Old Norse was a North Germanic language once spoken in Scandinavia, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and in parts of Russia, France and the British Isles and Ireland. It was the language of the Vikings or Norsemen. The modern language most closely related to Old Norse is Icelandic, the written form of which has changed little over the years, while the spoken form has undergone significant changes.
The earliest known inscriptions in Scandinavia date from the the 2nd century AD and were written in Runes mainly on stone, or on personal artifacts such as brooches and swords. The majority of these inscription have been found in Denmark and Sweden, and they are written in a language much more archaic than Old Norse.
Most Old Norse literature was written in Iceland and includes the Eddas, poems about gods and mythic origins, or the heroes of an earlier age; Scaldic poetry, which was concerned with extolling the virtues and telling tales of the notable exploits of kings and other patrons; and the Sagas, stories of historical figures or groups intended as entertainment.
Between 800 and 1050 AD a division began to appear between East Norse, which developed into Swedish and Danish, and West Norse, which developed into Norwegian, Faroese, Icelandic and Norn, an extinct language once spoken in Shetland, Orkney, and northern parts of Scotland.
Younger Futhark was a Runic script used to write Old Norse, and was the main alphabet in Norway, Sweden and Denmark throughout the Viking Age, but was largely, though not completely, replaced by the Latin alphabet by about 1200 as a result of the conversion of most of Scandinavia to Christianity.
Three slightly different versions of the alphabet developed in Denmark, Norway and Sweden - the first row of runes are the Danish ones, the second row are the Norwegian ones, and the third row are the Swedish ones, which are also known as Short-twig or Rök Runes.
C, q, w and z were used only in loanwords and foreign names.
Hear how to pronounce Old Norse:
Allir menn eru bornir frjálsir ok jafnir at virðingu ok réttum. Þeir eru allir viti gœddir ok samvizku, ok skulu gøra hvárr til annars bróðurliga.
Old Norse text provided by a Magistri Old Norse Tutor
Alliʀ mænn eʀu borniʀ friālsiʀ ok iafniʀ at wirðingu ok rēttum. Þæiʀ eʀu alliʀ witi gø̄ddiʀ ok samwizku, ok skulu gæra hwārʀ til annars brōðurlīka.
Translation and transliterations provided by Corey Murray
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Þórr heitir áss, ok er sterkr mjök ok oft reiðr. Hann á hamar góðan. Þórr ferr oft til Jötunheima ok vegr þar marga jötna með hamrinum. Þórr á ok vagn er flýgr. Hann ekr vagninum um himininn. Þar er Þórr ekr, er stormr.
A god is named Thor. He is very strong and often angry. He has a good hammer. Thor often goes to Gianthome and slays many giants there with the hammer. Thor also has a carriage that flies. He drives the carriage through the sky. Where Thor drives there is storm.
Faðer uor som ast i himlüm, halgað warðe þit nama. Tilkomme þit rikie. Skie þin uilie so som i himmalan so oh bo iordanne. Wort dahliha broð gif os i dah. Oh forlat os uora skuldar so som oh ui forlate þem os skuüldihi are. Oh inleð os ikkie i frestalsan utan frels os ifra ondo. Tü rikiað ar þit oh mahtan oh harlihheten i ewihhet. Aman.
Hear the Lord's Prayer in Old Icelandic (not quite the same as the above text, but similar):
Information about Old Norse
Online Old Norse lessons
Dictionary of Old Norse Prose (Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog)
A guide to Old Norse names
ALPHABETUM - a Unicode font
for ancient scripts, including Classical & Medieval Latin, Ancient Greek, Etruscan, Oscan, Umbrian, Faliscan, Messapic, Picene, Iberian, Celtiberian, Gothic, Runic, Old & Middle English, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Old Nordic, Ogham, Kharosthi, Glagolitic, Anatolian scripts, Phoenician, Brahmi, Imperial Aramaic, Old Turkic, Old Permic, Ugaritic, Linear B, Phaistos Disc, Meroitic, Coptic, Cypriot and Avestan.
Afrikaans, Alsatian, Bavarian, Cimbrian, Danish, Dutch, Elfdalian, English, Faroese, Flemish, Frisian (East), Frisian (North), Frisian (Saterland), Frisian (West), German, Gothic, Gottscheerish, Gronings, Hunsrik, Icelandic, Limburgish, Low German, Luxembourgish, Mòcheno, Norn, Norwegian, Old English, Old Norse, Pennsylvania German, Ripuarian, Scots, Shetland(ic), Stellingwarfs, Swabian, Swedish, Swiss German, Transylvanian Saxon, Värmlandic, Wymysorys, Yiddish, Yola, Zeelandic
Page last modified: 12.07.23
Why not share this page:
Note: all links on this site to Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.fr are affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you click on any of them and buy something. So by clicking on these links you can help to support this site.
If you're looking for home or car insurance in the UK, why not try Policy Expert?