What Language Did Vikings Speak?

By Phuc Le on Mar 30, 2023

Vikings, also known as Norsemen, were seafaring people from Scandinavia who raided, traded, explored, and settled in different parts of Europe, Asia, and North America between the late 8th and mid-11th centuries. Vikings had a significant impact on the history, culture, and language of the regions they visited or inhabited. However, what language did Vikings speak? In this article, we will explore the answer to this intriguing question, including the origins, features, and legacy of the Viking language.

Introduction to the Viking Language

The Viking language is commonly referred to as Old Norse or Old Icelandic, as it evolved from the Germanic languages spoken in Scandinavia during the Viking Age (790-1066 AD). Old Norse was a complex and flexible language that consisted of various dialects and regional variations, depending on the geographical location and historical context of the speakers. Old Norse was written using the runic alphabet or the Latin script, depending on the time period and purpose of the writing.

Origins and Evolution of Old Norse

The roots of Old Norse can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic language, which was spoken in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe during the Iron Age (500 BC-AD 800). Proto-Germanic gradually split into different dialects, including East Germanic, West Germanic, and North Germanic. Old Norse emerged as a distinct branch of North Germanic around the 8th century and was further divided into several subdialects, such as Old West Norse, Old East Norse, and Old Gutnish. Old Norse was heavily influenced by other languages, such as Latin, Celtic, and Old English, through trade, diplomacy, and cultural exchange.

Features of Old Norse

Old Norse had several distinct features that set it apart from other languages of the time. Old Norse had a rich morphology, which means that words were inflected to indicate tense, mood, case, gender, and number. Old Norse also had a complex syntax, which means that the order of words in a sentence could vary depending on the emphasis or grammatical structure. Old Norse had a large vocabulary, which included many loanwords from other languages, such as Greek, Latin, and Arabic. Old Norse also had a poetic and musical tradition, which relied on alliteration, kennings, and meter to create rhythm and meaning.

Legacy of Old Norse

Old Norse had a significant impact on the development of many modern languages, such as Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, and English. Old Norse loanwords can be found in many fields, such as law, commerce, technology, and culture. Old Norse also influenced the literature, art, and mythology of the regions where Vikings settled or visited. For example, the Icelandic sagas, which are epic tales of Viking heroes and their adventures, were written in Old Norse and have become a major part of Icelandic identity and culture.


In conclusion, Vikings spoke the Old Norse language, which was a complex and versatile language that evolved from the Germanic languages spoken in Scandinavia during the Viking Age. Old Norse had many distinctive features, such as rich morphology, complex syntax, large vocabulary, and poetic tradition, that set it apart from other languages of the time. Old Norse also had a significant impact on the development of modern languages, literature, art, and mythology, making it a crucial part of the Viking legacy.

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