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Old Norse
dǫnsk tunga, dansk tunga ("Danish tongue"), norrœnt mál ("Norse language")
Spoken in Nordic countries (possibly excluding Finland[citation needed]), Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales, Isle of Man, Normandy, Vinland, the Volga and places in between
Language extinction developed into the various North Germanic languages by the 14th century
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Runic, later Latin alphabet (Old Norse variant).
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 non
ISO 639-3 non

Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300.

The changing processes that distinguish Old Norse from its older form, Proto-Norse, were mostly concluded around the 8th century, and another transitional period that led up to the modern descendants of Old Norse (i.e., the modern North Germanic languages) started in the mid- to late 14th century, thereby ending the language phase known as Old Norse. These dates, however, are not absolute. For instance, one can still find written Old Norse well into the 15th century.[1]

Most speakers of Old Norse dialects spoke the Old East Norse dialect in what are present-day Denmark and Sweden. In texts which date from the Medieval Icelandic time, writers wrote with Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian dialects. These dialects derive from the Old West Norse dialect.

No clear geographical boundary exists between the two dialects. Old East Norse traits were found in eastern Norway and Old West Norse traits were found in western Sweden.

Old Gutnish is sometimes included in the Old East Norse dialect because it is the third, least known dialect. It shares traits with both Old West Norse and Old East Norse but had also developed on its own.

The Icelandic Gray Goose Laws state that Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders and Danes spoke the same language, dǫnsk tunga. Speakers of the eastern dialect, spoken in Sweden and Denmark, would have said dansk tunga ("Danish tongue") or norrønt mál ("Nordic language") to name their language.

Gradually, Old Norse splintered into the modern North Germanic languages: Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian (nynorsk), Norwegian (bokmål), Danish and Swedish.

Of the modern languages, Icelandic is the closest to Old Norse. Written modern Icelandic derives from the Old Norse phonemic writing system. Contemporary Icelandic-speakers can read Old Norse, which differs slightly in spelling as well as semantics and word order. However, pronunciation, particularly of the vowel phonemes, has changed at least as much as in the other North Germanic languages.

Faroese retains many similarities but is influenced by Danish, Norwegian, and Gaelic (Scottish and/or Irish).[2] Although Swedish, Danish and the Norwegian languages have diverged the most, they still retain asymmetric mutual intelligibility.[3] This could be because these languages have been mutually affected by each other, as well as having a similar development influenced by Middle Low German.[4]

Another language which derives from Old Norse is Elfdalian, spoken in the Älvdalen municipality of Sweden, by about 1,000–5,000 speakers (various sources). This North Germanic language is not comprehensible to speakers of the other Scandinavian languages, and hence is often considered a language in its own right rather than a dialect of Swedish.

Contents

Geographical distribution

The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century:       Old West Norse dialect       Old East Norse dialect       Old Gutnish dialect       Crimean Gothic       Old English       Other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility

Old Icelandic was essentially identical to Old Norwegian, and together they formed the Old West Norse dialect of Old Norse and were also spoken in settlements in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Norwegian settlements in Normandy.[5] The Old East Norse dialect was spoken in Denmark, Sweden, settlements in Russia,[6] England, and Danish settlements in Normandy. The Old Gutnish dialect was spoken in Gotland and in various settlements in the East. In the 11th century, Old Norse was the most widely spoken European language, ranging from Vinland in the West to the Volga in the East. In Russia, it survived the longest in Novgorod, probably lasting into the 13th century there.[6]

Modern descendants

The modern descendants of the Old West Norse dialect are the West Scandinavian languages of Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian and the extinct Norn language of the Orkney and the Shetland Islands; the descendants of the Old East Norse dialect are the East Scandinavian languages of Danish and Swedish. Norwegian is descended from Old West Norse, but over the centuries it has been heavily influenced by East Norse, particularly during the Denmark-Norway union.

Among these, Icelandic and the closely related Faroese have changed the least from Old Norse in the last thousand years, although with Danish rule of the Faroe Islands, Faroese has also been influenced by Danish. Old Norse also had an influence on English dialects and Lowland Scots, which contains many Old Norse loanwords. It also influenced the development of the Norman language.

Various other languages, which are not closely related, have been heavily influenced by Norse, particularly the Norman dialects, Scottish Gaelic and Waterford Irish Gaelic.[citation needed] Russian, Finnish and Estonian also have a number of Norse loanwords; the words Rus and Russia, according to one theory, may be named after the Rus, the name of a Norse tribe (see Etymology of Rus and derivatives). The current Finnish and Estonian words for Sweden are Ruotsi and Rootsi, respectively.

Phonology

This section contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Vowels

The vowel phonemes mostly come in pairs of long and short. The standardized orthography marks the long vowels with an acute accent. In medieval manuscripts, it is often unmarked but sometimes marked with an accent or through gemination. All phonemes have, more or less, the expected phonetic realization.

Old Norse had nasalized versions of all nine vowel places.[V 1] These occurred as allophones of the vowels before Ns and in places where an N had followed before being absorbed. If the N was absorbed by a stressed vowel, it would also lengthen the vowel. These nasalizations also occurred in the other Germanic languages, but were not retained long. They were noted in the First Grammatical Treatise, and otherwise might have remained unknown. The First Grammarian marked these with a dot above the letter.[V 1] This notation did not catch on, and would soon be obsolete. The dots in the following vowel table separate the oral from nasal phonemes.

