Close cousins – the days of the week

Hi all! Today I’m going to show you how certain languages are very closely related using the days of the week.

If you’d guessed that I’ll be talking about Old English (OE) and Old Norse (ON) then you’ve learn what I enjoy, well done, but I’ll also be looking a bit more widely. Because that’s fun too.

First things first. OE and ON are members of a language family called Germanic. This doesn’t mean that they are all descended from German, though!

I’ve read that this language family is called “Germanic” partly because many of its languages fall into the geographic area the Romans called Germania, and partly because most of the 19th century heavyweight thinkers who solidified the idea of languages “relating” to each other, like families or species, were German and regarded those languages as “a central branch” (small mention here).

If the idea that languages can be related seems a stretch to you, then congratulations you were never forced to learn both Spanish and French simultaneously. This theory is the idea that all languages are descended from other languages. To pick a common example, all of the Romance languages, so, French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian and so on, are descended from Latin.

(No really, it goes on. The Romans got everywhere, and so their Latin was subject to countless different regional (and in the case in Ladino, ethno-religous) variations. Look at this list from Wikipedia! I didn’t even know some of these languages existed!

So, the Germanic language family is another load of related languages. Let’s go through a few.

So I’ve already said Old English is in that group. Old English gave rise to English (of course) and Scots (depending on your political views, don’t fight me). There’s also two extinct languages used in Ireland, Yola and Fingallian. And of course thanks to Britain’s invading imperialist colonialism (hello are my politics showing? oh dear) English is the ancestor to absolutely loads of creole languages, including the very widely used Hawaiian, Jamaican Patois and Singlish.

Old Norse too has its fair share of descendants: Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese, Greenlandic, and Icelandic. (Icelandic is particularly cool because it is very much still Old Norse. They can read the Icelandic sagas without much trouble. Delightfully un-evolved language.) There was also Norn, which I’ve mentioned before when talking about Orkney surnames, and Russian and Norse traders did create a pidgin (which is a smushing together of languages together to try and reach a mutual understanding) called Russenorsk.

As you’d expect, modern German is also in this language family, and Dutch (and thus Afrikaans).

Ok, I’m probably the only one finding this language genealogy interesting, so let’s skip to the direct comparisons!

(Full confession, if you want to skip my rambling and just have a look yourself, I am largely using the relevant Wikipedia article.)

The Germanic days of the week are to an extent just pagan-ised versions of the Latin, since Roman gods were replaced by their Germanic “equivalents”. That in itself is very interesting, since it comes from both directions: the Germanic people noticed the similarities and adopted the Romans gods into their systems, and the Romans encouraged this because it meant that they could keep their pantheon across their whole empire, thus creating a symbol of “we are the same people”.

The Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings (to use my fall-back examples)  didn’t have exactly the same gods, but from what we know they had similar gods and you can see this in the names.

The modern Icelandic days of the week don’t fit the same pattern as their relatives so I’ve not used them here; they feel foul of an anti-paganism attempt by this guy.

So. To the similarities!

First, the Latin and the relevant gods:

dies Lunae, dies Martis, dies Mercuri, dies Iovis, dies Veneris, dies Saturni, dies Solis

  • Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Sun

Old English

Monandag, Tiwsdaeg, Wodensdaeg, Thunresdaeg, Frigedaeg, Saeternesdaeg, Sunnandaeg

  • Moon, Tiw, Woden, Thunor, Frige, Saturn, Sun

Old Norse

manadagr, tysdagr, odinsdagr, thorsadgr, frjadagr, laugardar, sunnadagr

  • Mani, Tyr, Odin, Thor, Frigg/Freyja, washing-day, Sun

 

Modern Norwegian (Bokmal)

mandag, tirsdag, onsdag, torsdag, fredag, lordag, sondag

Modern German

Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch (was Wutenstag), Donnerstag, Freitag, Sonnabend, Sonntag


Hopefully you can see from these that not only did those languages all use pretty much the same gods in the same way, they also still show that they have a common ancestor. Even if you look at their words for “day” you can see it looks similar throughout.

Thanks for reading!

Close cousins – the days of the week