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I was looking for some insight into the farewell greeting ta on The Urban Dictionary just now, and came across this mostly excellent top-ranked answer (adapted slightly, emphasis mine):

A slang word for "thanks."

The word is a result of the heavy Danish influence on the English language. Most people do not realize that the English language's roots are really Danish, in Jutland. Equipped with this knowledge this word is easy to decipher.

The Danish word for "thanks" is tak. In Scotland and upper England it was common to drop the at the end because of the way words were pronounced during the time of Old English and Middle English. Hence the slang word "ta" which should actually be pronounced "TA-k" but over time became "ta".

After reading that, I also remembered reading, when I was in our chat, that Frisian was the closest surviving spoken language to English, and then remembered the Wikipedia article stating that many Danish speakers are able to understand some spoken Frisian. With those facts, I hypothesized to myself that perhaps the Danes influenced both languages, before they had diverged, some very long time ago. Alas, that's all I can venture; though I know a fair bit about more modern influences on English — that is, Latin and Old French — I've haven't really seen this discussed before, which is no small wonder, as it seems that whatever influence the Danes had would have been ancient. It's also pretty strange, as compared to French, because Denmark is a bit aways from England; it's doesn't just have a narrow channel to cross, nor, if I remember correctly, doesn't share as intimately connected royal and noble lines as the French have with England.

So I guess my question is: Are the answerer's bolded words above correct? If they are, can someone offer a nice précis of how we can see this influence of the Danes, and how it came about?

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Ta isn't a slang word for thanks - it's a Yorkshire dialect word. –  mgb Apr 13 '11 at 3:21
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Some trivia about Danish and English: Today Danish is heavily influenced by the English language. However, the word ombudsman (ombudsmand in Danish) is famous for being one of the few nordic words that have been exported unaltered to other languages in more recent times. –  Martin Liversage Apr 13 '11 at 16:11
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"Most people do not realize that the English language's roots are really Danish, in Jutland." Most people don't realise this because it is not true. There is a significant Danish component, but this bald statement is a fabrication. –  Colin Fine Jul 26 '11 at 14:10
    
Jeg have I have Vi er We are Kan du give mig nod at drikke? Can you give me something to drink? Af hvad? Of what? Jeg kalder mig selv ... I call myself ... Farvel Farewell Jeg vil I will –  user27404 Oct 13 '12 at 18:04
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5 Answers

up vote 23 down vote accepted

The source you cite seems to confuse two different sources of Danish influence in the English Language: the Jutes and the Danes.

  • The Jutes are one of the peoples who invaded Britain from 449 onwards, along with the Angles, the Saxons and the Frisians.
  • The Danes came as a second wave 4 centuries later (roughly from 850 to 878) and, as shown in @Robusto's answer, carved themselves the kingdom named the Danelaw.

The confusion comes from the fact that modern Denmark and Jutland are today the same place. However it is not certain that the Jutes came from modern Jutland. Let me quote an excerpt of the book "Origin of the English Language - A social and Linguistic History" [p. 53]:

"So it was first thought that the Jutes came from what we now call Jutland; the Angles from the western side of the Jutish peninsula and the east bank of the Elbe; the Saxons from the Elbe to perhaps the mouth of the Rhine. More recent Archaeological evidence locates the Angles farther south-east and the Jutes on the coast, near the Frisian islands off the coast of Germany and the Netherlands"

As a matter of fact, the real identity of the Jutes and their place of origin cannot be reliably established just from ancient texts because they contradict each other. Venerable Bede for instance, often cited as a source lived more than 250 years after the Anglo-Saxon migrations. If you hypothesise that the Jutes migrated to Jutland after the 5th century then the Wikipedia article stating that "many Danish speakers are able to understand some spoken Frisian" makes perfect sense. After all, people migration and splitting was quite common in these times. Consider for instance the migration of Goths, splitting and then travelling to Spain, Italy and Russia or that of the Vandals: to Sicily through Spain, Morocco and Tunisia.

