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The Viking Language: Everything you need to know

futhark, rune, viking language -

The Viking Language: Everything you need to know


1. A Norse Viking language.

North Germanic forms a branch of the Germanic languages along with West Germanic, from which, for example, today's German developed, and East Germanic, to which the extinct Gothic belongs.

The Germanic languages, in turn, belong to the Indo-European (= Indo-European) language family, to which most European languages belong, but also, for example, Indian and Persian.

How do Vikings say hello?

The "Hej! "applies to everyone, so it is the least risky way to address someone. "Hej! "is the equivalent of our "hello! »

The Evolution of Viking Language

When and how exactly North Germanic evolved away from Urgermanic cannot be said precisely due to the lack of sufficient linguistic evidence.

Of course, it must be assumed that linguistic changes did not always take hold quickly, but over a long period of time and in different areas at different rates.

In research, the language stage between about 200 AD and the end of the 8th century is usually called Urnordic.

After that - i.e. from about the beginning of the Viking Age - we speak of Old Norse, which is divided into Old East Norse, which gave rise to Swedish and Danish, and Old West Norse, which gave rise to Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese.

Since most and most interesting texts of these languages originated in the Middle Ages in Iceland and Norway, most research is concerned with Old West Norse, which is therefore often simplistically and actually inaccurately referred to as "Old Norse".

The Scandinavians of the Viking Age, despite the onset of linguistic divergence, may not yet have had any difficulty understanding each other, whether they came from Iceland or Sweden.

But today's mainland Scandinavian languages, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish, have changed and simplified so much that their speakers can no longer easily communicate with people from the Faroe Islands and from Iceland in their respective languages.

The closest to Old West Norse is present-day Icelandic, which has not changed too much, so that present-day Icelanders can read medieval Icelandic texts without major problems.


2. Runes (Futhark)

Runes come from an ancient and long-gone culture. They were originally written characters used by Viking tribes in Europe since the beginning of the Christian era. Runes are abstract symbols that can be interpreted or used in different ways:

  • Runes can protect
  • Runes can give power
  • Runes can prophesy

The term rune originates from the Danish and means "character". At that time only a few people were able to use runes. So runes inevitably became secret signs.

Since the 7th - 8th century, the runic script spread, among other things, through the migration of peoples from northern Central Europe towards the southeast and south. Then, due to the spread of Christianity and the Latin script, it gradually disappeared.


Rune inscriptions from ancient times also show us, however, that they were not used exclusively as a means of communication but have always been considered a gift from the viking gods. Thus, the rune also inherent a certain magic. Runes can be used as oracles and for decision-making.

The twelve virtues that the ancient viking tribes assigned to a rune were essential for their survival. Even today, these values are still of great importance:

  1. Boldness
  2. Loyalty
  3. Hospitality
  4. Equality
  5. Industriousness
  6. Wisdom
  7. Steadfastness
  8. Magnanimity
  9. Gentleness
  10. Freedom
  11. Revenge
  12. Friendship



3. Scandinavia, The Endangered languages of the Vikings?

While the Scandinavian press agrees that the languages of the Vikings must be defended at all costs, it cannot agree on the role of English in Scandinavian societies.

Is officializing the use of a foreign language a threat or a necessity?

Is Norse a dead language?

"Everybody talks about the language, but nobody does anything. Of course, the Swedish language must be defended, but against what? The real danger does not come from the disadvantaged suburbs, but from the universities, companies and ministries."

This warning from the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter emphasizes that "if language gives us the possibility to communicate on an individual level, it obliges us to respect the rules of collective communication".

Moreover, observes the editorialist, "changing a language in a significant way requires a considerable amount of time. Multicultural accents in our society may very well exist alongside the official language without the latter ever undergoing major changes".

Therefore, for the liberal newspaper, "it is not the much decried 'Swedish in the suburbs' that most threatens the national language, but English, which is slowly but surely making its way into our schools and businesses, while the more or less pointless debates on the place of multicultural accents in Sweden continue.

Indeed, "why should a researcher at university have to put forward his theories in a language he does not master [in this case English] rather than write in his mother tongue and then have recourse to a professional translator? Why, in institutions with international curricula, are teachers forced to teach using poor English," the editorialist asks.

"Because a small people speaking a language that is not widely spoken can thus broaden their economic and political perspectives," replies the Swedish daily Expressen.

"English not only enables us to make ourselves understood and to exert influence on an international level, it can also be useful to us in business circles to make profits and attract investments on Swedish territory," insists the popular newspaper, for whom "borrowing from other languages is a sign of vitality".

Still, it is necessary to master the English language, notes the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, commenting on a recently published university report that shows that learning foreign languages, especially English, is a significant obstacle for Norwegians.

"For a country that likes to brag about its language skills, this information has had the effect of a cold shower," the editorialist exclaims.

"Few nations are as well integrated in international affairs as Norway, whether in trade, culture or tourism, and the need to know how to speak English well is becoming more and more urgent".

For this reason, the right-wing newspaper insists, "it is unfortunate that these language deficiencies have caused many misunderstandings, including loss of customers".

So, by way of conclusion, the editorialist simply calls for "more English in school!".


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