Can I Write in Old Norse With Runes?

Younger Futhark runesPeople tend to believe that there is nothing more easy and natural than to write in Old Norse with runes. In reality it’s quite the opposite. The language that we know as Old Norse is the language of the sagas of Icelanders, which were written down in the 13th century. Strictly speaking, this language is classical Old Icelandic. In reality, Old Norse was constituted by dialects that existed at various places during several centuries. Since there is a whole literature in classical Old Icelandic, while we have rather scarce evidence for all the rest, Old Icelandic is referred to by scholars as Old Norse for convenience. In fact, the sagas were written down in the West Norse dialect, while people who carved the majority if the Viking Age runestone inscriptions spoke the East Norse dialect. Speakers of both dialects realized they had the same language and called it dǫnsk tunga in the West and dansk tunga in the East, thus both calling it ‘Danish tongue’ (even though it was common for Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Icelanders). However, there were substantial differences as for how people from Scandinavian East and West spoke (note the difference between dansk and dǫnsk above).

Those who have managed to accurately translate their texts into Old Norse all make their pilgrimage to the Wikipedia article about the Younger Futhark (upon discovering that the more graphically ornate Elder Futhark was not the standard runic set for Old Norse). The chart that they discover there begets the following question in their minds: why on earth do we have two runes for a and two runes for r, while we have no runes for b, d, ð, g, v and a whole lot of vowels like á, y, ǫ, ø, æ etc?

Younger Futhark runes

The point is that this chart is not for writing in Old Norse (i.e. classical Old Icelandic) with runes. The sole purpose of this chart is to help people transcribe Viking Age runic inscriptions with letters.

Okay, where can we get the right chart? We need to write in Old Norse with runes.

The point is that such a chart is not feasible at all. For instance, because you are to determine whether you have to use reið rune or ýr rune where Old Icelandic texts written down in Roman letters have r. The fact is that Viking Age runic inscriptions differentiate between [r] and [R], while 13th century texts do not. No charts can help. It depends on the etymology of the word. This is also the reason why my runic converter works with modern English only.

So is it not possible to write a quote from Edda or saga in the Younger Futhark runes? Why, of course it is. Moreover, it is possible even if you do not have a deep knowledge of the Old Norse language. If only you use the guide I am writing right now, and to be published next week (or so). Stay tuned.

Update: How to Write in Old Norse With Runes

12 comments… add one
  • Scott Sacharczyk

    My family is in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, we relive the Middle Ages), and our Viking Household is called the Night Sky (because we’re also big astronomy buffs). We have an indespensible modern sunshade pavilion with six sides that we want to drape banners over the Coleman logo, adorned with runes that say “Night Sky” in Old Norse. To respect the entire history, and cover all the bases, we’re going to do Elder Futhark, Anglo-Saxon, Long Branch, Short Twig, Staveless and Medieval runes, for the six sides. The problem is, we have multiple translations for the English words: night is nott and natt, and sky is lopt and himinn. So my question for you is which translations should go with which sets of runes?

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Scott. If you combine Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Proto-Norse words ‘night’ and ‘sky’, you will not have ‘night sky’. This works only in English.

  • larry

    i have viking in my family tree i would really like to know how to write in the viking language. if its not to much trouble thank you.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Larry. It takes to study Old Norse.

  • Jerry Liersen

    I really want to see that tutorial :)

    • Viking Rune

      It’s on the way, Jerry.

  • Ember

    Yeah, I’ve had a try at transliterating Elder Edda stanzas into both Elder and Younger Futhark, and it’s not at all easy, nor am I at all sure I got a reasonable result. Obviously the Elder Futhark transliteration isn’t going to be historical at all, but I admit, I hope the younger came out at least plausible…

    I, too, am looking forward to your guide, as, I’m sure, are many other Heathens like me. :)


    • Viking Rune

      Hello Ember. Thank you for the feedback. I will let you know as soon as it’s published.

  • Dan kniffin

    Fantastic… Looking forward to this. As I have a design for a valkryie shield tatoo. With runes on it :)I’ve got something I want it to say if I can get it exactly I’ll be very happy! :)

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Dan. If you have a phrase in Old Norse, the guide will help you to write it in Younger Futhark runes the way Norsemen of the Viking Age would have done it. I’ll contact you when the guide is posted.

  • Luciano Truzzi

    Looking forward to it!

    • Viking Rune

      Luciano, you will be the first to see it. I will email you as soon as I post the tutorial.

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