How to Pronounce Old Norse

How do you Pronounce Old Norse?

Have you ever wondered how to pronounce the language of the Vikings? Below, we have two sample recordings from our Viking Language Audio lessons that demonstrate how to pronounce Old Norse – first, quickly, then, slowly. Listen to get a feel for what the Vikings may have sounded like.

Settling in Greenland

Herjólfr var Bárðarson Herjólfssonar; hann var frændi Ingólfs landnámsmanns. Ingólfr gaf Herjólfi land á milli Vágs ok Reykjaness. Herjólfr bjó fyrst á Drepstokki. Þorgerðr hét kona hans, en Bjarni sonr þeira,
ok var efniligr maðr.

(from Saga of the Greenlanders)
Reading Runes – Gorm’s Stone

Gormr konungr gerði kumbl þessi ept Þurvi (Þyri), konu sína, Danmarkar bót.

(from King Gorm’s Runestone at Jelling)

Old versus Modern Pronounciation

Reconstructing the pronunciation of Old Norse is by nature approximate. In most instances, we estimate the pronunciation from spellings in manuscripts, rhymes in poetry, and spellings on runic inscriptions. There was no standard spelling. Writers and poets often employed their personal and regional pronunciation, and sounds sometimes changed over decades and centuries. The result is that reconstructed pronunciations are somewhat of a guess, with different scholars coming up with different sounding solutions. Worse, reconstructed pronunciation by Norwegians, Russians, Germans, Americans, English, Danish, Lithuanians tend to sound like the underlying native languages of the reconstructors.

A trend in the teaching of Old Norse-Icelandic is to read the texts with Modern Icelandic pronunciation while retaining the standard Old Norse spelling. This is a workable method, since the pronunciation between Old Icelandic and Modern Icelandic is not that different. One can easily alter some vowels and spellings of words in modern Icelandic to sound more archaic if one wishes, especially when pronouncing the poetry.

But how really different are Old Norse (Old Icelandic) and Modern Icelandic? With a sense of humor and yet answering a serious question Guðvarður Már Gunnlaugsson, professor at the Icelandic Manuscript Institute (Stofnun Árnamagnússonar) has pointed out, that if a modern Icelander were to meet a Viking in downtown Reykjavík, the two would understand each other. This is because much of the grammar, basic vocabulary, and pronunciation of Old Norse comes into Modern Icelandic with few changes. A considerable advantage to employing modern pronunciation is that the learner is well on the way to mastering not just Old Icelandic, but also Modern Icelandic. It is almost as if, one gets two languages for the work of learning one.  
–from Viking Language 1 by Jesse L. Byock

Learn How to Pronounce Old Norse!

For learning the pronunciation of Old Norse, we recommend the two audio pronunciation albums associated with the Viking Language Series. Native Icelander Ása Bjarnadóttir reads out Old Norse passages in a flowing manner in order to maintain the proper intonation. The audio downloads are designed so that the listener can repeat any section, large or small, of the pronounced passage in order to master the fine points of the pronunciation.

Check out the Old Norse Blog

Old Norse for Beginners: The Complete Guide

Welcome to our site,! 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,…

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