Refreshing Old Norse: The language of the Vikings
As the last post about Old Norse seems a bit dusty (posted 3 years ago), I'd like to try and draw your attention to the Old Norse language again!
Being one of the oldest Germanic languages, Old Norse - also known as dǫnsk tunga or norrǿnt mál - was spoken by the 9th to 13th century vikings all over Scandinavia. Many old scripts and stories were written in Old Norse, most importantly the Norse and Icelanders' sagas which provide us with valuable information about the middle ages in the Nordic countries. The most prevalent Old Norse dialect is Old West Norse, which eventually diverged into modern Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese. It was first written using a Runic script known as the elder and younger fuþark, which was often carved into stones we know as runestones, and later a modified Latin script which was brought to the area in the course of Scandinavia's Christianization. Due to technical issues, I think an Old Norse course here on Duolingo will have to do without teaching runes, no matter how interesting that would be.
Old Norse is a well preserved, though extinct, language which gave us many information about the origin of many modern languages, as well as the history and culture of today's Nordic countries. Furthermore, learning Old Norse will enable you to learn Danish, Norwegian and Swedish much easier, as by far the largest part of their vocabulary derived from Old Norse. Icelandic and Faroese will be even more easier to learn, as their appearance and grammar is still almost identical to those of Old Norse. Many Icelanders, which called (and still call) themselves Íslendingar, are still able to read Old Norse texts almost without any difficulties. As with any language, learning Old Norse goes way deeper than merely knowing how to read, write and maybe speak the language. Along the way, you'll read and learn a lot about modern-day Scandinavians' ancestors: For example about their culture, how they lived, what they believed in or how they spread throughout Europe. And finally, you'll get to know their society's most important values that shaped Scandinavia into what it is today.
I'm eager to read your thoughts on an Old (West) Norse course here on Duolingo. And since I've studied Old Norse thoroughly myself as part of my bachelor's program's curriculum, I'd be willing to contribute to the course if there are enough people interested in learning this intriguing language. Vér sjáumsk! :)
I for one would be most interested to learn Old Norse. I have family on the Orkney Islands and they often refer to Old Norse being spoken on the Islands
Old Norse would be great to learn, you're right, but Latin and Ancient Greek are ahead of it (FWIW) on my list.
posted 3 years ago
There have been more recent posts:
- Please add Faroese, icelandic or norse please. 3 weeks ago
- Norse 1 month ago
- Old Norse On Duolingo? 8 months ago
- Old Norse on Duolingo. 9 months ago
- Who would like an Old Norse course on Duolingo? 1 year ago
- Old Norse, or Modern Icelandic? 1 year ago
- Anyone interested in Old Norse? 1 year ago
- Old Norse for Duolingo? 2 years ago
- Norse 2 years ago
- ASMR: 10 Words in Old Norse! 2 years ago
- Old English or Old Norse 2 years ago
and undoubtedly I've missed some. Although this post, Nordic Languages, is three years old, it does have some good information about Medieval Iceland, translated from a Russian book, in a couple of my comments.
[Added] In your coursework, what books did you use when studying Icelandic?
Agreed, if are to add dead languages then we should at least add Greek and Latin first
I'm sorry, I should have explained it further: The most relevant post regarding ON is three years old. Regarding your last question: We mainly used a book called "Altnordisch 1" by Jesse Byock, vocabulary lists provided by the professor and some German-language material from various books. Altnordisch 1 is also available in English, though :)
Altnordisch 1 in English. Thanks for that reference. You would recommend the book, it sounds like.
Let's hope that Duolingo will see their way to offering a course in Old Norse. If it were offered, I'd definitely take it, having enough spare time to start another language while continuing to study the old, and it would be a marvelous language to know.
And . . . what is the 3-year-old "most relevant" post, if it's worth our while?
