchants of the Hanseatic trading empire, who spoke Low German. High German has also been influential, as have Latin, English and French, which gave Swedes their common word for goodbye (adjö).

Regional dialect within Sweden is still very strong, particularly in the south where the form of speech is considered by many to be more like Danish than Swedish. The standard language, or rikssvenska, is often said to have its origins in the translation of the Bible in the 1540s, the 'King Gustav Vasa' text. This bore the strong German influence of the 1521 Martin Luther Bible, as well as the Central Swedish variety of its translators. While the Swedish Language Council, or svenska språknämnden, exists to help regulate the standard, it is far less prescriptive than the Académie française in France, and 'regional standards' (such as that of Gotheburg) are considered acceptable.

Modern Swedish literature is rich, but Sweden's most famous literary export was probably the dramatist August Strindberg. The international successes of Swedish popular culture have not necessarily spread the language - the pop group Abba sang primarily in English. Nowadays, most English speakers come into contact with Swedish when they visit the furniture store IKEA, who give their products Swedish names

examples of swedish

A solis ortus:
"Wij loffuim Christ en koning bold
aff solsens vpgong är hans wold
alt vth så wijdt som iorden är
han föddes aff een iungfru skäär."
from Swenske songer eller wisor nw på nytt prentade (Swedish Hymns, 1536)

DEN OKÄNDE: "Nej, men det irriterar mig, ty det är som vore det förgjort ... - Icke döden, men ensamheten fruktar jag, ty i ensamheten träffar man någon. Jag vet icke om det är någon annan eller mig själv jag förnimmer, men i ensamheten är man icke ensam. Luften blir tätare, luften gror, och det börjar växa väsenden, som äro osynliga men förnimmas och äga liv."
August Strindberg, Till Damaskus ('The Road to Damascus'), 1898. (Translation: STRANGER: "They annoy me. The place might be bewitched. No, it's not death I fear, but solitude; for then one's not alone. I don't know who's there, I or another, but in solitude one's not alone. The air grows heavy and seems to engender invisible beings, who have life and whose presence can be felt." - G.Rawson)

a short swedish bibliography
  • to follow...

some swedish links


Modern Language: DANISH

Indo-European > Germanic > East Norse > Danish

A North Germanic language used by about five and a half million people in Denmark and Greenland, Danish (Dansk) is still intelligible to some degree with its Scandinavian neighbours in Norway and Sweden. Having descended from the eastern branch of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, Danish had a large influence over the development of late Old and early Middle English, due to substantial Danish settlement in tenth and eleventh century England.

Dialectal variation within Denmark is still quite broad. The main dialect groups are Jysk or Jutish (spoken on the Jylland peninsula), Ødansk or Island Danish, and Østdansk or 'East Danish', sometimes called 'South Swedish'. The national standard or rigsmål is based upon the dialect of Copenhagen. Most Danes have fully embraced English as their second language.

Early East Norse texts were written in the Runic script, though the Roman alphabet was quickly adopted. Both Old Danish and Old Swedish were heavily influenced by Low German, as a result of the Hanseatic trading empire, though Swedish and Danish had already begun to move apart by the eleventh century. Danish consonants tend to be softer than their Swedish counterparts, particularly when inter- or post-vocalic [ie, Swe. p > Dan. b, t > d, k > g]. For example, Swedish rike > Danish rige, and so forth. Orthographically they are most easily distinguishable by two vowels: Swe. ö = Dan. ø, Swe. ä = Dan. æ. There is also extensive use in Danish of the glottal stop, a common feature of Cockney English.

Historically, Danish culture was spread by the sword as much as by the word. The most well-known Danish writer was Hans Christian Andersen, whose Fairy Tales (Eventyr) have been read worldwide for a century and a half. Many of his tales have become cultural classics, such as the Emperor's New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling, and there is a famous statue of one of his best-loved characters, The Little Mermaid, in Copenhagen harbour.

examples of danish
Der var en lille Pige, saa fiin og saa nydelig, men om Sommeren maatte hun altid gaae med bare Fødder, for hun var fattig, og om Vinteren med store Træskoe, saa at den lille Vrist blev ganske rød og det saa grueligt.
Midt i Bondebyen boede den gamle Moer Skomagers, hun sad og syede, saa godt hun kunde det, af røde, gamle Klæde-Strimler et Par smaa Skoe, ganske kluntede, men godt meente vare de, og dem skulde den lille Pige have. Den lille Pige hedte Karen. .
Hans Christian Andersen, 'De røde sko' ('Red Shoes'), 1845. (Translation: "Once upon a time there was little girl, pretty and dainty. But in summer time she was obliged to go barefooted because she was poor, and in winter she had to wear large wooden shoes, so that her little instep grew quite red. In the middle of the village lived an old shoemaker’s wife; she sat down and made, as well as she could, a pair of little shoes out of some old pieces of red cloth. They were clumsy, but she meant well, for they were intended for the little girl, whose name was Karen.")

