Old Norse pronunciation

Foreword

Old Norse, as all the dead languages, has its own “periods” of subdivision. “Common” Old Norse is the one spoken during the Viking Age (circa 700 – 1100 B.C.) and it is the one you will read about here. In turn, Viking Age Old Norse has two kinds of pronunciations. In the first period, from circa 700 to 950 B.C., there was the classical pronunciation, used today from heathens (who speak Old Norse, of course, not all the heathens) and those who follow the Norse culture. In the second period, from circa 950 to 1100 B.C., pronunciation had a change (from circa 900 to 950), and this costantly evolving of the language brought to several dialects: Old Swedish, Medieval Icelandic, Medieval Norwegian, Old Danish and Old Faroese (“Old Icelandic” and “Old Norwegian” are synonys of “Old Norse” because the Viking Age Old Norse was the native language of Old West Norse people). Here I will list the classical pronunciation, the one I encorauge to utilise. The difference reported are with British English, so American English, Australian English a.s.o. readers can find some inaccuracies.

Vowels

A/a: pronounced as the [u] of [mug] or [but].
Á/á: pronounced as a long [u] of [mug] or [but].
E/e: pronounced as the [e] of [Ben] or the [ea] of [bear].
É/é: pronounced as a long Norse [e], doesn’t exists in English.
I/i: always a the [i] of [living] and never as the [i] of [life].
Í/í: pronounced as a long Norse [i], so the English [ee] of [bee] or [feed].
O/o: pronounced always as the [o] of [clock] and never as the [o] of [to].
Ó/ó: pronounced as the [oo] of [door] and never as the [oo] of [moon].
U/u: pronounced as the [o] of [to] or [who].
Ú/ú: pronounced as the [oo] of [moon].
Y/y: always pronounced as the [u] of [tube] or the German [ü].
Ý/ý: pronounced as the Norse [y] but double long.
Æ/æ: pronounced as in Latin, or the English [a] of [cat].
Ǽ/ǽ: very rare, pronounced as the [i] of [life] or [I] (first pronoun singular).
Œ/œ: doens’t exist in English; a sound between the German [ö] and the Latin [œ].
Ǫ/ǫ: pronounced as the English [a] of [all].
Ø/ø: doesn’t exist in English; pronounced as the Norwegian/Danish [ø], the Swedish [ö] or the French diphtong [eu]. (It must be said that the Swedish [ö] and the Norwegian/Danish [ø] absorbed even the sound of the Old Norse [ǫ]; for istances the words “björn/bjørn” (bear) for the [ǫ] and the “bröder/brøder” (brother) for the [œ]).
Ǿ/ ǿ: very rare, pronounced as the Norse [ø] but double long.
Ȩ/ȩ: originally used to transcribe the sound of Æ/æ, fell into disuse mostly immediately, for the influences of Latin in writing system.

Consonants

F/f: in last position it is pronounced [v], as it must be always in English, but is not nowadays. In composed words or when a suffix is added to a word latsing with [f], the grapheme remains [f], but the sound remains [v] as well. For istance, “úlfr” is pronounced “oolv(r)”; so “Úlfhildr” is pronounced “oolv-eld(r)” and not “oolf-eld(r)”. Note that [r] and [n] doens’t matter as a normal letter, so “-fr” and “-fn” are a [f] in last word’s position.
G/g: pronounced always with the “hard” sound of “get” or “give” and never with the “soft” sound of “gear” or “gelly”.
H/h: more aspirated than in English but less than in German. Before consonants, instead, it is mute: [hv-] is pronounced as a simple [v].
J/j: pronounced as the intervocalic English [y], as in “mayor”.
L/l: always pronounced “strong”, even when double: so the word “mill” and not “illness”.
R/r: always pronounced “strong” and never “soft” as in English: in all the English dialects the R is very soft, “rounded”, to find the Old Norse sound of R, you have to listen German, Spanish or Italian (not French nor Portuguese, not Swedish nor Norwegian and Danish).
Ð/ð: pronounced as the [th] of “that”.
Þ/þ: pronounced as the [th] of “thing”.

Phonemes

SJ/sj: pronounced as the English [sh].
TJ/tj: pronounced as the English [ch] of “chocolate”.
XJ/xj: very rare, it is a varian of [sj] (because in Old Norse, [x] is [k + s]; pronouncede as the English [marshall] (rsh) but slightly more open.
NG/ng: pronounced as [n] + [g] and not as in English.

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