Generic Vowel System of Old Norse circa 9th-12th Century
  Front vowels Back vowels
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close iĩ ĩː y ỹː     uũ ũː
Mid e ẽː øø̃ øːø̃ː     oõ õː
Open ææ̃ æːæ̃ː     ɑɑ̃ ɑːɑ̃ː ɒɒ̃  

Sometime around the 13th century, Ǫ merged to Ø in all dialects except Old Danish. This can be determined by their distinction within the 12th-century First Grammatical Treatise but not within the early 13th century Younger Edda. The nasals, also noted in the First Grammatical Treatise, are assumed to have been lost by this time. See Old Icelandic for the Œ ⇒ Æ and Ę ⇒ E mergers.

Generic Vowel System of Old Norse circa 13th-14th Century
  Front vowels Back vowels
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i y     u
Mid e ø øː     o
Open æ æː     ɑ ɑː    

Consonants

Old Norse has six stop phonemes. Of these /p/ is rare word-initially and /d/ and /b/ do not occur between vowels, except in compound words (e.g. veðrabati), because of the fricative allophones of the Proto-Germanic language (e.g. *b *[β] > [v] between vowels). The /ɡ/ phoneme is realized as a voiced velar fricative [ɣ] inside words, except before an n or another g.

  Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Labiovelar Glottal
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Nasal m n (ŋ)
Fricative f (v) θ (ð) s (x) (ɣ) h
Trill r
Approximant j w
Lateral approximant l

The velar fricative [x] is an allophone of /k/ and /ɣ/ before /s/ and /t/.[citation needed]

Orthography

Unlike Proto-Norse, which was written with the Elder Futhark, runic Old Norse was originally written with the Younger Futhark, which only had 16 letters. Because of the limited number of runes, the rune for the vowel u was also used for the vowels o, ø and y, and the rune for i was used for e. Medieval runes came into use some time later.

As for Latin, there was no standardized orthography in use in the Middle Ages. A modified version of the letter wynn called vend was used briefly for the sounds /u/, /v/, and /w/. Long vowels were sometimes marked with acutes, but also sometimes left unmarked or geminated. The standardized Old Norse spelling was created in the 19th century, and is for the most part phonemic. The most notable deviation is that the non-phonemic difference between the voiced and the unvoiced dental fricatives is marked — the oldest texts as well as runic inscriptions use þ exclusively. Long vowels are denoted with acutes. Most other letters are written with the same glyph as the IPA phoneme, except as shown in the table below.

Consonants
Phoneme 9th-10th c. 11th-13th c. 12th-14th c. Standardized West Norse
/p/ ᛔ, ᛕ p p
/b/ b b
/f/ f f
/v/ f, ff, u,[citation needed] ffu f
/t/ t t
/d/ d d
/θ/ þ, th þ
/ð/ þ, th ð
/s/ s s
/ts/ s, z z
/k/ k, c k
/ɡ/ g g
/ɣ/ g, gh g
/h/ h h
/m/ m m
/n/ n n
/r/ r r
/ɽ/ r r
/l/ l l
/j/ i, j j
/w/ u, v, ƿ, ꝩ v
Vowels
Phoneme 9th-10th c. 11th-13th c. 12th-14th c. Printed West Norse
/iː/ i, ii, í í
/i/ i i
/i/ (unstressed) ᛁ , ᛅ i, e, æ i
/eː/ e, ee, é, æ, ææ é
/e/ ᛁ, ᛁᚬ e, æ e
/æː/ ᛅ, ᚬ æ, ææ, ę, ǽ (where æ for /æ/) æ
/æ/ ᛅ, ᚬ e, ę, æ e
/ɑː/ ᛅ, ᚬ a, aa á
/ɑ/ ᛅ, ᚬ a a
/ɑ/ (unstressed) ᛅ, ᚬ a, æ a
/yː/ ᚤ, ᛦ y, yy ý
/y/ ᚤ, ᛦ y y
/øː/ ø, øø, ǿ, ö œ
/ø/ ᚢ , ᛅᚢ ø, ö ø
/uː/ u, uu, ú ú
/u/ u u
/u/ (unstressed) ᚢ, ᚮ u, o u
/oː/ o, oo, ó ó
/o/ o o
/ɒː/ ᛅ, ᛅᚢ a, aa, á, o, ó,[V 2] ǫ́ á
/ɒ/ ᛅ, ᛅᚢ W ǫ, o / E a, ø ǫ
/juː/ ᛁ ᚢ ᛁ ᚢ iu, iú
/joː/ ᛁ ᚢ ᛁ ᚢ W io, ió / E iu
/jɒ/ ᛁ ᛅ ᛁ ᛆ W io, iǫ / E io, iø
/jɑ/ ᛁ ᛅ ᛁ ᛆ ia ja
/æi/ ᛅᛁ ᛅᛁ / ᚽ W ei / E e, ee ei
/ɒu/ ᛅᚢ ᛆᚢ / ᚯ W au / E ø, øø au
/ɐy/ ᛅᚢ ᛆᚢ / ᚯ W ey / E ø, øø ey

Phonological rules and transformations

Umlaut

Some /y/, /yː/, /ø/, /øː/, /æ/, /æː/, /ɐy/, and /æi/ were obtained by i-umlaut from /u/, /uː/, /o/, /oː/, /ɑ/, /ɑː/, /ɑu/, and /ai/ respectively. Others were formed via Ʀ-umlaut from /u/, /uː/, /ɑ/, /ɑː/, and /ɑu/.[5]

Some /y/, /yː/, /ø/, /øː/, and all /ɒ/, /ɒː/ were obtained by u-umlaut from /i/, /iː/, /e/, /eː/, and /ɑ/, /ɑː/ respectively. See Old Icelandic for information on /ɒː/.

