Our Spotlight On… series of posts highlight other projects that you might want to follow, as well as blogs and sites that can help you in your research. This time, we focus on the work of the Gersum Project, and its cultural, linguistic and historical impact.

We would really like to hear from you regarding interdisciplinarity and how Linguistics and History can combine forces in future projects. Are you part of an interdisciplinary project? Tell us about it! Comment here and let us know or tweet to us @VoicesofLaw. Please use #SpotlightOn. We may invite you to contribute to future Spotlight On  blog posts.


‘Gersum’ is a Middle English borrowing from Old Norse ‘gersemi’, meaning ‘treasure’: English words with Old Norse origins enrich the language and lie waiting to be discovered!

This project looks at the Scandinavian influence on English vocabulary, examining the origins of up to 1,600 words in a corpus of Middle English poems, including:

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Pearl
  • Cleanness
  • Patience
  • St Erkenwald
  • The Wars of Alexander
  • The Alliterative Morte Arthure
  • The Siege of Jerusalem
  • The Destruction of Troy

The Gersum Project is investigating the early history of these words to address questions about how we can identify Old Norse loans, and how and by whom these words were used in the first few centuries after their adoption into English, especially in the crucial Middle English period.

The project will also incorporate a number of events, including an inter-disciplinary conference in Cambridge in 2018 and a series of talks open to the general public: see their website for further information.

The project, funded by the AHRC, runs for three years. One of the major outputs will be an electronic catalogue of up to 1,600 words, fully searchable and annotated with its form and meaning.

“Each entry will be annotated with information about the form and meaning of the word (including, for example, spelling variants, morphology, present-day equivalents and senses), its regional and historical distribution, and its etymology (including where possible the Proto-Germanic ancestor, Old English cognate, possible Scandinavian source forms and modern reflexes, and any phonological or morphological markers of loan).


These fields will create a flexible mechanism for presenting and manipulating this large body of data, and thus more powerful ways of analysing, modelling and visualizing the material.

The database will also introduce a new field to facilitate the study of all words of a particular etymological type alongside one another. Each entry will be classified according to a system devised by Dr Richard Dance to indicate the nature and strength of the evidence for loan from Old Norse, allowing the user to compare it immediately with the same evidence for every other word.” – Gersum Project/Database


FOLLOW THE GERSUM PROJECT ON TWITTER: @GersumProject – and check out the hashtag #GersumWow which highlights different words and their Old Norse etymologies.





Historical background and linguistic introductions

Bolton, Timothy. 2009. The Empire of Cnut the Great: Conquest and Consolidation of Power in Northern Europe in the Early Eleventh Century, The Northern World, 40 (Leiden: Brill).

Dance, Richard. 2012. ‘English in Contact: Norse’, in English Historical Linguistics: An International Handbook, Vol. 2, ed. by Alexander Bergs and Laurel J. Brinton, Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science 34.2 (Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter), pp. 1724-37.

Durkin, Philip. 2014. Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Hadley, Dawn M. 2006. The Vikings in England: Settlement, Society and Culture, Manchester Medieval Studies (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

Keynes, Simon. 1997. ‘The Vikings in England, c. 790-1016’, in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, ed. by Peter Sawyer (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 48-82.

Townend, Matthew. ‘Viking Age England as a Bilingual Society’, in Cultures in Contact: Scandinavian Settlement in England in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, ed. by Dawn M. Hadley and Julian D. Richards, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 2 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2000), pp. 89-105.


More advanced linguistic studies

Björkman, Erik. 1900-02. Scandinavian Loanwords in Middle English, 2 vols, Studien zur englischen Philologie, 7 and 11 (Halle: Niemeyer).

Dance, Richard. 2003. Words Derived from Old Norse in Early Middle English: Studies in the Vocabulary of the South-West Midland Texts, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 246 (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies).

Dance, Richard. Forthcoming. Words Derived from Old Norse in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Etymological Survey.

Miller, D. Gary. 2012. External Influences on English: From its Beginnings to the Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Parsons, David. 2001. ‘How Long Did the Scandinavian Language Survive in England? Again’, in Vikings and the Danelaw: Select Papers from the Proceedings of the Thirteenth Viking Congress, Nottingham and York, 21-30 August 1997, ed. by James Graham-Campbell et al. (Oxford: Oxbow Books), pp. 299-312.

Pons-Sanz, Sara M. 2013. The Lexical Effects of Anglo-Scandinavian Linguistic Contact on Old English, Studies in the Early Middle Ages, 1 (Turnhout: Brepols).

Skaffari, Janne. 2009. Studies in Early Middle English Loanwords: Norse and French Influences (Turku: University of Turku).

Townend, Matthew. 2002. Language and History in Viking Age England: Linguistic Relations between Speakers of Old Norse and Old English, Studies in the Early Middle Ages, 6 (Turnhout: Brepols).


2 thoughts on “Spotlight On…The Gersum Project

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s