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10. Language

Michael Barnes

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00013.x


Old Norse-Icelandic literature is written in a western form of Scandinavian, which in practice means the medieval scribal norms of Iceland and Norway. Although literature may have been composed in other types of western Scandinavian following the settlements of the Viking Age, none has been preserved that bears the unmistakable linguistic stamp of a particular colony. In a few cases word-forms or inflections have suggested an author or scribe from a particular area outside Norway or Iceland, but the texts concerned have in the main been legal and diplomatic, and have lacked a strongly local flavour. Runic inscriptions also occasionally exhibit what appear to be dialect features, but none carries a literary text and they are far too laconic to provide the raw material for dialect profiles. Western Scandinavian, together with its eastern counterpart represented by the scribal norms of Denmark, Sweden and Gotland, is a medieval manifestation of a northern variety of Germanic. Germanic is a branch of the Indo-European language family, and comprises, as well as Scandinavian, an eastern and a western variety. East Germanic is known chiefly from fourth-century Gothic, preserved in manuscripts of the sixth or seventh centuries, but subsequently unrecorded and now extinct. The earliest attestations of a recognizably West Germanic type of language are found in runic inscriptions, but these ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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