Sunday, February 10, 2013

English is not North Germanic

At the end of November, two new hypotheses regarding the origins and history of English popped onto the scene.  One by a non-scholar, non-linguist, vexing the Old English group on Facebook "argues" that English always existed on the island of Britannia.  Not worth the time to deal with really; loads of guesswork, interesting idea, but the evidence as anyone who has taken a look knows, just simply doesn't support it in any way, shape or form.  Still, some interesting folk, non-linguists, do entertain the idea and might be worth deconstructing at some point in the future.

But the other idea that came to our attention at the same time was a claim by two linguists that English is a descendant of Old Norse and not Old English!  Unfortunately, this was reported in a newspaper article ( so there was really no evidence to support the claim listed.  Someone, Paul Aker perhaps, on ONN posted a link to the original paper (found here).  I don't know how many people actually read the paper, though there was a great deal of discussion both on the Old Norse Network and on Ansax-L.  Needless to say amidst all the kerfluffle there, the notion was essentially rejected though there was considerable turning the idea about.

I thought as an intellectual exercise and just for fun it might be interesting to read the paper over break here and think about it in detail.  In the spirit of full disclosure I'm against its central thesis even before I read it for a number of reasons.  Now after reading it and checking it, I still have the same opinion.  So if you want to be spared the details, I would stop here.  If you want the excruciating details, read on.

Before getting into the nitty gritty, let me say that there are several problems with the methodology of this paper.  For one thing, there are great leaps of logic (this language change happened in the North, the Vikings were in the North, therefore, this language change is due to Norse influence even in spite of the fact that it isn't a feature of Norse nor is there any argumentation connecting Norse influence to this linguistic change 6 centuries later.  See more on this below.).  Also, a great deal of the discussion is utterly dependent on history of English textbooks.  These textbooks of necessity are very general; there is no additional reference on any point to an article or a detailed study of the various points raised, even though there are several such points where monographs and articles have been published.  Further, "facts" and statements from the sources are often stretched to indicate something they were not meant to indicate.  In addition, there is not a single example from Old English, Middle English, or Old Norse except those cited by the HEL books the author refers to.  Even in those cases, the comparisons are made to modern Norwegian and Swedish with Middle English (and not contrasted with Old English), but no comparison is made to the earlier forms of Old Norse: the assumption being that the modern languages have not been affected by the same or similar forces of linguistic change that might result in similar features (though I question whether some of these features are as similar as the author claims.).  Nor are varieties of English considered.  If one wants to prove a relationship of descent from Old Norse to Middle English, the only procedure that works is to show where a grammatical feature exists in Old Norse, does not exist in Old English, but does exist in Middle English.  This is not even approached in this article.  Most of these will be dealt with below in more detail.

Now some of these sins if you will can be overlooked because the paper was delivered at a conference, and is currently available online because it is in a conference proceedings.  So in that case one can really only outline the major points of the argument.  Still, even in that case, there are too many of these methodological issues to overlook completely.

Ok, so let me get started.  The paper begins with a section entitled Preview of the Hypothesis, and the author gets right to it: English descends from Middle English, an amalgamation of Old English and Old Norse. He locates the birth of English in the East Midlands/North of England, overlooking the rest and refers to Baugh and Cable History of the English Language, the 2005 edition.

First paragraph, first problems.  Baugh and Cable do not refer to English as an amalgamation as indicated by the article.  They do use the word to describe the development of the language at all.  They use the word as a headword to describe the process of assimilating the Norse in the 10th century.  And that's an important detail to note, because it is the next section of the book that addresses the language and is titled "the relationship of the two languages"  It is evident in the word choice that Baugh and Cable are not viewing English as an amalgamation, nor do they think so.

The next paragraph deals specifically with the lexicon.  The author, Emonds, makes the point that most Old English words have dropped out of the language.  He first cites another introductory linguistics book (Linguistics for Everyone by Denham and Lobeck) that 85% of the Old English lexicon disappeared after contact with the Norse and French.  Emonds takes this as specifically applying to Middle English, stating that the Middle English lexicon was not "robust" with Old English terms.  This is another indication that our author hasn't read widely in Old and Middle English.

Let's take a moment to take a look at the use of this quote.  Denham and Lobeck write this in their  brief chapter on historical linguistics and are themselves dependent on the usual history of English textbooks that Emonds cites throughout his article, Baugh and Cable, Pyles, Millward and Hayes, and so on.  B&C mention the 85% figure, but in a fairly generic way in comparison to modern English.  Likewise Pyles is pretty specific on the figure being in comparison with modern English, not middle English.  Millward and Hayes are likewise explicit that the comparison is to "PDE", present day English.  And taken at face value, the Denham and Lobeck statement is correct: AFTER the period of Norse and French influence on the English language, Old English words were lost in a significant way.  But not immediately after, and not so much DURING the Middle English period.  One need only peruse the Middle English Dictionary: there are thousands of native words that occur frequently; there are thousands of French words too, but the majority of those appear in one or two texts; there are far fewer Norse words than either of these two.  Certainly there is significant loss of Old English words in Middle English, a process that continues through the period, but far more importantly BEYOND the period into the 17th and 18th centuries (and even further).  But by choosing the Denham and Lobeck form of the statement rather than one of his other sources, Emonds is able to then emphasize the "Scandinavian" part of the statement and immediately claim that this loss of 85% of the Old English vocabulary is in the MIDDLE ENGLISH period, a rather significant error, and then suggest that the replacement vocabulary from Norse was "massive", which as we will see when we get to his deeper discussion, it wasn't. 