Vi har vel alle et selvbillede. Jeg har altid tænkt på mig selv som Mutter Skrap med den store kæft. Nu véd jeg ikke, hvad jeg skal sige. Jeg føler, han har forrådt mig. Ikke lyttet som han skulle. Han generer mig ikke. Han står foran de dampende gryder, og bare ser på mig.
Jeg finder ikke på noget at svare. Jeg står bare, og aner ikke, hvad jeg skal gøre af mig selv, og øjeblikket er der, og så er det heldigvis borte.
Peter Høeg, 'Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne' ('Smilla's Sense of Snow'), 1992. (Translation: "We probably all have an image of ourselves. I’ve always thought of myself as Ms Fierce with the big mouth. Now I don’t know what to say. I feel as if he has betrayed me. Not listened the way he should have. That he has deceived me. On the other hand, he’s not doing anything. He’s not bothering me. He’s standing in front of the steaming pots and looking at me. I can’t think of anything to say. I just stand there, not knowing what to do with myself, and then, fortunately, the moment has passed.")

a short danish bibliography
  • to follow...

some danish links


Old Language Variety: ANGLO-NORMAN

Indo-European > Italic > Western Romance > Old French > Anglo-Norman

Old French is usually seen as little more than a collection of dialects known as the Langue d’Oïl. These dialects were spread over northern and central France; the variety spoken in Normandy migrated across the Channel to England in 1066, where it became what scholars call Anglo-Norman. Over the next few centuries the French spoken in England would try to compete with the more prestigious form used in Paris, eventually ceasing to be used at all.

The fate of Anglo-Norman (or Insular French) has long been debated. Some believe that the English stopped speaking it out of antagonism with the French (cf. David Crystal), while others believe it did not die out but actually merged with Middle English (cf. William Rothwell). What is certain is that in an age when English was dialectal, Anglo-Norman provided a steady standard in England to rival Latin. Much literature was composed in Anglo-Norman; the best extant copy of the Chanson de Roland is insular.

Anglo-Norman left its mark on English in the form of its large Romance vocabulary and orthography. Most of the earlier French loanwords are Norman in origin; later borrowings show the influence of Central French. In the later Middle Ages Anglo-Norman lost prestige, and was ridiculed by Chaucer as the poor substandard French of 'Stratforde atte Bowe', before succumbing to the continental form.

The main differences between Anglo-Norman and Central and Parisian French were in spelling and pronunciation, though other phonological features single them out. One such is the consonantal shift from W > G, as seen in names such as Walter and Gautier, William and Guillaume. Many modern English words, when compared to their French equivalents, show this difference, such as ‘wasp’ and ‘guespe’, ‘war’ and ‘guerre’. English binaries also show the Norman and Central influence: ‘warden/guardian’, ‘warranty/guarantee’.

examples of anglo-norman

‘Murdre est occisioun de homme desconu, felounosement fete, dunt homme ne peut saver par qi ne par quels. Et volums qe a chescun murdre soit le hundred, ou le murdre serra trové fet, en nostre merci ; et si le fet serra trové en deus hundrez, si soint ambideus amerciez solum la quantité qe serreit un hundred. Et volums qe nul murdre soit ajugee par la ou acun parent al mort peuse estre trové, qi peuse moustrer qe il fust Engleys, et issi presenter de ly Englescherie ; ne, tut soit il alien, par la ou il avera taunt de espace de vie qe il meymes encuse les felouns.’
'Britton': Chap VI: 'De Murdre', c.late 13th C.(Translation to come!)

Requillez genz bel a manger;
Si poez meimes alloser.
Taillez ceo pain que est paré;
Les bisseaus seient pur Deu doné
Du cotel trenchoms les bisseaus;
Du quiller mangoms mieaus.
Frussés ceo pain qi vent de fourn;
Debrusés cel os de venour;
Rumpés la cord qe fet nusaunce;
Enfreinés covenaunt de deceivaunce.
Walter de Bibbesworthe, 'Tretiz', lines 1053-1062, c.late 13th C. (Translation to come).