U-umlaut is more common in Old West Norse in both phonemic and allophonic positions, while it only occurs sparsely in post-runic Old East Norse and even in runic Old East Norse. Compare West Old Norse fǫður (accusative), vǫrðr, ǫrn with Old Swedish faþur, varþer, örn, with only the latter demonstrating u-umlaut; meaning father, guardian/caretaker, eagle.[7]

OEN often preserves the original value of the vowel directly preceding runic ʀ while OWN receives ʀ-umlaut. Compare runic OEN glaʀ, haʀi, hrauʀ with OWN gler, heri (later héri), hrøyrr/hreyrr; meaning glass, hare, pile of rocks.

Breaking

Vowel breaking, or fracture, caused a front vowel to be split into a semivowel-vowel sequence before a back vowel in the following syllable.[5] While West Norse only broke e, East Norse also broke i. The change was blocked by a v or r preceding the potentially-broken vowel.[5]

Some /jɑ/ or /jɒ/ and /jɑː/ or /jɒː/ result from breaking of /e/ and /eː/ respectively.[V 3]

Assimilation/Elision of inflectional R

When a noun, pronoun, or adjective has a long or diphthongal vowel and ends in a single L, N, or S, an inflectional R is assimilated.[V 4] When the vowel is short, the ending is dropped. The strong masculine declensions mark the nominative with one such inflectional R. Óðin+r becomes Óðinn instead of Óðinr, but karl+r remains karl. The rule is not hard and fast, with counter-examples such as vinr, which has the synonym vin, yet retains the unabsorbed version, and jǫtunn, where absorption takes place even though the root vowel, Ǫ, is short. This may also apply to a final R, such as in the word vetr, though assimilation won't be evident, seeing as how the sounds are already the same. The effect of the dropping usually results in the lack of distinction between some forms of the noun. In the case of vetr the dropping renders the nominative and accusative singular and plural identical. This is because the 3rd strong masculine declension, to which it belongs, marks the nominative singular and nominative and accusative plural with inflectional Rs.

When a verb has a long or diphthongal root vowel and ends in a single N or S, inflectional Rs are assimilated. Blása, to blow, has blæss for "you blow" instead of blæsr.[8]

Phonotactics

Blocking of ii, uu

I/j before i, e, and their u-umlauts was not possible, nor u/v before u, o, and their i-umlauts.[5] The jj and vv of Proto-Germanic became ggj and ggw respectively in Old Norse.[5]

Grammar

Old Norse was a moderately inflected language with high levels of nominal and verbal inflection. Most of the fused morphemes are retained in modern Icelandic, especially in regard to noun case declensions, whereas modern Norwegian in comparison has moved towards more analytical word structures.

Gender

Old Norse had three grammatical genders – masculine, feminine or neuter. Adjectives or pronouns referring to a noun must mirror the gender of that noun, so that one says, "heill maðr!" but, "heilt barn!" Like in other languages, the grammatical gender of an impersonal noun is generally unrelated to an expected natural gender of that noun. While indeed karl, "man" is masculine, kona, "woman", is feminine, and hús, house, is neuter, so also are hrafn and kráka, for "raven" and "crow", masculine and feminine respectively, even in reference to a male crow or female raven.

All neuter words have identical nominative and accusative forms,[9] and all feminine words have identical nominative and accusative plurals.[10]

The gender of some words' plurals does not agree with that of their singulars, such as lim and mund.[V 5]

Hierarchy

Old Norse inherited the Proto-Germanic feature of having neuter as the default gender.[11] In other words, when the gender of a noun is unknown, adjectives and pronouns referencing it use the neuter gender forms, rather than the masculine or feminine. Thus, if speaking or writing to a general audience, one would say velkomit, "well is it come," rather than velkominn or velkomin, "well is [he or she] come," as one does not know whether the person hearing it is going to be male or female.

One generally sees adjectives in their neuter form when used pronominally for this reason. For words more commonly used in this way (rather than to describe a noun) one sees their neuter forms more often than their masculine or feminine. Normally the masculine form would be the most beneficial form of an adjective to learn first, given that the majority of nouns are masculine.[12] In these cases, however, the most practical form to learn first would be the neuter.

Morphology

Nouns, adjectives and pronouns were declined in four grammatical cases — nominative, accusative, genitive and dative, in singular and plural numbers. Adjectives and pronouns were additionally declined in three grammatical genders. Some pronouns (first and second person) could have dual number in addition to singular and plural. The genitive is used partitively, and quite often in compounds and kennings (e.g.: Urðarbrunnr, the well of Urðr; Lokasenna, the gibing of Loki).

There were several classes of nouns within each gender, the following is an example of the "strong" inflectional paradigms:

The strong masculine noun armr (English arm)
Case Singular Plural
Nominative armr armar
Accusative arm arma
Genitive arms arma
Dative armi ǫrmum/armum
The feminine noun hǫll (OWN), hall (OEN) (English hall)
Case Singular Plural
Nominative hǫll/hall hallir/hallar (OEN)
Accusative hǫll/hall hallir/hallar (OEN)
Genitive hallar halla
Dative hǫllu/hallu hǫllum/hallum
The neuter noun troll (English troll):
Case Singular Plural
Nominative troll troll
Accusative troll troll
Genitive trolls trolla
Dative trolli trollum

In addition to these examples there were the numerous "weak" noun paradigms, which had a much higher degree of syncretism between the different cases in its paradigms, i.e. they didn't have as many different forms as the "strong" nouns.

