Old Norse Runic alphabet

Foreword

There are so many kinds of Runic alphabets, both for languages (Gemanic, Old English, Old Norse, Lusitanian, Etruscan, a.s.o.), both as variant of language in time (Elder Fuþark for Proto-Norse, Younger Fuþar for Old Norse, a.s.o.). The one discussed here are the Norse, both the Elder and the Younger Fuþark. It’s named after the first six runes: F, U, Þ, A, R, K.

Transliteration and usage

Fuþark was, in time, almost completely replaced with the Latin alphabet. However this didn’t happen at all; and so Fuþark is still known nowadays. Usage of Latin alphabet began around 800 A.D. and in 900 B.C. it was almost always used for books and letters, but as yet said, runes didn’t never faded out completely: therefore we have more modern kinds of fuþark, as the Mediæval.
Transliteration from Runic to Latin alphabet is hard still today: thus because Runic alphabet, as Modern Scandinavian alphabet, has many irregularities. For example, the sound [œ] coul be written as the runes [oe], or [ou], or an own rune (see below); the sound [y] could be writen both with the runes [ju], [iu] and simply [u] and in late period even [i]. Long vowels are “implied”, as in Modern Scandinavian languages: the acute accent, which denotes a long vowel in Old Norse, born with the Latin alphabet, and then faded out in the Middle Ages in Sweden, Norway and Denmark; anyway the letters (all and not only the vowels) musn’t be trascribed in runes as double. The only instanses in which runes are double is when meaning two different sounds in Younger Fuþark (see below).

Runic alphabet


Fé – Transcribed always as F/f.
Úr – Transcribed as U/u when short, as Ú/ú when long.
Þurs – Transcribed as Þ/þ at the beginning of the word and in the rest as Ð/ð.
Áss – Transcribed as A/a when short, as Á/á when long.
Reið – Transcribed always as R/r.
Kaun – Transcribed both as K/k both as C/c.
Geirr – Transcribed always as G/g. Elder Fuþark only.
Vend – Transcribed both as V/v both as W/w. Elder Fuþark only.
Hagall – Transcribed alwyas as H/h.
Nauðr – Transcribed always as N/n.
Isa – Transcribed as I/i when short, as Í/í when long.
r – Transcribed both as J/j both as I/i. Elder Fuþark only.
Ær – Transcribed both as Æ/æ both as Œ/œ. Elder Fuþark only.
PǫTranscribed always as P/p. Elder Fuþark only.
Ǫlgiz – Transcribed always as Z/z. Elder Fuþark only.
Sól – Transcribed both as S/s both as long S, rather ſ and ß.
Týr – Transcribed always as T/t.
Bjarki – Transcribed both as B/b both as P/p.
Er – Transcribed as E/e when short, as É/é when long. Elder Fuþark only.
Maðr – Transcribed always as M/m.
Lǫgr – Transcribed always as L/l.
Ingr – Transcribed always as NG/ng, it has the sound Ŋ/ŋ. Elder Fuþark only.
Dagr – Transcribed both as D/d both as Ð/ð. Elder Fuþark only.
Oðal – Transcribed as O/o when short, as Ó/ó when long. Elder Fuþark only.
Yr – Rune created for the final “-r” in Old Norse, it didn’t exist until c.a. 900 B.C.
Œr – Transcribed both as Œ/œ both as Ø/ø, it didn’t exist until c.a. 1000 B.C.

Transliteration from Runic to Latin alphabet

Another topic corncerns transliteration from Runic to Latin alphabet. Because Runic alphabet has only 24 runes (Elder Fuþark) or even 16 (Younger Fuþark), transliteration is not possible letter by letter with most of the languages in the world. Because most of the modern alphabets has 26 or more letters, Elder Fuþark is often prefered to Younger Fuþark, but anyway, using the double-sound of every rune system, with practice transliteration is possible with them both.

For Modern English, the only differences are the usage of Þurs [ᚦ] for the various [th] and the usage of Kaun [ᚲ] for both [c] and [k].

The lettere Y, which in Old Norse denotes one of the sound of the letter [u] in English (the sound [ü] in German), is transcribed both as [u], both as [ju] and both as [iu]. This is the reason why many wolrds evolved with Y in Norwegian and JU in Swedish; e.g. the word “lýs”, which became “lys” in Norwegian and “ljus” in Swedish, or the word “dýpr”, “dyp” in Norwegian and “djup” in Swedish.

For Modern Scandinavian and German there is, instead, the problem of the special characters, or rather Ä, Ö, Ü, ß, Å, Ø and Æ. But this problem came out also with typewriters in the 1800, made in U.K. and so without special characers, so it is from long time solved with the transliteration of special characters in diphtongs. For those who don’t know transliteration of the special characters, I will report it: Ä/ä, Æ/æ = [ae]; Ö/ö, Ø/ø = [oe]; Ü/ü = [ue]; ß = [ss]; Å/å = [aa]. Thus for writing “Månen är död” (Swedish for “The Moond is dead”) without special characters we have to write “Maanen aer doed”, or for the word “über” (“about” in German) we have to write “ueber”.
Therefore the German
city “München” will be transcribed as Muenchen, or rather, ᛗᚢᛖᚾᚲᚺᛖᚾ.

Endnote

In this note I avoided to use the Runic font and I uploaded the Runes one by one as images; but here at the end for doing an example with München I had to use it. Those who haven’t the Runic font on their devices or computers will not see runes and ??? or [] [] [] a.s.o instead.



Sources

I know runes very well and I learned them in person, so I really don’t know...

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