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A note on the relationship between Scandinavian and Low German

Ivar Berg

Abstract

Recent work on language contact between Scandinavian and Low German during the Middle Ages widely assumes that the varieties were linguistically close enough to permit some kind of receptive multilingualism, and hence an example of dialect contact. Two arguments that have been invoked in support of this scenario are the lack of (1) meta-linguistic comments on flawed understanding, and (2) attested bilingualism. However, towards the end of the most intense contact period, in the early sixteenth century, there is indeed meta-linguistic information in the preserved sources suggesting that intelligibility was restricted. Furthermore, there are also examples of code-switching and active bilingualism indicating that the varieties were clearly perceived as distinct languages. This paper presents such examples from Norwegian primary sources that have not been observed in recent scholarship. Based on this evidence, it is argued that the relationship between the languages by the early sixteenth century was asymmetric, Scandinavians being able to understand Low German more often than vice versa.

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Published Online: 2016-10-12
Published in Print: 2016-10-1

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