The next topic is about grammatical influence of Norse on English.  Here our author goes way over the top claiming that "...the most salient grammatical morphemes" were Scandinavian and that Middle English grammar was a continuation of Old Norse, not Old English (and all this without a single comparison between ON, OE, and ME!).  Oddly, he follows this up not with an example or a statistic from a source but with a statement that lexical information is NEVER an indication of linguistic descent.  If that were the case, why spend so much time on it in historical linguistics?  seems more than a bit odd.  What he meant to say is that the lexicon is NEVER THE SOLE indicator of linguistic descent.  But it is certainly an indicator, if the weakest of the bunch.

This completes the "preview."  Next we read Emonds' historical reconstruction of the Danelaw.  And immediately we find problems.  "In the first 200 years of co-inhabiting eastern and northern Britain (850–1066), Scandinavians and English had been in a largely adversarial situation and vied for
political supremacy."  Um, no.  In fact, just the opposite.  Let's start with politics.  First, the Danelaw didn't exist long, certainly not 200 years.  The Vikings returned in 865, the Danelaw was created in 884, and was gone by 954.  And yes, certainly, the political powers fought back and forth, Wessex and the powers of the Danelaw, but the story of the Danelaw was politically one of attrition.  In 886 London is recaptured; 902 Essex submits to Wessex; 911 Battle of Tettenhall created a power vacuum in the North; 917, Essex and East Anglia accept the English as overlords; 918, Leicester, one of the five boroughs follows E. Anglia, and York is about to except for the death of Aethelflaed; 919, Dublin Vikings take York (remember that the rest of the former Danelaw is under English control).  In 920, even the York Vikings, the Scots, and the Welsh recognize English suzerainty.  Between 920 and 954 there were some battles, but overall, the English are winning the day and in 954 the Danelaw is gone.  It is really rather a short story.  If we look over the period of the political entity of the Danelaw there are more years of peace than war, so claiming that this was a largely adversarial relationship is difficult...and if even often adversarial only in parts since within 2 decades of the creation of the Danelaw, large swathes returned to English hegemony.

There is a great deal of evidence demonstrating the fusion of communities in the Danelaw.  Art and artifact is but one.  The Newgate Cross shaft is but one example among many of this fusion.Just in Yorkshire, there are more than 500 gravestones and crosses displaying this fusion to some degree.  The mixture of Christian and pagan imagery depicting Northern stories, or of imagery that can be read either way, repeats a pattern in sculpture seen in earlier works such as Ruthwell Cross or the Franks Casket showing again the fusion of beliefs and peoples.   

If we look internally to the Danelaw we see even less of this supposed adversarial situation.  There is no record or mention of revolution, revolt, switching sides in battle, etc within the Danelaw.  In fact, what we see is peace.  There is very quick adoption by the Norse of Anglo-Saxon saints and involvement in the church.  While there are multiple place names of Scandinavian origin, there are also many places with mixed names....Scandinavian elements merged with Anglo-Saxon to yield a new name.  Similarly with personal names: an uptick in Scandinavian names, but also a significant increase in names of mixed elements.  Both of these suggest very quick intermixture of the communities and fusion of the communities rather than an adversarial relationship between Anglo-Saxons and Danes within the Danelaw.

The vocabulary that English borrows from Old Norse that Emonds will examine further bears out the tale.  As is widely known, a great deal of this borrowed vocabulary is of the every day variety: foods, implements, things or actions that encountered in the daily business of living: home-life, the market, the farm, etc.  Yes, there are some specialized subsets, such as legal terms, but the majority is of the common sort.  What this tells us again is that the two linguistic communities are intermixing quickly and communicating over things of daily life at the farm, in the kitchen, at the market rather than being adversarial. More on this below.

Furthermore, two additional illustrations should suffice.  Two rather well known persons in the early and mid tenth century illustrate just how uncombative, non-adversarial the situation was; and in fact, how porous the so-called Danelaw was.  Those men are Odo and Oswald.  Odo of East Anglia (prob.) was born to Danish parents and became first a bishop in Wessex, then Archbishop of Canterbury.  His nephew, the product of an Anglo-Danish marriage with an Anglo-Saxon name, Oswald likewise moved to Glastonbury where under Dunstan he became one of the leading church reformers and eventually served as Archbishop of York.  A relative of his, Oscytel likewise of mixed parentage and a name of mixed linguistic elements rose in the ranks, and another relative of mixed parentage but with a Scandinavian name Thurcytel was abbot of Bedford and possibly Crowland.  Moving across the borders, mixed name elements, mixed parentage, and spread over the whole period of the Danelaw...this looks like fairly peaceful fusion rather than adversarial.

