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Part III - Place-names: Interactions with the Landscape

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Tom Horne
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Elizabeth Pierce
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Rachel Barrowman
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
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Summary

Vikings in Scotland’s interdisciplinary strength is particularly apparent in its incorporation of linguistics, such as documentary evidence and place-names, which it noted were ‘of the greatest value’, despite the then-uneven research foci (1998: 37). That said, Graham-Campbell and Batey advised caution in attempting to make hard and fast assumptions about sequences of settlement from this evidence, something especially true for the Hebrides.

Since at least the 19th century (Macniven, this section), scholars have attempted to understand Scandinavian settlement in the Hebrides amid the fog of a post-Viking-Age resurgence and northern expansion of Gaelic over areas with an Old Norse (ON)-speaking interlude. Key questions centre on the linguistic border of Gaelic and Pictish before ON speakers settled (as is generally considered) in the first half of the 9th century; how extensive the settlement of ON speakers was; and whether this settlement weakened from the northern and western (particularly the Western Isles and Skye) to the southern and eastern Hebrides, creating distinct north-western and south-eastern sociolinguistic regions.

Where Vikings in Scotland described the then-accepted model of this north to south (and Outer to Inner Hebrides) change (1998: 41, 72), Macniven (this section) suggests we rethink assumptions about weak(er) landnam in the southern Hebrides, and on Islay in particular: given prominent ON nature generics (like dalr), the survival of ON place-names on prime land throughout Islay and the virtual absence of a pre-ON onomastic stratum, Macniven argues that ‘the initial impact of Viking settlement in the south was very similar to that in the north. The defining difference was what happened next’.

Taking a somewhat different tack, Clancy (this section) describes the Hebridean church encountered by the Vikings as inhabiting a ‘particular sociolinguistic domain’ that provided a measure of continuity into the Viking Age and beyond, expanding upon ideas expressed in Vikings in Scotland (1998: 39) about the survival of indigenous communities potentially helping to maintain Celtic Christianity, languages and placenames. For Clancy, Gaelic was considered by all communities as a highstatus language due to its links to the Christianity Scandinavians in the Hebrides were adopting (potentially as early as the initial landnam), with some island names indicating early Scandinavian settlers added Gaelic saints to their pantheon.

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The Viking Age in Scotland
Studies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
, pp. 121 - 122
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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