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North Germanic Languages





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The North Germanic tribes settled on the southern coast of Scandinavia and in Northern Denmark (since the 4th c. A.D.). They lived relatively isolated and showed little dialectal variation at that time.

There existed one common languageOld Norse/Old Scandinavian. It had the following characteristics:

· It used the original Germanic Alphabet called the Runes/the Runic Alphabet. It appeared in the 3rd – 4th c. A.D. It has come down to us in runic inscriptions– separate words written/carved on objects made of wood, stone, metal (more about it in Lecture 7).

· It was spoken by all North Germanic tribes.

In the 9th – 10th c. A.D.the Scandinavians started their voyages to America and islands in the Atlantic Ocean (Leif Ericson, a Scandinavia raider, was the first to land on the American Continent). In addition to this overpopulation in the fjord areas caused the migration of the people to inner Scandinavia. This provoked the beginning of the linguistic differentiation. In Scandinavia the linguistic division corresponded to the political division: there were 3 kingdoms (Sweden, Denmark and Norway) that were constantly fighting for dominance and they had 3 respective languages (earliest records in these languages date back to the 13th c.):

· Old Danish –later it developed into Danish (now the national language of Denmark);

· Old Swedish - later it developed into Swedish (now the national language of Sweden and a part of Finland);

· Old Norwegian – was the last to develop, later transformed into Norwegian (now the national language of Norway).

In the 8th c. A.D.sea-rovers and merchants founded numerous colonies on the islands in the North Sea and in the Atlantic Ocean (the Shetland Islands, the Orkneys, the Faroe Islands) and reached even Iceland and Greenland. Thus two more North Germanic languages appeared:

· Faroese(In the Faroe Islands the writing was done in Danish for centuries. The first written records in Faroeseappeared only in the 18th c.);



· Icelandic (9th c. A.D.)

The Icelandic Language was THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL NORTH GERMANIC LANGUAGES because:

1. The isolation of Iceland caused the preservation of archaic vocabulary and grammatical system.

2. The preservation of archaic vocabulary and grammatical system makes this language very close to Old Norse and helps to reconstruct this ancient common Germanic language.

3. Icelandic has the largest body of written texts (12th – 13th c.), e.g.:

– “The Elder Edda” (12th c.) – a collection of heroic songs;

– “The Younger Edda” (13th c.) – a text-book forpoets;

– Old Icelandic Sagas.

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