I often get asked how to say the basic conversational stuff in Old Norse – “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” and more often than anything else, “I love you” – so that’s what this post is about today.
Unfortunately, while the sagas are very dialogue-heavy and even wordy, there isn’t too much in the vein of banal “how are you doing” type conversation. So a lot of this will be based on phrases in Modern Icelandic or Norwegian, and this should be understood as for entertainment purposes only (not as a serious academic effort).
For pronunciation, see this post or the video linked below. It is especially important to remember that the letters Ð/ð and Þ/þ stand for the “th”-sound. Nothing sounds goofier than someone reading the Old Norse word þing as “ping” (it’s “thing”) or the name Þórunn as “Porunn” (rather than “Thorunn”). Just to reinforce the point, I’ll rewrite these letters with “th” in parentheses in the the phrases below and also remove marks from the vowels, so as to give unfamiliar readers the closest idea of the word that I can give you with the 26 letters of the English keyboard.
Please also remember that Old Norse and Modern Icelandic are not identical. If you put Old Norse text into Google Translate, yes, Old Norse will be detected as Icelandic because that is the closest match to it. But Google Translate does not know all languages, let alone the nuances of difference that separate closely related languages.
Hello and Goodbye
Good day! Góðan dag! (Gothan dag!)
Good morning! Góðan morgun! (Gothan morgun!)
Goodbye!/ Farewell! Far vel!
Good night! Góða nótt! (Gotha nott!)
How is it going? Hvé gengr þér? (Hve gengr ther?)
It is going… Þat gengr (That gengr…)
Thank you! Þǫkk! (Thokk!)
Please… Gerðu svá vel ok… (Gerthu sva vel ok…)
Have a nice day! Njóttu dagsins! (Njottu dagsins!)
My name is… Ek heiti…
What is your name? Hvat heitir þú? (Hvat heitir thu?)
Pleased to meet you. Gaman at hitta þik. (Gaman at hitta thik.)
Where are you from? Hvaðan kemr þú? (Hvathan kemr thu?)
I come from… Ek kem frá… (Ek kem fra…)
…Norway. Nóregi. (Noregi)
…Iceland. Íslandi. (Islandi)
…the Faroes. Færeyjum. (Faereyjum)
…Denmark. Danmǫrk. (Danmork)
…Sweden. Svíþjóðu. (Svithjothu)
…the Orkneys. Orkneyjum.
…the Hebrides. Suðreyjum. (Suthreyjum)
And the one everybody wants:
I love you. Ek ann þér. (Ek ann ther.)
Do not try to make your own Old Norse sentences if you have not studied the language – words change shape based on how they are used in the sentence.
If you use any of these phrases in a book or TV show or something, please credit me and consider a donation to help me stave off the hounds of poverty (Paypal button below).
What else can I read on this blog?
Star Wars, reimagined as an Icelandic Saga. You can read the whole saga in English here, and the introduction here. It was also posted as a .pdf with both the English and Old Norse text here. List of principal characters (and their equivalents in the Star Wars franchise) here.
The Cowboy Havamal. This is part of the classic Old Norse wisdom poem translated into dialect. You can also read about my soon-to-be-published translation of the Poetic Edda – the first time the original Norse myths will appear in plain modern English – here.
I wrote a little about the runes and Old Norse that I wrote for Disney’s Frozen here.
More info on the author here.