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18 September 2014
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Legacy of the Vikings

By Elaine Treharne
Standard English

Illustration depicting William Shakespeare
The language of Shakespeare was enriched by Viking influences 
During the 14th and 15th centuries, English began to be used more frequently for writing, having been used less than French and Latin over the previous two centuries. By the time it re-emerges, hundreds of Old English words have died out to be replaced by loan words from French, Scandinavian and many other languages.

The English we write and speak today owes its origins to a mix of the London and east Midlands dialects. East Midlands English was important because as a dialect from the centre of the country, bridging the gap between north and south, it was intelligible to the most people. Its geographical position was the most accessible in the country.

Great numbers of traders, pilgrims and others went about their business, passing through the various towns of the region - towns such as Leicester and Nottingham. During the 13th and 14th centuries, large numbers of east Midlanders migrated to London because of the opportunities the not-too-distant city offered. They seem to have often reached high positions in administration and government, and thus must have influenced the forms of language used in these areas of activity.

'... the impact of the Viking invasions remains very much with us today.'

Given that the East Midlands dialect itself was, in origin, a mixture of English and Scandinavian (with French thrown in for good measure), the impact of the Viking invasions remains very much with us today. We still speak a version of English that was born on the borders of Mercia and Danelaw. With this in mind it is fair to say that the Queen's English has its roots in the towns of the Midlands - just as much as in the palaces of Whitehall.

About the author

Dr Elaine Treharne is Reader in Medieval Literature in the Department of English at the University of Leicester. She specialises in late Old English prose and manuscript studies and author of Old and Middle English: An Anthology (Oxford, 2000) and The Old English Life of St Nicholas (Leeds, 1997). She is currently writing a book on English: 1000-1200. She is Chair of the English Association.


Published: 2004-11-17

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