Sunday, April 26, 2009

Linguistics: Viking Loan Words

From Science Daily: Viking Legacy On English: What Language Tells Us About Immigration And Integration (Apr. 22, 2009) — They’re a firm part of our language and even speak to us of our national culture — but some words aren’t quite as English as we think. Terms such as ‘law’, ‘ugly’, ‘want’ and ‘take’ are all loanwords from Old Norse, brought to these shores by the Vikings, whose attacks on England started in AD 793. In the centuries following it wasn’t just warfare and trade that the invaders gave England. Their settlement and subsequent assimilation into the country’s culture brought along the introduction of something much more permanent than the silk, spices and furs that weighed down their longboats — words. Dr. Sara Pons-Sanz in the School of English is examining these Scandinavian loanwords as part of a British Academy-funded research project — from terms that moved from Old Norse to Old English and disappeared without trace, to the words that still trip off our tongues on a daily basis. By examining these words in context, tracking when and where they appear in surviving texts from the Old English period, Dr. Pons-Sanz can research the socio-linguistic relationship between the invading and invaded cultures. The loanwords which appear in English — such as ‘husband’ — suggest that the invaders quickly integrated with their new culture. The English language soon adopted day-to-day terms, suggesting that the cultures lived side-by-side and were soon on intimate terms. This is in marked contrast to French loanwords. Though there are many more of these terms present in the standard English language — around 1,000 Scandinavian to more than 10,000 French — they tend to refer to high culture, law, government and hunting. French continued to be the language of the Royal Court for centuries after the invasion in 1066. In contrast, Old Norse had probably completely died out in England by the 12th century, indicating total cultural assimilation by the Scandinavian invaders. Another clear indicator of this is the type of loanwords seen in English. The majority of loanwords tend to nouns, words and adjectives, open-ended categories which are easily adapted into a language. But one of the most commonly-seen loanwords in English today is ‘they’ — a pronoun with its origins in Old Norse. Pronouns are a closed category, far more difficult to adapt into a new language, which again indicates a closeness between the two languages and cultures not present in previous or subsequent invading forces. Dr. Pons-Sanz has ‘cleaned up’ the list of loanwords thought to have come to English from Old Norse by painstakingly tracking the origins of each word. Her original texts include legal codes, homilies, charters, literary texts and inscriptions. By comparing the texts chronologically and dialectally, the introduction and integration of words can be tracked. For example, the word ‘fellow’ — which came from an Old Norse word originally meaning ‘business partner’— is first attested in East Anglia. Dr. Pons-Sanz said: “Language is constantly evolving; loanwords are being assimilated into English — and other languages — all the time. By examining the types of words that are adopted, we can gain insight into the relationships between different cultures.” Adapted from materials provided by University of Nottingham.
What about that Old Norse loan word 'husband?' Here's some interesting information from Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets: "One bonded to the house (hus)" - a steward or majordomo chosen to tend a woman's property, under the old Saxon matriarchate when property rights were matrilineal. A husband was not considered an integral part of the maternal clan but remained a "stranger" in the house, as in early Greece where the men's god Zeus was "god of strangers."(1) Pre-Islamic Arabian husbands didn't even have names in the matrilineal clan until they begot children; then a man could call himself abu, "father of ..." So-and-so. This part of an Arab's name is still considered the most important part.(2) In southeast India, a husband was regarded as a more or less permanent guest int he wife's home, constrained to remain on his good behavior according to the rules governing guests. In archaic Japan, husbands were not residents in the wife's home at all, but only visitiors. The old word for "marriage' meant "to slip into the house by night."(3) Patrilocal marriage was unknown in Japan until 14000 A.D.(4) The position of a husband in the ancient world was often temporary, subject to summary divorce. An Arabian wife could dismiss her husband by turning her tent to face the west for three nights in succession.(5) After the introduction of Islamic patriarchy, the system was reversed in favor of men. A husband could turn his wife out of her home simply by saying "I divorce thee" three times. [What Isis calls "The old switcheroo."] Early Latin tribes followed the same rules as Arabians; a woman could divorce her husband by shutting hm out of her house for three consecutive nights.(6) Even in imperial times, a Roman wife could maintain her own property free of husbandly claims by passing three nights of eahc year away form his residence.