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Proto-Norse language

Proto-Norse language

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Proto-Norse was an Indo-European
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

 language spoken in Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

 that is thought to have evolved as a northern dialect of Proto-Germanic
Proto-Germanic language
Proto-Germanic , or Common Germanic, as it is sometimes known, is the unattested, reconstructed proto-language of all the Germanic languages, such as modern English, Frisian, Dutch, Afrikaans, German, Luxembourgish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, and Swedish.The Proto-Germanic language is...

 over the first centuries AD. It is the earliest stage of a characteristically North Germanic
North Germanic languages
The North Germanic languages or Scandinavian languages, the languages of Scandinavians, make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages...

 language, and the language attested in the oldest Scandinavian Elder Futhark
Elder Futhark
The Elder Futhark is the oldest form of the runic alphabet, used by Germanic tribes for Northwest Germanic and Migration period Germanic dialects of the 2nd to 8th centuries for inscriptions on artifacts such as jewellery, amulets, tools, weapons and runestones...

 inscriptions, spoken ca. from the 3rd to 7th centuries (corresponding to the late Roman Iron Age
Roman Iron Age
The Roman Iron Age is the name that Swedish archaeologist Oscar Montelius gave to a part of the Iron Age in Scandinavia, Northern Germany and the Netherlands....

 and the early Germanic Iron Age
Germanic Iron Age
The Germanic Iron Age is the name given to the period 400–800 in Northern Europe and it is part of the continental Age of Migrations.-Germanic Iron :...

). It evolved into the dialects of the Old Norse language
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 at the beginning of the Viking Age
Viking Age
Viking Age is the term for the period in European history, especially Northern European and Scandinavian history, spanning the late 8th to 11th centuries. Scandinavian Vikings explored Europe by its oceans and rivers through trade and warfare. The Vikings also reached Iceland, Greenland,...

.

Accent


Old Norse had a stress accent which fell on the first syllable. Several scholars have proposed that Proto-Norse also had a separate pitch accent
Pitch accent
Pitch accent is a linguistic term of convenience for a variety of restricted tone systems that use variations in pitch to give prominence to a syllable or mora within a word. The placement of this tone or the way it is realized can give different meanings to otherwise similar words...

, which was inherited from Proto-Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 and has evolved into the tonal accents of modern Swedish
Swedish language
Swedish is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden and parts of Finland, especially along its coast and on the Åland islands. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish...

 and Norwegian
Norwegian language
Norwegian is a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Norway, where it is the official language. Together with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a continuum of more or less mutually intelligible local and regional variants .These Scandinavian languages together with the Faroese language...

, which in turn have involved into the stød
Stød
Stød is a suprasegmental unit of Danish phonology, which in its most common form is a kind of creaky voice , but may also be realized as a glottal stop, above all in emphatic pronunciation...

 of modern Danish
Danish language
Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in the country of Denmark. It is also spoken by 50,000 Germans of Danish ethnicity in the northern parts of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, where it holds the status of minority language...

. Another recently advanced theory is that each Proto-Norse long syllable and every other short syllable received stress, marked by pitch, eventually leading to the development of the Swedish and Norwegian tonal accent distinction. Finally, quite a number of linguists have assumed that even the first phonetic rudiments of the distinction didn't appear until the Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 period.

Vowels



Short vowels
  • a: [ɑ]
  • e: [e]
  • i: [i]
  • o: [o] (from a-mutation of u)
  • u: [u]


Long vowels
  • ā: [aː]
  • ē: [eː] (from ē2 and unstressed ai)
  • ō: [oː]
  • ī: [iː]
  • ū: [uː]


Diphthongs
  • eu: [eu]
  • iu: [iu] (from i-mutation of eu)
  • au: [ɒu]
  • ai: [æi]


Consonants


Stops

Proto-Norse had the same six stops as had Old Norse. When one of the voiced stops stands in between vowels, it is realized as a fricative.
  • p: [p]
  • t: [t]
  • k: [k]
  • b: [b] between vowels [β]
  • d: [d] between vowels [ð]
  • g: [ɡ] between vowels [ɣ]


Fricatives
  • f: [f]
  • þ: [θ]
  • h: [x]
  • s: [s]
  • z: [z], at later stages probably pronounced like a retroflex r. (Traditionally, U+280, ʀ has been used for z by texts transcribing Proto-Norse inscriptions).

Nasals
  • n: [n]
  • m: [m]


Approximants
  • j: [j]
  • w: [w]


Liquids
  • l: [l]
  • r: [r]
  • ʀ - see fricatives z above.


