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A case for the Danish element in Northern American Woods, Howard Bruce

Abstract

Less than four decades ago it was thought that there was no substratum influence on the English language spoken in America. It had been noted that the Indians gave a few words to English and that there were small "pocket" colonies formed by the Germans in south-eastern Pennsylvania, the French in south-eastern Louisiana, the Spaniards in the Southwest, and ethnic groups in the large cities. Only more recently have scholars begun to see the important role that the speakers of continental Germanic languages have had in forming the speech patterns of American English. More than fifteen million immigrants whose mother tongue was a Germanic language other than English have settled in what is now the North American Midland, Northern, and Canadian dialectal regions. These immigrants and their many offspring formed the major linguistic group for many towns and vast rural areas and were second to the English speaking group in most other cities and areas. Much research has already been done on the German linguistic influence in North America and the results are generally accepted by linguists today. This thesis will concentrate on the Scandinavian element which has been sorely neglected to this date. The methods used have been many. The first method was much of the nature of collecting curiosity items: during my two years as an English teacher and translator in Denmark, I collected those items which seemed common to Danish and North American. Later, sources concerning Germanic language influence in America were consulted. In addition, a study of the North American and British dialects was made. It should also be noted that continual contact with the Danish-Canadians in Vancouver was maintained. The mixing and interference of Danish and English here must be closely reminiscent of the language contact and interference in Minnesota one century ago. The problem involved was mainly that of separation of identity. An item might have found its source in German, Dutch, Yiddish, or an English dialect if not in a combination of any of the above. A further separation difficulty comes from the close historical affiliation of Danish and English and the previous mixing of Danish into English during the Viking era. There are minor influences from Danish in Northern American English phonology, morphology (mainly word-compounding), and syntax (with such cases as the attributive noun). The chief contributions can be found in idiomatic expressions formed from loan translations, loan shifts, and loan creations. Word frequency is also affected by the Scandinavian substratum as are personal names and place-names.

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