Scandinavian placenames © Caen, Beaurepaire

Rollo and Danish

Studies of modern dialects in Normandy show a marked linguistic affinity with a specific linguistic element in current Danish.

Moreover this linguistic elements is found precisely in the same areas in Normandy, where Scandinavian place-names have been identified

Twentieth-century varieties reflecting medieval settlement in Normandy: Combining modern and historical dialectology.
By Damien Hall
In: Acta Linguistica Hafniensia: International Journal of Linguistics 2013, 43(2), 176-199.
Acta Linguistica Hafniensia: International Journal of Linguistics
Volume 43, Issue 2, 2011

Damien Hall is a linguist currently working at the University in Newcastle. Between 2003 – 08 he wrote a thesis, based on a study of 20th century linguistic elements in use in Normandy as recorded in the beginning of the 21’s century. In connection with this work he discovered that a) some linguistic elements were clearly of Scandinavian origin and b) that their distribution quite clearly reflected the distribution of Scandinavian place-names reflecting the immigration of Vikings into Northern France.

Damien Hall used linguistic data from the Atlas Linguistique et Ethnographique Normand (= ALEN), whose data were collected in the 1970s, and in which many of the words given to researchers were probably Norman as opposed to French. The comparison of these data with the known settlement patterns of Vikings in Normandy in the ninth to eleventh centuries clearly showed that the Vikings’ medieval settlement patterns were reflected in isoglosses, which can be drawn based on the Atlas’ twentieth-century data; statistics furthermore demonstrated how strong the correlation is. In Damian Hall’s words: “the areas where Viking settlement was relatively dense, as shown by toponymic and historical research, are clearly reflected in the isoglosses drawn from ALEN data some 1100 years later.”

Another result, furthermore, was that a particular reflex in the dialect in Normandy may be related to the corresponding Middle Scandinavian reflex common in current Denmark.

Hall concludes that we may perhaps “be permitted to connect the Danish origin of the people, [who invaded Normandy] with the linguistic coincidence between the language of Denmark and the language of Normandy.”

Does all this mean, that Rollo spoke Danish? Who knows, and anyway the question is perhaps not overly important in the 21st century. (Although, it was considered extremely important in the beginning of the 20th century when Norwegians became obsessed with claiming Rollo as a Norwegian Jarl, Ganger Hrolf (Hrolf, the Walker).

Naturally Damien Hall is prudent and does not elaborate upon this in his research. However, what this new research might help to show is that when the 10th century chroniclers characterized Normandy as “Danish”, it seems to have been appropriate. The French might have considered the viking immigrants as bland Northmen. Amongst themselves, though, these seem to have experienced, there was a difference, which they might even have been able to recognize in the 10th century soundscapes along the Seine. And which later left its mark in the dialects in Normandy 1100 years later.

Damien Hall is Lecturer in French Linguistics at Newcastle University, UK. He is currently working on a survey of the present-day phonetic and phonological dialectology of the cities of Northern France, “Towards A New Linguistic Atlas of France”, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The present paper sprang from his PhD research on the languages spoken in Normandy today. Further details of his research are available here


A Sociolinguistic study of the Regional French of Normandy. A dissertation in Linguistics.
By Damien John Hall.
University of Pennsylvania 2008


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