Of course, both Emonds and the foregoing commentary suffer from a fault.  Neither takes into account the nuances within the Danelaw and beyond, so allow me to mention that quickly.  We know that the Danelaw is porous.  We also know that it wasn't drawn all the way across the island and that Norse settlements were outside the supposed Danelaw.  Thus to the NW of the kingdom of York in southern Scotland are Norse settlements, and these are rather thick on the ground.  Proceeding south and east into York there is still heavy Norse settlement but also more of what was mentioned above: renamed English settlements, settlements with mixed names, Norse and English settlements side by side, and so on.  Moving south and east this situation increases until as one looks at Essex and East Anglia Norse settlement is actually rather light and practically non-existant as we approach London.

I mention all of this because it is central to Emonds' argument.  His argument in this section runs like this: the Norse and Anglo-Saxon communities in the Danelaw between its creation and 1066 was adversarial and so separate with little influence; after 1066 and the harrowing of the north these two communities are reduced to poverty and thralldom to the Normans and so begin to mix and we have linguistic influence.   But not just linguistic influence: the argument is that Middle English is an amalgam of Norse and English more heavily Norse and not Old English changed with the addition of Norse influences.  And all of this ignores the question of "identity" and how and when (or even if) identity was applied by those in the Danelaw--we'll leave that interesting discussion aside for now.

I've addressed somewhat the notion that the communities were separate pre-1066.  Let's take a closer look at Emonds' support for his argument: it actually happens to be Baugh and Cable.  That's right, not a single one of the multitude of works on the history and languages of the Danelaw in the Anglo-Saxon period are mentioned or referred to (and he gets the history of the period wrong).  The only source is a paragraph in Baugh and Cable.  B&C cite one study that talks about the intermixture of Norse and English communities in the Danelaw.  And then they proceed to talk about how there must have been animosity and division and separateness....though they offer no primary examples nor cite any evidence to illustrate this point that is so vital to their case.  This is in fact one of those places where when I teach History of the English Language I stop and spend a few minutes correcting the textbook!  They make specific claims that the Norse settlers found little reason to adopt the language of the English without any evidence...and where the evidence indicates the opposite. They also claim that there was a constant flow of settlers from Scandinavia into the Danelaw pre-1066....also without evidence!  In point of fact, that is very unlikely, there may have been more settlers coming in to the area during the period of Viking control, but unlikely after 954, and even during the period of Cnut's rule there does not seem to be evidence of great influx of settlers from the North.  So the claim that there is constant renewal by these incoming settlers for over 2 centuries simply doesn't reflect the evidence.  This isn't to say there were none or that the influence is insignificant; it is to say that the degree to which B&C and Emonds' claim is not supportable by the evidence.

Interestingly Edmons states as evidence of how there are only two words of Norse origin that survive into modern English as evidence of the separateness of the two communities in the Danelaw. This too is problematic.  First, it is factually wrong.  I can think of cut, knife, law, outlaw, husband off the top of my head.  Grabbing the OED, I find bond (as in OE bonda, fr ON), haven, root, take, die, skin, among about a dozen others.  So, we have in Old English a lot more than 2 Norse words, and those words span the common, every day to law and rule.  Second, and more importantly, it isn't how many words from ON that are first attested pre-1066 survive to the present or to Modern English that matters: what matters is how many words from Old Norse are first attested in Old English texts, and here the numbers are quite a bit larger than two (although admittedly not huge) amounting to about 60 or so.  This number is quite surprising since the majority of English texts were written not in the Danelaw but in Wessex, and later in the south, and west (with the exception of important eastern centers like Canterbury).  So the number of words appearing in literary OE in areas not directly affected by an influx of Norse speakers and the range of semantic fields of those words, illustrates that already in the OE period Norse influence is being felt significantly...indicating fusion and relationship rather than adversarial relationships.

So if the author's claim regarding the Norse relationship in OE period is incorrect and wrong, that would indicate that by 1066 when the Normans come the two communities are already by and large ONE community speaking English heavily influenced by Norse.  The argument of part 3 of the paper is to discuss how William's actions supposedly united these two formerly disparate communities, but if they weren't disparate or separate but English already, then there is no need to read the harrowing of the north as the unifying factor.