A definite article was realised as a suffix, that retained an independendent declension e.g. troll (a troll) – trollit (the troll), hǫll ( a hall) – hǫllin (the hall), armr (an arm) – armrinn (the arm). This definite article, however, did not evolve before later stages of the Old Norse period.

Texts

The earliest inscriptions in Old Norse are runic, from the 8th century. Runes continued to be commonly used until the 15th century and have been recorded to be in use in some form as late as the 19th century in some parts of Sweden. With the conversion to Christianity in the 11th century came the Latin alphabet. The oldest preserved texts in Old Norse in the Latin alphabet date from the middle of the 12th century. Subsequently, Old Norse became the vehicle of a large and varied body of vernacular literature, unique in medieval Europe. Most of the surviving literature was written in Iceland. Best known are the Norse sagas, the Icelanders' sagas and the mythological literature, but there also survives a large body of religious literature, translations into Old Norse of courtly romances, classical mythology, and the Old Testament, as well as instructional material, grammatical treatises and a large body of letters and official documents.[13]

Relationship to English

Old English and Old Norse were closely related languages, and it is therefore not surprising that many words in Old Norse look familiar to English speakers, e.g. armr (arm), fótr (foot), land (land), fullr (full), hanga (to hang), standa (to stand), etc. This is because both English and Old Norse stem from a Proto-Germanic mother language. In addition, a large number of common, everyday Old Norse words mainly of East Norse origin were adopted into the Old English language during the Viking age. A few examples of Old Norse loanwords in modern English are (English/Viking age Old East Norse):

  • Nounsanger (angr), bag (baggi), bait (bæit, bæita, bæiti), band (band), bark (bǫrkʀ, stem bark-), birth (byrðr), dirt (drit), dregs (dræggiaʀ), egg (ægg, related to OE. cognate "æg" which became Middle English "eye"/"eai"), fellow (félagi), gap (gap), husband (húsbóndi), cake (kaka), keel (kiǫlʀ, stem also kial-, kil-), kid (kið), knife (knífʀ), law (lǫg, stem lag-), leg (læggʀ), link (hlænkʀ), loan (lán), race (rǫs, stem rás-), root (rót), sale (sala), scrap (skrap), seat (sæti), sister (systir, related to OE. cognate "sweostor"), skill (skial/skil), skin (skinn), skirt (skyrta vs. the native English shirt of the same root), sky (ský), slaughter (slátr), snare (snara), steak (stæik), thrift (þrift), tidings (tíðindi), trust (traust), window (vindauga), wing (væ(i)ngʀ)
  • Verbsare (er, displacing OE "sind") blend (blanda), call (kalla), cast (kasta), clip (klippa), crawl (krafla), cut (possibly from ON kuta), die (døyia), gasp (gæispa), get (geta), give (gifa/gefa, related to OE. cognate "giefan"), glitter (glitra), hit (hitta), lift (lyfta), raise (ræisa), ransack (rannsaka), rid (ryðia), run (rinna, stem rinn-/rann-/runn-, related to OE. cognate "rinnan"), scare (skirra), scrape (skrapa), seem (søma), sprint (sprinta), take (taka), thrive (þrífa(s)), thrust (þrysta), want (vanta)
  • Adjectivesflat (flatr), happy (happ), ill (illr), likely (líklígʀ), loose (lauss), low (lágʀ), meek (miúkʀ), odd (odda), rotten (rotinn/rutinn), scant (skamt), sly (sløgʀ), weak (væikʀ), wrong (vrangʀ)
  • Adverbsthwart/athwart (þvert)
  • Prepositionstill (til), fro (frá)
  • Conjunction – though/tho (þó)
  • Interjectionhail (hæill), wassail (ves hæill)
  • Personal pronounthey (þæiʀ), their (þæiʀa), them (þæim) (for which the Anglo-Saxons said híe,[14] hiera, him)
  • Prenominal adjectivessame (sami)

In a simple sentence like "They are both weak" the extent of the Old Norse loanwords becomes quite clear (Old East Norse with archaic pronunciation: "Þæiʀ eʀu báðiʀ wæikiʀ" while Old English "híe syndon bégen (þá) wáce"). The words "they" and "weak" are both borrowed from Old Norse, and the word "both" might also be a borrowing, though this is still disputed by some. While the number of loanwords adopted from the Scandinavians wasn't as numerous as that of Norman French or Latin, their depth and every day nature make them a substantial and very important part of every day English speech as they are part of the very core of the modern English vocabulary.

Words like "bull" and "Thursday" are more difficult when it comes to their origins. "Bull" may be from either Old English "bula" or Old Norse "buli" while "Thursday" may be a borrowing, or it could simply be from the Old English "Þunresdæg" which could have been influenced by the Old Norse cognate. The word "are" is from Old English "earun"/"aron" as well as the Old Norse cognates.

