Younger Futhark Runes: Were They Convenient?

Younger Futhark runesWhat did it feel like for Vikings to have the Younger Futhark as an alphabet in the Viking Age? Imagine you have your standard English alphabet. Then you have a reform based on the fact that the writing system is exceedingly complex and the letters are too many. Let us cut down their number, they say, it will be fun, they say. There are many sounds that really sound in a very similar way, let us have only one symbol for the two! Let us write p for both p and b (let us abolish b altogether), t for both t and d (we don’t really need d, do we?), k for k, g and ng (we know you never liked g and ng), f for both f and v (despite v being the sign of victory), u for both u and o (they do sound the same), i for both i and e (we don’t think this will be a problem after we’ve done what we have). Just look how wonderful our new writing system is:

Whin in thi Cuursi uf human ifints, it bicumis nicissary fur uni piupli tu tissulfi thi pulitical bants which hafi cunnictit thim with anuthir, ant tu assumi amuk thi puwirs uf thi iarth, thi siparati ant iqual statiun tu which thi Laws uf Naturi ant uf Naturi’s Kut intitli thim, a ticint rispict tu thi upiniuns uf mankint riquiris that thiy shuult ticlari thi causis which impil thim tu thi siparatiun.

If you were unable to read it right away, I will help you a little: it is the beginning of the United States Declaration of Independence. Now you have the idea of what Vikings felt when they exchanged the Elder Futhark, which had 24 runes, for the Younger Futhark, which had only 16. Now try to read this:

A pik pik piks for a pik.

Hint: pik pik is not a bird sound. The first pik is related to a notion of dimention. The other one points to an animal. Try to decypher the rest yourself. Share your readings in the comments below. Suggest your own funny phrases that would be difficult to read in the Younger Futhark runes.

Photo courtesy Insidious and subtle M. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic Licence.

25 comments… add one
  • Miguel Castaño

    Thanks for this post.
    I learnt myself the your futhark and as training example I write names of friends and family and I try to write English/Spanish sentences using the young futhark scripts.

    The problem which I face is obviously that many sounds are missing and have to be substituted for a similar sound. E.g. when I write the name Pablo, I end up using the same rune for P and B. The selection of which rune to use in order to reproduce non existing sounds is at the moment up to my own creativity.

    Is there a manual which indicates the runes that should be use to replicate/approximate English sounds?

  • Terry Bruechert

    For some reason, I never get your newsletter anymore! Please start sending it again. Takk!

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Terry. The reason you don’t receive it is I haven’t sent any newsletters for quite some time. Thank you for sharing this, I will try to send some interesting stuff shortly.

  • Oleg

    If Younger Futhark created more complications than it solved, namely just removing letters and reshaping existing ones, why was the Elder Futhark set of runes not used instead? It seems to me that keeping the 10 extra letters and separating words on inscriptions would have been much easier to do instead of transitioning to a new set?

    • Viking Rune

      That is the question, really. For me, the reform did not make the use of runes any easier, quite on the contrary.

  • Ember

    Whin in thi Cuursi uf human ifints, it bicumis nicissary fur uni piupli tu tissulfi

    Would silent Es have been present at all? Shouldn’t it be Currs and tissulf? Also, nisissari?

    I do sometimes think we’d be better off in modern English abolishing the letter C and just using K or S as appropriate…


    • Viking Rune

      Hello Ember. Great remark, thank you. Silent e is a different problem stemming from the influence of French orthography in English. German, for instance, does not have letters that appear only in writing. In this case I tried to recreate the impression made by the Younger Futhark on those who were accustomed to the Elder Futhark. So I took an existing system (English) and changed some rules in it, the way they were changed in the Younger Futhark (more or less). Of course the experiment is not perfect since modern English spelling is a bit different as compared to the Proto-Norse written with the Elder Futhark runes.

  • Valeria Mc CRMCK

    I saw a scripture full of runes in a dream today…………. I want to know more

  • Mattias

    Actually, runes were used well into the 19th century in some areas among common folk.
    Special sticks used by the government to tell dates were in runes into the 18th century.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Mattias. That’s exactly what I say in my answer to Fabrice below.

  • ᛬ ᚦᛁ ᛏᚢᚴ ᛏᚢᚴ ᛁᚾ ᚦᛁ ᛏᚢᚴ ᛒᛅᛁ ᚦᛁ ᛏᚢᚴ ᛅᛋ ᚦᛁ ᛏᛁᚴ ᛏᚢᚴ ᚢᚠ ᛒᚢᛏ ᚦᛁ ᚴᛚᚢᚴ ᛁᚾ ᚦᛁ ᛏᚢᚴ ᛒᚢᛏ ᚢᛁᚾᛏ ᛏᛁᚴ ᛏᚢᚴ ᛬

    : þi tuk tuk in þi tuk bai þi tuk as þi tuk tuk uf but þi kluk un þi tuk but uint tik tuk :

    “The dog dug in the dung by the dock as the duck took off but the clock on the tug-boat went tick-tock.” :P

    • Viking Rune

      Thank you Sveinn! Your example is just amazing. I wasn’t able to produce any better variant than this: A big pink pig begs for a bing, a ping and a peg (a pik pik pik piks for a pik, a pik ant a pik).

  • Fabrice

    The fact that litterature was written with the Younger Futhark and subsequent Futhark-s/Futhorc-s means they weren’t that inconvenient to use. Were they?

    • Viking Rune

      Scandinavian literature (as in: literary works, like sagas, Eddas etc) was never preserved in runes. It was written down as late as in the 12th century, in Roman letters (with a few additional ones). Younger Futhark runes had been used for more or less short inscriptions: on runestones, sticks, various small objects. Longer inscriptions with no signs separating words now seem nearly undecipherable (there are inscriptions for which modern scholars suggest dozens of different readings). I think, Roman letters were adopted rather early for longer texts exactly because runes were not convenient. For shorter texts runes were used until the 19th century. However, these were dotted variants heavily influenced by the orthography developed for the Roman letters.

  • SDG

    A big pig begs for a king…?

    • Viking Rune

      Nice try! However, pik may not stand for ‘king’, since p may mean either b or p but not k.

      • Xander

        A big pig begs for a peg?

        • Viking Rune

          Kudos, Xander! That’s exactly what I meant! (The last word might also be read as bing or ping).

  • Rho

    ..Hhh…, point well taken.. !

    • Viking Rune

      Thanks for the feedback, Rho!

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