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.〔Torp, Arne, Lars S. Vikør (1993)〕
Old Norse was divided into three dialects: Old East Norse, Old West 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 commonly used term 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.〔Peter Tunstall. ''(Review of The syntax of Old Norse: With a survey of the inflectional morphology and a complete bibliography )''. Primary source.〕
== Geographical distribution ==
Old Icelandic was basically identical to Old Norwegian, and together they formed the Old West Norse dialect of Old Norse, which was also spoken in settlements in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and north-west England, and Norwegian settlements in Normandy.〔A. J. Johnson Company, ''Johnson's universal cyclopedia: a new edition'', pp. (336 ), (337 ), (338 ); 1895 D. Appleton and company & A. J. Johnson company〕 The Old East Norse dialect was spoken in Denmark, Sweden, settlements in Kievan Rus',〔Article ''Nordiska språk'', section ''Historia'', subsection ''Omkring 800–1100'', in ''Nationalencyklopedin'' (1994).〕 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 in the East. In Kievan Rus', it survived the longest in Novgorod, probably lasting into the 13th century there.〔 The age of the Swedish language's presence in Finland is strongly contested (see Swedish-speaking Finns), but at latest by the time of the Second Swedish Crusade in the 13th century, Swedish settlement spread the language into the region.
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