Furthermore, as you have rightly pointed out, the distance between the Frisian islands and England is much shorter than the distance between modern Jutland and England. The most convincing observation is that the Jutes are said to have landed in Kent... That is quite possible if they came from Friesland but less likely if they came from Jutland. The Danelaw does lie "in front" of Denmark but Kent surely doesn't.

I do not mean to underestimate the contribution of Old Norse to English; it is instead, well established. One often cites for instance many words in "sk": (sky, score, skirt, skill, scab, scale, scrap), or such important words as get, die, call, egg, raise, take. Nevertheless one has to be careful when ascribing the etymology of an English word to Danes. It could be from Danish influence or it could be of more ancient Anglo-Saxon origin.

As for ta and thank, the origin of thank is believed to be Proto Germanic (thankojan) and was already present in Anglo Saxon English before the Danish invasions. However, the Old English (þancian) and Old Norse (þakka) versions followed parallel evolution paths and met again when Danes landed in Britain. So yes "ta" looks like Old Norse indeed but it caught up because it met an already well established cognate.

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Another remarkable answer Alain. Thank you so much! I'm afraid it still needs a little time to digest though... –  Uticensis Apr 14 '11 at 7:00
    
@Billare, thx. I can see you never sleep !!! I must say your question was really worth it. –  Alain Pannetier Φ Apr 14 '11 at 7:48
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Also 'Ta' is a distinctly Yorkshire+points north word - land of the Norse vikings. –  mgb Apr 14 '11 at 13:47
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@Billare @mgb, following this thread, I researched a little bit more about the Jutes "Vaterland" and I came across this Channel 4 program summary. I wish I had this stuff in my collection !!! The summary is interesting enough anyway ! –  Alain Pannetier Φ Apr 15 '11 at 17:50
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It must be remembered that the Saxon king Ælfred the Great (A.D. 849-899) presided over the southwestern part of England in his time (little beyond what were then known as West Seaxe and Suth Seaxe, and that for several hundred years the Danes had the rest. Here is a map (c. 10th century) of the Danelaw (the area of Danish settlement and dominant influence).

enter image description here

In fact, the Norman Conquest was only the second conquest of England in the 11th century. The first was begun by Svein Forkbeard, the Danish king, and was completed by his son Cnut in 1016. King Cnut (also styled "the Great") ruled all of England for nearly 20 years. It is against this backdrop that we must consider the English language to have been profoundly influenced by the Nordic tongue.

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@Robusto Wow, I didn't know all that. You know, I think it's clouding my history that I often think of England as this great unconquerable nation, in the way Shakespeare put it: This fortress built by Nature for herself // Against infection and the hand of war. I hadn't realized She had been conquered so many times. –  Uticensis Apr 14 '11 at 9:03
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Remember the Danelaw wasn't a single uniform country. There were waves of Dane then Norse raiders then settlers. A city like York could swap between Dane/Anglo-Saxon/Norse regulalrly –  mgb Apr 14 '11 at 13:52
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@mgb: That's why I referred to it as "the area of Danish settlement and dominant influence" and not as a country in and of itself. –  Robusto Apr 14 '11 at 14:03
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@mgb & @Robusto. I'm in line with all the above and I'd like to add just one or two precisions. 1/ The west limit of the Danelaw was not so fuzzy. It was set after Ælfred had won the battle of Ethandum (hence the 878 in my post) - treaty of wedmore. The limit was a line between Chester and London - this is well shown on Robusto's map. The Danelaw gradually disappeared and by 959 Edgar the Peaceful, a grand-grandson of Ælfred was heading Northumbria, Mercia and Wessex. England was united at last. [cont...] –  Alain Pannetier Φ Apr 14 '11 at 16:31
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[...] That wasn't the end of the invasions from the North as you pointed out. Simply remember that just before the battle of Hastings, Harold Godwinson and his Housecarls had completely annihilated a strong Viking army (battle of Stamford Bridge). –  Alain Pannetier Φ Apr 14 '11 at 16:36
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A couple more points on the influence of Old Norse on English.

