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LRC Blog

August 10, 2010

Todd B. Krause

Old Norse Spelling Convention

N.B. The email exchange below may have been edited, e.g. to remove content not essential to the main point(s) or to standardize English spelling/grammar.

Query

Dear T.

Having glanced at the [EIEOL Old Norse lessons], I have a question. Which spelling standard are you following, if any, for the Old Icelandic texts? ([Old Icelandic] is practically Old Norse, when it comes to preservation.) My suggestion would be [to] follow the standardized spelling that Icelandic scholars have adopted and is used (here in Iceland) whenever the old spelling is called for. This spelling is used in the editions of Hið íslenzka fornritafélag and some of those editions are still the last word on the subject.

I thought I saw a variety of spellings in the [Old Norse] texts. As an example, 'c' occurs frequently in manuscripts but never in the standard spelling. If one is to follow manuscripts, letter for letter, the question arises: which manuscript do you follow?

Íslendingabók along with Landnáma has already been published and so have the sources for most or all of the other examples given.

I'd suggest, for consistency, that you adopt this version. This is, after all, the spelling Icelandic scholars have agreed upon, and although not perfect, it is better than anything else yet seen.

All the best, O. I.

Response

Howdy, O.

You're quite right that I did not follow a totally consistent spelling convention. Ultimately this was a conscious decision on my part, though one I'm not necessarily wedded to if there should arise numerous objections. My rationale was essentially pedagogical: since many readers of the online series might go on to study not only primary texts, but primary documents (i.e. manuscripts), I felt it worthwhile to present some texts with variant conventions to remind readers that they should not expect uniformity of spelling in the manuscripts. Not that the readers necessarily need reminding, but at least that way they could see some examples of what particular variations might occur. I felt it would not place much of an extra burden on anyone using the lessons as a learning device, given that each word is grammatically analyzed in full.

You are right that this raises the question of which manuscript to follow, but for pedagogical purposes any manuscript suffices in some sense, as long as it illustrates a difference from standard orthography. It's something like presenting students of Greek with an example text or two where the lunate sigma is the norm: if anyone goes on to work on Greek papyri from post-Alexandrian Egypt, that's the only sigma that occurs; and for any student in general it raises the issue that not everything that looks like a tau is actually a tau. The latter issue is by far the more important, and its generalization to other letters; for that reason, I wasn't too concerned with which manuscript [spelling convention] I was following.

I hope that helps to explain the orthographic system, or lack thereof, in the lesson series.

Best, T. K.