Part 4 of the paper begins by stating that the fusion of the two communities didn't happen everywhere, but principally in the East Midlands.  "This area
almost exactly coincides with the dominant (more populated) southern part of where
Scandinavians principally settled in England, i.e., which constituted “the Danelaw.”
Strong corroborative evidence that Scandinavians settled extensively and for the most
part only in the Danelaw are the maps of Scandinavian settlements in England, e.g., in
Freeborn (1998, 43)."  Well, he's half right.  In the East Midlands, we see far fewer Scandinavian place names indicating less settlement and this was also the area that most quickly returned to English control: London in 886, E. Anglia and Essex in 911 and 917, just 30 years.  And I confess myself puzzled.  Edmons claims that Freeborn (From Old English to Standard English, another introductory text) has a map showing that the Scandinavians chiefly settled in the East Midlands or the Five Boroughs area.  But while it is true that the Five Boroughs show significant settlement in some parts, it also shows more place names of mixed elements, ON and OE, indicating early assimilation, contrary to Emonds' claim; and further the map shows heavier concentration further north.  And the further south one goes, the less settlement occurs: south of Stamford the number of settlements drops off considerably, and by the time one gets to Bedford north of London, there hasn't been any settlement of Norse, mixed or otherwise, for some miles.  (not sure if this link will take one to the map or not, but here goes: map, the map is on pg. 42). 

This is important because Emonds argument is this: Norse populated East Midlands; East Midland dialect is the basis of modern standard English, and voila Norse is the root of modern English.  Now no one questions the Norse characteristics of the East Midlands dialect.  Nor that over the course of the late 13th, the 14th, and 15th centuries this dialect became the standard, and so became  "received" standard modern English.  But to maintain this argument several things are necessary:

1. well, first, a correct understanding of the East Midlands, Norse settlement patterns, subdialects, and so on is necessary, and we've seen above that that hasn't happened.
2. It needs to be shown that Old Norse is indeed the ancestor of the East Midland dialect, not simply an influence on it.  Emonds attempts to do this in what remains of the paper.
3. Just as importantly though is that this account must also explain the development of Middle English in the 12th century in the Peterborough Chronicle which shows a transition from Old English to Middle, but without the intermediary of Old Norse.
4. And it also must give an adequate account of Middle English arising even in areas where the Norse did not settle, or come close to settling
5. Finally, it must give an account of Norse words appearing where Norse was not influential.

As noted, of the five arguments to be made to sustain the central thesis, this paper only attempts 2, and of the two it fails the first.  The remaining sections attempt to establish the veracity of #2.

In section 5 our author argues that the usual understanding of Middle English being Old English with Old Norse influences and changes in language is false.  He points to the vocabulary, and makes a remark that languages don't borrow words for things and concepts the language already has.  He further attempts to do some counting: above remember he remarked based on Denham and Lubuck that only 4500 OE words survive, that he erroneously applies to Middle English.  He then goes on to look at the borrowings from Old Norse, many of everyday objects and actions, and contrasts those with Old French borrowings that he claims are not of everyday objects.  The point he makes is that this indicates that ON is more the source of English lexicon than OE because a language doesn't borrow items for what it already has words for.

Let's start with the last point.  I hope I needn't belabor that languages do borrow words for things it already has all the time: every language has synonyms!  Some of those synonyms are borrowed.  A brief reading in *ANY* of the sources Emonds includes in his bibliography will reveal this fact, that languages borrow terms for things they already have.  This is not uncommon.  Over time, like shirt and skirt, skiff and ship, the words become differentiated in meaning and become more specific or are dropped entirely (such as take and nimian...the latter continued in use throughout the ME period but eventually dropped out of the language).

Moving backwards: the OF words that Emonds thinks are not everyday items include table, chair (with a back), lamp, ink, promise etc.  But while Emonds claims these are "cultural" borrowings for things that English did not have words for, he's wrong.  While there certainly are cultural borrowings from both Norse and French, there are also a number of everyday object/action borrowings too.

The statistics also need some addressing.  The Middle English Dictionary has 60,000 entries in it.  Only 10,000 of those come from OF.  According to the OED, there are 777 Old Norse words in English.  Less than 1000 out of 60,000 come from ON.  The remainder are by and large native English words.  In short, Emonds' statistics are way off.

In section 6 we turn to grammar.  First Emonds lists a number of grammatical  verbs and notes those from ON.  Among these are: are.  That one is debateable and likely comes from OE eart and not ON.  Get is also problematic, probably from Norse, though we do have evidence of the root in OE, though reconstructed from past participial forms.  Go is from OE gan; there is a Norse cognate.  Take is from ON, but nimian survives until after the ME period.  Want is from ON, but throughout the ME period was not a "grammatical verb" but a verb meaning "to lack, be in want."  So it really shouldn't be in the list.  The remainder of the list is OE.  Thus, every example of ON in this category that Emonds will make something of is from OE save 2, neither of which is the sole word in the period nor used as a "grammatical verb."

Our author next points to other grammatical borrowings.  The oft mentioned third person plural personal pronouns are from ON, and as often explained likely were borrowed because the native English ones sounded a lot like the singulars, so the Norse and French liked something a bit clearer.

