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  • Norse-Derived Terms in Orm’s Lexico-Semantic Field of EMOTION
  • Sara M. Pons-Sanz


The Ormulum is an early Middle English work of Biblical exegesis. It was initially intended to provide a commentary on all the Gospel extracts used in the mass throughout the year, starting from the Christmas season; however, it was never finished, running out after thirty homilies and lasting for twenty thousand lines, about an eighth of the original plan.1 Scholars are generally dismissive about its literary interest, to the extent that Millward tells us that “as literature, the result is worthless,”2 and Burnley characterizes the fact that we only have a fraction of the initial plan as “merciful.”3 Its style is often said to be tedious, monotonous, boring, and diffuse.4 In fact, one can be doubtful about whether the text actually reached a contemporary audience, as it is only preserved in a manuscript that is likely to be an autograph (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Junius 1), although Jan van Vliet, a seventeenth-century owner of the Junius manuscript, copied some extracts in London, Lambeth Palace, MS 783.5

The language of the text is a different matter, though, as linguists have recognized for quite some time its value, not only in connection with its innovative phonetic spelling system,6 but also as a source of data for [End Page 552] the late twelfth-century South Lincolnshire dialect,7 the East Midlands dialects in general being rather underrepresented in the early stages of the English language. As is widely known, Lincolnshire was one of the Five Boroughs of Scandinavian settlement, thus at the very heart of the area of Scandinavian influence.8 Indeed, together with the text’s spelling system, the influence of Old Norse is one of the text’s linguistic issues most frequently discussed in the literature. Norse influence has been identified in connection with both syntax and vocabulary, at the level of individual words and phraseology.9 That the vocabulary of this text was heavily Scandinavianized was already recognized at the end of the nineteenth century, Brate’s study being the main work on the Norse-derived [End Page 553] terms in the text.10 Subsequent lexical studies have taken Brate’s work as the starting point and have explored some of Orm’s frequent doublets including native and borrowed terms. Thus, for example, Hille analyzes the distribution of ME til (cp. OIc til) and to,11 while Johannesson explores the factors that trigger the choice between the Scandinavian and the native third person plural personal pronouns in the text (see further below, 3.1).12 It is, however, difficult to find studies on whole lexico-semantic fields in this text, a notable exception being an analysis by Johannesson on the make-up of the field of bread.13 The present paper follows along the lines of these studies, revising first the evidence for Norse derivation of various terms associated with the lexico-semantic field of EMOTION and discussing later the semantic and stylistic relations between these terms and the native members of the field, which have been identified in the main with the help of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary and the glossary included in Holt’s edition of the text.14 This is the most recent edition we have, but it is clearly inaccurate in many respects.15 Accordingly, the manuscript has also been consulted at times.


Formal evidence provides the most reliable data that we can take into consideration in order to identify Norse-derived terms in medieval English [End Page 554] texts, although not all formal evidence is equally conclusive.16 Particularly strong is the evidence deriving from the phonological structure of a word when it exhibits an evolution that is unexpected for Old English but tallies particularly well with what we would expect in Old Norse. That is the case for the following words in the Ormulum:

  1. I. Vowels

    1. 1). PGmc */ai/ > OE /aː/ vs OIc /ei/ (cp. VAN /ai/)17

      1. a). ME baiten (<beʓʓtenn>) ‘to harass, torment’:18 even...


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