Old Norse was a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during about the 9th to 13th centuries.
The Proto-Norse language developed into Old Norse by the 8th century, and Old Norse began to develop into the modern North Germanic languages in the mid- to late 14th century, ending the language phase known as Old Norse. These dates, however, are not absolute, since written Old Norse is found well into the 15th century.
Old Norse was divided into three dialects: Old West Norse, Old East Norse and Old Gutnish. Old West and East Norse formed a dialect continuum, with no clear geographical boundary between them. For example, Old East Norse traits were found in eastern Norway, although Old Norwegian is classified as Old West Norse, and Old West Norse traits were found in western Sweden. Most speakers spoke Old East Norse in what is present day Denmark and Sweden. Old Gutnish, the more obscure dialectal branch, is sometimes included in the Old East Norse dialect due to geographical associations. It developed its own unique features and shared in changes to both other branches.
The 12th century Icelandic Gray Goose Laws state that Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders and Danes spoke the same language, dǫnsk tunga ("Danish tongue"; speakers of Old East Norse would have said dansk tunga). Another term used, used especially commonly with reference to West Norse, was norrœnt mál ("Nordic speech"). Today Old Norse has developed into the modern North Germanic languages Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish, of which Norwegian, Danish and Swedish retain considerable mutual intelligibility.
In some instances the term Old Norse refers specifically to Old West Norse.
Old Icelandic was very close to Old Norwegian, and together they formed the Old West Norse dialect, which was also spoken in settlements in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and northwest England, and in Norse settlements in Normandy. The Old East Norse dialect was spoken in Denmark, Sweden, settlements in Kievan Rus', eastern England, and Danish settlements in Normandy. The Old Gutnish dialect was spoken in Gotland and in various settlements in the East. In the 11th century, Old Norse was the most widely spoken European language, ranging from Vinland in the West to the Volga River in the East. In Kievan Rus', it survived the longest in Veliky Novgorod, probably lasting into the 13th century there. The age of the Swedish-speaking population of Finland is strongly contested, but at latest by the time of the Second Swedish Crusade in the 13th century, Swedish settlement had spread the language into the region.
The modern descendants of the Old West Norse dialect are the West Scandinavian languages of Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian and the extinct Norn language of Orkney and Shetland; the descendants of the Old East Norse dialect are the East Scandinavian languages of Danish and Swedish. Norwegian is descended from Old West Norse, but over the centuries it has been heavily influenced by East Norse, particularly during the Denmark–Norway union.
Among these, Icelandic and the closely related Faroese have changed the least from Old Norse in the last thousand years, although with Danish rule of the Faroe Islands, Faroese has also been influenced by Danish. Old Norse also had an influence on English dialects and Lowland Scots, which contain many Old Norse loanwords. It also influenced the development of the Norman language, and through it and to a smaller extent, that of modern French.
Various other languages, which are not closely related, have been heavily influenced by Norse, particularly the Norman dialects, Scottish Gaelic and Irish. Russian, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Latvian and Estonian also have a number of Norse loanwords; the words Rus and Russia, according to one theory, may be named after the Rus' people, a Norse tribe; see Rus (name), probably from present-day east-central Sweden. The current Finnish and Estonian words for Sweden are Ruotsi and Rootsi, respectively.
Of the modern languages, Icelandic is the closest to Old Norse. Written modern Icelandic derives from the Old Norse phonemic writing system. Contemporary Icelandic-speakers can read Old Norse, which varies slightly in spelling as well as semantics and word order. However, pronunciation, particularly of the vowel phonemes, has changed at least as much as in the other North Germanic languages.
Faroese retains many similarities but is influenced by Danish, Norwegian, and Gaelic (Scottish and/or Irish). Although Swedish, Danish and the Norwegian languages have diverged the most, they still retain asymmetric mutual intelligibility. Speakers of modern Swedish, Norwegian and Danish can mostly understand each other without studying their neighboring languages, particularly if speaking slowly. The languages are also sufficiently similar in writing th