Dialects

Most of the innovations that appeared in Old Norse spread evenly through the Old Norse area. As a result, the dialects were very similar and considered to be the same language, a language that they sometimes called the Danish tongue (dǫnsk tunga), sometimes Norse language (norrœnt mál), as evidenced in the following two quotes from Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson:

Móðir Dyggva var Drótt, dóttir Danps konungs, sonar Rígs er fyrstr var konungr kallaðr á danska tungu.[15] Dyggve's mother was Drott, the daughter of king Danp, Ríg's son, who was the first to be called king in the Danish tongue.

…stirt var honum norrœnt mál, ok kylfdi mᴊǫk til orðanna, ok hǫfðu margir menn þat mᴊǫk at spotti.[16] …the Norse language was hard for him, and he often fumbled for words, which amused people greatly.

However, some changes were geographically limited and so created a dialectal difference between Old West Norse and Old East Norse.

As Proto-Norse evolved into Old Norse, in the 8th century, the effects of the umlauts seem to have been very much the same over the whole Old Norse area. But in later dialects of the language a split occurred mainly between west and east as the use of umlauts began to vary. The typical umlauts (for example fylla from *fullian) were better preserved in the West due to later generalizations in the east where many instances of umlaut were removed (many archaic Eastern texts as well as eastern runic inscriptions however portray the same extent of umlauts as in later Western Old Norse).

All the while the changes resulting in breaking (for example hiarta from *hertō) were more influential in the East probably once again due to generalizations within the inflectional system. This difference was one of the greatest reasons behind the dialectalization that took place in the 9th and 10th centuries shaping an Old West Norse dialect in Norway and the Atlantic settlements and an Old East Norse dialect in Denmark and Sweden.

Old West Norse and Old Gutnish did not take part in the monophthongization which changed æi (ei) into ē, øy (ey) and au into ø̄. Another difference was that Old West Norse lost certain combinations of consonants. The combinations -mp-, -nt-, and -nk- were assimilated into -pp-, -tt- and -kk- in Old West Norse, but this phenomenon was limited in Old East Norse.

Here is a comparison between the two dialects as well as Old Gutnish. It is a transcription from one of the Funbo Runestones (U990) meaning : Veðr and Thane and Gunnar raised this stone after Haursi, their father. God help his spirit:

Veðr ok Þegn ok Gunnarr reistu stein þenna at Haursa, fǫður sinn. Guð hjalpi ǫnd hans. (OWN)
Veðr ok Þegn ok Gunnarr ræistu stæin þenna at Haursa, faður sinn. Guð hialpi and hans (OEN)
Veðr ok Þegn ok Gunnarr raistu stain þenna at Haursa, faður sinn. Guð hialpi and hans (OG)

The OEN original text above is transliterated according to traditional scholarly methods, wherein u-umlaut is not regarded in runic Old East Norse. Modern studies have shown that the positions where it applies are the same as for runic Old West Norse. An alternative and probably more accurate transliteration would therefore render the text in OEN as such:

Veðr ok Þegn ok Gunnarr ræistu stæin þenna at Haursa, fǫður sinn. Guð hialpi ǫnd hans (OEN)

Old West Norse

An early difference between Old West Norse and the other dialects was that Old West Norse had the forms (dwelling), (accusative for cow) and trú (faith) whereas Old East Norse had , and trō. Old West Norse was also characterized by the preservation of u-umlaut, which meant that for example Proto-Norse *tanþu (tooth) was pronounced tǫnn and not tann as in post-runic Old East Norse; OWN gǫ́s and runic OEN gǭs, while post-runic OEN gās.

The combinations -mp-, -nt-, and -nk- mostly merged to -pp-, -tt- and -kk- in Old West Norse. The following table illustrates this:

English Old West Norse Old East Norse Proto-Norse
mushroom s(v)ǫppr svamper *swampu
steep brattr branter *brantaz
widow ekkja ænkia *ain(a)kjōn
to shrink kreppa krimpa *krimpan
to sprint spretta sprinta *sprintan
to sink søkkva sænkva *sankwian

The earliest body of text appears in runic inscriptions and in poems composed ca 900 by Tjodolf of Hvin. The earliest manuscripts are from the period 1150-1200 and concern both legal, religious and historical matters. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Trøndelag and Vestlandet were the most important areas of the Norwegian kingdom and they shaped Old West Norse as an archaic language with a rich set of declensions. In the body of text that has come down to us from until ca 1300, Old West Norse had little dialect variation, and Old Icelandic does not diverge much more than the Old Norwegian dialects do from each other.

Old Norwegian differentiated early from Old Icelandic by the loss of the consonant h in initial position before l, n and r, thus whereas Old Icelandic manuscripts might use the form hnefi (fist), Old Norwegian manuscripts might use nefi.

From the late 13th century, Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian started to diverge more. After c. 1350, the Black Death and following social upheavals seem to have accelerated language changes in Norway. From the late 14th century, the language used in Norway is generally referred to as Middle Norwegian.

Old West Norse underwent a lengthening of initial vowels at some point, especially in Norwegian, so that OWN eta became éta, ONW akr ⇒ ákr, OIC ek ⇒ ék.[17]

Old Icelandic

In Iceland, initial /w/ before /ɾ/ was lost.[V 6] Compare Icelandic rangr with Norwegian vrangr, OEN vrangʀ.

A specifically Icelandic sound, the long, u-umlauted A, spelled Ǫ́ and pronounced /ɒː/, developed circa the early 11th century.[V 1] It was short-lived, being marked in the Grammatical Treatises and remaining until the end of the 12th century.[V 1]

/w/ merged to /v/ during the 12th century.[5] This caused /v/ to become an independent phoneme from /f/, and the distinction of <v> for /v/ from medio-final <f> for /v/ to become merely etymological.