The post I'm referring to is the first one that pops up when you search the forum for "Old Norse"
I would love to see a course on Old Norse, and would happily contribute to it, but I also suspect that there would be a few problems:
Orthography differed widely between manuscripts and includes letters such as ǫ, ǫ́, œ, ę, ꜹ, ꝩ, etc. not to mention countless manuscript shorthand like Ꝥ for 'þat'; ᛘ for maðr; sometimes ꝫ, which is a Latin shorthand for 'et', used to write með as mꝫ; nasal sounds written as macrons over letters so ū for um; no doubling so þan̅ for 'þann'. Because they are symbols for sounds and occur consistently, they are technically part of its alphabet. Furthermore there was more fluidity between U/V (like Old English which sometimes uses U for W, or Old Saxon which had no written W at all) and I/J, meaning that, because it is a spoken language the role of consonant and vowel was not firm, it was only the sound that mattered. Thus because Old Norse was a spoken language first and foremost, the spelling is very much normalised by scholars in its written form and would thereby have to be merged with an Icelandic course (which, aside from a few minor sound changes and more rigid word-order, has not changed much at all), or be a specialised section of an Icelandic course that features Old Norse material.
Word order and spelling would be so free that such a course would take a long time to write to account for all variations.
The material would be limited to Eddas and Sagas, but because of the gradual and even continuity of Old Norse to Icelandic, it may be better to make it a part of the same course - especially if you want to provide modern words, terms and references.
First of all, thanks for your elaborate reply. I'll respond to your concerns point by point:
It's true that there isn't really one standardized Latin script for Old Norse, but there are some writing systems that are used more than others. I'd gladly show which system I intended to use, if interested. But I thought there should'nt be any other special characters other than æ, ø, ǫ, ð and þ (I left out the characters carrying an acute accent representing long vowels). As you mentioned in another comment, including Runic characters seems almost impossible as of right now.
I intended to use the word order modern Icelandic uses, i.e. SVO. Regarding spelling, the course should only allow one type of romanization - except for those words for which there are too many disagreements regarding spelling. For example, norrœnt or norrønt.
Yes, I did in fact plan the course to teach you how to read Old Norse sagas and eddas. I didn't intend the course to teach someone to have casual conversations out on the street. Most ON and Latin courses are designed to enable you to read ON/Latin texts only as well.
Hey, Let's not give this guy any grief here. I think to bring Old Norse to duolingo would be awsome! The "dead" languages in my opinion are the best. If they had the power to resurrect Hebrew and Irish, then we have full reason to bring back Norse. There's plenty of us out there; we'll get noticed:)
I have an interest in Norse myths and would be very interested in learning Old Norse to be able to read those text in their original language. I've had so much trouble finding material for ON that my learning has stalled several times so it would be great if there was a course here. However, I am not optimistic that DL will agree to the idea anytime soon as they don't seem particularly interested in what they consider 'dead' languages. Latin has never been taken seriously here until very recently, and even Arabic is still in the development stages - both coming a long way behind High Valyrian and Klingon in the list of DL's priorities.
Yes, unfortunately I have to agree with you on this one. Duolingo seems to prioritize either fictional or lesser known living languages instead of formerly widely spoken extinct languages. Or even today's most widely spoken languages, for that matter.
Those fictional languages get a lot more users than many of the languages that are used in the world right now such as Swahili and Vietnamese. Duolingo is not likely to ever have a language course of Old Norse because there is no motivation for students to learn it. It isn't connected with a popular TV show and it isn't currently used. Only scholars like yourself are likely to ever want to learn it and those are the exact people who learn it in college if they actually want it. There are very few colleges that even offer courses like that. People want to use a foreign language because it will probably be useful at some point in their lives (this is why the most popular languages on Duolingo are also the ones that are taught in colleges and high schools). Klingon and High Valyrian may seem silly to you, but remember that there are people who attend conventions devoted to those shows and they are likely to stay popular for years, especially Klingon, since there is a new Star Trek series coming out on a regular basis. It is all about being practical with resources that will attract new users, not about preserving ancient languages. I took Latin in college, and I'm glad to see Latin will be here in order for me to brush up on my Latin, but the reality is that Latin was only valuable to me because A. I'm Catholic, and B. it is the root language of French, Spanish, and Italian.
"It isn't connected with a popular TV show"
Actually, it is ! The serie "Vikings" is quite popular and the characters speak sometimes in Old Norse.
