Old Norse for Beginners - Lesson Six
- Article Usage
- Word Order
- Translate the text into English
"Umlaut" is a feature of Old Norse, and other Germanic languages; it
potentially causes the greatest difficulty to foreign learners, of all
the features in the language. It may be best, in order to thoroughly
tackle this phenomenon, to understand its origin, workings, occurrence,
and function. First, perhaps, we need to understand the term; "umlaut" is
a "nonsensical" (German) term that probably adds to the difficulty experienced
by English speakers. In German, "um" is a preposition meaning "about, around"
(just as the corresponding ON word); "laut" is a noun, meaning "sound".
"Umlaut" means, roughly, "sound change/shift/mutation" (or, for better
memorization, "sound-about"!), and is often called by one of those terms
in English literature.
The umlaut was, to begin with, a pattern of changes within the Germanic
languages, where their speakers sought to reduce the bulk of the endings,
by dropping them and replacing them with vowels of changed quality (the
'quality' of vowels is simply their nature, like 'a' vs 'i' vs 'u', etc,
while 'quantity' is their length). Until then, the Germanic vowels systems
are thought to have been simple, with (approximately) the 5 basic vowels
as in Latin, 'a, i, u, e, o', and various diphthong combinations of those.
Through umlaut, a vowel ending might be dropped, but its preceding stem vowel
would be affected by it in a certain way, changing to a new type of vowel.
This introduced many new vowels to the language, called the "umlaut vowels".
The umlaut vowels in ON are 'y, ý, æ, ø, oe, ö'. In older Norse, the ON 'e'
was two different vowels, one of which was an umlaut; but they merged to
yield the ON 'e', which is then "only sometimes" a case of umlaut.
There are three basic umlauts: a-, i-, and u-umlaut, according to the vowel
of the disappearing ending which caused the sound change. They were not active
all at the same time, but rather appeared in the order given above. A-umlaut
is not important to us, and only one type of u-umlaut is significant. The details of those will therefore be left out here.
I-umlaut caused vowels to become fronted, and in that way, drawn towards the 'i'. This umlaut is of great functional importance, because in many declensions and conjugations, the stem alternates between having it and not having it. In orthographic terms, these are the i-umlauts:
|a > e|
|á > æ|
|o > ø|
|ó > oe|
|u > y|
|o > y|
|ú > ý|
|jú > ý|
|jó > ý |
|au > ey|
We have some examples from verbs that we have been using:
|hafa > hef|
|blása > blæs|
|koma > køm|
|róa > roe|
|búa > bý|
|bjóða > býð|
And also in noun declensions:
|áss, áss, æsir|
|maðr, manns, menn|
The i-umlaut is a prominent feature in verb conjugations, some noun declensions, adjective comparisons, and finally, in word derivations. This will be encountered and further discussed in future lessons.
The u-umlaut, then, has only one form that we need concern ourselves with:
We have seen this in the verb conjugation, especially in the 1p pl, such as "höfum" or "tökum". Also in the dative forms, where the -um ending is common, e.g "rögum mönnum". This is called "preserved" u-umlaut, because the ending that caused it is still present, making it easy to predict.
Other types of u-umlauts, which need to be explained, are to be encountered, but since they occur in declension forms that we have not yet dealt with, they will be discussed later.
1.2 Article Usage
As it happens, a concept in one language seldom corresponds exactly to the same concept in another. In that way, the concept of the definite article in ON is by no means an exact counterpart of the same concept in English. Let's consider some of the special ways in which the ON article is used.
To begin with, the ON article is used considerably less, overall, than the English one. In poetry, it's not used at all. As a rule of thumb, if you are in doubt whether to use the article when writing ON, do not use it. When translating ON to good English, you must thus be ready to add the article into your translation where you see it fit.
Our definite article is a complex concept to define. Generally speaking, it is used to make a reference to something familiar to the reader, either from a previous sentence within the text, or from outside sources (i.e. the author presumes the reader to know it, e.g. "the Santa Claus"). An English sequence of introduction and reference might go like this:
|1. There is an earl in Norway. (introduction)|
|2. The earl is rich. (reference)|
If it were:
|2. An earl is rich. (another introduction)|
The reader would be confused, because this would indicate another, wholly unrelated, earl, leaving the sentences irrelevant to each other. Continuing the text:
|3. The earl is called Ragnar.|
Now we have another way to refer to the earl, apart from 'he' of course, which would normally have been used in the third sentence; but we'll leave personal pronouns out of this, for convenience. At this point, the language will find it preferable to refer to this earl by his name, instead of "the earl"; compare how we might continue:
|4. One day, the earl goes hunting.|
|5. One day, Ragnar goes hunting.|
Having introduced the earl's name, we have reached a "third level" of reference. We might identify three such levels of "familiarity":
1. unknown (indefinite article used)
2. introduced (definite article used)
3. known by name (name used)
This is the English pattern. Applying this system to ON, we find slight differences; consider a similar sequence of introduction in ON:
1. "Í Noregi býr jarl." (introduction)
2. "Jarlinn heitir Eiríkr." (reference)
Now we have reached the third level of familiarity with Eric, since we know him by name; from now on, we can refer to him by name:
3. "Gengr nú Eiríkr í skóg."
