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another name for the North Germanic, or Scandinavian, group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languagesGermanic languages,
subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages, spoken by about 470 million people in many parts of the world, but chiefly in Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
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). The modern Norse languages—Danish, Faeroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish—all stem from an earlier form of Norse known as Old Norse. Now extinct, Old Norse was the language spoken by the Germanic tribes living in Scandinavia before A.D. 1000. It was first written in runesrunes,
ancient characters used in Teutonic, Anglo-Saxon, and Scandinavian inscriptions. They were probably first used by the East Goths (c.300), who are thought to have derived them from Helleno-Italic writing.
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, some examples of which go back to the 3d cent. A.D., but later the Roman alphabet was used. The earliest extant Old Norse manuscripts in the Roman alphabet are from the 12th cent. Old Norse is also noteworthy as the language of the Eddas and sagas (see Old Norse literatureOld Norse literature,
the literature of the Northmen, or Norsemen, c.850–c.1350. It survives mainly in Icelandic writings, for little medieval vernacular literature remains from Norway, Sweden, or Denmark.

The Norwegians who settled Iceland late in the 9th cent.
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; Icelandic literatureIcelandic literature,
the literature of Iceland. For the earliest literature of Iceland, see Old Norse literature. Early Writings

With Iceland's loss of political independence (1261–64) came a decline in literature, although the linguistic tradition continued
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See E. V. Garden, An Introduction to Old Norse (2d ed. 1957).


1. of, relating to, or characteristic of Norway
a. the N group of Germanic languages, spoken in Scandinavia; Scandinavian
b. any one of these languages, esp in their ancient or medieval forms
3. the Norse
a. the Norwegians
b. the Vikings