There are many different reasons we learn languages. Curiosity and whim are sometimes enough to take us on a completely unexpected journey. There is something attractive about learning a language that is not likely to be any "use" to you, and it takes on the nature of sport, rather than work- a bit like the people who do Soduko and Crosswords and things.
I think that, as far as I am discovering, learning a language is an education, in that it opens your eyes. I've been doing some Latin on Memrise, and it has made me sit up in surprise on a couple of occasions because it has shown me something new about my own language, (English).
I think there is also a fascination with connecting to something lost- look at the family history industry, the thousands who tramp around ruins taking near-identical photos, the strange feeling of seeing the area your ancestors lived a few hundred years before. If you've ever walked around a deserted village, like the many in North Wales, there is a poignant pull to doing that- it's powerfully moving to picture the people living there and living their everyday lives. That feeling can be enough for you to go to Wikipedia and look up more about it, and it can even lead you to do something like a Duolingo course in a language that you knew nothing about before. To go to a great depth is another thing altogether. The most likely outcome would be several thousand taking the course up, many of them because of the novelty, but a small handful pursuing it further, and that is fine, I think.
Learning a language, whether you ever speak it to anyone still goes towards making your understanding of life richer.
Finally, what is "useful". I make art. It's not useful, unless having something to look at that is maybe beautiful or inspiring or interesting, or that makes you see things differently is useful. I think that is useful, myself. What use is Latin? Well, you can read the works of Virgil and the Roman poets, and if you have any interest in natural history- plants and animals, etc, that will add meaning to names you have known a long time. If you learn ON, you will be able to read sagas and things, and who knows where that will lead? Tolkein and CS Lewis were very much inspired by old northern writing, and they had an eye for a good story.
Will learning Old Norse help me order a pizza or get an ordinary job, or survive as a tourist- probably not- but that doesn't make it not worth while :-)
I have nothing to add and I couldn't have said it better. Thank you for your comment :)
And I agree with you as well. It's true, learning Klingon and High Valyrian seems quite silly to me, if you're not a devoted Star Trek or Game of Thrones fan, as there's virtually no use to learning them except for when attending conventions. Old Norse, however, is very useful when it comes to learning other languages (as I said, ON is the root language of Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic) or linguistic research as it also influenced other languages such as German, English or even French. Same goes for Latin. And I think having only some useable knowledge in one of the Nordic languages would be more beneficial regarding your professional career than being fluent in Esperanto, Klingon, Dothraki or High Valyrian.
But why should I learn ON first and not just directly jump to Swedish or Icelandic?
That doesn't answer my question though. I often heard this "reason" for Latin too. And I don't get it. I assume learning two languages is always more difficult and connected with more effort than learning one, right? And I don't understand how that additional effort is helpful. I am just trying to understand that particular reason.
These are reasons I actually understand. :)
Knowing the development is neat, but not necessarily needed in learning a language. If you are purely interested in speaking a language that is. And this is why the original statement puzzled me. All the other reasons are for people whose interests go a lot deeper than the mere language learning. :D (which is awesome, btw!)
Thanks for elaborating.
You're free to do so, I'm simply offering anyone interested an opportunity to learn Old Norse. If you're not interested, you don't have to learn it :)
Well, as I already stated in my original post, learning Old Norse teaches you how modern Scandinavian languages developed and ultimately how they work. Today's Scandinavian languages' grammar still represents the morphosyntactical and semantical systems of Old Norse, which is why ON makes it much easier to learn the five main Nordic languages of today. Learning ON, or Latin, also gives you the opportunity to read historical scripts containing information about nearly every aspect of that culture's ancestors' everyday life, as well as their beliefs, ideologies and even political system in general. Moreover, as paganism is slightly trending nowadays, which is based on the Vikings' folk religion Ásatrú, some may also have such reasons to learn ON as their old religious texts were also written in Old Norse. Lastly, which is admittedly a reason that only concerns linguists or those interested in linguistics, learning ON gives an insight about the development of Nordic languages and their vocabulary's etymology and how ON influenced other languages.
[T]here is no motivation for students to learn it... Only scholars like yourself are likely to ever want to learn it...
And what about the people who have been posting on Duolingo for years that they would like to learn it? Unmotivated scholars all, do you suppose?
