Episode 50: A Unified Family of English Speakers

In the early 10th century, King Alfred’s children and grandchildren conquered the Viking region known as the Danelaw. This brought all of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms under the rule of a single monarch. That monarch was Aethelstan who became the first King of England.  The conquest of the Danelaw was also a family affair. So we explore the etymology of Modern English words related to family and family relations.

16 thoughts on “Episode 50: A Unified Family of English Speakers

  1. Hi Kevin –

    As usual, great episode! Years ago I discovered how much Norwegian sounded like English or Old English and have wanted to learn more. Your history and language parts blend so nicely. Thanks! Also, as an teacher of English to foreigners, I find the plural, “women” to be one of the top most mispronounced words, generally pronounced just like the singular. Understanding how “women” came to be makes the plural spelling more understandable …

  2. Hi Kevin!
    I’d like to mention the fact that “gift” in German has a negative conotation. We see “gift” as poison. Well, poison is something you gave to someone who you want to vanish from earth.I find this semantic change in the family of Germanic languages quite interesting and wanted to bring it to your attention. Thank you so much for your outstanding podcast! Keep up the good work!
    Regards Tom

  3. In Norwegian, gift has three meanings – poison, give/pay and married. I am pasting some of the Norwegian (bokmål) dictionary entry below. The payment part is now mostly used in compound words – avgift=fee – medgift=dowry literally with-pay or more likely with-marriage – tilgift (you will get this if you buy that) – utgift(expense) out-pay

    gift m1, f1 (norrønt gipt ‘gave’, i betydning 2 fra tysk , av gi)
    1 det å gi, særlig i sammensetninger
    avgift, medgift, tilgift, utgift
    2 i kjemi: stoff som skader eller dreper en organisme
    salt er gift for meg skadelig, helsefarlig / ta gift

    II gift a2 (egentlig perfektum partisipp av III gifte) som har inngått ekteskap
    hun er gift med en skotte / bli tidlig, sent gift / han har vært gift før / de har vært gift i 15 år / gifte par / være lykkelig gift

    • There were two different terms for a grandson in Old English. One way to refer to a grandson was to literally spell out the relationship. Your son’s son was your ‘suna sunu’ – literally ‘the son or your son.’ The other way to refer to a grandson was with the term ‘nefa’, but that term had a broader meaning and could refer to any male descendant. It is also related to the Latin word “nephew” thanks to a common Indo-European root word.

    • Did I pronounce it with an /s/ sound? Frankly, I don’t remember. For what it’s worth, the OED says that both pronunciations are used in both British and American English.

  4. I just listened to this episode, and listening to your plans to complete the entire series in “just” 100 episodes struck me as funny. “The best laid plans of mice and men…”

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