Runic inscriptions



The surviving examples of Proto-Norse are all runic inscriptions in the Elder Futhark
Elder Futhark
The Elder Futhark is the oldest form of the runic alphabet, used by Germanic tribes for Northwest Germanic and Migration period Germanic dialects of the 2nd to 8th centuries for inscriptions on artifacts such as jewellery, amulets, tools, weapons and runestones...

. There are about 260 surviving Elder Futhark inscriptions in Proto-Norse, the earliest dating to the 2nd century.

Examples of inscriptions:
  • Øvre Stabu spearhead, Oppland, Norway. 2nd century raunijaz, O-N raun, tester, cf. Norwegian
    Norwegian language
    Norwegian is a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Norway, where it is the official language. Together with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a continuum of more or less mutually intelligible local and regional variants .These Scandinavian languages together with the Faroese language...

     røyne (try, test). Swedish
    Swedish language
    Swedish is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden and parts of Finland, especially along its coast and on the Åland islands. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish...

     utröna (find out). The word formation with a suffix ija is evidence of Sievers' law
    Sievers' law
    Sievers' law in Indo-European linguistics accounts for the pronunciation of a consonant cluster with a glide before a vowel as it was affected by the phonetics of the preceding syllable. Specifically it refers to the alternation between and , and possibly and , in Indo-European languages...

    .

  • Gallehus gold horn 2
    Golden horns of Gallehus
    The Golden Horns of Gallehus were two horns made of sheet gold, discovered in Gallehus, north of Møgeltønder in South Jutland, Denmark.The horns date to the early 5th century, i.e. the beginning of the Germanic Iron Age....

    , South Jutland, Denmark 400 AD. ek hlewagastiz holtijaz horna tawido, I Hlewagastis of holt made the horn. Note again the ija suffix

  • Tune Runestone, Østfold, Norway 400 AD. ek wiwaz after woduride witadahalaiban worahto. [me]z woduride staina þrijoz dohtriz dalidun arbija sijostez arbijano, I Wiwaz, after Woduridaz bread-warden wrought. For me Woduridaz, the stone, three daughters prepared, the most noble of heirs.

  • The Einang stone
    Einang stone
    The Einang stone is a runestone located near Fagernes, Norway, notable for the age of its runic inscription.-Description:The Einang stone bears an Elder Futhark inscription in Proto-Norse that has been dated to the 4th century...

    , near Fagernes, Norway, is dated to the 4th century. It contains the message [ek go]dagastiz runo faihido ([I, Go]dguest drew the secret), in O-N ek goðgestr rún faða. The first four letters of the inscription have not survived and are conjectured, and the personal name could well have been Gudagasti, or something similar.

  • Kragehul spear
    Kragehul I
    Kragehul I is a migration period lance-shaft found in Fyn, Denmark. It is now in the collection of the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark. The spear shaft was found in 1877 during the excavation of the classic war booty sacrificial site Kragehul on southern Funen. The site holds five...

    , Denmark, c:a 500 AD. ek erilaz asugisalas muha haite, gagaga ginuga, he...lija... hagala wijubi... possibly, I eril of Asgisl, was named Muha, ga-ga-ga mighty-ga (ga being most likely an abbreviation of indeterminable reference), (incomplete) hail
    Hail
    Hail is a form of solid precipitation. It consists of balls or irregular lumps of ice, each of which is referred to as a hail stone. Hail stones on Earth consist mostly of water ice and measure between and in diameter, with the larger stones coming from severe thunderstorms...

     I consecrate.

  • The Björketorp Runestone
    Björketorp Runestone
    The Björketorp Runestone in Blekinge, Sweden, is part of a grave field which includes menhirs, both solitary and forming stone circles....

    , Blekinge, Sweden, is one of three menhir
    Menhir
    A menhir is a large upright standing stone. Menhirs may be found singly as monoliths, or as part of a group of similar stones. Their size can vary considerably; but their shape is generally uneven and squared, often tapering towards the top...

    s, but is the only one of them where, in the 6th century, someone has written a curse: haidz runo runu falh'k hedra ginnarunaz argiu hermalausz ... weladauþe saz þat brytz uþarba spa (Here, I have hidden the secret of powerful runes, strong runes. The one who breaks this memorial will be eternally tormented by anger. Treacherous death will hit him. I foresee perdition.)

  • The Rö runestone
    Rö runestone
    The Rö runestone, designated under Rundata as Bo KJ73 U, is one of Sweden's oldest and most notable runestones.-Description:The Rö runestone was discovered 1919 at the farm Rö on the island of Otterö north of the fishing village of Grebbestad in Bohuslän...

