Kari Ellen Gade 2012, ‘Normalisations resulting from linguistic changes’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. xlviii-l.
The attempt to establish guidelines for the normalisation of ninth- to fourteenth-century poetry is problematic because it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when a particular phonological or morphological change took place – changes occurred gradually over time and at different times in different parts of Scandinavia. In fact, scholars often derive the dates for many phonological and morphological changes from the skaldic corpus; in particular from words carrying internal rhyme (see, e.g. Konráð Gíslason 1895-7, II, 145-209, 297-305; Finnur Jónsson 1901). Furthermore, the poetic language was conservative, and archaic forms continued to be used in poetry long after they had disappeared from everyday speech. With these caveats in mind, it nonetheless seemed both prudent and necessary to develop a set of guidelines that attempt to capture the chronology of phonological and morphological changes in Old Norse-Icelandic from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries. For the sake of convenience, and based on the linguistic evidence, we distinguish between the following periods: the earliest period (c. ninth century-1200), the period 1200-50, the period 1250-1300 and the period 1300-1400. Standard normalisations that have been adopted across these periods involve the unstressed endings ‑i / ‑i- and ‑u / ‑u- (not ‑e / ‑e- and ‑o / ‑o-) and initial <i> in the definite article (inn, ‑inn, etc. not enn, ‑enn, etc.).
A. The earliest period (c. ninth century-1200)
Most of the phonological changes that occurred during this period are evidenced in stressed syllables carrying internal rhyme. As far as the vowels are concerned, long vowels followed by a consonant cluster were shortened (e.g. mínn > minn ‘my, mine’, háski > haski ‘peril’, see ANG §127; Finnur Jónsson 1901, 76). Poetry composed during the eleventh century contains both long and short vowels in that position, for example Arn Þorfdr 21/4II mínn auðgjafa sína, literally ‘my wealth-giver their’ versus Arn Hardr 4/4II hugi minn es þat sinni, literally ‘thought mine is that his’ (both c. 1065-6) and Arn Þorfdr 11/2II bráskat þat dœgr háski, literally ‘ceased-not that day peril’ (c. 1065-6) versus Sigv Lv 23/6I vask til Rúms í haska, literally ‘was-I to Rome in peril’ (after 1030). Long [i:] occurs in poetry as late as 1150-1200, e.g. Gamlkan Has 60/6VII hug mínn siðir þínir, literally ‘mind mine virtues yours’, but because this poem otherwise consistently rhymes inn : inn (e.g. Has 2/4VII, 14/4VII, 18/4VII, 51/2VII, 53/2VII, 57/2VII) and ín : ín (e.g. Has 1/8VII, 5/4VII, 7/4VII, 8/8VII, 19/8VII, 23/6VII, 55/6VII, 58/6VII), this isolated occurrence could represent a poetic licence and has been treated as such in SkP VII. In the poetry predating 1200, the SkP editions use the short vowels in such words as minn, þinn, etc. unless warranted by internal rhyme. The [o:] in gótt ‘good’ does not appear to have been shortened until the thirteenth century (see LP: góðr).
Stressed > ó when nasalised (e.g. ntt > nótt ‘night’, ANG §116). This change is attested as early as 1050 (Anon (HSig) 2/6II vask í nótt fyr óttu, literally ‘was-I last night before dawn’) and seems to have been well established by c. 1070, for example in Steinn Óldr 5/8II Óláfr borinn sólu, literally ‘Óláfr born sun’, although that poem also has one example of the older form láfr (Óldr 7/6II láfr konungr hla, literally ‘láfr king certainly’). Again, the SkP editions use the forms as dictated by internal rhyme, but Óláfr is used consistently after 1100.
As far as consonants are concerned, ð > d in the environment | [+ long syllable] l, n- (e.g. hvílð > hvíld ‘rest’, ANG §238.1b). This change is pre-literary and attested as early as the ninth century (cf. Bragi Rdr 4/4III hendr sem fœtr of kenndu, literally ‘hands as well as feet recognised’). The <d> spelling has been adopted in all SkP editions. In the twelfth century we see the first examples of the rhotacised forms of the verb vera ‘be’ (older vesa), the first being ESk Lv 1/3II ert (svát eigi skortir), literally ‘you are (so that not lacks)’ (c. 1115; see also ESk Hardr II 2/2II). This change seems to have occurred earlier in Norway than in Iceland (Finnur Jónsson 1901, 93), and Snorri (c. 1223) uses both the rhotacised and the non-rhotacised forms (SnSt Ht 58/1III, 82/5III, 87/7III). The SkP editions retain the non-rhotacised forms (vesa ‘be’, es ‘is’, est ‘are’, vas ‘was’, etc.) in poetry pre-dating 1250, unless the rhotacised forms are required by internal rhyme. The non-rhotacised form of the relative particle (es) is also used in the editions of poetry predating 1250.
B. The period 1200-50
During this period (or a little before 1200), a, o, ǫ, and u in stressed syllables were lengthened in the environment | ‑lf, lg, lk, lm, lp (occasionally ‑ln, ls) in Icelandic (ANG §124.3), causing such changes as halfr > hálfr ‘half’, holpinn > hólpinn ‘helped’, ulfr > úlfr ‘wolf’. Around the same time, all geminates (except ll, mm, nn, rr | –l, m, n, r; gg, kk | –j, w) were shortened before a consonant (ANG §284), producing such forms as kendu (< kenndu ‘knew’), alt (< allt ‘all’). For nasalised > ó, see above.
C. The period 1250-1300
Around 1250, coalesced with á (srum > sárum ‘wounds’), œ with æ (bœr > bær) and ǫ with ø, represented orthographically as ö (mjǫk > mjök) in stressed syllables in Icelandic (ANG §§107, 120, 115.2). The consonant cluster [ts] represented orthographically as <z> (Gizurr) becomes [ss] (Gissurr; ANG §274.2). For the rhotacisation of ‑s / ‑s- in forms of the verb vesa / vera ‘be’ and in the relative particle, see above. In terms of morphology, there is an increased use of the mediopassive ending ‑z(k) (< ‑sk), although ‑sk is often retained in monosyllabic mediopassive verbs (e.g. komsk ‘comes’) in manuscripts after 1250. In poetry post-dating 1250, the SkP editions adopt the ending ‑z(k) uniformly (for the mediopassive, see ANG §§543-4 and Kjartan G. Ottósson 1992).
Note that the principles for the normalisation of fourteenth-century poetry are outlined in §9 of the Introduction to SkP VII, and they will not be addressed here. For the normalisation of the language of the runic corpus, see Introduction to SkP VI.
The discussion below does not attempt to be exhaustive; rather, it gives an overview of the most important changes.
Note that this date, as most others, is approximate.