If you have been following this blog for a while, then you've probably read about the different translations we use to cite our sources. So, if there are translations, what was the original language they were written in? Well, it's not that easy.
The answer is: a lot. Depending on where they were, when they were, and who they were, the Vikings could have spoken just about any language that was popular in that area at the time. The Viking age lasted quite a long time and contained nations all over Northern Europe. So there wasn't just one language of the Vikings; there were quite a few.
Old Norse was spoken in Scandinavia and its Nordic settlements from the 9th to the 13th century. Its ancestor is called Proto-Norse language, which was spoken in the 8th century and earlier. It was considered a North Germanic language. But even within Old Norse, there were dialects-- Old West Norse, Old East Norse, and Old Gutnish. These three languages form the basis for several other, modern Scandinavian languages, which we will talk about below.
Icelandic is a modern language that was started by the Viking settlers of Iceland in the 9th century. Most notable about Icelandic is its written form, which is the original language of the Poetic and Prose Eddas. Old Icelandic, modern Iceland's proto-form, is the language of Snorri Snurlson and many other important Viking skalds. Like Old Norse, Icelandic has older versions, but its modern version was influenced by both Danish and Gaelic. Here is a short timeline of Icelandic
Anglo-Saxon or Old English is the language of Beowulf. It is the precursor to English and was brought to the British Isles by Anglo-Saxon settlers. It also has its roots in Germanic languages but was influenced by British Celtic and Latin.
There are a handful of modern languages that come to us by way of Viking invasions:
These languages weren't expressly spoken by Vikings, but they existed and evolved around the same time, which means that they often have cross-over or loaned words:
So, you want to read the works of Snorri Snurlson. Or Beowulf. Or any of the other famous poems and tales from the extensive Viking period. Short of learning Old Norse, or Anglo-Saxon, there are a lot of English options to choose from. What are the best English translations to read the Poetic Eddas etc. in? Surely there has to be a best, right?
We tracked down a Goodreads thread discussing this exact thing. Here's what was suggested:
You may already know that J.R.R. Tolkienwas a cunning linguist. What you may not know is that Old English, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, and Finnish were his specialties.
In fact, his Elvish languages are heavily influenced by Finnish and Welsh, his Rohirric language by Old English/Anglo-Saxon, and the tongues of Dale and the Dwarves by Old Norse.
Speaking of Tolkien, did you know we have a drinking horn designercompletely devoted to the author and his words? Your new drinking horn can host original drawings by Tolkien, from Smaug, to Bag End, to the doors of Moria.
Do you speak any of these languages? Let us know your experience below! We'd really love to chat and maybe even profile you on our blog!
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