What Language Did the Vikings Speak?

Victoria D. Doty

When the Vikings very first started to distribute out from their northern lands to raid and conquer huge swaths of Europe at the conclude of the 8th century, they were aided by superior maritime expertise and the improvement of sailing engineering.

But how did they conceive their strategies and converse the intelligence around a vast swath of land stretching at one particular issue from Newfoundland, Canada, to the japanese Baltic Sea? Astonishingly, a whole lot far more simply maybe than men and women dwelling in all those areas right now. Soon after all, they spoke the exact language back again then.

“Old Norse emerges from around the 8th century and then is used in the course of the Viking Age and then the medieval time period,” says Kristel Zilmer, a runologist at the Museum of Cultural Heritage in Oslo. “It was a shared common language in Scandinavia and in the islands in the north Atlantic settled by the Scandinavians.”

Previous Norse is nonetheless with us in English. Phrases like egg, knife, choose and even spouse were imported with Viking immigration and conquest around the yrs.

But wherever did this language occur from and how was it used?

Older Norse

Previous Norse didn’t occur out of nowhere. It arose about in the early 8th century, many a long time before the improvement of longships when the Viking Age really begins to kick off. Right before this, Scandinavians spoke an more mature northern Germanic language frequently referred to as Ancient Nordic or Proto-Norse. This was the very first language penned in runic inscriptions, or the ancient Scandinavian alphabet made up of about 24 letters and referred to as Elder Futhark.

The oldest these kinds of composing nonetheless identified dates to about A.D. 150. The composing is identified on a compact comb carved out of bone identified in Denmark. Zilmer says that linguists generally think that the language arose before then, possibly someday in the very first century Advertisement.

Elder Futhark continued to be used till about the 700s. In the course of this time period, runic letters were inscribed on leather-based, antlers and other bone artifacts, metal — and the well-known runestones. The very first of the latter showed up in about the 4th or 5th century, but they started to turn out to be a great deal far more common in the preceding centuries.

All around the starting of the 8th century, Scandinavians chopped down their alphabet, combining seems like K with G, and B with P to go away them with a simplified sixteen-letter runic alphabet. Scientists have identified far more than 3,500 runic inscriptions from the Viking Age, Zilmer says. But the simplification didn’t make points much easier for scientists — runes in the later time period are essentially much easier to misinterpret owing to the letter combinations.

These improvements in alphabet were also accompanied by improvements in the audio of the language. New text were launched and new vowel and consonant seems started to look among about 500 to 700. Lots of of the somewhat long text of Ancient Nordic were shortened. “It’s incredibly extensively restructured,” Zilmer says.


Some of the greatest recognized illustrations of runic inscriptions are distribute all throughout Europe from in the vicinity of the Black Sea in Russia to Normandy and all around the British Isles. These lifted stones generally are covered in runic inscriptions, often accompanied by artwork. Zilmer says that even though their inscriptions can vary, they are frequently commemorative, listing the names of useless spouse and children members, friends or buying and selling partners. Presented the size of the stones, the inscriptions typically are not that long. They may possibly point out who put the stone up and in whose memory, with maybe a small note about the farm they held.

A runestone in Sweden carved a thousand yrs in the past by Vikings. (Credit score: Mats O Andersson/Shutterstock)

A couple of runestones have strains of verse. Norse gods like Thor or Odin are often stated as properly in the before time period. Soon after Scandinavia became Christianized setting up in the eleventh century when Vikings started to convey the religion of some of the lands they conquered back again to their household, runestones often contained prayers for the soul of the useless spouse and children members or friends.

Runestones and other runic inscriptions are really one particular of couple of resources we have about the Vikings from the Vikings. Most of the lore surrounding Viking raids and other exploits occur to us via the accounts of other Europeans on the brunt conclude of their attacks.

“Runic inscriptions are the style of source that originates from the time,” Zilmer says. “They are in a way the most direct glimpses that we get into their society at the time.”

Lingua Franca

Whilst Previous Norse was the language that linked the men and women of Scandinavia for the duration of the Viking Age, the global nature of the Nordic nations around the world at that time would have essential polyglots — they didn’t constantly raid very first and ask thoughts later.

“Many men and women and communities at that time would have been multilingual,” Zilmer says.

As some of the Vikings conquered land in Britain and somewhere else, they brought their language with them. About generations, Previous Norse was blended with community languages. Previous English has a whole lot of Norse impact, for case in point, and numerous area names in Britain right now occur from Previous Norse.

“The language contacts had been quite rigorous,” Zilmer says.

Whilst Previous Norse is regarded one particular language, the tongue plainly had dialects that differed among areas like Denmark and Iceland, she says, although men and women in all those spots could probable nonetheless have an understanding of each other. Lots of of these variances widened for the duration of the late Center Ages, getting to be anything far more identical to the languages spoken in all those nations around the world right now.

But other points characteristic of Previous Norse and its predecessor started to disappear owing in element to the global nature of the Vikings. The Roman alphabet was launched to Scandinavia in about the eleventh century as Christianity was adopted. Some Vikings would also probable have realized the alphabet for the duration of their raids and trade missions in the rest of Europe. The two the runic alphabet and the Roman were used facet by facet for a few hundred yrs before the latter took around. The very last runestones date to about the 14th or 15th centuries, Zilmer says.

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