Vikings: The Languages Spoken

man wearing viking helmet focus photography

The Vikings were a seafaring people from the late eighth to early 11th century who originated from the Scandinavian region. They were known for their voyages, conquests, and exploration of new territories. As they traversed vast distances, the Vikings encountered various cultures and interacted with different communities. Consequently, their language and communication played a crucial role in their interactions. In this article, we will explore the languages spoken by the Vikings and shed light on their linguistic legacy.

Old Norse - The Viking Language

The primary language spoken by the Vikings was Old Norse, a North Germanic language. Old Norse served as a means of communication among the Viking communities and facilitated trade, storytelling, and social interactions. It was a rich and complex language with its own unique grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.

Regional Variations of Old Norse

Old Norse exhibited regional variations across the Viking territories. These variations led to different dialects, such as Old Icelandic, Old Danish, and Old Swedish. Although these dialects shared a common foundation, they had distinct features that developed over time.

Runes - The Viking Writing System

The Vikings had a writing system known as runes, which played a vital role in their culture and communication. Runic inscriptions have been found on various artifacts, such as stones, weapons, and tools. The runic alphabet consisted of characters known as "runes," and it evolved alongside the spoken language.

Influence of Old Norse on Modern Languages

The Viking Age had a significant impact on the development of several modern languages. Old Norse influenced vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation in various ways. Let's explore some examples of how Old Norse shaped the linguistic landscape.

English Words of Viking Origin

English, being a Germanic language, bears traces of Old Norse influence. Many English words have Viking origins, such as "sky," "egg," "anger," and "window." These words reflect the cultural exchange that took place between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons during the Viking Age.

Place Names and Personal Names

Old Norse also left its mark on place names and personal names across Viking territories. Numerous towns, villages, and geographical features bear Old Norse names. Similarly, many personal names, such as "Eric," "Olaf," and "Thorstein," have their roots in Old Norse.

Other Languages Encountered by Vikings

During their voyages and conquests, the Vikings came into contact with various other languages. Let's explore some of the languages they encountered and interacted with.

Old English

Old English, the predecessor of Modern English, was one of the languages encountered by the Vikings during their expeditions. As the Vikings settled in England, their interactions with the Anglo-Saxons influenced the development of Old English.

Celtic Languages

The Vikings also encountered Celtic languages during their exploration of territories such as Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Although the influence of Celtic languages on Old Norse was limited, there were interactions between the two linguistic groups.

Slavic Languages

The Vikings had contact with Slavic-speaking communities in regions such as Russia and Ukraine. These interactions influenced both Old Norse and Slavic languages, resulting in linguistic exchanges and loanwords.

Baltic Languages

The Baltic region, including present-day Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, was also visited by the Vikings. They interacted with the speakers of Baltic languages, and as a result, some linguistic influence can be observed.

Romance Languages

The Vikings also reached regions where Romance languages were spoken, such as Normandy in present-day France. Although the Vikings did not have significant linguistic impact on Romance languages, their presence in these regions contributed to cultural exchanges.

The Decline of Old Norse

As the Viking Age came to an end, Old Norse began to decline. The political changes and cultural shifts in the Viking territories led to the gradual transformation of Old Norse dialects into distinct languages, such as Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish.

Modern Revival and Preservation Efforts

Despite the decline of Old Norse as a spoken language, there have been efforts to revive and preserve its legacy. Modern scholars and enthusiasts study Old Norse, and there are even communities dedicated to keeping the language alive through classes, workshops, and publications.


The Vikings were not only skilled seafarers and warriors but also had a rich linguistic heritage. The primary language of the Vikings was Old Norse, which played a vital role in their communication and cultural exchange. Old Norse influenced various modern languages and left an indelible mark on the linguistic landscape. Today, efforts are being made to revive and preserve the legacy of this ancient language.

Frequently Asked Questions

Did the Vikings have a written language?

Yes, the Vikings had a writing system called runes, which they used to inscribe messages on various objects.

How did Old Norse influence English?

Old Norse influenced English vocabulary, introducing words such as "sky," "egg," and "anger."

What are some examples of Old Norse place names?

Examples of Old Norse place names include Reykjavik (Iceland) and York (England).

Is Old Norse still spoken today?

No, Old Norse is not spoken as a living language today. However, it is studied and appreciated by scholars and enthusiasts.

Are there any Viking languages still in use?

The Viking languages have evolved into modern Scandinavian languages like Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish.