North Germanic

'Common Scandinavian' is a term often used for the Germanic language spoken in Scandinavia in the period after the 'Great Migrations' in which the organization of power was still local and tribal (c.550-c.l050). According to the historians Jordanes (c.550) and Procopius (c.554), there were many small tribal kings in the area which is now Scandinavia, all rivalling to extend their domain at the expense of the others. Of these, the dynasties of the Skjoldungs in Denmark and the Ynglings in Sweden and Norway were the most prominent. Like Common Germanic, Common Scandinavian is attested in runic inscriptions.

The language of the Viking Age (800-1050) was still relatively uniform, referred to as dgnsk tunga 'Danish tongue' well into the Middle Ages. Since there are no native manuscripts from this period, our knowledge of the language derives from foreign texts, loanwords in other languages, place-

names datable to this period, runic inscriptions, and later manuscripts, which either go back to an earlier oral tradition or are copies of earlier documents now lost.

Regarding the runic inscriptions, it is interesting to note that there are no or very few Danish inscriptions from around 600 to 800 and only a few, though very important ones, from Norway and Sweden. Around 800 we encounter a revival of runic writing in Denmark, but now in a new alphabet, the younger futhark. During this period there are 412 Danish inscriptions, 240 of them on stones erected by wealthy families to commemorate their dead. The younger futhark reached Norway around 800, but only a few inscriptions are preserved from this area. Runic writing is also found in the British Isles, Greenland and the Faroes, but in Iceland it is surprisingly sparse and late. Sweden became the great home of runic epigraphy in the younger futhark with more than 2,500 preserved inscriptions, testifying to the wealth and power of the leading families and at the same time providing valuable information concerning the fates of those who fell abroad on Viking expeditions. The fragments of poetry found in the runic inscriptions belong to the rich poetic tradition represented in the later Old Icelandic manuscripts.

Since the peoples of the north were linked together primarily by sea routes, it is easy to see how three separate centres of power began to emerge, a southern one (Denmark), a Baltic one (Sweden) and an Atlantic one (Norway). The Danish kings controlled the approaches to the Baltic, the Swedes occupied the region around Lake Malar, and the Norwegians controlled the ijords, primarily those on the west coast where navigation was best and access to foreign wealth close at hand. The establishment of a Danish archbishopric of the Roman Catholic Church in Lund in 1104, a Norwegian archbishopric in Trondheim (Nidaros) in 1152, and a corresponding Swedish archbishopric in Uppsala in 1164 reflects this political division of Scandinavia into Danish, Norwegian and Swedish kingdoms.

Towards the end of the Viking Age we find a gradual splitting up of Common Scandinavian, initially into two branches: East Scandinavian, comprising the kingdom of Denmark and the southern two-thirds of Sweden and adjacent parts of Norway; and West Scandinavian, comprising most of Norway and the Norwegian settlements in the North Atlantic, in particular Iceland.

East Scandinavian

The East Scandinavian branch is not so much a distinct language as the sum of the innovations that encompassed Denmark, most of Sweden, and adjacent parts of Norway at the end of the Viking Age, splitting during the Middle Ages (1050-1340) into Old Danish, Old Swedish and Old Gutnish, the written language of the island of Gotland. Of these, only Danish and Swedish survived the later processes of political centralization and linguistic standardization.

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