St Catharine’s Fellow, Dr Richard Dance (1997; Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic), has published his latest book, Words Derived from Old Norse in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Etymological Survey.
The English language is well known for the diversity of its historical origins. But as well as words from the Anglo-Saxons, and borrowings from familiar sources like French, Latin and Greek, a crucial element of English vocabulary comes from contact with the language of the Vikings, Old Norse. Hundreds of English words can be traced back to these Scandinavian beginnings. And not only have these items become essential to the everyday modern language (where would we be without words like take, window, law, happy, sky — and even fellow?), but they also form a vital part of the rich, difficult lexicon of masterpieces of medieval literature like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Richard Dance’s new book is the first full-length survey of the extensive and complex evidence for the Norse borrowings in this famous poem. Over more than 800 pages, it presents an in-depth study of the origins of 496 individual words (everything from blaste and cakled to mensk ‘honoured’, muged ‘drizzled’ and wothe ‘danger’), which have been analysed in the light of a ground-breaking new etymological methodology. This book is the most detailed description ever undertaken of the Scandinavian influence on the vocabulary of a major Middle English text, and a new model for the collection and analysis of Norse loans in any English source.
The book is available to buy from the Wiley-Blackwell online library, and volume 1 will also appear in print in the next few weeks.