Teaching Yourself Old Norse

For those teaching themselves Old Norse, try using the following combination of materials: Teach yourself Icelandic, PJ Glendenning (teaches modern Icelandic but has chapter 17 which details some of the differences between modern and Old Icelandic).

Linguaphone Icelandic audiotapes, with Namsskeið í íslenzku by Stefan Einarsson. the book starts with Icelandic dialogs accompanied by pictures; the tapes are the dialogs spoken. There is more grammar text in the middle, followed by English.

The introductory material in Cleasby and Vigfusson, Icelandic-English Dictionary.

Most people seem to start with E. V. Gordon's Introduction to Old Norse, but the beginning student may find Gordon's grammar explanations troublesome.

I learned modern Icelandic grammar from the first two and has extrapolated ON from there.

I am told that for Modern Icelandic, there is a easy-to-use text: Bartoszek, Stanislaw and Tran, Anh-Dao. Icelandic for Beginners. Reykjavík: Brefaskolinn, 1991. (with tape). I am also told that although it glosses over some of the more complex points, the grammar explanations are clear and there is a selection of graded texts and exercises. There is also: Ari Pall Kristinsson. 1988. The Pronunciation of Modern Icelandic. Reykjavík: Malvisindastofnun Haskola Islands. (with tape)

I started out with 4 years of high school Latin, which was a major asset, as this gave me a good grounding in cases, etc., which English speakers often miss. (I also had a one-year review 5-10 years later when I helped a friend with a college Latin class.)

There's been very little change in the written forms between modern and Old Icelandic, it's the pronunciation and vocabulary. There is an argument about whether to use reconstructed pronunciation (RP) or Icelandic pronunciation (IP). I'm firmly RP, but if you're only interested in reading it doesn't matter. I've also studied the development of the various period runic scripts (RI Page & Jensens Sign, symbol & script, and a lot of other stuff NOT (yes the following IS a flame) the guy who's been pumping out the fortune-telling rune garbage for the past 5 years...)

For IP try: Ari Pall Kristinsson. The Pronunciation of Modern Icelandic. Reykjavík: Malvisindastofnun Haskola Islands, 1988. (with tape)

My information on Sigrid Valfell's and James Cathey's Old Icelandic: An Introductory Course (Oxford, 1981) is somewhat second-hand and old, but a friend of mine who started a university-level class in Icelandic using V&C found that the class abandoned the text after not much work. I don't know the precise reasons.

I have heard many complaints about Kenneth Chapman Graded Readings and Exercises in Old Icelandic. Chapman gives the paradigms out in parts (nominative case here, genitive there, etc) and strings the reader along rather than giving the full paradigms from the outset. I've heard other complaints as well.

For dictionaries, you can get: Zoega, Geir T. Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic. London, UK: Oxford University Press, n.d.; or the fuller but much more expensive: Cleasby, Richard and Gudbrand Vigfússon; Supplement by Sir W.A. Craigie. An Icelandic-English dictionary. London, UK: Oxford University Press, 2. ed 1969. both from Oxford University Press.

Also see:
Hölmarsson, Sverrir, Christopher Sanders, John Tucker. Íslensk-ensk orðabök/Concise Icelandic-English dictionary. Reykjavík : Iðunn, 1991. (9979-1-0046-x)

Magnússon, Asgeir Bløndal. Íslensk orðsifjabök. [Reykjavík]: Orðabök Haskslans, 1989.

Skaptason, Jön. Ensk-Íslensk skölaorðabök. [Reykjavík]: Ørn og Ørlygur, 1989.

Sørenson,Søren. Ensk-Íslensk orðabök. [Reykjavík] : Ørn og Ørlygur, 1991. (9979-55-040-6)

Zoega, Geir T. Ensk-Íslenzk orðabök/English-Icelandic dictionary. Reykjavík : Bökaverzlun Sigurðar Kristjanssonar, 1932.

Gary R.D. Walker

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Last updated 8/23/96.

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