The Dialect in Diaspora: People and Places PhD project will examine the linguistic impact of Scandinavian settlement in areas of England principally by looking at the minor names (for instance, field names) of these areas. Scandinavian-derived place-names have long been used to define areas of Scandinavian settlement and there has been much debate about the extent to which such place-names reflect large-scale Scandinavian immigration. However, there is undoubtedly much that is uncertain about the use of place-name evidence as direct evidence for immigration as the relationship between Scandinavian settlement and the establishment or non-establishment of a Scandinavian-derived place-name is not straightforward. This project will seek, in part, to assess the extent to which the place-name material can be used as evidence for Scandinavian settlement by examining if and how Scandinavian linguistic influence correlates with levels of Scandinavian settlement in the areas investigated. When considering this question, other evidence reflecting local identities will be considered, which should permit a more nuanced understanding of the factors shaping linguistic identity in the areas during the later medieval period.
Minor names are recorded in sufficient numbers to permit a quantitative comparison of the intensity of Scandinavian linguistic influence in the areas investigated (and indeed with the few areas for which comparable data have been analysed in a handful of articles by place-name scholars). Although Scandinavian settlement is thought to have taken place from the ninth century, the nature of the material means that I will effectively be investigating Scandinavian linguistic impact on the Middle English dialects of the areas investigated: it is only in this period that there is an adequate corpus of minor names recorded with more-or-less nationwide coverage and, as minor names are generally thought to have less permanence than major place-names, they can only safely be regarded as indicative of contemporaneous speech. However, it will be interesting to compare the linguistic character of the major place-names of the regions, generally recorded earlier and surviving from earlier periods than the minor names, with that of the minor names to assess whether Scandinavian linguistic elements are found in comparable proportions in both categories of name and, if not, to consider the reasons why this might be. As genetic markers of probable Scandinavian ancestry can now be identified, I intend to compare the levels of Scandinavian ancestry in the areas’ medieval populations (working with the team’s geneticists) with the levels of Scandinavian influence on the local medieval dialects.
However, as factors other than the intensity of settlement alone might have been significant in determining the degree of Scandinavian linguistic impact, further evidence, both linguistic and non-linguistic, pertaining to local identities will be considered. As both major and minor place-names (amongst other sources) often preserve personal names, I intend to examine the personal names used in the regions investigated and look at how these compare with Scandinavian influence on the Middle English dialects. Additionally, comparing Scandinavian linguistic influence with expressions of identity as preserved by physical objects, for instance sculpture, will provide another angle from which to view the linguistic evidence.
I completed a BA in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge in 2008 and an MA in Viking and Anglo-Saxon Studies at the University of Nottingham in 2011. Whilst studying towards these degrees, I have studied the history of the English language from the pre-literary through to the Middle-English period, Old Norse and its development and English place-names.