P’ce q monstre est soventfoitz au Roi, p Prelatz, Ducs, Counts, Barons & tout la cõe, les g’ntz meschiefs q sont advenuz as plusours du realme de ce q les leyes custumes & estatutz du dit realme ne sont pas conuz cõement en mesme le realme, p cause qils sont pledez monstrez & juggez en la lange Franceis, qest trop desconue en dit realme.’
The 1362 Statute of Pleading (guaranteeing the use of English in courts): (Translation: Because it is often shewed to the King by the Prelates, Dukes, Earls, Barons, and all the Commonalty, of the great Mischiefs which have happened to divers of the Realm, because the Laws, Customs and Statutes of this Realm be not commonly [holden and kept] in the same Realm, for that they be pleaded, shewed and judged in the French Tongue, which is much unknown in the said Realm.)

a short anglo-norman bibliography
  • VISING, Johan: Anglo-Norman Language and Literature (Connecticut: 1970; orig. Oxford UP: 1923
  • MENGER, Louis Emil: The Anglo-Norman Dialect (New York: 1904)
  • LEGGE, Dominica: Anglo-Norman as a Spoken Language, in BROWN, R. Allen (ed): Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1979, pp108-117 (Woodbridge: 1980)
  • ROTHWELL, William: The Legacy of Anglo-French – Faux Amis in French and English, in Zeitschrift für Romanische Philologie 109 (1993) [online edition:]
  • ROTHWELL, William: The Missing Link in English Etymology: Anglo-French, in Medium Ævum vol LX, no.2, (1991)
  • PRICE, Glanville: The Languages of Britain, chap.17 ‘Anglo-Norman’ (Arnold, London: 1984)
  • ROTHWELL, William: Stratforde atte Bowe and Paris, in Modern Language Review LX, pp39-54 (1985)
  • BAILEY, C-J.N. & MAROLDT, K.: The French Lineage of English, in MEISEL, J.M. (ed): Langues en Contact (pp21-53) (Verlag, Tübingen: 1977)

some anglo-norman links

Modern Language: SPANISH

Indo-European > Italic > Western Romance > Spanish

Spanish, in either its Castilian or various Latin American forms, is among the most widely spoken languages on the planet. The mother tongue of over 320 million people worldwide (source:, mostly in Central and South America, it nonetheless still competes locally within Spain with Catalan, Galician and Basque.

The history of Romance in the Iberian peninsular dates back to the Roman invasions of the second and first centuries BC. The post-Roman era saw centuries of rule by first the Germanic Visigoths and later the Arabic Moors. Though the Gotths left little lasting trace of their language upon Spanish, bar personal names and a few morphological features, borrowings from arabic were much greater. These largely consisted of nouns, such as those beginning with 'al' such as 'almirante' (admiral) and 'alcohol' (alcohol) (Penny, 2002: 14).

The Christian reconquest of Spain took many centuries to complete, but in that time a Castilian standard began to emerge. Vernacular writing became prominent in the 12th and 13th centuries. The originator of the standard was probably King Alfonso X 'the Learned', though even when spanish was beginning its global expansion there were two competeing Castilian norms, those of Toledo and Seville (Penny, 2002: 21). These varieties have left their mark on the different Spanish forms of Latin America.

Spanish has a rich literary history. The first great epic in Spanish was El Cantar de Mio Cid, or 'El Cid', written down in the 13th C by Per Abad, telling the story of a Reconquistador hero. One of the most famous (and earliest) novels in the world was Cervantes' Don Quixote. More recent greats include Lorca, who was murdered in the Spanish Civil War, though Spanish cinema has gained much admiration in recent years (particularly the works of Bunuel and Almodovar). Spanish influence on English has been fairly diverse, largely relating to contact in the New World. Common words of Spanish origin include armada, tomato, potato, guitar and banana.

examples of spanish

De los sos ojos tan fuertemientre llorandotornava la cabeça e estávalos catando,
vio puertas abiertas e uços sin cañados,alcándaras vazías,
sin pielles e sin mantose sin falcones e sin adtores mudados.
Sospiró mio Çid, ca mucho avié grandes cuidados,
fabló mio Çid bien e tan mesurado,-
Grado a ti, Señor, Padre que estás en alto,
esto me an buelto mios enemigos malos.

El Cantar de Mio Cid ('El Cid'), c.1207 (Translation: He turned and looked upon them, and he wept very sore
As he saw the yawning gateway and the hasps wrenched off the door,
And the pegs whereon no mantle nor coat of vair there hung.
There perched no moulting goshawk, and there no falcon swung.
My lord the Cid sighed deeply such grief was in his heart
And he spake well and wisely: "Oh Thou, in Heaven that art
Our Father and our Master, now I give thanks to Thee.
Of their wickedness my foemen have done this thing to me."
transl: R. Selden Rose/Leonard Bacon)

Ya en este tiempose habia levantado Sancho Panza algo maltratado de los mozos de los frailes, y habia estado atento á la batalla de su señor D. Quijote, y rogaba á Dios en su corazon fuese servido de darle Vitoria, y que en ella ganase alguna ínsula de donde le hiciese gobernador, como se lo habia prometido.