But he also claims "him" to be from ON.  It isn't.  It's the OE dative singular in masc. and neuter, that in the 10th century also began to be used for the accusative.

Next he points to both and some.  The etymology of both is debatable; only one of three options has it come from ON.  Since it's debatable, it isn't evidence of anything.  Some is a direct descendant of OE sum, both as a pronoun and a suffix.

Then come at, from, and though.  All three come from Old English and are used grammatically in the same way in ME as in OE.

That, also from OE, and also used as a relative in OE.  So again not from ON.  It's use as a complementizer, a subordinating conjunction, is also in OE.  Emonds says that it is not so used in German and Dutch (other W. Germanic languages).  I do not know the basis for this: in German there is the cognate dass, which is used as a conjunction: ich habe verdacht dass...I have the idea that.....for example. Likewise in Dutch, de stoel(en) die ik gekocht heb, the chairs that I have bought....I am not at all certain what the writer has in mind when he claims this construction is not possible in other West Germanic languages.

He states that "null allomorphs" for relative pronouns come from Scandinavian.  I think what he is referring to here is when we in English say something like "nobody knows" where we don't supply "it" or what is not known.  We do this with relatives, esp. that, quite often in ModE: the student you saw today;  but usually only when the relative is in the accusative in the clause, as in the example (the student whom/that you saw=the saw whom....  Subject pronouns are dropped most of the time in imperative sentences.  Do your homework! for example.  So the question is, is this feature in English something that developed from native sources, from Old Norse, or from Romance (French and Latin).  Pronoun dropping is common in null subject languages, like languages that have endings on verbs.  Like Old English was.  And if we look at some Old English phrases we find indeed that Pronoun dropping occurs in Old English! 
Þa clypode an ðæra manna Zebeus gehaten and cwæð to ðam cyninge...from Aelfric's homilies, "then called one of the men called Zebeus and said to the king....two pronouns dropped, before called and said.  We'd insert "who/that is called Zebeus and he said....", relative pronoun dropping in Old English.  And no surprise, we find this feature in Middle English as well as ModE.  

Our author next turns to the change in the Pres Act Ind 3 pers singular verb, speaketh to speaks.  This change first documented in the north and then moves south; and Emonds points out of course that it is in the North that the Norse settled most heavily allowing the reader to come to the conclusion that the change is due to Norse or comes from Norse.  There is no real evidence offered other than this coincidence.  

What we really have is paradigm leveling.  The OE verbal endings in the singular were -e -est -eth; this is retained throughout the Middle English period.  But in early Modern English the first person ending was dropped, no longer accented.  The rest of the paradigm followed suit quickly after, first the second person, then the third....Here's how it works in the third person, a simple phonological change.  In all three endings the "e" is what is dropped.  In the first person that means the whole ending is gone.  In the second person -est, remove the "e" and one is left with "st", but that simply doesn't work with a lot of consonants and was unnecessary.  In the third, drop the "e" and that leaves "th" without the "e" to pull the tongue between the teeth, one ends up with an -s.  Try it: say speaketh, and then speakth fast, the tongue eventually just hits the back of the teeth, forming an "s".  

It is true that this happens first in the north.  So why?  Good question.  Rather unanswerable, but is there any reason to connect it to the Norse or the Norse language?  No.  First, this change occurs in the 16th century, 700 years after the Norse arrival and assimilation.   During all that time in so far as we know, the ending was "eth" or a variant thereof (ath for example).  So why the change so long after?  No reason.  Further, in Old Norse the third person singular verbal ending is -ar, not -s, and there is simply no way to explain how the sound change would go from -ar to -s in English phonology nor how an -ar ending in Norse would change -eth to -s.  What this comes down to then, is that Emonds is using the cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: after this, because of this.  The Norse were in the North, the sound change happens first in the North later, therefore the cause of the sound change is the Norse.  But it is still fallacious and not supported by any evidence.

Emonds uses the foregoing information to oddly undermine his thesis.  Originally he wants to argue that ModE is a descendant of Norse, a north Germanic language and not OE, a West Germanic language.  Here he paints a picture that when the Norse and English communities merged post-Conquest  their children developed a pidgin (it would actually be a creole, in spite of Emonds protestation) out of the English and Norse of their parents.  He thus argues that ME is a new language.  Now he wants to know how to classify it, North or West Germanic.  It should go without saying that the path to get here errs in too many ways.

In section 7 the author addresses why Norse prevailed in the Danelaw.  He sets out a list of "decisions" speakers of the putative language must answer. He remarks that some speakers would answer these issues one way, other speakers another.  Regrettably, he provides no evidence for this.  
He then answers the question why the Norse prevailed and gets it wrong.  First there is the claim that up to the Conquest the Norse had political power in the Danelaw.  And first, there was no Danelaw at this point; second that isn't true, Edward had the reign, then Cnut, who yes was a Dane, but there is little evidence of an influx of Norse settlers or Norse language in the fact English was retained as the official language of court pronouncements.  And certainly under Cnut, if we wish to argue that Norse contact increased, so then did contact with closer cousins Frisian, and Saxon, Slavic languages, and Baltic tongues.  Cnut's father was a Dane, his mother Polish, his wives English and Norman.  Before Cnut, the Norse haven't had control of the Danelaw or the area for a half century.  