    , in Bohuslän
    Bohuslän
    ' is a Swedish traditional province, or landskap, situated in Götaland on the northernmost part of the country's west coast. It is bordered by Dalsland to the northeast, Västergötland to the southeast, the Skagerrak arm of the North Sea to the west, and the county of Østfold in Norway to the north...

    , Sweden, was raised in the early 5th century and is the longest early inscription: Ek Hrazaz/Hraþaz satido [s]tain[a] ... Swabaharjaz s[a]irawidaz. ... Stainawarijaz fahido. I, Hrazaz/Hraþaz raised the stone ... Swabaharjaz with wide wounds. ... Stainawarijaz carved.

Loan words


Numerous Proto-Norse words have survived largely unchanged as borrowings in Finnic languages
Finnic languages
The term Finnic languages often means the Baltic-Finnic languages, an undisputed branch of the Uralic languages. However, it is also commonly used to mean the Finno-Permic languages, a hypothetical intermediate branch that includes Baltic Finnic, or the more disputed Finno-Volgaic languages....

. Some of these words are (with the reconstructed form in P-N): rõngas (Estonian
Estonian language
Estonian is the official language of Estonia, spoken by about 1.1 million people in Estonia and tens of thousands in various émigré communities...

)/rengas (Finnish
Finnish language
Finnish is the language spoken by the majority of the population in Finland Primarily for use by restaurant menus and by ethnic Finns outside Finland. It is one of the two official languages of Finland and an official minority language in Sweden. In Sweden, both standard Finnish and Meänkieli, a...

) < *hrengaz (ring), kuningas (Estonian, Finnish) < *kuningaz
Germanic monarchy
Germanic kingship refers to the customs and practices surrounding kings among the pagan Germanic tribes of the Migration period and the kingdoms of the Early Middle Ages ....

 (king), ruhtinas (Finnish) < *druhtinaz (sv. drott
Drott
*Druhtinaz is a Common Germanic term meaning a military leader or warlord and is derived from *druhti "war band" and the "ruler suffix" -īna- *Druhtinaz (Old English: dryhten, Old Norse: dróttinn, Old English-Middle English: drihten, Middle English: driȝten) is a Common Germanic term meaning a...

), silt (Estonian) < *skild (tag, token), märk/ama (Estonian) / (panna) merkille (Finnish) < *mērke (to spot, to catch sight of), riik (Estonian) < *rik (state, land, commonwealth), väärt (Estonian) / väärti (Finnish) < *vaērd (worth), kapp (Estonian) / kaappi (Finnish) < *skap (chest of drawers; shelf)

Other


Some Proto-Norse names are found in Latin works, for example tribal names like Suiones
Suiones
The Swedes e, "one's own [tribesmen/kinsmen]"; Old English: Sweonas; , Suehans or Sueones) were an ancient North Germanic tribe in Scandinavia...

 (*Sweoniz, Swedes). Others can be conjectured from manuscripts such as Beowulf
Beowulf
Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

.

Proto-Germanic to Proto-Norse


The differences between attested Proto-Norse and unattested Proto-Germanic
Proto-Germanic language
Proto-Germanic , or Common Germanic, as it is sometimes known, is the unattested, reconstructed proto-language of all the Germanic languages, such as modern English, Frisian, Dutch, Afrikaans, German, Luxembourgish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, and Swedish.The Proto-Germanic language is...

 are rather small, though substantial, as several hundred years separate these language stages. Separating Proto-Norse from Northwest Germanic can be said to be a matter of convention, as sufficient evidence from the remaining parts of the area (i.e. Northern Germany, the Netherlands etc.) is lacking in a degree to provide sufficient comparison. Inscriptions found in Scandinavia are considered to be in Proto-Norse. Several scholars argue about this subject matter. Wolfgang von Krause, for one, sees the language of the runic inscriptions of the Proto-Norse period as an immediate precursor to Old Norse, but Elmer Antonsen views them as Northwest Germanic, though his views on Runic Script and related subjects might be considered extreme.

Some of the distinctions between Proto-Norse and Proto-Germanic can be partially proved and demonstrated by the names inscribed on the Negau helmet
Negau helmet
Negau helmet refers to one of 26 bronze helmets dating to ca. 450 till 350 BC, found in 1811 in a cache in Ženjak, near Negau, Duchy of Styria . The helmets are of typical Etruscan 'vetulonic' shape, sometimes described as of the Negau type. They were buried in ca...

 harigastiteiwa, Harigasti Teiwa, which can be said to be late Proto-Germanic. The two words both exhibit the loss of the final nominative marker /z/, which is retained in Proto-Norse as /R/ (i.e. a palatal "r", similar to, though not identical with, the English /r/); this is exhibited by similar names such as HlewagastiR from the Golden Horns of Gallehus and several others.

