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Greatest Viking treasure celebrated

14 September 2021

'Pearl' - British Library

National accolade for project exploring Viking legacy on English language

A project aiming to understand the Scandinavian influence on medieval English vocabulary has won a British Academy award.

The Gersum Project has been awarded the Sir Israel Gollancz Prize for its innovative contribution to the study of English etymology.

From sky to skin, our everyday language owes much to this earliest of Scandinavian influences, painstakingly documented by the project’s linguists and now shared in a publicly accessible database.

In the early Middle Ages, Scandinavian influence on British life, language and culture was profound. The Vikings had a major and lasting impact, and their legacy still resonates strongly in modern constructions of British identity and heritage.

Named in a nod to an Old Norse and Middle English word for ‘treasure’, the Gersum Project explores the origins of more than 900 words in a corpus of Middle English poems such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from the North of England. By investigating the early history of these words, it illustrates how we can identify Old Norse loans, and importantly how they were used in the first centuries after their adoption into English.

The Gersum Project is the enduring work of Dr Sara Pons-Sanz of the University’s Centre for Language and Communication Research, and Professor Richard Dance and Dr Brittany Schorn of the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Institute at the University of Sheffield, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

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