Runic transliteration and transcription

Runic transliteration and transcription

Runic transliteration and transcription are part of analysing a runic inscription. Usually scholars both transliterate the runes into Latin letters, transcribe into a normalized spelling in the language of the inscription and translate the inscription into the language they write in.

There is a long standing practice to write transliterations in boldface and to transcribe the text in "Italic type" since the two forms of rendering a runic text have to be kept distinct.Antonsen, Elmer H. (2002). "Runes and Germanic Linguistics". New York, Berlin: de Gruyter. ISBN: 3-110-17462-6 p. 85]


By not only showing the original inscription, but also transliterating, transcribing and translating, scholars present the analysis in a way that allows the reader to follow their interpretation of the runes. Every step has its challenges, but most Younger Futhark inscriptions are quite easy to interprete. Most Scandinavians can learn to read runic inscriptions with a little training. The Elder Futhark inscriptions, however, are much more challenging and they demand a great deal of knowledge in historical linguistics. Standard works such as Sveriges runinskrifter contain extensive presentations of the ways inscriptions have been interpreted throughout the centuries. [ "Att läsa runor och runinskrifter"] on the site of the Swedish National Heritage Board, retrieved May 10, 2008.]


It is practically impossible to render the runes in all the various ways that they appear in the inscriptions, and so the way they look has to be presented in pictures and in drawings.


Transliteration means that the runes are represented by a corresponding Latin letter in bold. No consideration is given to the sound the rune represented in the actual inscription, and a good example of this is the ansuz rune , which could vary greatly in shape. In the oldest Younger Futhark inscriptions, it always represented a nasal a, as in French "an", but later it came to represent other phonemes such as /o/. However, some runemasters continued to use the ansuz rune for an "a" phoneme. The ansuz rune is always transliterated as o from the Younger Futhark, and consequently, the transliteration mon represents Old Norse "man" in a runestone from Bällsta, and hon represents Old Norse "han" in the Frösö Runestone, while forþom represents Old Norse "forðom" in an inscription from Replösa.

Sometimes the runes are "dotted" which means that a dot has been added, and in transliterations dotted runes are treated differently from ordinary runes. Dotted u, k and i are transliterated as y, g and e in spite of the fact that they are rather variations of the non-dotted runes than runes in their own right.

Bind runes are marked with an arch. Some bind runes look in a way that makes it impossible to know which rune preceded the other, and then the scholar has to test the various combinations that give a comprehensible word. Thus all transliterations of bind runes are scholarly interpretations.

Runes that are known from older depictions but that have since disappeared are rendered within square brackets.

Transcription or normalization

The runes are transcribed into normalized spellings of the languages the runes were written in, and normalizations are rendered with italics. Since a single rune may represent several different phonemes, normalizations can differ greatly from transliterations. The þ rune can represent both the Old Norse letter "ð" (as in English "the") or "þ" (as in English "thing").

Notes and references

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