Old Norse Pronunciation Handout

:: ᚽᚢᛆᛐᛌᛁᚴᛁᚱ • ᛆᚢᛁᛆᛓᛆᛌᛆᛐᚢᛐᛁᚱ ::
Hvat segir þú?
Old Norse Pronunciation
Eyja Bassadóttir




  • Scandinavian Iron Age 400-800
  • Viking Age in England 795-1066
  • Viking Age in Scandinavia 750-1050
  • Viking Age in Russia 750-1200
  • Old Norse language c. 600-1300
    • West Norse Dialect vs. East Norse Dialect

–> Old Icelandic, Old Norwegian, etc. –> Old Danish, Old Swedish, etc.

  • Standardized Old Norse
    • Created in the 19th c.
    • Based mostly on manuscripts from 13th c. Iceland
    • Period writing has vast variations in spellings
    • Period manuscripts have lots of abbreviations
  • Period attempt at standardization in 12th c., the First Grammatical Treatise
    • Gives valuable linguistic insight into Old Norse
    • Did not get adopted at all

Continue reading “Old Norse Pronunciation Handout”


Ducere, Ministrare, Illuminare

As I mentioned in my Translating Northshield entry, I have been working on translating my kingdom’s group names, and some related major landmarks (like the Great Lakes), into Old Norse. And as promised, I am going to talk a little about my endeavor of translating our kingdom’s motto from Latin into Old Norse.

Ducere, Ministrare, Illuminare

Continue reading “Ducere, Ministrare, Illuminare”

Translating Northshield

So, many a year ago, I was interested in translating all the names of the Kingdoms in the Known World. The project fizzled however and other projects took its place. Then this past year, as part of his elevation to the Order of the Laurel, Maestro Christoforo Alfonso Pallavincino da Firenze presented his translation of all the names of the active groups of Northshield into (modern) Japanese. He also did a translation of the award names.

First of all, this is incredibly cool geeky language goodness. Maestro Christoforo has, since his return to Northshield, been an amazing scribe in Japanese style scrolls. He translates each scroll into kanji, the Chinese characters, which was the writing system used at the Japanese court in period. Second, it has reinvigorated my desire to translate Northshield (& Known World…?) toponyms (place names) into Old Norse, and with his permission, I have utilized the Maestro’s translation groundwork. Completely due to this groundwork, I’m already mostly done with Northshield. There’s a few things I want to research more thoroughly before I present the whole of the work, but until then, I can share some of the smaller details.

The Kingdom of Northshield

The etymology of the kingdom’s name is very transparent in English. North (the direction) + shield (the piece of defensive armor held in the hand. Viking Age shields were typically round, wooden, and painted, though other shapes were seen in the iconography — the Viking Answer Lady goes over shields briefly in her article on heraldry).

For the origin of this name for the region I have consulted both Mistress Rosanore of Redthorn and Master Guttorm Arneson (but any errors are indeed my own). The name, chosen via vote in A.S. 13 according to the Northshield History Page, was ultimately inspired by the great Canadian or Precambrian Shield, which is a geological feature of a large area of Canada, and some of the Midwest around the Great Lakes. The image below is a public domain image found on Wikipedia — the red indicates the Precambrian Shield.For a comparison, here is Northshield’s map.

There is also a heraldic folk etymology for Northshield that I have heard about. In England, the town of South Shields, with a long history of name-changing, has an interesting and misleading etymology, I have been told, which actually lies in the word shieling, a hut constructed for the use of humans on a mountainous pasture while attending grazing animals. (It is quite typical of ancient towns, especially in contested areas, having such complex historic toponyms.) Having the historic precedent of shielings > shields — even with a directional element! — the folk etymology claims that Northshield is the “north shieling”. Of course, Northshield is not truly mountainous at all, though we certainly have a lot of fields (and forests and lakes).

Old Norse does not have such a similarity in its words for shield (skjǫldʀ) and shieling (sætr or setr, or perhaps more properly sætrbúð (also listed under setr)), so any Norse translation could not have such lovely ambiguity. I am also unaware of any Viking Age designation for a geographic shield, so I have translated the kingdom’s name as Norðskjǫldʀ “north-shield”. What is handy about this designation, is that one can (and I certainly have in the past) commandeer the period term skjǫldungaʀ “shielders, Danes” for a term for the folk of Northshield. The reason skjǫldungaʀ is applied to Danes, as I have already written in The Course post, is often cited to a mythological origin story for the Danish royal family. The mythical founder, Skjǫldʀ (known as Sceld Scelding in Beowulf), was found as a baby washed upon shore in a shield, whence he got his name.


