Språk och vikingar

Problems in Phonology and Etymology in ancient Norsk

Följande är ett utdrag ur en artikel i Wargames Illustrated. jag har slarvat bort vilket nummer det var.

Many of my students find difficulty in understanding the motivation which drove ancient nordic sea-farers to leave their farms and cross dangerous seas to seek an uncertain fortune with only rudimentary navigation devices. Their mentality was so different from ours, that modern men can have little true understanding of what led them to create their haphazard seaborne empire.

In this article I intend to show that many of the clues to their behaviour lie in linguistics. I first considered this whilst studying Inuit, the language of the Esquimaux. They have eighteen different words for snow, whilst for example, English has only three: snow, sleet and slush. Naturally a society which spends most of its life surrounded by snow will need a wealth of terms to describe it without resorting to clumsy constructions such as, "thin powdery snow which is crusty on top and soft under the surface". In Inuit, this is simply referred to as ”usqhat”. The phenomenon of the dialectical relationship between language and culture was extensively studied in the ancient world. With Rome's domination of the Mediterranean came intimate contact with the Hellenistic (Greek) world. The two languages had their strengths and weaknesses which were remarked upon by ancient scholars. Greek was unsurpassed in its flexibility for dealing with abstract concepts and philosophy. (Philosophy being of course a Greek word.) There were no latin equivivalents for sophron, elenctus or cynic. In contrast, latin was useful for military terms but especially good for plumbing. Even today there is no word in the Greek language for u-bend.

Norsk culture was much concerned with warfare and violence. This is reflected in the language, especially when contrasted with words of affection or terms of endearment. below is table which sets out how the different norsk languages compare, together with Anglo-Saxon and modern English. The three branches of the Norsk tongue, Northern, (which became modern Norwegian,) Eastern, (which became Swedish) and Southern (which transmuted into danish and Icelandic), each have varying word counts for the different categories.


Words for death

Words for torture

Terms of affection

Modern English








North Norsk




East Norsk




South Norsk




Perhaps the first thing that this table shows is how in its change from Anglo-Saxon, English gives evidence of a more caring, less violent society.

The second most startling thing is the lack of terms of affection in South Norsk. Scholars could not believe that the figure could be so low. An extensive search for fragments of South Norsk sagas was taken up by the Dansk Historiske Andgeblatte, resulting in the re-discovery of two fragments of Perssaga being used as fish wrapping on the island of Bjornholm. But this find led to controversy.

Doctor Kate Turner, (De Beauvoir fellow, University of Lewisham.) maintained in her book, Blood Guilt, Menstruation in the Dark Ages, that the word pikbod was in fact a term of endearment, thus raising the South Norsk Score to a more respectable 3. This gave rise to the ”pikbod controversy” which raged through academic circles in the eighties. her contention was lagely refuted by Professor Lars Engstrom in his study,Blaugelt ik Historiske Fiscafas (Spending Historical research Money While You Still have Some.) Engstrom maintained that pikbod was in fact an insult. His argument was that the word could be traced into an agricultural term in modern Danish.

Pedbod, is a term used by farmers to describe the small box, or sometimes bale of hay, which is put under the fett of pigs who are too small to service sows properly. He maintains that this was used to denigrate Norsks who, instead of using the traditional methods of courting women – prowess in battle, a keen weapon and not washing for six months – would resort to using money.

The prevalence of terms of torture in South Norsk shows a richness in language lost to us today. My favourite term for maiming, (if indeed favourite can be used in this context) is the word kristmannbogga which means, ”To molest a monk's nether regions with his own crucifix". This practice became so widespread and gined such a social standing that it gave rise to papal bull of Leo III, ´De cloacibus´, in 911, which proscribed the use of crucifixes, breviaries and candles for like purposes.

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Professor Ole Botstromm, Head of Military history, University of Caithness

skapad av Håkan Danielsson, lärare i historia/samhällskunskap på Katedralskolan i Lund