It’s hard learning the Runic Alphabet and I’m not counting their actual meaning or even their proper pronunciation. Trying to learn the Runic Alphabet by simply trying to convert a given runic character into a known Latin character that we already understand is hard enough. Especially, because the two alphabets don’t match up.
Trying to learn or find the proper words to write in Runes gets even harder. Especially when you have such a wonderfully broad selection to choose from, such as: Elder Futhark, Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, Younger Futhark, Rök runes, Hälsinge runes, Medieval runes, Dalecarlian runes, Gothic alphabet, and that’s no where near all of them. Just the most commonly known ones.
Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules.
There is no such thing as standardization in the Norse language(s), spoken or written. Such standardization exists in modern languages, but not in the Old Norse languages. Modern languages have set usage rules and a standardized way of spelling words with specific standardized characters to use. Old Norse has no such thing.
The Norse had a loose language and common runic characters, which have a variety of meanings, to represent the sounds of words.
As far as the Norse were concerned: if the speaker was understood by the listener, then communication was successful. In modern times, we have our words and a specific way to spell them. Just as you’re reading this now. Such standardization of words, their meaning and their usage, allows the words I am typing now to be understood. And that’s not just by my fellow language speakers; but also by the entire World by translating my standardized language into their standardized language. This is why we’re able to easily communicate and read each other’s words from the standardization of our words: it’s spelling, meaning, and usage.
The Norse, however, had no such concept of standardization. The Old Norse had no spelling standards or any set rules. They had a character symbol that represented a sound and it wasn’t a standardized sound either.
You see an example of this in the film, “The Thirteenth Warrior” when the Viking King Buliwyf asks the Arab, Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan about “writing sounds.”
King Buliwyf : “You can draw sounds?”
Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan: “Draw sounds? Yes, I can draw sounds… and I can speak them back.”
King Buliwyf: “Show me.”
Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan: [Drawing in the sand] “There is only one God, and Mohammad is his prophet.”
Drawing sounds is the best way to describe Norse writing with Runes.
However the problem with this are the accent differences and difference in pronunciation from one group to another. This makes for extreme differences in the meanings of written runes from one region to another.
Differences in their language and accents made for differences in words that were used that had the same meaning.
An example of this is listening to two different people from different parts of the World speak to each other using using the same “English” – sort of.
For example: a Texan with a thick French-Cajun accent speaking Detroit street slang to a Scot with a Glaswegian accent using Cockney over voice chat wouldn’t be able to understand each other very well at all. They’re both speaking English, but have no clue what the other is saying because of differences in word pronunciation (accents) and word usage.
This was one of the problems the Norse had when writing with runes.
Another problem was the differences in words being used which had the same meaning.
An American English language example of some different words used with the same meaning would be: You, Y’all, Ya’ll, Youse, Yinz, Yo… U and to confuse things even more, using ‘yew’ or ‘ewe’.
To complicate things even more, there are misheard pronunciation differences from different speakers. An example in English would be pronouncing “Library” as “Liberry”.
Ever have someone “AXE” you a question?
How does this complicate things in Old Norse writing in Runes? Consider if I wrote the word “CHOOSE” in Runes as the Norse did by sounding it out and using a rune for each sound. You could very well read it as “CHEWS.”
Well that just ruins reading runes!! Argg!!
Learning Old Norse and Runes gets even harder when you consider that there were several mistranslations from the many variations of Old Norse dialects that were translated. These translations come from so many translated words into Latin and written in Latin characters or in the writer’s spoken language, but using Latin characters to try to write the word near its sound and meaning. Many times the writing was understood by nobody else in the World, but by the writer. – heh, true story. It is so fun reading Medieval period manuscripts!
So you may ask, what Runic alphabet and Norse language do we use to speak to the gods.
Which is their language. Most possibly the oldest version of everything I can find? Well, that would imply that the gods are idiots. A bit on the slow side, if you know what I mean (Hey, who said, Thor?) Think about it. You in your few years (even if you are old by human standards) compared to the millennia and centuries of existence of the gods.
They have had quite a bit of time to learn every language, known, unknown, or forgotten. If you can try to learn their ancient alphabet, do you not think they already know yours?
So don’t sweat it at all. They speak your language and know your modern alphabet.
You don’t need to learn Old Norse or any of the Runes to speak to the gods or ancestors.
Learn the language of your ancestors because you want to know their language and method of writing. Don’t think you must learn it to speak to the gods.
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Njord Kane is an infantry and cavalry veteran who also served in law enforcement just prior to entering into the world of academia where he pursued the disciplines of military science, social psychology, and anthropology. Having left his profession, he now takes care of his adult autistic sons at home while passionately writing about early Norse and Mesoamerican culture and history at spangenhelm.com and readicon.com. Kane is also the author of numerous books including, The Vikings, The Maya, and The Viking Hero Series.