The Norse Alphabet
The Norse Alphabet was called the “Futhark” and there were an elder “Futhark” consisting of 24 runes that was used from 200 AD to about 800 AD. Each rune had a corresponding consonant. The newer “Futhark” was simplified and had only 16 runes and was used from around 800 AD all the way up till around 1200 AD. The medieval Scandinavian “Futhark” used from around 1150 till the mid 1400 AD once again consisted of 24 runes and corresponded to the phonemes in the language. These runes were in use until the mid 1500s when the Latin alphabet gradually won terrain and became the ruling alphabet of the Western World.
The runes were made of straight lines and this was necessary in order to carve them into the Vikings writing materials, which consisted of wood, bone and stone. It is believed that most of the Norse population could read runes and that it was their way of written communication. The “Futhark” was mainly used for giving short messages and important information. Quite few people wrote longer texts and poetry. It is also believed that the number of people who knew how to read and write fell drastically after the plague “Svarte dauen” 1350 AD, when one-third of the Norwegian population perished.
The plague in 1350
After the plague in 1350 Norway was weakened and quite soon fell into union with Denmark. For almost 400 years Danish was the formal language of Norway and even today written Norwegian “bokmal” is more than 90% similar to written Danish. Denmark was on the same side as Napoleon during the Napoleonic war and when they lost, they had to give Norway to Sweden. Norway got it´s own Constitution in 1814, but it wasn´t until 1905 that Norway became a free and independent nation again.
New Norwegian and Bokmal
As an independent nation the Norwegians wanted their own written language. Most people wrote a form of Danish and some people thought that it would be best to use the current language and adjust it so that it sounded more like the way people spoke. Others like Ivar Aasen thought that it would be best to start all over again and use the Old Norse language and the dialects closest to the old Norse to build a completely new Norwegian language. Today we have two written languages in Norway, New Norwegian or , while 10 – 15 percent of the population prefers . All official and government documents are written in both forms since the two languages are considered equal. The same goes for books that´s being used for educational purpose in Norwegian schools.
Norwegian is a Germanic language and has a common history with the Scandinavian languages as well as the languages spoken on Iceland, Faroe Island, Shetland and the Northern parts of Scotland. It is also closely related to the other Germanic languages as English, Dutch and German. In the beginning the Latin alphabet was mainly used by the clergy and few people in the Norse area actually learned how to read and write with this new alphabet until 1700 AD. Runes were used in combination with the Latin alphabet and for a short period runes were even used to write Latin Words.
Old Norse was the language of the Vikings during the Viking area and was spoken with minor variations across North Western Europe during the Viking age. Old Norse was one of several branches springing out from the Indo-European language tree that is at least 3000 years old. The Vikings had no problems with communication since language was no barrier to communication; basically the same language with some dialect variations was spoken from Greenland in West to the Baltic.