A note on the vocabulary people of English descent have inherited from their German ancestors of 1500 years ago

I argued yesterday that English vowels point to the Frisians from the North Sea coast as the dominant German tribe in Britannia but what about vocabulary?  Since all the invading groups, including the Frisians, spoke a form of German, vocabulary is unlikely to tell us much about who was who among the invaders -- but there is one puzzling feature of the vocabulary that we have inherited:  Some quite common words -- such as "take' -- are not of German origin at all.  The modern German word for "take" is "nehmen', which could hardly be more different.

Ultimately "take" is clearly from a Scandinavian source (such as Old Norse "taka") and for some reason, perhaps because of its brevity, it overtook and replaced the German word ("niman" in Old English).

So how did some Scandinavian words get into the vocabulary of North Germans?  That's pretty obvious.  There were all these tough Viking precursors on the North side of the Baltic -- while seas and oceans were seen as highroads rather than as obstacles in early times.  You could move people and goods much more easily over water than you could over dirt tracks.

And the Saxon homeland in Holstein did have a substantial frontage onto the South Baltic.

It did also have a frontage onto the North Sea but there was nothing much nearby there -- Cuxhaven did not exist at that time -- so the Baltic frontage would have been by far the busiest and most influential.

So some Scandinavian words did "leak" from North to South across the Baltic -- probably in the main via trade.  So vocabulary reveals that the Saxon influence in Britannia was clearly substantial.  It gave way to Frisian vowels (from the North Sea coast) but contributed some distinctly Baltic vocabulary.

The Scandinavians (Swedes) did not succeed in moving South themselves. The Germans of the South Baltic coast always repelled any such attempts. And it is tempting to suspect that the expansionist Saxons were the backbone of the German resistance. Their main expansionary thrust was Southward but an expansion sideways along the South Baltic coast would seem like an obvious early move, with its opportunities to move by sea. Seas and rivers were the highroads of the ancient world.

The rivers Eider and Elbe did provide Northern and Southern pathways to the North Sea but rivers are a lot harder to navigate than the open sea.-- JR.

1 comment:

  1. It is well recognized that the South Sea Islanders use more vowels than consonants compared to other languages. ALOHA comes to mind.


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