Another distinctive difference between the two is the Proto-Norse lowering of Proto-Germanic ē to ā; this is demonstrated by the pair mēna (Gothic
Gothic language
Gothic is an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths. It is known primarily from the Codex Argenteus, a 6th-century copy of a 4th-century Bible translation, and is the only East Germanic language with a sizable Text corpus...

) and máni (Old Norse) (English moon). Unstressed diphthongs were also monophthongized, as in haitē (Kragehul I
Kragehul I
Kragehul I is a migration period lance-shaft found in Fyn, Denmark. It is now in the collection of the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark. The spear shaft was found in 1877 during the excavation of the classic war booty sacrificial site Kragehul on southern Funen. The site holds five...

) from Proto-Germanic *haitai, and likewise unstressed *au became ō.

When the phoneme /z/, a voiced apical alveolar fricative, represented in runic writing by the *Algiz
Algiz
The Algiz is part of the ancient Nordic and Anglo-Saxon runic alphabet, often equated to the modern day z, however was traditionally pronounced yr. The letter has come to symbolize many neo-pagan religions and is often worn as a pendant...

-rune, changed to /R/ an apical post-alveolar approximant, is debated. Taken into account the general Proto-Norse principle of devoicing of consonants in final position, a retained */z/ would have been devoiced to an *[s], and would be thus realized in runes. There is, however, no trace of this in the Elder Futhark runic inscriptions, ergo it can be safely assumed that the quality of this consonant must have changed before the devoicing, otherwise the phoneme would not have been marked with a rune separate from the rune used for /s/. The quality of this consonant is only determined from conjecture, and the opinio communis is that it has to be something between /z/ and /r/, which is the Old Norse reflex of the sound. In Old Swedish, the phonemic distinction between /r/ and /R/ was retained into the 11th century, as exhibited by the numerous rune stones from Sweden from that period.

Proto-Norse to Old Norse


In the period 500–800, two great changes occurred within Proto-Norse. Umlaut
Germanic umlaut
In linguistics, umlaut is a process whereby a vowel is pronounced more like a following vowel or semivowel. The term umlaut was originally coined and is used principally in connection with the study of the Germanic languages...

s appeared, which means that a vowel was influenced by the succeeding vowel or semi-vowel, e.g. Old Norse gestr (guest) came from P-N (guest). There was another kind of sound change known as breaking
Breaking (linguistics)
In historical linguistics, vowel breaking is the change of a monophthong into a diphthong or triphthong. The change into a diphthong is also known as diphthongization...

, in which the vowel changed into a diphthong
Diphthong
A diphthong , also known as a gliding vowel, refers to two adjacent vowel sounds occurring within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: That is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel...

, e.g. hiarta from *herto or fjorðr from *ferþiuz.

Umlauts resulted in the appearance of the new vowels y (e.g. fylla from *fullian) and œ (e.g. dœma from *dōmian). The umlauts are divided into three categories, A-umlaut, I-umlaut and U-umlaut; the latter was still productive in the Old Norse era. The first, however, appeared very early, and its effect can be seen already around 500 AD, on the Golden horns of Gallehus
Golden horns of Gallehus
The Golden Horns of Gallehus were two horns made of sheet gold, discovered in Gallehus, north of Møgeltønder in South Jutland, Denmark.The horns date to the early 5th century, i.e. the beginning of the Germanic Iron Age....

. The variation caused by the umlauts was by and in itself no great disruption in the language. It merely introduced new allophone
Allophone
In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds used to pronounce a single phoneme. For example, and are allophones for the phoneme in the English language...

s of back vowel
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

s if certain vowels were in following syllables. However, the changes brought forth by syncope made the umlaut-vowels a distinctive non-transparent feature of the morphology and phonology, i.e. phonemicizing what were previously allophones.

Due to syncope, the long vowels of unstressed syllables were shortened and many shortened vowels lost. Also, most short unstressed vowels were lost. As in P-N the stress accent lay on the first syllable words as P-N *katilōz became ON katlar (cauldrons), P-N hurna was changed into Old Norse horn and P-N resulted in ON gestr (guest). Some words underwent even more drastic changes, like the polysyllabic * which changed into a monosyllabic ON haukr (hawk).

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