Emonds continues and makes the claim that Norse settlers continuously settled in England since the early 800s all the way up to 1066.  But as discussed already above, we know this isn't true either....for one thing they don't really start settling until the 870s, and after the Danelaw is gone, that dries up. During the age of Cnut, Danes coming to England weren't settlers, but seekers after Danegeld, with which they were bought off and went home.

He then engages in some speculation peppered with probablies about Norse status vis a vis English which have little basis in the facts of late Anglo-Saxon/Early Norman England. 

So we turn at last to section 8 wherein Emonds seeks to demonstrate that ME is North Germanic.  He lays out and discusses those "questions" I mentioned in section 7.  The first issue then is that ME is VO (verb object) language, fr. c. 1200, in contrast to OE OV (object verb) that he claims is just like ON.  

Of course, we have now run into problems.  Late Old English shows some 75% of the prose is already in SV and SVO in indepedent clauses, that is the transition to SVO or VO in Middle English is alread well under way by the time of Aelfric of Eynsham. This is based on  a statistical analysis of Aelfric's sermons. To illustrate the OE transition better, 9th century prose shows about 50% SVO in independent clauses, thus a century later, 75%, 2 centuries after that the transition is complete.   So essentially what we're seeing is not necessarily the influence of Norse, but a pattern: just as OE is in transition from inflected to analytic, so too is it in transition from SOV to SVO, a process complete rather early in the Middle English period.  Nor does anyone seriously question the influence of Norse here: the presence of Norse speakers undoubtedly sped up the linguistic change already happening in Old English.

The next issue is preposition stranding.  You don't understand what I am talking about.  Technically, it should be "about what I am talking."  But where Wh-constructions occur and in a few other places English allows this "preposition stranding".  Emonds suggests this comes from Norse, but offers no evidence at all, either from ON or its modern descendants.  He does claim that this is not a feature of other West Germanic languages.  

First, under certain restrictive conditions, preposition stranding does in fact occur in Old English; and under restrictive conditions in Old Norse. Second,  Middle English doesn't develop a more robust "preposition stranding" beyond what is available in OE until post-Chaucer, roughly 1400...and Norse has not yet developed the same.  So in spite of the fact that modern Scandinavian languages can do the same as modern English, it does not follow that English is therefore influenced by Norse or Scandinavian languages. Third,  I'm informed as well that Dutch at least, a West Germanic language, also has preposition stranding under similar constructions as English.

Next, the ol' split infinitive raises it's head! According to our author, the split infinitive, placing an adverb (to boldly go) between the "to" and the verb form, occurs in Modern English, Norwegian, and Swedish, but it does not occur in "West Germanic."  The argument is implicit again but seems to be that because these languages share this feature, Norse must have caused it.  But again, in order to show that English is a descendant of Old Norse, or at least is a North Germanic language, more needs to be done than note commonalities in modern languages.  What needs to be done is show a causal relationship.  The split infinitive while possible in late Middle English, does not really become a major part of the language until the 19th century.  So rare in Middle English, but also not possible in Old Norse (like Old English).  This means that there is no direct connection between Norse and late Middle English that would cause the split infinitive to be possible.  No causality means the argument fails.

8.5 at last (no, it's not the final "proof" either)Let me quote: "The Middle and Modern English inflection –s is a suffix on noun phrases, as in (9a), and
the same holds of the Mainland Scandinavian languages, for example Swedish (9b):
(9) a. Anna’s house the woman with the red hair’s house
b. Annas hus (no apostrophe is used) kvinnan med det röda hårets hus
These forms contrast with West Germanic, where –s is a genitive case inflection on head
nouns only, e.g., as in German and Old English. This is another argument for English
being North Germanic."

Huh?  Ok, let's pull this apart.   Essentially what is being suggested is that because modern English has what is called a "group possessive" where the possessive can be attached to a noun phrase.  "the president of the United States' schedule, my colleague down the hall's opinion, our college library's collection.  This construction begins to appear in late Middle English and begins to pick up steam in the modern period.  There's a great deal of discussion about the history of this and what it means and how to describe it that I won't go into.  But it isn't a feature of Old English and only appears when the old case system has fallen apart and all but disappeared.  The reason is that if we want to say in Old English "the king of england's horse", it would all be in the genitive save "horse". But it would be a genitive phrase within a genitive phrase the king being the head genitive and of England the descriptor: (the king [of England]) horse.  

