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Old Norse

Since the Middle Ages are an enormous catch-all of a thousand years or so, I don't feel too badly admitting I know absolutely nothing about Old Norse, a language that many of my medievalist colleagues have and are studying. Since many of you are handy, and surely I'm not the only one who doesn't know these things, I have some questions for you about the language.

When and where was it used?
Linguistically, what came before and after it? Is there a "Norse" to contrast with "Old Norse"? How does it relate to Germanic?
What are your favorite works written in the language?
Anything else I should know about the language offhand?

The depths of my ignorance on this subject occurred to me yesterday after encountering this sentence, written about the Pilgrimage of Charlemagne, a wacky Anglo-Norman poem which flirts with the chanson de geste genre, but really isn't in all sorts of ways: "The poem cannot have been written later than the translation into Old Norse, unaninmously dated in the thirteenth century, which derives from something very close to, if not identical with, the extant Pèlerinage."

This Old Norse translation isn't mentioned anywhere else in the materials I have handy. Are any of you familiar with it?


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 17th, 2005 12:31 pm (UTC)
I seem to remember learning in my English linguistics course a couple years ago that Old Norse was being spoken around the time of Saxon and the other old Germanic dialects, because it collided with Saxon and Old French (and the Latin it brought with it) and had a hand in the formation of English.
Sep. 17th, 2005 03:28 pm (UTC)
It is the language used in the literature which survives from Medieval Iceland/Norway much of which was written and clearly used well into the 14th and 15th c. (which makes me question the wikipedia's terminus of 1300). There was apparently a conscious move back towards it in modern Icelandic (which I have read on occasion without realizing it -the spellings are the most obvious give aways). My fav.s are Laxdala Saga and Volungsa Saga. Anything else... it is loads of fun, the main body is fictional/pseudo-historical, and I need a button/bumper sticker that reads "I'd rather be reading Old Norse."
Sep. 17th, 2005 04:19 pm (UTC)
When and where was it used?
Some people use it for the language of Scandinavia and Scandinavian colonies like Iceland until 1350 or so (though maybe 1550 in Iceland), while others say specifically Norway and Iceland, and then only to 1350. Much of what survives (mostly in Icelandic manuscripts) would by some be described as Old West Norse.

Linguistically, what came before and after it?
After it, modern Norwegian and modern Icelandic.

Is there a "Norse" to contrast with "Old Norse"? How does it relate to Germanic?
"Norse" is "Norwegian". It belongs to the Nordic group of Germanic languages.

What are your favorite works written in the language?
Njal's Saga? Laxdaela Saga?

Anything else I should know about the language offhand?
The best guide to it is Michael Barnes, A New Introduction to Old Norse, published by the Viking Society for Northern Research at University College London.
Sep. 17th, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC)
Old Norse developed into Norwegian and Icelandic-- it also developed into Danish and Swedish. From what I've heard, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish are mutually intelligible, but are considered different languages for political reasons.

A linguistics professor of mine down at UF used to say that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.

There are many wacky things about the Pilgrimage of Charlemagne, not least of which is the fact that it seems to parody a genre that it predates (the chansons de geste). There are other examples of this phenomena in the Middle Ages, and I mean to write a book about it, or at least a long-form article some day.
Sep. 17th, 2005 07:26 pm (UTC)
Some words on the modern Scandinavian languages by someone who is not expert in any of them
Danish: Swedish with a German accent, and when spoken by the younger generation, without the second halves of the words. If you read Swedish or Norweigan and German you will have no problem understanding all of it.

Bokmål: Swedish spoken to a tune that you can't quite put your finger on

Nynorsk: Swedish, but not (for the previously mentioned by someone else political reasons)

Icelandic: the Swedish of the late first millenium AD, largely unaltered except for the difference in written letters.. When you read runestone inscriptions in any of the Scandinavian countries it reads much like modern Icelandic, and is easier to understand than say, the originals of written works in England of the same age

The Scandinavian languages are all more similar when written than spoken. A bit like Italian and Spanish - very easy to get most of it but a couple of words are totally different and likely to throw you without a dictionary.
Sep. 19th, 2005 10:25 am (UTC)
I want to read your book.
Sep. 19th, 2005 10:25 am (UTC)
Thank you for answering. Very helpful.
Sep. 17th, 2005 05:35 pm (UTC)
I'm interested in the translation. It's interesting to think that the Pilgrimage would be popular enough to have made it into translation. I had heard that it was likely a parody of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII, which would make it mid- 12th c., but from what you're saying it could be earlier?

Either way, what would the audience have made of it?
Sep. 17th, 2005 05:36 pm (UTC)
Could I possibly say "interesting" again?
Sep. 19th, 2005 10:37 am (UTC)
My information comes from a 1988 book on the subject by Glyn S. Burgess and Anne Elizabeth Cobby, Voyage de Charlemagne à Jerusalem et à Constantinople Garland Library of Medieval Literature. vol. 47, series A. It's an edition and translation of the text.

The introduction says that there is widespread disagreement over just when it was written, with arguments being made from the late 11th century to the late 13th. The authors suspect late 12th. Part of the problem is that the text is only known from one manuscript, which went missing in 1879. I'm surprised that the Old Norse version is only mentioned once in this introduction, if that makes the ON version the second-oldest version of the text, albeit in translation. I really don't see anything obviously about the ON version in the bibliography however. A bit more footwork would be required to track it down. Intriguing, though!
Sep. 19th, 2005 05:47 pm (UTC)
Does anyone have other possible objects for parody? Other than Charlemagne as Everyking?
Sep. 20th, 2005 03:20 pm (UTC)
If I understood your question better, I could respond/ask other people for input more effectively. What do you mean by "other possible objects"?
Sep. 20th, 2005 05:29 pm (UTC)
D'oh! Sorry. I meant, "if the poem is not a parody of Eleanor and Louis VII, does anyone have any other idea (if any) about the subjects/objects -- that is, if this is a specific parody, rather than a general one, who might it be about?"

OK -- I realize that's nearly as tortured, but I'm running on little sleep and less caffeine.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )