etymology, Historical Linguistics

How German is Scandinavian?

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Between one third and half of the everyday vocabulary of Scandinavian languages is borrowed from Low German. The borrowing mainly took place during the 13th to 16th century, when the Hanseatic Trade League’s influence on northern Europe was largest. Not only words were borrowed, but many frequent derivational affixes, such as be- (be-rika, be-ivra, be-tvinga in Swedish) and -het (svensk-het, tursam-het), were borrowed. We don’t know to which extent the Low German influence also contributed to the massive simplification in the morphology of especially nouns – so that the only thing that remains of e.g. the dative form are fossilized expressions like gå man ur huse where huse is inflected in its old dative form.

Here’s a Norwegian example (from Torp 2002) of a sentence where all content words are borrowings from Low German:

Skredderen tenkte at trøya passet fortreffelig, men kunden klaget og mente at plagget var kort och tøyet simpelt tog grovt.

[The tailor thought that the jacket fittet perfectly, but the customer complained and means that the garment was short and the material was unsophisticated and coarse.]



Arne Torp. 2002. Chaper 2: The Nordic languages in a Germanic perspective. In Bandle, Oskar, Lennart Elmevik, and Gun Widmark (Eds) The Nordic languages an international handbook of the history of the North Germanic languages. Volume I. Berlin: W. de Gruyter.