Modern Swedish has also developed this group possessive and certain constructions in modern Norwegian also apparently.  Now Emonds' argument here is simply to note that modern Swedish has this same feature that English does; West Germanic languages do not.    Therefore these two languages must come from the same root language.  

Of course one can see the errors in reasoning here and the gaps in evidence.  Old Norse does not have this feature.  And in fact, neither does Old Norwegian or Old Swedish.  In all of them it develops independently in the modern period.  There is no causal connection for Emonds' conclusion...another fallacy, the hasty generalization or leap to conclusion.  Now if ALL the North Germanic languages had this feature,  (and I'm told that modern Danish does as well) we might posit that though we don't find it in ON, that it must have been possible in spoken language and so passed on to the descendants.  But only Swedish has this feature consistently.  So not from OE, not from ON, in English at least is a independent development.  

The next syntactic topic Emonds takes up  is the "directional particles", we say "take out the garbage"  and "take the garbage out" and not "outtake the garbage.:  In modern English we don't use the latter, though that was the common method in Oldand other Germanic languages.

Now Emonds commits a number of methodological sins here that most certainly go beyond just the fact that this is a conference paper.  First, he notes the feature of "non adjacent directional particles", i. e. take out and take X out, the latter is an example of "non adjacent" since it is separated from the verb.  Emonds says that this happens IN SOME (modern) SCANDINAVIAN DEPENDENT clauses.  Ok so far other than no examples from the languages.  He points out that this doesn't occur in German.  He then notes that this occurs in English, quotes Barbara Strang from her history of English book noting that this construction is a change in Middle English, particularly late Middle English (in fact, 14th century--Strang's book is divided into chapters covering very specific time blocks, and this quotation comes from the chapter covering late middle English.).  Emonds' conclusion?  The change is due to the Scandinavian source language.   Ok, so he doesn't note that this doesn't occur in ON either; he doesn't note when it begins to occur in any Scandinavian language; he makes a conclusion based on dependent clauses about English independent clauses; and is wrong about German and English. "I overturned the cart" works just as well as "I turned the cart over" or "I turned over the cart."  I will come over to your house works, however I will overcome to your house does not since overcome means something else in the language and I will come to your house over also doesn't work. In German, it works just fine as well: Wir warfen den Mull nicht weg!  Or a similar and sad headline: Sie warf ihr Baby weg wie Mull.  Note the SVO construction and the separation of the particle in both instances. So in other words, Germanic languages, not just English and Scandinavians have developed this feature.  After all that, I shouldn't need to point Emond's fallacious "leap to the conclusion" out (note the separation of directional particle there).

Finally, the author turns to dialectical use of different case pronouns in English.  His examples are:
"Mary or him will win the prize." he marks as "modern English", Mary or he will... he marks as not possible or incorrect.  Yet, while in some dialects one will hear the former, in others, the latter (and technically correct.).  In response to "Who wants another beer?" He gives the responses, "Us two!" as correct and "We two!" as not.  Frankly, I doubt either one.  You'll hear instead "two here!" or "We do!" or even "sure!" In the singular he'd have a point: almost ubiquitously in English one would hear "Me!" rather than "I", though if the verb is added, "I do, I do!"  and to the same question he gives the answer "her over there" vs. "she over there" where in fact what'd actually be heard is "she does", or without a verb, "her" with the hook of the thumb. And the same in the plural, "them" without a verb, "they do" if added.  And one would use or hear either one depending on location, dialect, and audience.   Likewise he notes "John is taller than them" as correct, but "John is taller than they" as not when in fact one will hear either one and even "...than they are."  So yes, English is going through a "case leveling" in instances where the verb is not repeated, the Dative/Accsative form is used (him, her, them, us).  He gives no examples in modern or medieval forms of North Germanic languages. 
So let's take a look.  Starting in the 14th century English in the second person we have some changes in pronominal usage.  In imitation of the French vous being used in formal address, English "you" began to be used in the same way.  To make a long story short, the oblique case in the second person took over all the cases, no thous, thees, and thines in current usage.  This puts into motion by the nineteenth century a process in the other personal pronouns that erases the differences between the cases; this process is accelerated by our mobile society and globalization.  To cut it short again, the process has nothing to do with Norse influence.  

Emonds then concludes this section by claiming there seven ways in which English acts as North Germanic and he knows none in which English acts as West Germanic.  The foregoing shows the first part of the claim false and based on fallacies.   In fact, he fails to show that these features are "North Germanic" in origin (because a language does X does not mean it is a feature of its familial classicfication.)  As for modern English not acting like West Germanic, that may have some truth to it since the processes of language change that have been active in English have moved the language significantly---and similar processes have been at work on other West Germanic and North Germanic languages to varying degrees.  So English and Scots and Frisian are more progressive than Dutch and the various German varieties on the continent, and the North Germanic languages have likewise changed. The classification, however, is not on what is going on in the current versions of the language but rather where they came from.

