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Ancient extinct language from the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Originally a variant of Old Norse, and introduced to the islands in the 9th century. Its decline began in the 15th century as the Scottish influence grew, and the last few speakers died in the 1800s. The language survives only in a few fragments of writing: most speakers were illiterate.

It is possible that there are no texts at all by native speakers of Norn. The early runic inscriptions could have been carved by visitors: the Papa Stour document of 1299 is said to be in "impeccable" Old Norwegian. Whereas as we see from the Lord's Prayer collected about 1700, the island dialects were quite distinct from other Scandinavian languages by then.

Here it is as collected in Shetland:

Fy vor o(r) er i Chimeri.
Halaght vara nam dit.
La Konungdum din cumma.
La vill din vera guerde i vrildin sin da er i chimeri.
Gav vus dagh u dagloght brau.
Forgive sindor wara sin vi forgiva gem ao sinda gainst wus.
Lia wus ikè o vera tempa, but delivra wus fro(m) adlu idlu.
For do i ir Kongungdum, u puri, u glori,

And here it is from Orkney:

Fa vor i ir i chimrie,
Helleut ir i nam thite,
gilla cosdum thite cumma,
veya thine mota vara gort o yurn sinna gort i chimrie,
Ga vus da on da dalight brow vora.
Firgive vus sinna vora sin vee firgive sindara mutha vus,
lyv vus ye i tumtation, min deliv(e)ra vus fro olt ilt,

These seem to contain a bit of English too: gainst is not Norse. The islanders were bilingual in Scots from the late 1500s. It probably died out as a living language around 1750. The clergyman George Low recorded a ballad called Hildina-kvaet in 1774 on Foula. By then a few elders could speak snatches imperfectly, and it probably remained so till just past 1800. One Thomas Irvine of Midbrake died of famine in 1803 with many other of the oldest people; his grandson, having intended to record specimens of Norn, says his source of information was cut off with that.

The first major study was by Jakob Jakobsen, in Danish, in 1908.

In May 2002 the Shetland county council decided to add Norn placenames to their signposts. The capital, Lerwick, is now also to be marked Leir-vik. The literal meaning is shit creek.

Norn (?), Nor"na (?), n. [Icel. norn, pl. nornir.]

1. Scandinavian Myth.

One of the three Fates, Past, Present, and Future. Their names were Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. See the Norns


A tutelary deity; a genius.


© Webster 1913.

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