Haukur Thorgeirsson has a website devoted to the study of Old Norse, and it looks quite good. Along with the lessons he has sections on pronunciation (standard and alternative), runes, links, and other related matters, not to mention a few Old Norse cartoons. Here’s his discussion of “Old Norse? Which Old Norse?”:

The term Old Norse refers to the language spoken in Scandinavia and Scandinavian settlements from about 800 to about 1350. It should be obvious that it was not exactly the same language over a vast area and 550 years. It is usually split into two groups, which are then split into two dialects.
            West Norse                           East Norse
Old Icelandic Old Norwegian   Old Danish Old Swedish
Of all these, the dialect which preserved the most interesting literature is Old Icelandic. This course will teach Old Icelandic from the 13th century; when such works as Heimskringla and the Edda were composed. The spelling of Old Icelandic words is normalised to the accepted standard. When texts that are not from the 13th century are quoted we will still use the same spelling.
The term ‘Old Norse’ is sometimes used to mean specifically what we here call ‘West Norse’ or what we here call ‘Old Icelandic’. It is sometimes applied to Icelandic up to the 16th century.

Via GR Burgess’s Old Norse Page (itself worth a look), via mirabilis.ca


  1. Any idea how related Old Icelandic is from the way people speak today? Is it like reading Beowulf or the Canterbury Tales (for someone who speaks modern Icelandic)? I know that in Laxness’ excellent book “Independent People” illiterate peasants living in the 50s are portrayed as being able to recite the sagas by memory.

  2. The pronunciation has changed a great deal, but the spelling is conservative, so I suspect it’s more like reading Shakespeare. I’d love to hear from an Icelandic reader about this, though.

  3. From the FAQ on that site (http://www.hi.is/~haukurth/norse/faq.html):
    “How close are Old Norse and Modern Icelandic?
    About as close as 21st century English and Shakespeare’s English, or maybe the King James Bible.”

  4. Great FAQ, here is the URL as an HTML link.

  5. Babak Sekandari says

    I’ve started to read Beowulf in the old Anglo-Saxon but I’m not sure how to pronounce some of the alphabet. There are some characters in there that are not in English. Any suggestions?

  6. There should be only two letters that you don’t recognise and they are both pronounced like the English “th”.
    Hope this helps if you see this!

  7. Iceland was settled as much from Sweden and the Danish settlements in the British Isles as it was from Norway so I think it is a mistake to say that Icelandic belongs to a western branch of Old Norse pure and simple, or that it is most closely related to the western dialects of Norwegian as many linguists claim.
    Most of the Swedish colonists to Iceland left from the port of Trondheim with the last of them leaving there about the middle of the 12th century. Although Trondheim is part of Norway today it was in no-man’s land during the Viking period and did not become permanently part of Norway-Denmark until 1658 after being under Swedish rule for awhile.

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