How does a runic alphabet work?

Xhark 07/30/2017. 1 answers, 1.089 views
religion vikings writing norse-mythology

For instance, let's take the Younger Futhark alphabet. How do you build a word? By just getting the first letter or phoneme of the name of each rune? Or do they have a contextual meaning?

3 Mark C. Wallace 07/30/2017
This site has some example - The Lord's Prayer is written in Futhark about midway down the page. You may also find ArildHauge's site useful.

1 Answers

andejons 07/31/2017.

A runic alphabet works like other alphabets: one rune corresponds to one or more specific sounds. Runes only really have one significant difference: they are designed to be carved in wood, which means that they usually have vertical or slanted straight lines, but no or very few horisontal and curved lines.

However, as the Younger Futhark was specifically mentioned, I will point to a few special features when this is used for Old Norse:

  1. Runes are not doubled. Old Norse "dottir" ('daugther') is spelled "dotir". This sometimes works across words: "runaR rista" ('carve runes') can become "runarista".
  2. Related to this is that words are not always separated by spaces. Sometimes, instead, some other sign than a space, such as one or two points or crosses, are used.
  3. The Younger Futhark is, for some reason that is unknown and subject to speculation, actually not very suited to Old Norse. There are far fewer runes than distinct sounds, meaning that some sounds share a rune, like g and k, or u, o, y, ø and w. (the Elder Futhark was actually a better system in this regard).
  4. There is one rune, the "R" rune, that is only used at the end of words. It is transliterated to "R" to distinguish from the "r" rune used everywhere else.

As for other meanings, we have names for the runes coming from medieval or foreign sources and some knowledge of how the sound values have changed, which has allowed us to recreate the original names and meanings. Such meanings are very usual in longer texts, but it seems like they could have been used as magical inscriptions. Their main use seems to have been as a memory aid, so that the "i" rune was named "is", 'ice'. However, one shorthand was rather common, and even found its way into texts written with the Latin alphabet: the "m" rune, named for 'men' was used as a shorthand for "man" in medieval manuscripts.


I'm basing most of the above on Lars Magnar Enoksen's Runor.

1 Xhark 07/30/2017
I'm asking because I've been told that I could translate ᛘᚢᚾᛁᚾ as "Muninn", the Odin's raven. But It looks very suspicious to me that the translation is that simple(first letter of the name of each rune). Thanks for the answer tho.
6 jwodder 07/30/2017
@Xhark: A number of alphabets name their letters with words that begin with those letters. For example, in Greek: Ευκλειδης = epsilon, upsilon, kappa, lambda, epsilon, iota, delta, ēta, sigma = Eukleidēs (Euclid).
5 sgf 07/31/2017
@Xhark Don't get hung up on the names too much - the names of the runes are only there to tell you what sound each rune stands for, they're not some intrinsic meaning of them or anything.
htmlcoderexe 07/31/2017
@sgf Old Russian also has named letters, where most of the names are just a word that starts with the letter, with no relevant meaning. Only exception I can think of is Kher ("Хер", Х), which is old Russian for a cross.
1 Gangnus 07/31/2017
@Xhark It is not translation, it is reading. Names are translated only if they have different reading in another language. As Koeln in German becomes Kolin in Czech. In most cases, names are read, not translated.

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