Cervantes: Don Quixote de la Mancha (Part I, chap. X), c.1605 (Translation: 'In the meantime Sancho Panza had got up again after his rough handling by the monk's servants, and had stood watching the battle Don Quixote was fighting, praying to God in his heart to be pleased to grant his master the victory, and that out of it he might gain an isle of which he could be the governor, as he had been promised.' - J.M. Cohen)

Y que yo me la llevé al río
creyendo que era mozuela,
pero tenía marido.
Fue la noche de Santiago
y casi por compromiso.
Se apagaron los faroles
y se encendieron los grillos.
En las últimas esquinas
toqué sus pechos dormidos,
y se me abrieron de pronto
como ramos de jacintos.
Federico Garcia Lorca, 'La casada infiel' ('The Faithless Wife'), c.1927 (Translation: So I took her to the river believing she was a maiden, but she already had a husband. It was on St. James night and almost as if I was obliged to. The lanterns went out and the crickets lighted up. In the farthest street corners I touched her sleeping breasts and they opened to me suddenly like spikes of hyacinth.)

a short spanish bibliography
  • Ralph Penny, A History of the Spanish Language, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: 2002)
  • more to come!

some german links



Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > Old High German

The West Germanic branch is often subdivided into Ingvaeonic, Istvaeonic and Irminonic, based on tribes mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus in the 1st C. The Irminones, also called the Elbe Germans, migrated from the Elbe towards the higher lands of what is now southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and further on to what is now Lombardy. It was their particular variety of Germanic that ultimately developed into modern Standard German.

Old High German (althochdeutsch) is a collected term for several related dialects, including Bavarian, Alamannic and some eastern and central forms of Franconian. The major distinguishing feature of these from other W Gmc dialects is the High German Consonant Shift, which largely affected plosives (voiced and voiceless) and fricatives (Konig & Van Der Auwera, 1994: p90). Shifts include p > pf, t > ts, k > kh, b > p, and d > t, among others; for example, OSax dag, OLF dag > OHG tag; OSax gôd, OE gōd > OHG guot. Moreover, the southerly varieties naturally show more evidence of the shift than central German forms, eg East Franconian bluot > Bavarian pluot. The shift marks Modern High German's difference to this day, as demonstrated in many dialect maps.

The orthography between the dialects therefore bears substantial differences, as can be seen in the examples below. Most OHG dictionaries will confuse those learning the language, as many words beginning with ch or v will be listed respectively under g or f; this spelling system reflects the variant pronunciations within OHG. While the modern standard derived from a mixture of these dialects, it is important to remember that they also led to their own individually recognized modern forms, such as Bavarian (Bairisch), Swiss German or High Alemannic (Schwyzertüütsch) and Alsatian or Low Alemannic (Elsæssisch).

The oldest High German text is known as the Abrogans, a Latin-German word-book from the mid 8th C, written in the Bavarian dialect. Later on other regional works appeared, mostly translations of Christian texts such as the East Franconian Tatian (9th C) or the reworking of Isidore of Seville's De Fide Catholica (c.800). Original works included the Bavarian Muspilli and the mixed-dialect Hildebrandslied.

examples of old high german

In anaginne uuas uuort inti thaz uuort uuas mit gote inti got selbo uuas thaz uuort.
Thaz uuas in anaginne mit gote.
Alliu thuruh thaz vvurdun gitān inti ūzzan sīn ni uuas uuiht gitānes thaz thār gitān uuas;
thaz uuas in imo līb inti thaz līb uuas lioht manno.
Into thaz lioht in finstarnessin liuhta inti finstarnessi thaz ni bigriffun.
'Tatian', I.John i.1-5, East Franconian, c.9th C, author unknown.
(Translation: "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, and God himself was the word. That was in the beginning with God. All was made through the word and without it nothing was made that there existed. There was life in Him, and that life was the light of Men. And that light shone in darkness and darkness did not understand it.")