The various forms of the third-person plural personal pronoun, "they/them/their" are believed to come from Old Norse þeir/þaim/þeira. I'm sure there are many other words, but this shows at what a fundamental level the language was influenced.

Also, Danish/Norse influence helped to make English simpler. It was during that period of history that the language lost some of its more difficult grammatical features - in particular declensions, the complex system of word endings used to distinguish subject from object ("who did what to whom").

Old English used a horribly complicated system with over 300 endings (5 cases × 3 genders × 2 numbers × (7 types of noun + 6 types of adjective) = 312. Plus there were additional rules for personal pronouns, and some irregular nouns that didn't follow the usual rules.

It is thought that the influence of Old Norse helped to get rid of the Old English system of declensions. Modern English (and Middle English) instead use a much simpler system of word order and prepositions.

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England before 1066 (and after) isn't one place.

Especially so; Northern England was very different historically and literally than the South. Until the Norman conquest everywhere north-east of roughly London-Chester was a Viking country not an Anglo-Saxon one. This is still obvious in the place names. See for example this link.

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I am a Dane. I am not a linguistic expert in any way, but I came across this site and question when I tried to research why my 12-year old son is becoming so skilled in the English language without school or myself teaching him in any other way apart than how I myself was taught (I was born in 1970).

Of course most of it is about the fact that foreign-language films, including those in English, are not dubbed but subbed [that is, “subtitled” ―editor] when shown in Denmark. But another aspect is that so many words in English are so similar to the corresponding word in Danish, and therefore are easy to learn — in contradiction to those same words in Romance languages.

It is said that the English language is the easiest language to learn, and it is also said that Danish is one of the most difficult languages to learn. So maybe the question is best answered by English speakers who have had to learn Danish.

In the Danish alphabet, we have æ, ø and å as separate letters, each with its own sound. But the two languages are not so different in pronounciation when in English you say door and we say dør. Or for body parts there’s nose/næse, eye/øje, hair/hår, ear/øre, toe/tå, hand/hånd, and then we also have arm/arm, shoulder/skulder, finger/finger, ancle/ankel, foot/fod, knee/knæ.

But then again you have stomach we have mave, plus leg/ben, chin/hage, cheek/kind, buttom/ende, thigh/lår, chest/bryst and back/ryg.

Some words I’ve heard and puzzles me in English is the word yuletide as in Christmastime. In Danish it is called juletid. And the English word gratis as in free: free is gratis in Danish.

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Welcome to ELU! The rules for punctuation in English are different, particularly in that we do not expect a comma before a clause beginning with that the way one does in German and apparently Danish. I’ve tried to edit your posting so that it reads more naturally/grammatically in English, and so it’s formatted in the style that this site is used to. This includes using paragraphs to break up a large, unstructured “wall of text”. I tried to clarify a few points that I think you were trying to make, but if I have erred, you can edit it yourself to change anything you might care to. –  tchrist Feb 19 '13 at 14:38
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English also had æ, and some dialects had ø briefly. That may in fact be an English influence on Danish, as one theory is you got it from English. Yule and Jul are both from the common ancestry of both. Gratis came into both from Latin separately, long after they had split apart. There are plenty of examples of both happening. The English are a bit more likely to have replaced words from that shared origin than are the Danes, so quite a few Danish words are close-cousins of obscure English (call a stick stang is English and you won't be wrong, just very very old-fashioned!) –  Jon Hanna Feb 19 '13 at 14:48
    
Of course, if English is said to be an easy language for Danes to learn, as you claim, and it's not just the popularity of "crimmies" (note to everyone else: Danish slang for English-language murder-mystery shows), then Danish should be an easy language for English-speakers to learn, which makes my continual failures with it all the sadder :( –  Jon Hanna Feb 19 '13 at 14:56
    
It’s interesting that you find Romance terms hard to learn. I find them easy to learn; it’s the Germanic ones that are often hard. –  tchrist Feb 19 '13 at 17:46
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protected by RegDwigнt Feb 19 '13 at 13:26

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