Old vs. Modern Pronunciation
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
For learning the pronunciation of the reading passages in Viking Language 1, we recommend the two audio pronunciation albums discussed below. Along with teaching pronunciation of the lesson readings, these two reasonably priced MP3 downloads also speed the learning of Old Norse words and phrases.) —The Viking Language Team
Now available, two MP-3 albums for downloads that teach pronunciation of the Old Norse saga passages and runes of the Viking Language 1 textbook.
Recounting tales of Vikings, Iceland, and the myths of old Scandinavia, these pronunciation lessons are an indispensable resource for learning pronunciation and vocabulary, as well as language comprehension and the flow of Old Norse. Sentences are divided into phrases that the learner can pause and repeat as needed.
The audio passages are spoken by native Icelander Ása Bjarnadóttir with introductions by Jesse Byock. The pronunciation is adjusted for Old Norse and follows modern Icelandic usage. Ása reads the 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.
(To purchase the audio downloads outside of the US, go to iTunes and cdbaby. In Germany and Europe, they are available on amazon.de Lektionen 1-8 und Lektionen 9-15, und auf dem iTunes Store und cdbaby.com)
Below are sample Old Norse readings (1.3 and 3.2) and introductory tracks with background information from the new Viking Language 1 audio albums. Check out the runes below in Lesson 3.2 King Gorm’s Jelling Runestone and listen to how the pronunciation drills work.
Two Albums – 52 tracks of Old Norse with 2 hours of recordings
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.