2.6. Ih faru dhir for a endi chidhuuingo dhir aerdhriihhes hruomege, erino portun ih firchnussu, iisnine grindila firbrihhu, endi dhiu chiborgonun hort dhir ghibu, endi ih uuillu dhazs dhu firstandes heilac chiruni, huuanda ih bim druhtin dher dhih nemniu Israelo got.
3.1. In dhemu nemin Cyres ist Christ chiuuisso chiforabodot, for a dhemu sindun dheodun ioh riihhi chihneigidiu in ghilaubin. In andra uuiis ni uuardh eo einic in Israhelo rihhe Cyrus chinemnit.
'Isidor', transl. of Isidore of Seville 'De Fide Catholica', S. Rhenish Franconian, c.800.
(Translation: "I will go before you and subdue to you the proud races of the earth, I will smash bronze doors, break iron bolts, and give to you the hidden treasures, and I want you to understand the holy secret, for I am the Lord who calls you the God of Israel. In the name of Cyrus is Christ surely prophesied, before whom the peoples and the realm are subjugated by faith. There was not anyone other than this called Cyrus in the kingdom of Israel.")

Ik gihorta dat seggen,
dat sih urhettun ænon muotin,
Hiltibrant enti Hadubrant untar heriun tuem.
Sunufatarungo iro saro rihtun.
Garutun se iro gudhamun, gurtun sih iro suert ana,
helidos, ubar hringa, do sie to dero hiltiu ritun,
Hiltibrant gimahalta [Heribrantes sunu]: her uuas heroro man,
ferahes frotoro; her fragen gistuont
fohem uuortum, hwer sin fater wari
fireo in folche.
'Das Hildebrandslied', mixed dialect, c. late 8th C. (Translation: 'I have heard tell,that two chosen warriors, Hildebrand and Hadubrand,met one another, between two armies.Father and son, the champions examined their gear,prepared their armor, and buckled their swordsover their chain mail, before riding out to battle.Hildebrand, the older and more experienced man, spoke first,asking, with few words who his father wasand from which family he came.' DL Ashliman)

a short old high german bibliography
  • Joseph Wright, Old High German Primer (Oxford: 1906)
  • Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and its Closest Relatives (Routledge, London: 1992)
  • E. Konig & J. Van Der Auwera, The Germanic Languages (Routledge, London: 1994)
  • more to follow

some old high german links

Dead Language: GOTHIC

Indo-European > Germanic > East Germanic > Gothic

The Goths who swept through Europe during the decay of the Roman Empire bear no relation to the architectural term 'gothic', nor to the fashion of wearing too much black and make-up. The Gothic language, which has no modern descendants, is preserved in a few antique manuscripts, but offers philologists the best source for charting the development of the Germanic languages from their hypothetical common source, Proto-Germanic.

Gothic is the only known member of the now extinct East Germanic branch. It is thought that the Goths migrated from southern Sweden (where places such as Gotland and Västergötland still exist) to the banks of the Vistula, with many more migrating further south to the Black Sea, where they came into contact with the Greeks. The two main tribes were called Ostrogoths and Visigoths; the latter eventually spread across Europe to Spain where they governed for many years until the Moors arrived. Through wars and assimilation, however, by about the 8th C the Goths and their language ultimately ceased to be (Robinson, 1992: p47).

The major linguistic evidence for Gothic comes from the Codex Argenteus, which contains the work of Bishop Wulfila (or Ulfilas)(c300-383), who translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic. Wulfila invented a new alphabet for the Visigothic language, and his vocabulary and orthography bears strong hellenic influence. Being by far the oldest text written in any Germanic language, the importance of Wulfila's work to the field og Germanic Philology cannot be underestimated.

The linguistic influence of the Goths upon today's languages is debatable. Almost nothing bar personal names remains of Visigothic in Spanish, and the influence of the Gothic missions in Germany had little long-term effect, except upon Bavarian and Alemannic in the south: local names for the days of the week show echoes of Greek, which was transmitted via Gothic: eg, Bavarian phinztag (Thursday) from Greek pémpte via Gothic *pintēdags.

examples of gothic

1. Jah galáiþ aftra in Kafarnaum afar dagans, jah gafrēhun þatei in garda ist.

2. Jah suns gaqēmun managái, swaswē juþan ni gamōstēdun nih at daúra, jah rōdida im waúrd
3. Jah qēmun at imma usliþan baírandans, hafanana fram fidwōrim.
4. Jah ni magandans nēhwa qiman imma faúra manageim, andhulidēdun hrōt þarei was Iēsus, jah usgrabandans insáilidēdun þata badi, jah fralaílōtun ana þammei lag sa usliþa.
5. Gasaíhwands þan Iēsus galáubein izē qaþ du þamma usliþin: barnilō, aflētanda þus frawaúrhteis þeinōs.
6. Wēsunuh þan sumái þizē bōkarjē jáinar sitandans jah þagkjandans sis in haírtam seináim:
7. hwa sa swa rōdeiþ náiteinins? hwas mag aflētan frawaúrhtins, niba áins guþ?
8. Jah suns ufkannands Iēsus ahmin seinamma þatei swa þái mitōdēdun sis, qaþ du im: duhwē mitōþ þata in haírtam izwaráim?
9. hwaþar ist azētizō du qiþan þamma usliþin: aflētanda þus frawaúrhteis þeinōs, þáu qiþan: urreis jah nim þata badi þeinata jah gagg?
10. Aþþan ei witeiþ þatei waldufni habáiþ sunus mans ana aírþái aflētan frawaúrhtins, qaþ du þamma usliþin:

