What Language Did the Vikings Speak?

When the Vikings first began to spread out from their northern lands to raid and conquer large swaths of Europe at the end of the 8th century, they were aided by superior maritime skills and the development of sailing technology.

But how did they conceive their plans and communicate the intelligence over a vast swath of land stretching at one point from Newfoundland, Canada, to the eastern Baltic Sea? Surprisingly, a lot more easily perhaps than people living in those places today. After all, they spoke the same language back then.

“Old Norse emerges from around the 8th century and then is used throughout the Viking Age and then the medieval period,” says Kristel Zilmer, a runologist at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. “It was a shared common language in Scandinavia and in the islands in the north Atlantic settled by the Scandinavians.”

Old Norse is still with us in English. Words like eggknifetake and even husband were imported with Viking immigration and conquest over the years.

But where did this language come from and how was it used?

Read more: Discover Magazine

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