Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

The Conversion of Scandinavia by Means of Script Transition

The Conversion of Scandinavia by Means of Script Transition

Scott Shell

This is an attempt to show script transition and the cognitive consequences it caused on Medieval Scandinavia. Largely supported by evidence given by Flowers, Page, Thorsson, and Elliot, this essay examines topics such as the mixture of runic (Anglo-Saxon and the Younger Futhark runes) and roman writing on St. Cuthbert’s Coffin; the cognitive differences between Orlog and fate; linguistic evidence as to why certain names, amulets, and spells are written in runic as opposed to roman; and Christian elements assigned to certain Germanic deities (and vice-versa). This paper presents an explanation of phonetic values used in runes, while also taking into consideration their semantic associations used in Old English, Old Norwegian, and Old Icelandic poems. Lastly, this article gives etymological suggestions on how script transition helped Scandinavians conceptualize the world as Christian, and why it was necessary for certain texts to be written in runic as opposed to roman. In the future, I would like to test this theory using other writing systems that prototypically used runes as well (i.e. Frisian, Dalecarian, and Macromannic) to further support my argument.

Keywords: Medieval Scandinavia, Futhark, Futhorc, script transition, runes, writing systems, linguistics

April 18, 2012 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I just found this abstract via The Phronistery. Will the paper be made available at some point?

    Comment by John H. Stevens | June 8, 2012 | Reply

  2. Scott: I see an uphill battle here, insofar as claiming a script change as “a difference that makes a difference” will be a hard sell. In this respect, the title claims too much; I would suggest “The Role of Script Transition During the conversion of Sweden” 9adding also the centuries in question). If one nation colonizes another, there will be complex interactions of all sorts in spoken language–the “conversion” of the colony (never complete, always a conceit of the ruling class) will be affected by all the changes wrought, institutional, linguistic, ideological, etc. A change of script will be only a marker of that process–and an input as well, of course, but only to the extent that all markers become and are inputs. Basically, I’m flagging (responding to) the apparent ascription of cause expressed int eh abstract. It gives the impression, “People started using Roman script and Sweden was thus converted.” I assume that’s not your point. A detail: in the first sentence, “script transition from Germanic runic writing to roman alphabetics” (or whatever would appropriate describe the transition) would help clarify the abstract overall. Lastly, the abstract describes many things done in the paper but does not clearly enough (at the beginning) describe the hypothesis or claim overall.

    Comment by Snow Leopard | June 13, 2012 | Reply

  3. This web site certainly has all of the information I needed concerning this
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    Comment by Victorina | April 24, 2013 | Reply

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