11. þus qiþa: urreis nimuh þata badi þein jah gagg du garda þeinamma.
12. Jah urráis suns jah ushafjands badi usiddja faúra andwaírþja alláizē, swaswē usgeisnōdēdun allái jah háuhidēdun mikiljandans guþ, qiþandans þatei áiw swa ni gasēhwun.
Wulfila's Bible translation, 'Mark Ch.II',c.4th C. (Translation:
1. And after some days he went again into Capernaum, and they found out that he was in the house.
2. And immediately many people came, so that they could no longer find room at the door, and so he preached the word to them.
3. And they came to him bearing a palsied man, carried by four people.
4. And not being able to come near to him due to the crowd, they opened up the roof where Jesus was, and breaking through they tied up the bed with cords and let it down to where the palsied man lay.
5. Then Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the palsied man: son (little child?), may your sins be forgiven you.
6. But there were some of the scribes sitting there and reasoning in their hearts:
7. Who is this who speaks such blasphemies? Who may forgive sins, save God alone?
8. And immediately Jesus, recognizing in his spirit that they reasoned themselves thus, said to them: why do you reason this in your hearts?
9. What is easier to say to the palsied man: be forgiven of your sins, or to say: Arise and take up your bed, and go?
10. However that you know that the Son of Man has the power on earth to forgive sins, he said to the palsied man:
11. To you I say: Arise and take up your bed and go to your house.
12. And immediately he arose and, lifting up the bed, went forth before all of those present so that they were all amazed, and they glorified the exalted God, saying they never saw such a thing.)

orthography note: while originally written in Wulfila's Gothic alphabet, this version was transcribed by Jospeh Wright. I have however replaced the letter with the letters hw (in italics), which roughly correspond with the letter's sound Another version can be found at, but their English translation does not always match the Gothic.

a short gothic bibliography
  • Joseph Wright, Grammar of the Gothic Language (Oxford: 1910)
  • Orrin W. Robinson, Old English and its Closest Relatives (Routledge, London: 1992)
  • D.H. Green, Language and History in the Early Germanic World (Cambridge: 1998)
  • Winfred P. Lehmann, Gothic and the Reconstruction of Proto-Germanic: in E. Konig & J. Van Der Auwera, The Germanic Languages, pp349-387 (Routledge, London: 1994)

some gothic links


Language Variety: AMERICAN ENGLISH

Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > English > American English

When we speak of the global influence of English, we are more often than not referring to the media-driven United States variety. While many British speakers consider their transatlantic cousins' tongue to be a bastardisation of their own, pouring scorn upon its influence, they are often surprised to learn that many of its features are simply retained from earlier forms of British English which have died away relatively recently.

For example, US english is a 'rhotic' speech, meaning they pronounce the final or medial 'r' in words such as word or four. This is a trait shared with the English spoken in Ireland, Scotland, South-West England and parts of Lancashire. For example, the word mirror is pronounced in London as mirrah, but in Los Angeles it sounds more like meer. Yet until the 17th C, all forms of English were rhotic, which explains the proliferation of 'silent' r's in many English words. Dialect within the US is less obvious to outsiders than in places such as Britain, but variations exist, even within single metropolitan areas (such as New York). Dialects are usually divided into Southern, Midland and Northern, but even this is an oversimplification; the ongoing survey The Linguistic Atlas of the United States (begun in 1931) provides an interesting guide (Crystal, 2004: p313).

English has been spoken by permanent settlers in North America since the early 17th C. Independence from Britain gave the former colonies impetus to create their own national standard. Noah Webster produed the American Dictionary in 1828, in which he primarily reformed spelling, such as: colour > color, plough > plow, traveller > traveler. Words ending in -ise or -ize were standardized to the common form -ize. In 1848 John Russell Bartlett compiled a Dictionary of Americanisms, parading such common words as awful and meeting, along with such oddities as sanctimoniouslyfied. To this day, linguists revel in listing the many vocabulary differences between the two varieties; in the late 19th C and throughout the 20th C it was believed that the two would be mutually unintelligible by the 21st (Bryson, 1990: p242).

