"O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Kor. 15:55)
This section of our website is devoted to the reconstruction and revival of Norn. We have chosen to give this
project another name in order to distinguish it from the real Norn and, of course, the apt title 'Nynorn'
[nee-norn] which means "new Norn" (cf. Nynorsk = "New Norwegian") came straight to mind. Our goal is to re-create Norn as a usable
(=living) language in order to see what it could be like had it stayed alive until our days.
It is not to be denied that very few Norn texts has survived until today which is usually considered to be the main obstacle
for such a revival. But the situation is not as hopeless as it seems at first sight. Several thousand Norn words and expressions, that include not only crofters and fishermen's slang, as usually believed, but also more sophisticated
and absract terms (ober 'responsibility', afgeng 'accomplishment, conclusion', skatt 'tax', soind 'legal investigation', upphald 'support, maintenance', vokster 'enterprise, energy', drag op 'to educate, stand till 'to depend; be entitled to', jenk 'to dedicate' etc. etc.), are known. The Ballad of Hildina and the Lord's Prayer give us a good account of the late Norn's grammar, far from complete yet fairly illustrative.
By this we mean that most of the discovered features of Norn reflect
its rich predecessor, Old Norse, which is quite well known and
researched. We also have at our disposal a complete list of phonetic changes from Old Norse to Norn
which have been documented by Jakobsen and Marwick. Finally, the other descendants from Old Norse, such as (New-)Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic have survived until our days and look to us encouraging.
Of course, altogether it makes Nynorn a fairly hypothetical language and this project should be considered as an intellectual game rather than anything else. But, as it often happens with intellectual games, there can be a certain theoretical value
to them. Usually when a language is under reconstruction, an overview of its grammar and a short vocabulary are presented as the
outcome. But in some cases linguists go further and try to reconstruct the speech, which is the next and more sophisticated level of reconstruction. Schleicher wrote fables in Proto-Indo-European (3000 - 4000 B.C.) and Illich-Svitych, who pioneered the Nostratic reconstruction (13 000 - 12 000 B.C.), supplied his dictionary with a short verse in Proto-Nostratic as an epigraph. There are more examples of
extinct languages being spoken or revived. Classic Latin is widely used 1500 years after its dissolution
into the numerous Roman languages. Enthusiasts have revived Cornish (existed until the late 18th century), Hebrew was ressurrected
in the 1800's 2000 years after it had been abandoned, and guess what language the specialists in Old Chinese (200 B.C. - 900 A.D.) are speaking in their leisure time when they meet at conferences? No language can be completely dead (= unused) - this point is all the clearer in these days of the Internet where people set up webpages in Anglo-Saxon, Old Church Slavonic, Sanskrit and even Proto-Indo-European. Or look at this online tutorial of
Crimean-Gothic (existed until the 17-18th centuries). This list is certainly far from being complete.
The fact that Nynorn is an artificial language should not confuse anyone. You might not realise it, but there are many words in your language that have not developed in the 'natural' way but were
consciously and artificially constructed instead. Human intervention into the development of a language has not been an unknown phenomenon, especially in the Nordic countries. Icelandic has hundreds and thousands of neologisms created by a special commission which invents new words instead of borrowing them from outside
- this policy is known as lingustic purism which set off as early as the 17-18th
centuries when Icelanders started cleaning their language of Danish and Low
German words replacing them with neologisms made out of Icelandic words.
More than that, even several declension types were corrected through restoring their original endings
in the 19th
century (see Stefán Karlsson, "Tunga", 1989). A more advanced example, when it is a whole language that has been constructed, is
shown by nynorsk ('new Norwegian'), originally known as landsmål ('language of country'). The father of
this language Ivar Aasen conceived it the 19th century trying to develop a purely Norwegian written language based upon Norwegian dialects in addition to the existing riksmål ('state language'), otherwise bokmål ('book language'), which had its roots in Danish. So far nynorsk has not become Norway's main written language, but, as bokmål, it has official status and is widely used in several domains.
Yet another example of human interference into the language is Hebrew. You might probably not be aware that we do not know for sure what the vowels of many original Old Hebrew words were, because in the writing they were not marked (f.ex., the name of God in the Old Testament can be read either as Yahweh or Yehowah). The vocalisation of the contemporary Hebrew (the revived one) originates from different medieval traditions of reading Old Hebrew textes and uses their combination. This is a living example of a theoretical reconstruction that has been brought to life and continues existing as a real linguistic phenomenon.
The future will show whether Nynorn has any chances in the real world, but the first step has been taken, to start this project in the virtual space. In the following chapters you will find a more detailed description of our methodology as well as the grammar of Nynorn, vocabulary, tutorial and a few short texts.