Around the 13th century, Œ/Ǿ (/øː/) merged to Æ (/æː/).[V 7] Thus, pre-13th century grœnn (green) became modern Icelandic grænn. The 12th century Grágás manuscripts distinguish the vowels, and so the Codex Regius copy does as well.[V 7] However, the 13th century Codex Regius copy of the Elder Edda probably relied on newer and/or poorer quality sources — Demonstrating either difficulty with or total lack of natural distinction, the manuscripts show separation of the two phonemes in some places, but frequent confusion of the letters chosen to distinguish them in others.[V 7][18]

Towards the end of the 13th century, Ę (/æ/) merged to E (/e/).[V 8]

Old Norwegian

Around the 11th century,[citation needed] Old Norwegian <hl>, <hn>, and <hr> became <l>, <n>, and <r>. It is debatable whether the <hC> sequences represented a consonant cluster, /hC/, or a devoicing, /C̥/.

In a confined dialect of Old Norwegian, /ɒ/ was unrounded before /u/, so that u-umlaut was reversed where the u had not been eliminated. e.g. ǫll, ǫllum > ǫll, allum.[19]

Greenlandic Norse

This dialect of Old West Norse was spoken by Icelandic colonies in Greenland. When the colonies died out around the 15th century, the dialect went with it. /θ/, and some /ð/ merged to /t/, so that Old Icelandic Þórðr becomes Tortr.

Text example

The following text is from Alexanders saga, an Alexander romance. The manuscript, AM 519 a 4to, is dated c. 1280. The facsimile demonstrates the sigla used by scribes to write Old Norse. Many of these were borrowed from Latin. Without familiarity with these abbreviations, the facsimile will be unreadable to many. In addition, reading the manuscript itself requires familiarity with the letterforms of the native script. The abbreviations are expanded in a version with normalized spelling like the standard normalization system's. Comparing this to the spelling of the same text in Modern Icelandic shows that, while pronunciation has changed greatly, spelling has changed little.

Digital facsimile of the manuscript text[20] The same text with normalized spelling[20] The same text in Modern Icelandic

[...] ſem oꝩın͛ h̅ſ brıgzloðo h̅o̅ epꞇ͛ þͥ ſe̅ ſıðaʀ mon ſagꞇ verða. Þeſſı ſveın̅ aͬ.* ꝩar ıſcola ſeꞇꞇr ſem ſıðꝩenıa e͛ ꞇıl rıkra man̅a vꞇan-lanꝺz aꞇ laꞇa g͛a vıð boꝛn̅ ſíıƞ́ Meıſꞇarı ꝩar h̅o̅ ꝼengın̅ ſa e͛ arıſꞇoꞇıleſ heꞇ. h̅ ꝩar harðla goðꝛ clercr ⁊ en̅ meſꞇı ſpekıngr aꞇ ꝩıꞇı. ⁊ er h̅ ꝩͬ .xíí. veꞇᷓ gamall aꞇ allꝺrı nalıga alroſcın̅ aꞇ ꝩıꞇı. en ſꞇoꝛhvgaðꝛ u̅ ꝼᷓm alla ſına ıaꝼnallꝺꝛa.

[...] sem óvinir hans brigzluðu honum eftir því, sem síðarr man sagt verða. þessi sveinn Alexander var í skóla settr, sem siðvenja er til ríkra manna útanlands at láta gera við bǫrn sín. meistari var honum fenginn sá, er Aristoteles hét. hann var harðla góðr klerkr ok inn mesti spekingr at viti. ok er hann var 12 vetra gamall at aldri, náliga alroskinn at viti, en stórhugaðr umfram alla sína jafnaldra, [...]

[...] sem óvinir hans brigzluðu honum eftir því, sem síðar mun sagt verða. Þessi sveinn Alexander var í skóla settur, sem siðvenja er til ríkra manna utanlands að láta gera við börn sín. Meistari var honum fenginn sá, er Aristóteles hét. Hann var harðla góður klerkur og hinn mesti spekingur að viti og er hann var 12 vetra gamall að aldri, nálega alroskinn að viti en stórhugaður umfram alla sína jafnaldra [...]

* a printed in uncial. Uncials not encoded separately in Unicode as of this section's writing.

Old East Norse

The Rök Runestone in Östergötland, Sweden, is the longest surviving source of early Old East Norse. It is inscribed on both sides.

Old East Norse, between 800 and 1100, is in Sweden called Runic Swedish and in Denmark Runic Danish. The use of Swedish and Danish is not for linguistic reasons as the differences between them are minute at best during the more ancient stages of this dialect group. Changes had a tendency to occur earlier in the Danish region and until this day many Old Danish changes have still not taken place in modern Swedish rendering Swedish as the more archaic out of the two concerning both the ancient as well as modern languages, sometimes by a profound margin but in all differences are still minute. They are called runic because the body of text appears in the runic alphabet.

Runic Old East Norse is characteristically archaic in form, especially Swedish (which is still true for modern Swedish compared to Danish). In essence it matches or surpasses the archaicness of post-runic Old West Norse which in its turn is generally more archaic than post-runic Old East Norse. While typically "Eastern" in structure, many later post-runic changes and trademarks of EON had yet to happen.