However, unlike English, we can also refer to him by his "title", but without an article:
3. "Gengr nú jarl í skóg."
This is very common in ON texts; it should be translated into English with an article. By "title" in this context, anything relatively specific is meant. "Maðr" will rarely be used in this way, but anything more specific, such as "sveinn" (young man) or "karl" (older man) will commonly be used for close reference, instead of names.
1.3 Word Order
We have hitherto stated, loosely, that Old Norse has a "free" word order. This is true, as opposed to English, of the relation between the "noun phrases" (= the noun with all attached to it, such as adjectives and prepositions, or = a pronoun). In English, the order of the noun phrases is a strong indication of their case, i.e. which of them is the subject and which the object (direct or indirect). ON leaves the word order free there, indicating the case by changing the endings of the noun phrase's components.
'Syntax' is the study of word order. There is more to the syntax of a language than the relation between its noun phrases ("noun syntax"); going from noun syntax to verb syntax, we find that ON has a rigid set of word order rules, in the relation between the verb phrase and the rest of the sentence's components. We need to start dealing with this phenomenon's immediate implications.
(Technically, the noun phrase containing the object is subordinate, or contained within, the verb phrase; for our practical purposes, that is irrelevant.)
Consider these sentences:
"The wolf walks out of the forest."
"Then the wolf walks out of the forest."
The order of the sentences is identical; we merely add "then" in the beginning of the latter. But this won't work in ON:
"Úlfrinn gengr ór skóginum."
"Nú gengr úlfrinn ór skóginum."
Not *"Nú úlfrinn gengr ór skóginum."
As we add the adverb "nú", the verb shifts in its relation to the other words, and "insists" on maintaining its position as the second component of the sentence, following the adverbial phrase ("nú").
In that sentence, the verb phrase is composed of only one word, "gengr". Consider a sentence with a more complicated verb phrase:
"Nú vill Úlfrinn ganga ór skóginum."
The verb phrase here is "vill ganga"; "ganga" is a verb infinitive, while "vill" is conjugated, and therefore called the "finite" verb.
But you notice that in this sentence, only "vill" stubbornly maintains its position, while "ganga" maintains its relation to the noun phrases; thus, the verb phrase has been split up.
A practical rule may be deduced, which, if well understood and thoughtfully applied, will result in correct word order in most cases:
The finite verb within an Old Norse sentence must always be the first or the second component, while the rest of the verb phrase retains its relation to the noun phrases even if that involves splitting it away from the finite verb.
This is admittedly complicated; but a student who keeps this in mind while reading ON texts, should get a feel for this.
This phenomenon is called "Verb-Second", or "V/2"; all Germanic languages except for English remain V/2 languages today, more or less. The origin and inner cause of the V/2 phenomenon is not all too well understood by linguists, though their knowledge of its function will suffice for our practical purposes. The V/2 characteristics has different manifestations within the Germanic family, however, so speakers of German or even modern Scandinavian languages should not always trust ON to have the same rules of verb syntax as their native languages do.
An important fact in the V/2 procedure is that conjunctions are not members of the sentences which follow them; consider these examples:
"Menninir vilja flýja."
"Svá vilja menninir flýja."
"Því at menninir vilja flýja."
"Svá" is an adverbial phrase, while "því at" is a conjunctive phrase. As can be seen by the finite verb's position in the third sentence, "því at" has no effect on its position; sentence-wise, the third sentence is identical to the first, but with a conjunction tacked in front (which doesn't count into the sentence).
It is therefore important to note whether such "structural words" (like "þá" and "ok", etc) are conjunctions or adverbs; note that "ok", for instance, may either be an adverb (when it means 'also') or a conjunction (when it means 'and'):
"-ok þú ert maðr feigr, jarl." (conjunction) "-and you are a doomed man, earl."
"Þú ert ok maðr feigr, jarl." (adverb) "You're also a doomed man, earl."
Also note that in a string of sentences which "share" some components, i.e. when the latter sentences omit one or more of their noun or adverbial phrases when it is clear that they are the same as in the first sentence, V/2 applies as in the first sentence,
which may be confusing. Best displayed in an example:
"Þá ferr hann, ok [þá] vegr hann marga menn."
"Þá" is being omitted in the second sentence (after the "ok" conjunction), but it still affects the word order as if it were there. In the same way:
"Ef maðrinn sér úlfa, [þá] flýr hann."
Often the "þá" will be omitted from "if-then" sentences, even while the V/2 effects of it remain.
Direct speech is, for syntactic purposes, an adverbial phrase within the "frame sentence". A whole paragraph of direct speech can be the adverbial phrase of a "he says"-type sentence:
"Maðr heitir Haukr. "Eigi em ek norskr maðr,"<speech>", segir Haukr.
It cannot be
* "...", Haukr segir.
since that would violate the V/2 rules just as much as
* "Nú Haukr segir."
Strong masculine nouns:
Stems that end in "consonant + 'n', 'r', 'l', 's'" don't add -r in nom sg:
Note u-umlaut: 'a' becomes 'ö' before endings with 'u' (such as the -um in dat pl)
3rd person :
Adjectives, indefinite (strong) masculine:
hafa, hef (have)
imperative: haf! (sg) hafið! (pl)
kenna, kenni (know)
imp: kenn! (sg) kennið! (pl)
kalla, kalla (call, shout)
imp: kall-a! (sg) kall-ið! (pl)
In some verbs with long vowels (acute, diphthong, 'æ' or 'oe'), whose stems end in 'n' or 's', assimilation of the -r ending occurs:
blása, blæs (blow)
skína, skín (shine)
imp: (vil!) (N/A)
This vocabulary section will introduce very few new words (specially noted), but rather only list all the words introduced so far (in lessons 1-5).
|garðr||palisade/stone wall, city,|
| ||city-state, garden, yard|
|haugr||mound, dung, pile, grave|
|heimr||home, homeland, world|
|hólmr||isle, small island|
|maðr||person, man, human being|
|matr||food (always in singular)|
|vágr||small bay, cove, creek|
|vangr||field (not farming), meadow,|
| ||clear patch of ground|
|Geirshólmr||"Geir's Isle" (made up name)|
|Geirshaugr||"Geir's Grave" (made up name)|
|Heiðvangr||"Clear Field" (made up name)|
|Hólmgarðr||"Island City", a Nordic (Swedish) colony in|
| Russia, now called Novgorod ("gorod" = "garðr")|
|Úlfarsheimr||"Úlfar's Home" (made up name)|
See the reference in 1.3 for personal pronouns.
|allir (pl)|| all|
|báðir (pl)|| both|
|er|| that, which, who, whom|
|fáir|| (pl) few|
|margir|| (pl) many|
|sumir|| (pl) some|
|bjartr|| bright, fair (of light complexion and/or blonde hair)|
|glaðr|| happy, glad |
|gylltr|| golden, gilted|
|feigr|| doomed to die, "dead already", fey|
|stórr|| big (note that the first r is part of the stem)|
|víðr|| wide, extensive|
|á||owns (only form of this verb yet presented)|
|bjóða, býð||offer; command|
|brenna, brennr||be burning|
|búa, bý||live in, inhabit|
|elta, elti||follow, chase|
|fara, fer||go, leave|
|flýja, flý||flee, run away|
|hafa, hefi||have; hold; wear|
|heita, heiti||be called|
|kenna, kenni||recognize, know (a person, place, or object)|
|vera (irregular)|| be|
|veiða, veiði ||hunt, fish|
|mjök||very, very much, greatly|
|svá||so, such, then (immediately following)|
|í + acc||into|
|í + dat||in(side)|
|á + acc||onto|
|á + dat||on (top of)|
|ór + dat||out of|
|með + dat||with, by, using; with, accompanying|
|þar er||where (relative)|
|því at||because, for|
|"gefa grið"|| grant/give mercy, spare, pardon (from death)
3.1 Translate the text into English
Í Noregi eru margir vágar, sumir djúpir, sumir langir. Norskir víkingar sigla í vágana, í löngum bátum. Í vágunum eru ok oft hólmar. Í hólmunum vega víkingarnir menn. Þar eru ok haugar, þar er illir draugar búa. Draugarnir eru oft reiðir, ok hata alla menn.
Í Noregi eru ok skógar víðir, vangar heiðir ok forsar breiðir. Í skógunum búa góðir álfar, en ok illir vargar. Menn er ganga í skóga eru oft hræddir, því at vargarnir vilja vega þá ok eta. Ef vargar finna menn í skógunum, eru menninir feigir. Í vöngunum eru hestar, er eta þar ok lifa vel. Í forsunum er falla eru margir fiskar, er menn veiða.
Dvergar eru þar ok, er hafa gyllta bauga. Dvergarnir vilja eigi gefa mönnum baugana.
Þar í Noregi búa margir menn. Sumir eru jarlar mjök ríkir, sumir víkingar sterkir. Fáir eru konungar, fáir eru illir ok fáir ragir. Sumir menn eru spakir mjök, ok mæla vel. Spakir kenna marga heima ok marga menn.
Fiskr er norskum mönnum ("for Norwegian men") góðr matr. Þeir fara í vágana ok forsana ok veiða fisk. Svá elda þeir fiskinn í eldi, er brennr. Meðan þeir elda hann, mæla þeir ok hlæja. Ostr er ok góðr matr, ok eta menninir ok ost með fiskinum. Góðir menn gefa svöngum ost ok fisk at eta. Svangir eta allan mat, er góðir gefa þeim.
Ragnarr er jarl spakr. Hann kennir Austrveg, heim mjök stóran. Í Austrvegi eru margir garðar, víðir skógar ok vargar mjök illir. Garðr í Austrvegi heitir Hólmgarðr. Fáir garðar eru svá stórir, sem Hólmgarðr er. Í Noregi eru eigi garðar svá stórir. Í Hólmgarð sigla víkingar er vilja vera ríkir. Því at í Hólmgarði eru margir ríkir.