Learning Icelandic and Old Norse

The advanced Asatru alliterative poet should also have some knowledge of the older languages, as the best exemplars of the form are in the old languages. Most important are Old Norse and Old English, although some alliterative material also exists in a few other old dialects. Today’s post, however, focuses on Old Norse and Modern Icelandic. The two are so similar (at least in the way they are written) that knowledge of one is almost the same thing as knowledge of the other. The vocabulary of the modern language is, of course, larger. The differences are relatively minor, and in comparing texts of the two, my brain doesn’t even register them as separate languages.

To really ramp up my learning of Modern Icelandic, I’m taking a trip to Reykjavík, Iceland for a four-week summer course in Modern Icelandic at the Árni Magnússon Institute. <http://arnastofnun.is/page/althjodlegt_islenskunamskeid_en>. While I’m there, my internet access will be limited, and this blog will be taking a four-week hiatus — the next post will not occur until July 31. So those who post comments may have to wait a while before they are approved.

Here’s a list of helpful resources for the poet who wants to study Modern Icelandic and/or Old Norse.

1. Icelandic Online. <http://icelandiconline.is>. An excellent and free online course in Modern Icelandic featuring lots of texts, audio, and interactive exercises. Very extensive, it has four different levels and this will keep you occupied for a long time.

2. Neijmann, Daisy L. Colloquial Icelandic. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print and CD. Good, although it is quite dense.

3. Barnes, Michael. A New Introduction to Old Norse. I have not used this one yet, but it is available as a free pdf for private study through the Viking Society’s web publications site: <http://vsnrweb-publications.org.uk>.

4. Byock, Jesse. Viking Language Series. <http://www.vikingnorse.com>. I’ve seen a copy, and it looks quite friendly to the self-learner.

5. Neckel, Gustav, and Hans Kuhn, eds. Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern. 5th ed. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1983. A complete scholarly text of the Poetic Edda. The bits that aren’t in Old Norse are in German, but don’t let that stop you. (ISBN 978-3-8253-3080-4.)

6. La Farge, Beatrice and John Tucker. Glossary to the Poetic Edda. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1992. This is designed to go with the Poetic Edda edition above, and should be purchased along with it. Despite the German publisher, this one is entirely in English. You’ll probably have to purchase this book and the previous one directly from that publisher — that’s what I had to do, as I could find no source in the U.S. for it. Good luck if your knowledge of German is not too good. Anyway, here’s the website: <http://www.winter-verlag.de/en/index/>. It is possible that this one is out of print at the moment, which would be really unfortunate.

7. Icelandic Online Dictionary and Readings. <http://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/IcelOnline>. (Not to be confused with #1 in this list.) I haven’t used the readings on this site, but the Modern Icelandic-to-English dictionary is very helpful.

8. A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic. <http://norse.ulver.com/dct/zoega/index.html>. A useful online dictionary of Old Norse. Since the original text it’s based on is in the public domain, paperback reprints are available for decent prices.

9. Cleasby-Vigfusson. <http://lexicon.ff.cuni.cz/texts/oi_cleasbyvigfusson_about.html>. An Old Norse dictionary that is more comprehensive than #8. Paperback reprints of this one are also available.

Copyright © 2013 Eirik Westcoat.
All rights reserved.


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