(7) Ancient Egypt had several varieties of marriage existing side by side. Some, probably the oldest, were governed by premarital agreements that spelled out the wife's property rights and the husband's comparative powerlessness under the law. For example: I bow before thy rights as a wife. From this day on, I shall never oppose thy claims with a single word. I recognize thee before all others as my wife, though I do not have the right to say thought must be my wife. Only I am thy husband and mate. Thou alone hast the right of departure. From this day on that I have become thy husband, I cannot oppose thy wish, wherever thou desirest to go ... I have no power to interfere in any of thy transactions. I hereby cede to thee any rights deeded to me in any document that has been made out in my favor. Thou keepest me obligated to recognize all these cessions.(8) Egyptian priests advised husbands to remain in their wives' good graces, much as Christian priests later advised wives to make themselves subservient to husbands: Keep thy house, love thy wife, and do not dispute with her. She will withdraw herself before violence. Feed her, adorn her, massage her. Caress her and make her heart to rejoice as long as thou livest ... Attend to that which is her desire and to that which occupies her mind. For in such manner thou persuadest her to remain with thee. If thou opposest her, it will be thy ruin.(9) An Egyptian husband was counseled to make glad his wife's heart "during the time that thou hast," which might have meant a lifetime on earth, or else a shorter period implying a temporary marriage.(10) In the matrilocal household, husands often entered a period of trial servitude to win their brides, as did the biblical Jacob to win the hand of Rachel (Genesis 29). Hence Sophocle's remark that "Egyptian men sit indoors all day long, weaving; the women go out and attend to business."(11)[See also my comments appended to Note 8]. Similarly among Anglo-Saxon tribes, "husbandry" meant farm work - as it still does - because a husband wa usually bonded to work on his wife's land. Such an agricultural matriarchate is still found in some areas. Among the Zuni, husbands worked in the fields, but the land and its harvest belonged to their wives.(12) The old custom of providing work in compensation for marriage gave rise to the word bridegroom, literally "the bride's servant." The Koran tells mean, "your wives are your tillage," because by ancient Arabian law a wifeless man was also landless.(13) See Matrilineal Inheritance. Tantric sages considered "husbandship" (bhavanan) essential for still another reason: it was indispensible to a man's spiritual development. The same notion was found among Aryan Celts. The ancient Irish said a true bard could have power over poetry and magic only if he had "purity of husbandship," that is, fidelity to his wife.(14) Notes: (1) J.E. Harrison, 519. (2) Briffault 2, 90-91. (3) Hartley, 147, 159. (4) Briffault 1, 369. (5) de Riencourt, 187. (6) Briffault 2, 348. (7) Hartley, 232. (8) Diner, 212. [Cf. this famous passage from the admittedly patriarchal Hebrew Old Testament, King James Version which, in light of the above information, appears to be a prayer to Goddess for a merciful wife: Proverbs 31:10: Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. (11) The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. (12) She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. (13) She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with herhands. (14) She is like the merchants' ships, she bringeth her food from afar. (15) She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. (16) She considereth a field, and buyeth it [because it's her money, and she does what she wants with it]; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. (17) She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengthenth her arms [I find it surprising that this archaic description of a strong, independent female survived to be incorporated into the Book, in terms which were, after the patriarchal overthrow of the Goddess, generally reserved for males.] (18) She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth not out at night. (19) She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. (20) She stretcheth out her hand to the poor, yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. (21) She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet [that is, the best and finest and warmest wool clothing, dyed scarlet, the most expensive of dyes because of the difficulty in manufacturing the color. That is why it was reserved for royalty. In later times it was called "purple" and was the color of monarchs.] (22) She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. (23) Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. [In other words, he doesn't do anything all day but sit around with the other husband dudes at the gates of the city, making idle commentary on the merchants passing in and out, probably drinking too much, gambling with sheeps' knuckles and perhaps chasing after prostitutes.] (24) She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. (25) Strength and honour are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come. (26) She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. (27) She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. (28)Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. [He's just hoping he doesn't get divorced for sitting around at the gates of the city with the other dudes all day, drinking, gambling and chasing after unvirtuous women.] (9) Diner, 218; Budge, D.N., 26. (10) Hartley, 196. Cf. the Scottish custom of "hand-fast" and the contemporary custom in some Islamic societies of trial marriage or "Mu' tah" or "Mutah," a subject on which I previously posted. Hmmm - it just occurred to me - is "Mu' tah" somehow related to the ancient rites of the Mother Goddess Mu or Ma, Mah, Maat, etc.? (11) Bachofen, 180. (12) Farh, M.R.C., 81-83. (13) Fielding, 83. (14) Joyce, I., 463.

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