Learn the Language of the Vikings!
The best way to learn Old Norse is by becoming immersed in Old Scandinavian language, culture, and sagas. But where do you started? We have a short introduction below that will familiarise you with the alphabet and grammar of the language.
Getting Started With Old Norse
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Welcome to our site, OldNorse.org! We seek to educate on Old Norse teaching Old Scandinavian language, culture, and sagas. Learn Old Norse–the language the runes and myths of the Vikings–through user-friendly textbooks, online content, and blog. Here you will find books, free content, audio resources, and a community of Old Norse students to aid teachers,…
The Best Place to Start
Don’t know where to start? The best place to start learning Old Norse is with our Viking Language textbooks. They focus on the language and history of the Viking Age, taking the learner on a journey deep into Icelandic sagas, heroic legends, Viking runes, Old Norse mythology and history.
The Basics of Old Norse
a, á, b, d, ð, e, é, f, g, h, i, í, j, k, l, m, n, o, ó, p, r, s, t, u, ú, v, x, y, ý, z, þ, æ, œ, ǫ (ö), ø
The Latin alphabet adopted by the Icelanders in the eleventh century was probably modeled on Anglo‐Saxon writing. From this source, Icelanders may have learned the letters þ (‘thorn,’ uppercase Þ) and ð (‘eth,’ uppercase Ð). Old Norse writers, whether they wrote runes or manuscripts, did not follow a standardized spelling. Scholars addressed this issue more than a century ago by adopting a standardized Old Norse/Icelandic spelling and alphabetic order.
The Old Norse vowels ǫ and ø coalesced in the medieval period into the single vowel ö, which is still used in Modern Icelandic. The first edition of Viking Language 1, generally employed ö. This current edition employs ǫ, but ö is found when a Modern Icelandic term or name is used. This book maintains the distinction between ǫ and ø. Modern Icelandic has also lost the distinction between æ and œ and employs æ for both letters. In most instances, this book retains the original medieval distinction. Overall, the spelling differences between Old and Modern Icelandic are minor.
In the Old Norse/Icelandic alphabet, long vowels are distinguished from short vowels by an acute accent (for example, long é and short e). The long vowels æ, œ, ø and ǫ (umlauted a, which becomes modern ö) are listed at the end of the Icelandic alphabet. The letters c, q, and are occasionally found in manuscripts but have not been adopted into the standardized alphabet.
The letter þ (upper case, Þ) is called ‘thorn’ and pronounced like ‘th’ in the English word ‘thought’ or the name of the god Thor (Þórr). Thorns are used at the beginning of words. The letter ð (upper case, Ð) is called ‘eth’ and pronounced like ‘th’ in the English word ‘breathe’ or Othin (Óðinn), often spelled ‘Odin’ in English. Eths are used within words.
Old Norse is an ‘inflected language,’ meaning that parts of many words change in order to distinguish between grammatical categories. In particular, Old Norse nouns, pronouns, and adjectives have different endings depending on their gender, case, and number when conveying differing roles in a sentence (subject, object, etc.). Endings are traditionally called ‘inflections,’ a term coming from Latin. It is worth noting that modern English has dropped most of its endings (inflections), and for this reason English is only marginally an inflected language. When translating Old Norse, one needs to be able to distinguish differing endings to ensure meaning.
All nouns in Old Norse decline; that is, they take endings indicating the noun’s case and role in the sentence. There are four cases in Old Norse: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive. In most instances, the subject of a sentence is in the nominative case, the direct object is in the accusative case, the indirect object is in the dative, and the possessor (of something) is in the genitive.
All nouns and pronouns in Old Norse belong to one of three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. The gender of a noun or pronoun can often be determined by looking at its set of case endings. For example, many masculine nouns, such as maðr ‘man; person’ and sonr ‘son,’ have the ending ‐r in the nominative case. If the noun denotes a living being, its gender often matches the being’s sex, for example, faðir ‘father’ (m) and móðir ‘mother’ (f). But keep in mind that sex is not a sure indicator of gender. For example, the neuter noun barn (‘child’) remains neuter whether the child is a ‘he’ or a ‘she.’ Many nouns referring to abstract concepts and objects have genders that bear no relationship to the word itself. For example: the word skǫr means ‘a male haircut’ but is feminine; other feminine nouns include elli ‘old age,’ bók ‘book,’ fjǫðr ‘feather,’ saga ‘tale.’ Some masculine nouns are bragr ‘poetry,’ matr ‘food,’ steinn ‘stone,’ kærleikr ‘love.’ Neuter nouns include hjarta ‘heart,’ land ‘land,’ þing ‘parliament,’ fen ‘marsh or bog.’