In truth, the two forms are probably moving closer together, thanks to the age of mass-communications - though almost all new words and coinages are American in origin. This has led to the situation whereby some Americans are unfamiliar with other forms of English - while somebody from Liverpool or Cape Town may have little problem understanding someone from San Francisco, the Californian might find them unintelligible. However, it is important to remember that the actual lexical and syntactical differences are much smaller than many imagine; it is usually accent that proves to be the barriers.

examples of american english

I have lately made a Tour thro' Ireland and Scotland. In these Countries a small Part of the Society are Landlords, great Noblemen and Gentlemen, extreamly opulent, living in the highest Affluence and Magnificence: The Bulk of the People Tenants, extreamly poor, living in the most sordid Wretchedness in dirty Hovels of Mud and Straw, and cloathed only in Rags. I thought often of the Happiness of New England, where every Man is a Freeholder, has a Vote in publick Affairs, lives in a tidy warm House, has plenty of good Food and Fewel, with whole Cloaths from Head to Foot, the Manufactury perhaps of his own Family. Long may they continue in this Situation!
Benjamin Franklin, "Compar'd to these People Every Indian Is a Gentleman", 1772.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who died here that the nation might live..
Abraham Lincoln, "The Gettysburg Address", 1863.

(more to follow...)

a short american english bibliography
  • Gunnel Tottie, An introduction to American English (Blackwell, Oxford: 2002)
  • John Russell Bartlett, "A Dictionary of Americanisms" (New Jersey, 1848, repr.2003)
  • David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (Cambridge: 2004)
  • Tom McArthur, Oxford Guide to World English (Oxford: 2002)
  • Bill Bryson, Mother Tongue (Penguin, London: 1990)
  • Bill Bryson, Made In America (Penguin, London: 1994)
  • Barbara A. Fennell, A History of English (Blackwell, Oxford: 2001)
  • Peter Eisenberg, German: in E. Konig & J. Van Der Auwera, The Germanic Languages, pp349-387 (Routledge, London: 1994)

some american english links

Modern Language: DUTCH

Indo-European > Germanic > West Germanic > Dutch

Dutch is a Low German language spoken by over twelve million people in the Netherlands and about five million in Belgium, where it is traditionally called Flemish. It is also found in such far-flung corners as Suriname and Indonesia, and is the close ancestor of Afrikaans, spoken by about six million people in South Africa.

It is generally accepted that Dutch developed from a form of Old Low Franconian; what is known is that Middle Dutch rose in prominence as the vernacular spoken by successful medieval merchant cities of Bruges, Ghent, Delft and Utrecht. Dialectal variance was a feature for many centuries, for the Low Countries were never a single unitary state, and at various times were ruled by foreign powers. The Dutch Revolt in the late 16th C brought independence from Catholic Spain for the Protestant Netherlands, but not for Belgian Flanders. The Golden Age in the 17th C saw a standard emerge, supported by the States Bible (Staatenbijbel) of 1637. This in turn put the Dutch in the driving seat of their language, restricting the influence of the Flemings.

While traditionally having two names, Dutch and Flemish are the same language, a fact now recognised officially in Belgium, which now uses the term Nederlands. Flemish pronunciation, however, is considered to be softer and far less guttural than that of Amsterdam. The fact that English speakers call the language of Holland Dutch dates back to medieval contact with Low German traders, and is comparable to the Modern German Deutsch.

Over the centuries Dutch has provided English with many loanwords. Shipping and commerce in the Middle Ages gave us words such as boom, smuggler and yacht, while later colonialism in North America provided US English with such words as cookie (from koekje), boss and even Santa Claus from Sinter Klaas (McArthur, 2002: p145). However the traffic is almost all one-way these days. The inexorable influence of English is such that it is almost impossible to find young Dutch people who do not speak it. While all schools teach it, many universities teach largely in English, leading to concerns that the increasing academic and political prestige of English could have dark consequences for Dutch in its native country.

examples of dutch

1. Daarna zeide de HEERE tot Noach: Ga gij, en uw ganse huis in de ark; want u heb Ik gezien rechtvaardig voor Mijn aangezicht in dit geslacht.
2. Van alle rein vee zult gij tot u nemen zeven en zeven, het mannetje en zijn wijfje; maar van het vee, dat niet rein is, twee, het mannetje en zijn wijfje.
3. Ook van het gevogelte des hemels zeven en zeven, het mannetje en het wijfje, om zaad levend te houden op de ganse aarde..
'Staatenbijbel', Genesis 7, 1637.

