A pair of Vancouver Island fantasy writers and an Icelandic professor are teaming up to bring an ancient language into the modern age.
Nanaimo author Joshua Gillingham and Victoria’s Ian Stuart Sharpe both write books inspired by Norse mythology and Gillingham said they’ve long batted around the idea of creating a phrase book in the Viking language of Old Norse.
“We thought it would be really cool because we didn’t have any access to a resource quite like this,” Gillingham said.
With COVID-19 keeping people self-isolated, Gillingham and Sharpe finally had time to give their phrase book project, Old Norse for Modern Times, their full attention. Gillingham said the book will include lines from film and television as well as modern expressions that would not likely have been uttered in the 10th century.
“We’re hoping to just give people things to work with, not really as an academic reference material, but just as something fun for re-enactment enthusiasts, people who are just interested in Viking culture and, of course, people who are involved in role-playing games,” Gillingham said.
The authors are launching a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter on Aug. 6. There will be a $6,000 goal. Donor incentives include copies of Old Norse for Modern Times, as well as Gillingham’s book The Gatewatch and books from Sharpe’s Vikingverse series.
Gillingham said they wanted Old Norse for Modern Times to be “a little more scholarly” and recruited Arngrímur Vídalín, an Icelandic professor of old Nordic languages and literature, to work on the project.
Gillingham said Icelandic is the Nordic language closest resembling Old Norse due to the country’s physical and cultural isolation, but it would still sound like Shakespearean English to a modern English speaker.
“It’s kind of the most sure version of the language the Vikings would have spoken in many places like Norway and Sweden and Denmark…” he said. “So we’re really trying to just trace back that root and revive that language that has long laid under the annals of history.”
Vídalín will be helping with translations and pronunciation, since Old Norse has some characters and sound combinations not found in English. Gillingham said a long-term goal for the project is to create a video series featuring an Icelandic actor teaching the correct pronunciation of some of the book’s phrases.
Gillingham said Norse history and language is getting more attention these days. He said there’s a revival in the academic study of Old Norse, podcasts on the subject of Norse mythology and multiple Viking-themed television programs.
“The Last Kingdom on Netflix and a few others have really stoked people’s interest in who were the Vikings, how did they live and, I guess we’re trying to fill in the blank now, how did they speak?” Gillingham said.