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Viking legacy on English language

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.”

SOURCE

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WHO DISCOVERED MACHU PICCHU?

harry-bingham-peru-1911

Harry Bingham’s father’s crowning achievement was his exploration of Machu Picchu almost 100 years ago. Yet Hiram Bingham III’s status as the “discoverer” of the ruins is in dispute, and the Peruvian government has demanded that Yale University, where Bingham taught, return all the artifacts he took home from Inca lands.

Bingham’s persistent search for the fabled Incan capital culminated on July 24, 1911. Weary from hiking for hours, directed by a friendly pair of local farmers, he marched into the mountains accompanied by a local guide and a Peruvian policeman until “suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a jungle-covered maze of small and large walls,” he wrote in an account published in Harper’s Monthly in April 1913.

“Surprise followed surprise until there came the realization that we were in the midst of as wonderful ruins as any ever found in Peru,” he wrote. He had come upon Machu Picchu (“old peak” in Quechua). While there was evidence of graffiti left by a local mule driver, he added, “It is possible that not even the conquistadors ever saw this wonderful place.”

Bingham’s chronicle brought him acclaim (“The greatest archaeological discovery of the age,” the New York Times called it), but now archaeologists in Peru contend that he was not the first outsider to come upon the 15th-century Incan city’s ruins, as well he should have known.

“The presence of several German, British and American explorers is recognized, and that they had drawn up maps,” says Jorge Flores Ochoa, a Peruvian anthropologist. Bingham “had more academic knowledge…. But he was not describing a place that was unknown.”

The contention is not new. For example, in a September 8, 1916, letter to the Times, German mining engineer Carl Haenel said he had accompanied the explorer J.M. von Hassel to the area in 1910, though he offered no documentation of such a journey. But even Bingham admitted that “it seemed almost incredible that this city, only five days’ journey from Cuzco, should have remained so long undescribed and comparatively unknown.”

Richard L. Burger, a professor of anthropology at Yale, where Bingham taught Latin American history from 1907 to 1915, says he’s skeptical of the Peruvian assertions. If others did visit, he says, they either came to pillage or didn’t recognize the site’s importance. Besides, he adds, Bingham “never claimed to have been the first modern person to have set foot in Machu Picchu.” In Peru, some people have called Bingham the “scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu,” Burger says. “I think that is fairly accurate.”

Yale, for its part, is embroiled in a dispute with the government of Peru over the artifacts and bones that Bingham brought home. In 2007, the university agreed to return most of them in exchange for keeping some for further research. In a lawsuit filed last December in federal court, however, the government of Peru said Yale must return the entire collection.

Thomas Conroy, a Yale spokesman, said the university respects Peru’s interests. “We still have the same goal, to seek an ongoing collaboration which reflects Peru’s interest in the material and the rest of the world’s interest,” Conroy says. “And Yale does think such an agreement could serve as a model or an example of how [similar] disputes could be settled.”

SOURCE

Filed under: Archaeology, Cultura, Heritage, , , , , , , , ,

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