The phoneme ʀ, which evolved during the Proto-Norse period from z, was still clearly separated from r in most positions, even when being geminated, while in OWN it had already merged with r.

The monophthongization of æi and øy/au into ē and ø̄ respectively had yet to take place. Compare runic OEN: fæigʀ, gæiʀʀ, haugʀ, møydōmʀ, diūʀ; with Post-runic OEN: fēgher, gēr, hø̄gher, mø̄dōmber, diūr; OWN: feigr, geirr, haugr, meydómr, dýr; from PN *faigiaz (bound to die; dead), *gaizaz (spear), *haugaz (mound, pile), *mawi- + dōmaz (maidendom; virginity), *diuza ((wild) animal).

Feminine o-stems often preserve the plural ending -aʀ while in OWN they more often merge with the feminine i-stems: (runic OEN) *sōlaʀ, *hafnaʀ/*hamnaʀ, *vāgaʀ while OWN sólir, hafnir and vágir (modern Swedish solar, hamnar, vågar; suns, havens, scales; Danish has mainly lost the distinction between the two stems with both endings now being rendered as -er or -e alternatively for the o-stems).

Vice versa, masculine i-stems with the root ending in either g or k tended to shift the plural ending to that of the ja-stems while OWN kept the original: drængiaʀ, *ælgiaʀ and *bænkiaʀ while OWN drengir, elgir and bekkir (modern Swedish drängar (new meaning), älgar, bänkar; lads (farmhands), elks, benches).

The plural ending of ja-stems were mostly preserved while those of OWN often acquired that of the i-stems: *bæðiaʀ, *bækkiaʀ, *væfiaʀ while OWN beðir, bekkir, vefir (modern Swedish bäddar, bäckar, vävar; beds, rivers, webs).

Old Danish

Until the early 12th century, Old East Norse was very much a uniform dialect. It was in Denmark that the first innovations appeared that would differentiate Old Danish from Old Swedish as these innovations spread north unevenly (unlike the earlier changes that spread more evenly over the East Norse area) creating a series of isoglosses going from Zealand to Svealand.

In Old Danish, <hr> merged with <r> during the 9th century.[21] Later, the word final vowels -a, -o and -e (Old Norse -a, -u and -i) started to merge into -ə, represented with the letter e. At the same time, the voiceless stop consonants p, t and k became voiced stops and even fricatives. Resulting from these innovations, Danish has kage (cake), tunger (tongues) and gæster (guests) whereas (Standard) Swedish has retained older forms, kaka, tungor and gäster (OEN kaka, tungur, gæstir).

Moreover, in Danish a tonal word accent distinction shared with Norwegian and Swedish changed into stød around this time. In modern Swedish and Norwegian there are two tone contours (acute accent and grave accent in Swedish terminology, Tone1 and Tone2 in Norwegian), in words having tone1 in Norwegian and acute accent in Swedish is found stød in Danish. Stød is a glottal gesture considered a kind of creaky voice, and it seems to have been documented by Swedish sources as early as the 14th century.[22] The origin of Scandinavian word tones is unclear, they may have developed from a non-distinctive tonal feature thought to have existed in Proto-Norse which then became distinctive when the endings of words were reduced in continental Old Norse. There are tonal phenomena in neither Icelandic nor Faroese.[23]

Old Swedish

At the end of the 10th and early 11th century initial h- before l, n and r was still preserved in the middle and northern parts of Sweden, and is sporadically still preserved in some northern dialects as g-, e.g. gly (lukewarm), from hlýʀ.

Text example

This is an extract from the Westrogothic law (Västgötalagen). It is the oldest text written as a manuscript found in Sweden and from the 13th century. It is contemporaneous with most of the Icelandic literature. The text marks the beginning of Old Swedish as a distinct dialect.

Dræpær maþar svænskan man eller smalenskæn, innan konongsrikis man, eigh væstgøskan, bøte firi atta ørtogher ok þrettan markær ok ænga ætar bot. […] Dræpar maþær danskan man allæ noræn man, bøte niv markum. Dræpær maþær vtlænskan man, eigh ma frid flyia or landi sinu oc j æth hans. Dræpær maþær vtlænskæn prest, bøte sva mykit firi sum hærlænskan man. Præstær skal i bondalaghum væræ. Varþær suþærman dræpin ællær ænskær maþær, ta skal bøta firi marchum fiurum þem sakinæ søkir, ok tvar marchar konongi.

Translation:

If someone slays a Swede or a Smålander, a man from the kingdom, but not a West Geat, he will pay eight örtugar and thirteen marks, but no wergild. [...] If someone slays a Dane or a Norwegian, he will pay nine marks. If someone slays a foreigner, he shall not be banished and have to flee to his clan. If someone slays a foreign priest, he will pay as much as for a fellow countryman. A priest counts as a freeman. If a Southerner is slain or an Englishman, he shall pay four marks to the plaintiff and two marks to the king.