Stay tuned for a post about Northshield’s motto, and my attempt at translating it: Ducere, Ministrare, Illuminare.

The Viking Age Color Palette and Old Norse Color Words

There’s been a few articles that have come out about this — chemical analysis show the potential paint palette of the Viking Age Danish royal hall of Lejre (the form in Old Norse was possibly *Leir or *Leira, which relate to clay — see Cleasby-Vigfusson, p.386). A very short article is the one by Archaeology.org. A more in depth article can be found at Science Nordic by Vickie Isabella Westen.

If you follow a link to a similar article about “What colour did the Vikings paint their houses” at Science Nordic, I should point out something the author, Johanne Uhrenholt Kusnitzoff, mentions in the section “Did they perceive colours as we do?”. In this section, Kusnitzoff quotes Amalie Skovmøller, a Ph.D. student at the Saxo Institute at the University of Copenhagen, as noting that Romans perceived color differently than we do today, mentioning how they described things as purple which we would not define as purple modernly. Now, I feel I should point out that there is a difference in what Skovmøller is describing — the differing color terms used to describe a section of the color spectrum — versus a more physical concept of color perception — which is the question of whether some individual humans perceive the color spectrum differently than other humans (which itself is a tricky question to test).

Color terms is a topic that we covered briefly in my Linguistic classes at college. Different languages have different amounts of color words (some have only two or three main terms and some have quite a few — English has 11 main terms, and a huge number of secondary color terms), and those color words cut up the spectrum in different ways. A good example is how the spectrum of what American English speakers would define as blue and green, is actually labeled under different color words depending on the languages. Or, as my friend Chimera points out, how the mailboxes, which clearly fall into the orange spectrum for American English speakers, is described as keltainen in Finnish (which covers what English-speakers would usually identify as the “yellow” spectrum). This is a lexicon distinction, not a physical perception distinction. Though, that said, there is at least a couple studies out there that suggest that how color is grouped in terms might affect how a language speaker notice colors.

It’s not only language that plays into color distinctions, but technological level seems to play a part, so color word distinctions can change over time. Kirsten Wolf has written several articles on specifically Old Norse color terms, analyzing various aspects to help determine what part of the color spectrum the term refers. I don’t see an easy list to reference here, so my list might not be comprehensive:

  • 2005. “Reflections on the Color of Esau’s Pottage of Lentils” in Gripla 16: pp. 251-257, (on Stofnun Árna Magnussonar ‘the Arni Magnusson Institute’)
  • 2006. “The Color Blue in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature” in Scripta Islandica
    57 (2006), pp. 55-78, (on The International Saga Conference Archive)
  • 2006. “Some Comments on Old Norse-Icelandic Color Terms” in Arkiv för
    nordisk filologi, Vol. 121 (2006): pp. 173-192, (on Open Journal at Lund University)
  • 2007. “The Colors of the Rainbow in Snorri’s Edda” in Maal og minne (2007):
    pp. 51-62, (on Research Gate)
  • 2007. “Snorri’s Use of Color Terms in Gylfaginning” in Skandinavistik 37
    (2007): pp. 1-10.
  • 2009. “The Color Grey in Old Norse–Icelandic Literature” in Journal of English
    and Germanic Philology 108 (2009): pp. 222-238, (on JSTOR)
  • 2010. “Towards a Diachronic Analysis of Old Norse-Icelandic Color Terms: The
    Cases of Green and Yellow” in Orð og tunga 12 (2010): 109-130, (on Tímarit.is)
  • 2015. ”Non-basic Color Terms in Old Norse-Icelandic” in New Norse Studies (2015): pp. 389–433, (on Cornell University’s eCommons)
  • 2017. “The color brown in Old Norse-Icelandic literature”, (on John Benjamins Publishing Co. website)

In looking for the above list, I have also discovered 2 new articles I shall be reading, by Jackson Crawford (Professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder, with a very informative YouTube channel, and a profile at Academia.edu):


While it’s not specifically Norse-centric, I also recommend reading Master Owen Alun’s article on color perception on his Loonmusings blog.