An English Dictionary of Runic Inscriptions in the Younger Futhark
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About the project

The dictionary

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There are approximately 6,000 inscriptions in the younger futhark produced between AD 750-1500 in Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland, and the North Atlantic islands. The language of these inscriptions is the earliest recorded form of Old Norse, yet their evidence for Old Norse vocabulary has not been incorporated into the standard dictionaries of that language. This runic corpus is a collection of contemporary, original documents that survive in the first and only form in which they were written, and the only written material produced in Viking Age Scandinavia. It is thus a significant research resource for:

  • the interdisciplinary study of the Viking Age and medieval period;
  • the study of Old Norse-Icelandic language and literature;
  • the subsequent history of all the Scandinavian languages.

The proposed full dictionary will be the only complete collection of the language of this corpus in dictionary form and will present this language through the medium of English. Runic inscriptions continue to be discovered, and the dictionary will be produced in a form which can easily be updated.

Phase 1

Phase 1 of the project is a self-contained pilot which will be the first step in the creation of an English dictionary for all runic inscriptions in the alphabet known as 'the younger futhark'.

The pilot project aims to develop an appropriate model for the full dictionary, based on the sub-corpus of Swedish runic inscriptions of the Viking Age (AD 800-1100), consisting of just under 3,000 inscriptions, mostly on memorial stones. Although this sub-corpus forms nearly half of the total number of inscriptions, it is an obvious choice for the pilot study because: (a) the language of the inscriptions is formulaic and therefore repetitive, and it also poses relatively few problems of interpretation; and (b) there already exists a printed dictionary with definitions in modern Swedish (Lena Peterson, Svenskt runordsregister, Uppsala 1994, 2nd ed.) which will provide an important foundation for the pilot project. The end product will both update this dictionary, and add a number of features which will increase the usefulness of the resource and enhance the study of the language of the inscriptions: (a) all grammatical information and definitions will be in English; (b) many definitions will be discursive to allow for the tracing of semantic variation and change, and to emphasise the uncertainty of meaning in particular cases; (c) entries will provide both cross-references to other dictionaries and bibliographical references to relevant word-studies; (d) the dictionary will be created in database form: this will allow it to be updated if necessary, to be accessed on the internet and to be searched by users; (e) the examples of each lemma will be linked to a picture database of Swedish inscriptions, allowing users instant access to relevant images.

Project Team

The project team consists of:

Professor Judith Jesch (
Jonathan Adams (
Ian Richardson (

Technical assistance was provided by Colin Bannister, Academic and Research Applications Team, Information Services, University of Nottingham.

Past members of the project team are:

Dr Kathy Holman
Dr Jennifer Edmond


Page last updated:
5 May 2006

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