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Old Norse language
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Old Norse language

Old Norse is the Germanic language once spoken by the inhabitants of the Nordic countries (for instance during the Viking Age).

Formally, it can be divided into two similar dialects: ;West Norse:Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian ;East Norse:Old Danish and Old Swedish

In the 11th century, it was the most widely spoken European language, ranging from the Norwegian settlements in Vinland and Greenland to the Swedish settlements in Russia in the East, and to the Danish settlements in England and Normandy in the south.

Its modern descendants are the West Scandinavian languages of Icelandic, Norwegian, Faroese and the extinct Norn language of the Orkney and the Shetland Islands as well as the East Scandinavian languages of Swedish and Danish. Norwegian was later heavily influenced by East Scandinavian.

Among these, Icelandic and the closely related Faroese have changed the least from Old Norse in the last thousand years. Old Norse also had an influence on English dialects and particularly Scots which contains many Old Norse loanwords. It also influenced the development of the Norman language.

The earliest inscriptions are runic, from the 1st century, and runes continued to be used for a thousand years. The main literary texts are in the Latin alphabet, the great sagas and eddas of medieval Iceland.

Table of contents
1 Phonemes
2 References
3 External links


The standardized Old Norse spelling 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 vowel phonemes mostly come in pairs of long and short. The orthography marks the long vowels with an acute accent. The short counterpart of // is not a phoneme but an allophone of /e/. The long counterpart of // has merged with // in the classical (13th century) language. All phonemes have, more or less, the expected phonetic realization.

Back vowels:

/a/ //

/ǫ/ (pronounced as Sampa [O])

/o/ //

/u/ //

Front unrounded vowels:


/e/ //

/i/ //

Front rounded vowels:

// /œ/ (properly oe-ligature)

/y/ //


Old Norse has six stop phonemes. Of these /p/ is rare word-initially and /d/ and /b/ do not occur between vowels. The /g/ phoneme is realized as a voiced fricative between vowels.

/t/ /d/ /k/ /g/ /p/ /b/


/f/ // /s/


/l/ /r/


/j/ /w/

See also: Old Norse orthography


External links