O dierbaar België
O heilig land der vaad'ren
Onze ziel en ons hart zijn u gewijd.
Aanvaard ons hart en het bloed van onze adren,
Wees ons doel in arbeid en in strijd..
Alexandre Dechet, 'De Brabançonne', The Belgian National Anthem (1830). (Translation: "O beloved Belgium, sacred land of our fathers,Our heart and soul are dedicated to you. Our strength and the blood of our veins we offer,Be our goal, in work and battle.")

Ik houd van de Nederlanders, ik houd van ons land, ik houd van de taal, en wil hier werken. En al zou ik aan de Koningin zelf moeten schrijven, ik zal niet wijken voor mijn doel bereikt is.
Ann Frank, 'The Diary of a Young Girl', 1940s. (Translation: "I love the Dutch, I love this country, I love the language and want to work here. And even if I have to write to the Queen myself, I will not give up until I have reached my goal.")

a short dutch bibliography
  • E. Konig & J. Van Der Auwera, The Germanic Languages, (Routledge, London: 1994)
  • more to follow

some dutch links



Indo-European > Italic > Western Romance > Old French, Middle French

Old French is considered by philologists to be a blanket term for the vernacular Gallo-Romance dialects of northern France. It was these dialects which were most affected by the arrival of the Germanic Franks in the fifth century AD. Often called the Langue d'Oïl, this linguistic area eventually succumbed to the politically prestigious Francien variety of Paris, resulting in middle French and ultimately the modern standard itself.

The oldest written appearance of vernacular French is found in the Strasbourg Oaths, which, though it looks markedly different to its modern descendant, is agreed to be much closer to Old French than to original Latin. As the power of the Kings of France grew, so did their language. OF courtly literature was among the most respected in Europe. Heroic epics such as the La Chanson de Roland, comic yarns such as the Roman de Renart and the romances of the Grail Cycle gave French literature its foundation. Other Oïl varieties were eventually shunned, or fell out of use. Anglo-Norman, an important literary language in England, was one such variety, but it did not die without leaving its indelible mark on Middle English.

The Middle French period is usually said to have lasted from c.1340 - c.1610, and is usually characterised by the loss of noun-declensions. This was a turbulent era for France, which was ravaged by both the Hundred Years War and by bitter religious conflict. Regional dialects were still common in literature, and Latin was still the most common language for legal affairs.

In 1539 King François I passed the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, which made French the sole official language of the law. This is generally seen as the first major step towards Modern Standard French, though in truth it was many centuries before regional dialects or the Occitan languages were truly superceded in everyday life.

examples of old & middle french

Pro Deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant Deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo et in ajudha et in cadhuna cosa, si cum om per dreit son fradra salvar dift, in o quid il mi altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid numquam prindrai qui, meon vol, cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.
From 'The Strasbourg Oaths', c.842. (Translation: 'For the love of God, and for the salvation of the Christian people and for our common salvation, from this day forward, in so far as God gives me knowledge and power, I will help this my brother Charles both in aid and in everything, as one ought by right to help one's brother, on condition that he does the same for me; and I will never undertake any agreement with Lothair which, by my consent, night be of harm to this my brother Charles.' Peter Rickard)

Franceis i fierent de coer e de vigur;
Paien sunt morz a millers e a fuls:
De cent millers n’en poënt guarir dous.
Dist l’arcevesques : ‘Nostre hume sunt mult proz ;
Suz ciel n’ad rei plus en ait de meillors.
Il est escrit en la Geste Francor
Que bons vassals out nostre empereür.’
From 'La Chanson de Roland' (lines 1438-1444), possibly late 11th C. (Translation: "The Franks have struck with courage and vigour; the pagans have died in swarms, by the thousand. They cannot save two from a hundred thousand men. It is written in the Frankish annals that our emperor has real vassals.’" Glyn Burgess)

Freres humains qui après nous vivez
N’ayez les cuers contre nous endurcis
Car se pitié de nous povres avez
Dieu en aura plus tost de vous mercis.
François Villon, L'Epitaphe Villon (Ballade des Pendus), lines 1-4, c.1462. (Translation: "Brothers who live when we are gone, do not harden your hearts against us. For if you have pity on our poor souls, God will sooner take pity upon you.").

a short old & middle french bibliography
  • Wendy Ayres-Bennet, A History of the French Language Through Texts (Routledge, London: 1996)
  • Peter Rickard, A History of the French Language (Routledge, London: 1993)
  • M.K. Pope, From Latin to Modern French (Manchester: 1934)
  • Jacques Chaurand, Nouvelle Histoire de la Langue Francaise (Seuil, Paris: 1999)
  • Simon Gaunt, Retelling the Tale: An introduction to Medieval French Literature (London: 2001)
  • E. Einhorn, Old French: a concise handbook (Cambridge: 1974)
  • more to follow

some old & middle french links