Not that you don't have a point, but it is probably not so strong as you assume, and what Duolingo does or does not do is completely hidden from us on the forum, anyway. Or does Duolingo keep you informed about its plans?
kv_e13, I would really like ON here and I've been thinking more about this and would appreciate your thoughts. Let's assume that DL doesn't see the value of these 'dead' languages as some of us do and therefore they don't believe it warrants a full tree. How viable then do you think it would be for a learner to acquire a grasp of the basics of ON from a taster course, lets say half or even a third of the average 'living' language tree? Assuming that proved popular, that could then open up the possibility of a fuller course, and perhaps give hope to other 'dead' language lovers here. That way you would also avoid all the work of doing a full tree in the event there's not enough uptake and the course has to be dropped (as happened with the first Guarani course).
Some kind of sample course would actually be a great idea. The only requirement though would be to get Duolingo to let me or others create one. That way we could also try how popular other extinct languages like Ancient Greek, Latin or Old English would be.
Sounds interesting. I haven't done any real work on the Scandinavian languages yet, but I plan to. If Old Norse was on Duo, I'd definitely study it.
I’d be game to learn Old Norse. Although I wouldn’t want to impede progress on old Greek and Latin!
Because the languages on Duo are constructed by volunteers who know the languages (I believe that is still how it's done) constructing Old Norse would not impede Latin and Greek. I've been vying for Latin here since I walked in the door. I thought we had greek... at one point we had something like it but I was stuck on some other language at the time. Maybe I am wrong. Thought we had it though.
Because the languages on Duo are constructed by volunteers who know the languages (I believe that is still how it's done) constructing Old Norse would not impede Latin and Greek.
Very likely one would impede the other, as each would take up a "slot" in the incubator. The contributors to a course need co-ordination and support from Duolingo, resources for which are not infinite.
There is a course for modern Greek, but not for any form of ancient Greek.
I'm also interested in Old English, but unfortunately I'm not able to speak it or create a course for it (yet!)
I'm aware of this thread, but since (to my knowledge) Old Norse isn't listed there and the most relevant thread on Old Norse is three years old now, I've decided to try and refresh the idea. Additionally, I'd guess that most of these posts were written by people who wish for such a course instead of someone offering to actually create the course (sounds kind of cocky, I know). Correct me if I'm wrong, though!
Your post reminds me of a film I loved as a child called "Island At the Top of the World" (1974) starring David Hartman as Professor Ivarsson, who is the first character to manage his way around the lost culture of Vikings with his Old Norse knowledge. (Later on, the characters Donald and Freyja are speaking the same language -- as are the locals of Astragard.)
I often wondered if the language he and the other actors were speaking is actually Old Norse.
If anyone ever finds it and wants to watch it, by today's standards it's obviously dated, but it's still very enjoyable and the language in the film is incredible!
There are lots of trailers on YouTube, but not the movie. Full info is on IMDb (Internet Movie Database, largest storehouse of movie info anywhere):
The book is good, as well, although you won't get much Old Norse (if any?--I don't remember): straightforward "lost race" SF. The Island at the Top of the World, by "Ian Cameron," who wrote under a different name a book called Walkabout, also made into a movie way back then.
The movie The 13th Warrior had Old Norse in it too, IIRC. It's a movie made from Michael Crichton's early novel, The Eaters of the Dead, which is a retelling of Beowulf. The first half of the movie was worth watching.
Freyja and Astragard - I haven't seen the movie. Freyja is one of the Norse Gods and Astragard is one of the 9 worlds in Norse Mythology - it is the world that is home to the Gods. https://norse-mythology.net/the-nine-worlds-in-norse-mythology/ I would be interested in Old Norse. But my actual interest would be the runic language - older Futhark and the mythology. I'd love to learn it.
Sadly, the actress who played Freyja just passed away in December. :( Lovely woman.
Back to my fresh spring days, I enjoyed a lot the Old Norse for Beginners course, by Haukur Þorgeirsson and Óskar Guðlaugsson. This short course is developed as an introduction to the Old Icelandic language for English speakers. So, if you are not an English native speaker (my case), but you can read it and understand it, you will be able to learn both language and cultural background.
