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Old Norse

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Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300. The changing processes that distinguish Old Norse from its older form, Proto-Norse, were mostly concluded around the 8th century, and another transitional period that led up to the modern descendants of Old Norse (i.e., the modern North Germanic languages) started in the mid- to late 14th century, thereby ending the language phase known as Old Norse. These dates, however, are not absolute. For instance, one can still find written Old Norse well into the 15th century. Most speakers of Old Norse dialects spoke the Old East Norse dialect originating in what are present-day Denmark and Sweden. In texts which date from the Medieval Icelandic time, writers wrote with Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian dialects. These dialects derive from the Old West Norse dialect. No clear geographical boundary exists between the two dialects. Old East Norse traits were found in eastern Norway and Old West Norse traits were found in western Sweden. Old Gutnish, the least known dialectical branch, is sometimes included in the Old East Norse dialect due to geographical associations. It shares traits with both Old West Norse and Old East Norse but had also developed on its own. The Icelandic Gray Goose Laws state that Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders and Danes spoke the same language, dǫnsk tunga. Speakers of the eastern dialect, spoken in Sweden and Denmark, would have said dansk tunga ("Danish tongue") or norrønt mál ("Nordic language") to name their language. Gradually, Old Norse splintered into the modern North Germanic languages: Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish. Of the modern languages, Icelandic is the closest to Old Norse. Written modern Icelandic derives from the Old Norse phonemic writing system. Contemporary Icelandic-speakers can read Old Norse, which differs slightly in spelling as well as semantics and word order. However, pronunciation, particularly of the vowel phonemes, has changed at least as much as in the other North Germanic languages. Faroese retains many similarities but is influenced by Danish, Norwegian, and Gaelic (Scottish and/or Irish). Although Swedish, Danish and the Norwegian languages have diverged the most, they still retain asymmetric mutual intelligibility.[clarification needed][3] This could be because these languages have been mutually affected by each other, as well as having a similar development influenced by Middle Low German. Another language which derives from Old Norse is Elfdalian, spoken in the Älvdalen municipality of Sweden, by about 1,000–5,000 speakers (various sources). This North Germanic language is not comprehensible to speakers of the other Scandinavian languages, and hence is often considered a language in its own right rather than a dialect of Swedish. Note that in some instances the term Old Norse may refer specifically to what is here called West Old Norse.

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