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Old Norse Influence on the Language of Beowulf: A Reassessment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2019

Leonard Neidorf*
Nanjing University
Rafael J. Pascual*
University of Oxford
Nanjing University, Department of English, 163 Xianlin Avenue, Nanjing, Jiangsu 210023, China []
University of Oxford, Faculty of English Language and Literature, St Cross Building, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UL, UK []


This article undertakes the first systematic examination of Frank’s (1979, 1981, 1987, 1990, 2007b, 2008) claim that Old Norse influence is discernible in the language of Beowulf. It tests this hypothesis first by scrutinizing each of the alleged Nordicisms in Beowulf, then by discussing various theoretical considerations bearing on its plausibility. We demonstrate that the syntactic, morphological, lexical, and semantic peculiarities that Frank would explain as manifestations of Old Norse influence are more economically and holistically explained as consequences of archaic composition. We then demonstrate that advances in the study of Anglo-Scandinavian language contact provide strong reasons to doubt that Old Norse could have influenced Beowulf in the manner that Frank has proposed. We conclude that Beowulf is entirely devoid of Old Norse influence and that it was probably composed ca. 700, long before the onset of the Viking Age.

© Society for Germanic Linguistics 2019 

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