WHEN LANGUAGES COLLIDE RAPIDLY—THE VIKINGS. I posted here on John McWhorter’s speculation that the process of adults learning a second language imperfectly led to the pronunciation shifts described by Grimm’s Law. McWhorter thinks that lessons drawn from language collisions all over the world cast light on the history of English (he refers to people who study these collisions as “language contact specialists.”) It makes a big difference whether a collision takes place quickly or over a long period of time. McWhorter shows how the history of the English language was shaped in two different ways by the relatively rapid collision with Old Norse (the Vikings) and the centuries long collision with Celtic languages. McWhorter argues that the Viking invaders changed Old English by causing a reduction in the endings of words—something that adults learning a a second language are prone to do. The result was that English differs from Old English in that most nouns in modern English don’t have a gender (unless the noun refers to something that has a gender) and the verb conjugations are very simple. The thought is that the waves of Viking immigrants that began in 787 settled in England and often married English-speaking women and passed their “incorrect” version of English on to their children and others.

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