This is an "I need it NOW!" pronunciation guide for reciting phrases and quotes in Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic. It's mainly intended for Pagans (Norse Pagans, Heathens, Asatru, Vanatru, or Rokkatru, etc.) who want to pick up a bit of old language and read it out loud for a ritual, or pronounce a goddess' name properly.
Learning these languages can take a lifetime, and most of us just aren't inclined to make THAT much of a sacrifice to our gods. But throwing in a few Icelandic phrases can really liven up a rite ! Okay, okay, I'm a geek, I admit it... But say you're honoring a goddess like Vör, about whom almost nothing is known, with a grand total of three lines of description in the Prose Edda. Well, first, it'd be nice to pronounce her name properly. And then, why not read that paragraph aloud, IN ICELANDIC? With this quick guide and a little practice, you can do that.
If you need to print and run with it right away, get the pronunciation summary in MS-Word .doc format. Just right click on the link to save it. Apologies to users of Linux, Mac, and other superior beings who may be offended by this format...
Proper spelling of Norse god names in Icelandic
For quick reference, as listed in the Skáldskaparmál 1 (Prose Edda):
Hann gerði ferð sína til Ásgarðs (...) Þá gengu æsir at gildi sínu, ok settust í hásæti tólf Æsir, þeir er dómendr skyldu vera ok svá váru nefndir: Óðinn, Þór (Ásaþor, Ökuþor) , Njörður, Freyr, Týr, Heimdallur, Bragi, Viðar, Váli, Ullur, Hænir, Forseti, Loki.
And from Gylfaginning 35: "Hverjar eru ásynjurmar?"
Modern Icelandic is the language spoken in Iceland right now. While only a few hundred thousand people speak it, it's interesting because it's almost the same langage as what was spoken by the Vikings a thousand years ago (Old Norse, or more specifically, Old West Norse). It's changed very very little. Icelanders can read thousand year old sagas the same way we read Shakespeare´s English. Meaning, it sounds formal, uses some archaic words, but you generally understand it without much difficulty. For example "Thou art a ruffian!" is clearly understood by modern English speakers. Anglo-Saxon (Old English), on the other hand, is nearly incomprehensible: "hwæt we gar-dena in geardagum" means "Lo, praise of the prowess of people-kings ". It´s the first line of Beowulf.
The best part of Icelandic is that since it is a living language, you can find language tutor books and audio CDs to learn it! Anglo-Saxon is a dead language, as is Old Norse, so even the best scholars are just making very educated guesses about the original pronunciation. I believe Modern Icelandic, with some archaic forms thrown in, is the best choice as a liturgical language for Pagans practicing in the Northern Tradition, be they Heathens, Asatru, Vanatru, or Rokkatru. It's very challenging, but not insurmountable.
a á b d ð e é f g h i í j k l m n o ó p r s t u ú v x y ý þ æ ö
a : like 'a' in father, --- French 'a' in "gars". Ex. sandur (sand)
á : like 'ow' in "down". Ex. ást (love)
e : like 'e' in "bed", --- French 'ê' in "prêt". Ex. senda (send)
é : like 'ye' in "yes", --- French 'yai' in "balayait". Ex. ég (I)
i : like 'i' in "bid" or "hid", --- French 'i' in "fille". Ex. listi (list)
y : like 'i' in "bid" or "hid", --- French 'i' in "fille". Ex. synda (swim)
í : like 'ee' in "sheet". --- French 'i' in "lit". Ex. sími (phone)
ý : like 'ee' in "sheet". --- French 'i' in "lit". Ex. sýna (show)
æ : like 'i' in "hide". --- French 'ai' in "canaille".Ex. læsa (lock)
o : like 'aw' in "law". Ex. loft (air)
ó : like 'oa' in "boat, --- French 'au' in "autre". Ex. bóndi (farmer)
u : same as French u in tu, or German für. Make it by pursing your lips like you do to say 'tool', but instead saying 'feet'. Ex. hundur (dog)
ú : like 'o' in "who", --- French 'ou' in "tout". Ex. Rússland (Russia)
ö : like 'e' in "nerd", --- French 'eu' in "feu". Ex. hönd (hand)
ei : like 'a' in "came", --- French é in "fée". Ex. neisti (spark)
ey : like 'a' in "came", --- French é in "fée". Ex. keyra (drive)
au : as French "oeil". Try to say "Freud" with pursed lips, it's like the 'eu' part of it. Ex. haust (autumn)
- þ : like 'th' in "thorn"
- ð : like 'th' in "the"
- j : is like 'y' in "yes", --- French 'y' in "balayait". Ex. já (yes)
- r : is rolled similar to "brrr!" when it is cold. It is like the Spanish 'r'
- ll : is pronounced 'dl' or 'tl'
- tt : is pronounced 'ht'. Ex. gott (good) is pronounced "goht"
- kk : is pronounced 'hk'.
- pp : is pronounced 'hp'.
Double consonants are normally held longer IF they come directly after the stressed vowel.
Also known as Old English, Anglo-Saxon was a Germanic language spoken in the southern part of what is now England more than a thousand years ago. It emerged when three groups of people from Northern Germany (the Angles, Saxons and Jutes) came to England in the 5th century and merged into one. It's closely related to Old High German, Frisian and Scandinavian, and still shares similarities with modern German and Dutch. Native Britons spoke an ancient form of Welsh, a Celtic language.
a b c d e f g h i l m n o p r s t u w x y þ ð æ
There is no definitive way to pronounce it, Scholars debate it, and it would have varied by region, as it does today. In any case, you can expect to "speak it with an accent" with this rough guide (which assumes East Coast American English pronounciation), and it's probably good enough for most purposes.
a : as 'a' in father, --- French 'a' in "gars"
e : as 'a' in fate, --- French 'é' in "dé"
i : as 'ee' in feet, --- French 'i' in "lit"
æ : as 'a' in cat, --- French 'a' in "massage"
o : as 'oa' in boat, --- French "eau"
u : as 'oo' in tool, --- French 'ou' in "fou"
y : same as French 'u' in "tu", or German für (y is always a vowel in AS, never a consonant). Make it by pursing your lips like you do to say "tool", but instead saying "feet".
ie : ih - eh (it's one continuous sound, not two)
eo : eh - o (short o like in pot, it's one continuous sound, not two)
ea : eh - ah (it's one continuous sound, not two)
Accented forms sound much the same, but are held longer.
- þ : like 'th' in "thorn"
- ð : like 'th' in "the"
- c : like 'K', or sometimes 'ch' as in "chin" (sometimes written with a dot on the 'c' to differentiate it)
- g : as in "good" in the beginning of a word or syllable, otherwise generally as 'y' as in "yes"(sometimes written with a dot on the 'g' to differentiate it)
- f : as in "father". Ex. ful (full), cræft (craft) and wulf (wolf'). Or 'v' as in "voice" when between vowels or voiced sounds. Ex.'heofon' (heaven), hæfde (had), wulfas (wolves)
- s : as in "silly". Ex. settan (set), frost (frost), wulfas (wolves). Or 'z' as in "zebra" when between vowels or voiced sounds. Ex. 's' of ċēosan (choose)
- cg : is like the 'dge' of Modern English "sedge". Ex. hrycg (ridge, back), brycg (bridge), ecg (edge).
- sc : is usually like 'sh' in "ship". Ex. scip (ship), æsc (ash, the tree), wýscan (wish). But can also sound as sk, if it is before the vowels a, o, u, or behind them at the end of word. Ex. as in ascian (ask). Occasionally, it sounds like ks (or x).