If you want to check meanings, etymology and phraseology, you can consult the Geir Zoëga's work, called A concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic. Very vast enough! Now, if your wish is to get clear about spelling or to have a little knowledge about how Old Norse could be pronounced centuries ago, I suggest to take a look at An Old Norse Grammar, by Todd Krause and Jonathan Slocum. This grammar explains the Futhark runes used in texts too. These two documents are more related to a philologist study, but I found them so much interesting at those days.
If you would like to add runes, I can give you the transliterations, just copy and paste the runes into the course. ᚠ=f, ᚢ=u, ᚦ=þ(th), ᚨ=a, ᚱ=r, ᚲ=k, ᚷ=g, ᚹ=w, ᚺ=h, ᚾ=n, ᛁ=i, ᛃ=j, ᛇ=æ(ae), ᛈ=p, ᛉ=z, ᛊ=s, ᛏ=t, ᛒ=b, ᛖ=e, ᛗ=m, ᛚ=l, ᛜ=ŋ(ng), ᛟ=o, ᛞ=d
As it was already discussed in another comment thread, adding runes to the course would be almost impossible since by far not all mobile phones and PCs are able to display runes.
You could try the courses on Memrise. Type "Memrise Old Norse" into your search engine, and it will bring up several courses.
sounds super cool!! Will definitely try to learn the language if it is available, I am currently trying to learn Danish as well so I think that will certainly help. Please keep me updated on this course!!
I would love to see a course on Old Norse, but Dou does not have Icelandic (or Faroese, yeah, right), so I would assume (hope) Icelandic would be a higher priority?
The thread requesting an Icelandic course does in fact have by far more upvotes than mine (>850 or so, I think). I agree, any other living language should be a higher priority than an extinct (or even fictional) language. But most of the time there are too few people willing to take on the task to create a course for them, unfortunately. And that's not an easy task from what I've seen. I'd also be interested in learning Faroese on Duolingo in addition to the course I'll be taking, but there isn't really anyone ready to create the course (or Duolingo simply doesn't care).
Does Duolingo actually have a governing group- a head office that decides strategy, etc, or is it a more co-operative thing that relies on people coming along with the skills, (including organisational) to put a course together? If it's the former, then they will want something popular, but a lot of people will sign up to something for the obscurity value!
Great idea. As a Language geek I would love to learn the roots to my own Language. As you mentioned Icelandic is very similar to old norse and is the main reason I would like to learn som Icelandic. I know Memrise has an Icelandic course.
I'd love to learn more about Old Norse myself and try my hand at the language.
Considering the popularity of games set in "Ancient Scandinavia" GoW comes to mind. I would really love to see Old Norse.
I understand that it may be unlikely, however, I know many people- myself included- would be thrilled to have Old Norse on Duolingo. Currently, I am learning Norwegian due to my immense intrest in Norwegian mythology, as ON is not available on Duolingo; the site I use for the majority of my language studies outide of school. I wish you the best of luck in getting this course onto the site! :)
I am on this. As I will say: history is important. Learning Old Norse might help with learning parts of old and modern English, as well with Icelandic, Scandinavian languages, and the other Germanic languages.
Sure, I would be interested. I have an interest in Scandinavian languages generally, so one or two more would be great.
I'd also offer to include the Runic script into the course, but I don't know if that's possible regarding programming and display on everybody's phones or computers.
Runes certainly don't display on my Android phone, so probably best to leave those, or give it a specialised section to write out the corresponding sound, like on the Hindi course.
I like the idea for those who are interested, it's a language someone needs to know because if we create a movie or a TV series set among Vikings or depicting the Norse Legends then it would be bizarre to put it in any other language.
However at the same time I would prefer efforts to be focused on extant languages first. I don't believe that there is a Slovak course yet despite there being a Czech one so would be happier to see that.
I agree with you that there should be a bigger spectrum of living languages offered on Duolingo, but as someone mentioned in another comment, Duolingo courses are created by volunteers who speak or know the languages themselves and not by Duolingo itself. If there is interest and people willing to contribute to a course about an extinct language, I guess it will be more likely that this language will make it into a course than a living language people may be interested in, but for which there aren't enough or any volunteers, sadly.