Old Gutnish

The Gutasaga is the longest text surviving from Old Gutnish. It was written in the 13th century and dealt with the early history of the Gotlanders. This part relates to the agreement that the Gotlanders had with the Swedish king sometime before the 9th century:

So gingu gutar sielfs wiliandi vndir suia kunung þy at þair mattin frir Oc frelsir sykia suiariki j huerium staþ. vtan tull oc allar utgiftir. So aigu oc suiar sykia gutland firir vtan cornband ellar annur forbuþ. hegnan oc hielp sculdi kunungur gutum at waita. En þair wiþr þorftin. oc kallaþin. sendimen al oc kunungr oc ierl samulaiþ a gutnal þing senda. Oc latta þar taka scatt sinn. þair sendibuþar aighu friþ lysa gutum alla steþi til sykia yfir haf sum upsala kunungi til hoyrir. Oc so þair sum þan wegin aigu hinget sykia.[24]

Translation:

So, by their own will, the Gotlanders became the subjects of the Swedish king, so that they could travel freely and without risk to any location in the Swedish kingdom without toll and other fees. Likewise, the Swedes had the right to go to Gotland without corn restrictions or other prohibitions. The king was to provide protection and help, when they needed it and asked for it. The king and the jarl shall send emissaries to the Gutnish thing to receive the taxes. These emissaries shall declare free passage for the Gotlanders to all locations in the sea of the king at Uppsala (that is the Baltic Sea was under Swedish control) and likewise for everyone who wanted to travel to Gotland.

Note here that the diphthong ai in aigu, þair and waita is not regressively umlauted to ei as in e.g. Old Icelandic eigu, þeir and veita.

See also

Literature

Introductions
  • Gordon, Eric V. and A.R. Taylor. An Introduction to Old Norse. Second. ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.
  • O'Donoghue, Heather. Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Short Introduction (Blackwell Introductions to Literature) Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004.
  • Henry Sweet, An Icelandic Primer, with Grammar, Notes, and Glossary (1895) Univerzita Karlova - UK
  • Torp, Arne, Lars S. Vikør (1993), Hovuddrag i norsk språkhistorie (3.utgåve), Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS 2003
Dictionaries
Grammars

Notes

  1. ^ Torp, Arne, Lars S. Vikør (1993)
  2. ^ J. van der Auwera & E. König (1994). The Germanic Languages, p. 217.
  3. ^ J. Moberg, C. Gooskens, J. Nerbonne, N. Vaillette (2007). Conditional Entropy Measures Intelligibility among Related Languages, Proceedings of the 17th Meeting of Computational Linguistics in the Netherlands, pp. 51-66.
  4. ^ See, e.g., Harbert 7–10.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g A. J. Johnson Company, Johnson's universal cyclopedia: a new edition, pgs. 336, 337, 338; 1895 D. Appleton and company & A. J. Johnson company
  6. ^ a b Article Nordiska språk, section Historia, subsection Omkring 800–1100, in Nationalencyklopedin (1994).
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Old Norse for Beginners Lesson 5
  9. ^ Old Norse for Beginners: Grammar Reference - Neuter nouns
  10. ^ Old Norse for Beginners: Grammar Reference - Feminine nouns
  11. ^ Early England and the Great Gender Shift: Old English and Old Norse Straddling the Horns of the Default Dilemma Rice, Steinmetz (referenced in this abstract)
  12. ^ Gender assignment in Old Norse, Trond Tosterud
  13. ^ See, e.g., O'Donoghue 22–102.
  14. ^ O'Donoghue 190-201; Lass 187-188.
  15. ^ Ynglingasaga
  16. ^ [2]
  17. ^ Further Old Norse Secondary Formations; Albert Murray Sturtevant; p. 457
  18. ^ Codex Regius - Vǫluspá
  19. ^ Hans Henrich Hock. Principles of historical linguistics p. 149
  20. ^ a b Andrea de Leeuw van Weenen, University of Leiden, University of Greifswald, ed. 2009. AM 519 a 4to: Alexanders saga, fol. 1v, l. 10-14. Menota ms. 14, v. 1.0. Bergen: Medieval Nordic Text Archive. Facsimile; Normalization
  21. ^ Tarrin Wills, The Anonymous Verse in the Third Grammatical Treatise
  22. ^ Microsoft PowerPoint - nyt_om_stoedet_hum-fest_2004
  23. ^ Oskar Bandle, et al.;The Nordic Languages, An International Handbook on the History of the North Germanic Languages, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 2002
  24. ^ Gutasaga §§4–5.

Cleasby-Vigfússon:

  1. ^ a b c d Introduction to Letter A
  2. ^ Málsnjallr-Máttigr; Mánuðr, alternated with mónoðr
  3. ^ Formation of Words - Vowel Changes; Page 1: Umlaut, Breaking (Resolution); Page 2: Breaking, Absorption and Contraction, Ablaut
  4. ^ Noun Tables, Remarks on the 1st Strong Masculine Declension (Assim.: Note 3.α)
  5. ^ References to words labelled heterogeneous in gender: Lilja-Linditre; Muna-Mundr
  6. ^ Introduction to Letter R
  7. ^ a b c Introduction to Letter Æ (Œ)
  8. ^ Introduction to Letter E

References

  • Gutasagan, Lars Aronsson, ed. Project Runeberg (1997)
  • Harbert, Wayne. The Germanic Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2007)
  • Lass, Roger. Old English: A Historical Linguistic Companion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1993)
  • Haugan, Jens Right Dislocated 'Subjects' in Old Norse (Working Papers in Scandinavian Syntax Number 62. 1998) [3]
  • Cleasby, Richard. Vigfússon, Guðbrandur. An Icelandic-English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, (1874). @: Germanic Lexicon Project (images, text), Northvegr (images), Google Books (images)

External links


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

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Proper noun

Singular
Old Norse

Plural
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Old Norse

  1. The language of Scandinavia before AD 1400, the common ancestor of modern Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Faroese, and Icelandic.

See also

External links

Translations

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