In the last section of the paper, Emonds turns to the lack of inflection in Middle English, but interestingly and in traditional circular argument tradition, phrases the whole in terms of his conclusions...that is, rather then examine and use this as evidence for his conclusion, the conclusion is already a part of the argument.  "Van Kemenade (1987) thoroughly documents an interesting claim of traditional scholarship: the Middle English amalgam was marked by loss of overt inflection, focusing her examples on the absence in Middle English of Old English case on nouns."  This is a benign example at the beginning of the section: van Kemenade in fact does not speak of a Middle English "amalgam," Emonds does, but that amalgam is now put into the words of a respected expert on Middle English.  What van Kemenade does is a detailed examination of morphological inflection and syntactic inflection in Old English with a follow up chapter on Middle English.  Old English is already undergoing loss of inflection; it is accelerated in the Middle English period, so yes, over the period there is loss of inflection, especially in adjectives.  But not due to "an amalgam."  He nexts cites 4 inflectional losses in Middle English, 3 of which he gets if not wrong, at least not right (for example claiming that the preterite participle has no prefix, but it does, although as we move through the period it is lost.  But there is a significant difference in saying that over a nearly 500 year period of language change there is the loss of a prefix and that it doesn't exist at all.)    His concluding statement is: "When a language has a grammatical characteristic not shared with its parent language or nearby cognate languages, such as a general loss of inflection, one looks for sociolinguistic
causes."  This isn't true either: when such a situation exists, sociolinguistic causes is only ONE area a researcher would look to for the cause: other areas would include examining in detail what the linguistic changes are and what causes there might be internal to the language.  Of course, the other issue is that many of the processes that result in Middle English's differences from Old English are already in process during the Old English period, and post Norse, post Normans, and over half a millenium we see a number of significant changes.

I began this examination of the "English is North Germanic" argument by noting certain methodological problems.   In closing, I'll list a few things already mentioned that I think are vitally important and that are not just because this paper was delivered at a conference.  First and foremost, the comparisons that should be made to make this case are in Old English, Old Norse, and Middle English.  Comparing modern Norwegian or Swedish to modern English or even Middle English and concluding from that the cause of linguistic changes in 11th and 12th and subsequent centuries.  Second, it seems to me that the author does not have experience in Old English, Old Norse, or Middle English: Granted, this is an argument from silence, since the author makes no citations from those languages (other than ME, which he cites from a History of English Language textbook).  But because all the citations and examples occur in modern languages to draw a conclusion about medieval languages does strongly suggest a lack of experience with the latter; add to this that the major sources for the paper are largely History of English language textbooks rather than any of the myriad detailed studies of Old and Middle English, the languages of the Danelaw, the process of change and so on.  This is a real fault because HEL textbooks are OVERVIEWS, even the best of them such as Strang who goes into 2 hundred blocks of time in some detail, is still an overview (and she is only referred twice by section # rather than by page number, itself suggestive).  The lack of examination of any details in the languages of the period and the lack of any citation of more nuanced scholarship gives the impression that the author is poaching outside his/her expertise. 

So there it is.  Point after point in Emonds' article needs help, and needs evidence.  None is there.  I may be wrong on a few particulars, and hopefully readers will point my errors out, but taken as a whole I think this notion is unsupported and unsupported by the facts.  Bibliography to follow when I have some time.


Stephen Carlson said...

Nice take down. It's a terrible sign when the article makes the comparisons in the modern langauges instead of in the languages that actually existed (OE, ON, ME) back then.

By "null allomorphs from Scandinavian for relative pronouns and the complementizer
that (Jespersen 1905)," I understood him to refer to the optional omission of relative pronouns and the word that.

Viqueen said...

Thanks for taking so much trouble with something which, as you say, is clearly problematic from the outset, even before it is read. Did you ever track down what Jan Terje Faarlund was saying? I believe that was just a seminar paper, not even a conference paper, so probably no written version of it exists. But it is worrying when two linguists are peddling such stuff.

Steve said...

An interesting perception; The English commentator Henry Saville, in 1604, while arguing for full political union between his England and Scotland, had an interesting point to make about Scots and the 'linguistic continuum' with English. He placed Scots as less corrupt than English arguing:

"both nations using one and almost the same dialect, to wit the Saxon language. And the Scots and north people of England speak more incorruptly than the south, which by reason of the Conquest and greater Commerce with foreign nations, is become more mingled and degenerate from the ancient tongue, as will easily appear to him that shall compare the two dialects with the Germane, mother of them both."

Quoted in B. R. Galloway and B. P. Levack, eds., The Jacobean Union: Six tracts of 1604 (Edinburgh: 1985), 213. The quote is contextualised in D. Horsbroch, ‘Nostra Vulgari Lingua: Scots as a European Language, 1500-1700’, in Scottish Language, no.18 (1999), 3. See also D. Horsbroch, ‘The Scots Language: An Historical and Political Assessment’, in Studia Indogermanica Lodziesia, vol. IV (2002), 21-42.