Old Norse -> Articles -> Some Common Features of Old Norse and German

Some Common Features of Old Norse and German

by skar Gulaugsson 2000
Case System:

ON and German have the same four cases standard to Germanic case languages, nominate, accusative, dative, and genitive. They differ considerably in the usage of the latter two, though.

German tends to be very reserved in the usage of dative and especially genitive; genitive in German is used only to mark possession. ON has, however, a much more evenly spread case usage, with dative and genitive seeing much use; genitive can be observed to follow prepositions and even verbs. Dative also follows many verbs whose meanings would seem direct enough to call for a simple accusative. Some examples of all this:

 ; ; hrinda + dat = to push someone (note how it doesn't take accusative, which would seem logical)
   tvstra + dat = to scatter something
   ska + gen = to wish for something (takes genitive, which never happens in German)
   unna + gen = to love someone/something
   sakna + gen = to miss someone/something
   njta + gen = to enjoy something

Verbs will also often take either accusative or dative, with different meanings for each case:

   fela + acc = to hide someone/something
   fela + dat (+ acc) = to give someone (something) for specific use
   taka + acc = to take something
   taka + dat = to to receive someone

Some prepositions even take genitive:

   til + gen = to (allative)
   n + gen = without
   vegna + gen = because of

Some prepositions take either accusative or dative, with different meanings for each case:

   + acc = onto (allative)
   + dat = on (locative)
   vi + acc = to (only with verbs), beside, against
   vi + dat = against

Prepositions are also very common elements in phrasal verbs:

   koma at = arrive
   koma vi = relate to, touch, pertain, bring up (as a subject)

Sound Changes (Umlaut):

In German, umlaut is comparatively easy and convenient to deal with. ON features a much more extensive umlaut; in fact, umlaut pervades the whole morphological system of the language. The ON orthography also does not account as well for the umlaut as German does. ON umlauts are of two types, i-umlaut and u-umlaut, identified by which sound originates the umlaut. The u-umlaut is simple, only effecting the change a > , but can appear unpredictably, because in many cases the u that originated the umlaut is no longer present. Examples of u-umlaut:

   hafa(to have) ~ vr hfum (we have)
   vala (a pebble) ~ vlur (pebbles)
   haf (a sea) ~ hf (seas)
             (older forms marked the plural with -u, which caused the
              umlaut and subsequently disappeared)
   r (a row, nom) ~ raar (gen)
             (feminine nouns like these originally had a -u ending in the
              nominative, which effected an umlaut and then disappeared)

I-umlaut is considerably more extensive; the basic list of umlauts is:

> ae
a > e

       (correspond to German a > )
j >
u > y
o > y
(some u had changed to o, but retained the umlaut)
       (correspond to German u > )
> oe
o >

       (correspond to German o > )
au > ey
       (corresponds to German au > u)

In fact, the main difficulties with this is how inadequately the orthography accommodates the umlaut, compared to German orthography.

ON umlaut appears just about anywhere. There are many correspondences with German here, such as plurals, derived verbs, adjective comparatives, all having i-umlaut. But generally the occurrences are too many for me to attempt to relate here; the umlaut will have to be tackled as it appears.