What Language Did Vikings Speak?

If you’re a fan of the TV show Vikings, you’re probably curious about what language the Vikings used.

Do you remember the time when Ragnar met his faith to Ivar’s wrath as he was surrounded by Saxons? At this time he spoke his final words in a traditional language, giving us a glimpse of what a real Viking might have sounded like.

If you didn't see that episode, it was strong, intense, and borderline scary, making the speech so powerful. 

So, coming back to the main question:

  • What language did the Vikings speak?
  • Is their language still spoken today?
  • And if they spoke more than one language, how many did they speak?

Read on to learn all of this and more.

The Viking’s Traditional Language

During the 8th Century, often referred to as the Viking Age, Vikings used a language called Old Norse. When writing or scribing in Old Norse, they would have used characters known as Runes.

This ancient Norse language was developed from an Indo-European language spoken in Scandanavia called Proto–Norse.

Most experts claim that no one actually knows what Old Norse sounded like. Sure, they are structured and spoken close to some modern nordic languages still used today like Icelandic, but they don’t sound exactly the same. 

As we all know, the Vikings were rapidly expanding through different areas of the continent, thanks to their superior navigation skills and quest to raid countries. 

By the 14th century, their language diverged into what is known as the North Germanic Languages, often referred to as the Nordic Languages namely Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish.

Is The Viking Language Still Spoken?

No languages stay the same after a period of time. And this would have certainly been the case for the Vikings, as their era spanned over a thousand years. 

Due to this, the Old Norse language that they used back then is no longer spoken.

However, the North Germanic Languages which originated from Old Norse are still used as a native language in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Iceland. From this, it is believed that Icelandic is the closest language to Old Norse.

As Vikings travelled to various parts of the world, many other languages are known to have been influenced by Old Norse particularly the Normal Language, Finnish, and Estonian.

In fact, it is estimated that there are around 400 English words that originated from Old Norse. Some of which are:

EnglishOld Norse Origin
angerangr
berserkberserkr
crawlkrafla 
guestgestr 
husbandhusbondi 
knifeknífr
mistakemistaka 
raftraptr 

How Many Languages Did Vikings Speak?

Much like modern civilization, the Vikings had different dialects and intonations. The Old Norse was divided into 3 dialects, namely:

  • Old West Norse
  • Old East Norse
  • Old Gutnish

The Old West Norse and Old East Norse are said to have merged without a definable boundary known as a dialect continuum.

Although these languages are slightly different, experts suggest that the Vikings had mutual intelligibility. Meaning they could probably understand and communicate between different dialects while not being fluent.

Final Thoughts

The Viking era was notably one of the most interesting times that helped shaped modern civilization.

Through their quest to raid and eventually trade, the Vikings were able to expand in many parts of the world which grew their influence and their language globally. 

Although the Old Norse language is no longer used as it was, the evolution of this ancient language created the Noth Germanic Languages which are still in use throughout modern Scandinavia.

Icelandic is known to be the closest to the original Norse so if you want to learn how to speak Viking, we recommend you start there. 

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