Þrjótrunn: A North Romance Language



Romans reached Norway in the first century CE, latinizing parts of the country and by this brought a Romance language to Þrjótur.[1] Þrjótrunn is an extremely conservative Romance language, which, although it underwent substantial sound changes, retains many features of the Vulgar Latin that reached Norway. These circumstances have made the grammar quite irregular.

Read what historian Bjarne Mørk reconstructed about the events that led to Romans reaching Norway.

The Name

The name of the new Roman province in Southern Norway was colloquially called 'Frigoriterra' in Rome. This name was more and more used in Norway itself, too, by the speakers of the local Latin dialect, but they used it more for the Northern areas and, more generally, for Northern, Non-Roman territories, i.e. for Þrjótur and also Greenland and parts of Finland (also the plural was used when referring to these territories collectively). While on the mainland, the term was lost in the following centuries, it was in continuous use in Þrjótur, but only referring to Þrjótur itself. 'Frigoriterra' became 'Þrjótur' in the modern language.

The name of the language derives from the country name by adding an -(a)n ending to get an adjective. 'Þrjótrunn' is the neuter singular nominative form, which is used when using the name alone. In a phrase together with 'language', it becomes 'Þrjótran Lyng' which literally means 'Þrjóturian Language'.

Sound Changes

When Latin reached Norway, the inhabitants, speaking a Germanic tongue, were exposed to a sound system not exactly like the one they were used to, but still quite similar. Latin words were probably pronounced with a heavy local accent, at least reconstructions show that the first sound changes of Vulgar Latin must have happened just at the time of the split of this North Romance language.

Grand Master Plan

Þrjótrunn's Grand Master Plan (GMP) has been reconstructed and stored in a machine readable form that is hopefully also human readable. You can see the file here.

You can download the Perl compiler for this format here.

Earliest Sound Changes (~0-100 CE)

The earliest sound changes reconstructable for Þrjótrunn show that the early speaker adapted Latin it their local phonology, which was originally Germanic. Thus these sound changes could also be called a 'local dialect' that was probably in use from the very beginning of Latin in Scandinavia. The sound changes more or less fit well, i.e., the resulting sound system looks more Germanic.

/f/ [θ]   Latin f was [f], but Germanic f was [ɸ].[2] This did not affect initial or postconsonantal /fl/. This also did not take place in Germanic loans due to the different points of articulations in Latin and Germanic.
/d/ [ð] Germanic had no /d b ɡ/ but only /ð β ɣ/.
/b/ [β]
/ɡ/ [ɣ]
/kt/ [χt] This reflects the Germanic pronunciation[3] and also happened in Celtic-influenced dialects of Latin.
/pt/ [ft] Again, this reflects the Germanic pronunciation.

Metathesis of /ks/ to /sk/ happened regularly.[4]

The Latin word accent was shifted to the first syllable with only a few exceptions (e.g. some demonstratives, pronouns, and other 'small words'). In the course of this, syncope sometimes happened in the second or third syllable of long words. Moreover, vowels in all but first and last syllable lost length distinctions, and only the vowels /a/, /i/, and /u/ were retained here. These changes were quite radical pronunciation adjustments to make pronunciation feel right by the standards of the local tongue, which we now reconstruct as Proto-Germanic/Proto-Norse.[5]

100 CE - Today

The vowels of Þrjótrunn show that the original Classical Latin vowels (/a e i o u/ both short and long, probably [a aː ɛ eː ɪ iː ɔ oː ʊ uː]) were retained in most positions, generally in contrast to South Romance languages which use a seven vowel system /i e ɛ a ɔ o u/ commonly associated with late Vulgar Latin or Proto-Romance. Only a few South Romance language also kept the ten vowel system for a while.[6]

The vowel system in Þrjótrunn shows an early Vulgar Latin state: some endings have already collapsed (abl. and acc of 2nd decl are both -u), ae is already [ɛ] and oe is already [eː]. Latin av was retained unlike in many South Romance languages and not contracted to [o].[7]

Finally, /y/ and /θ/ in loans from Greek have survived in a few words in Þrjótrunn.

All in all, it seems likely that the original Germanic tongue spoken where Þrjótrunn started to evolve has helped preserve a sound system already mostly moribund in other regions where Vulgar Latin was spoken. Especially the Germanic vowel system was probably almost identical to the Latin carried into Scandinavia by the Romans (including the presence of a rounded front vowel, so that the North Germanic languages are the only ones that (originally) retained it).


Þrjótrunn has several Germanic loans, some of which it shares with other Romance languages, like the points of the compass: norður, austur, suður, vestur. But there are also many Germanic loans unique to the Romance language of Þrjótrunn. Typical words include plants that are only found in the north (björkur 'birch'), and geographic phenomena found in Scandinavia, e.g. coastal shapes (fjörður 'fjord', vík 'bay').

The number of Celtic loans, on the other hand, is relatively small. Some words that were in Latin already when Romans reached Scandinavia naturally made it into Þrjótrunn (e.g. körr < carrvs < from Gaulish), but newer ones usually did not, e.g. the widespread *camisia 'chemise', 'shirt'.


Apart from phonology and lexicon, Germanic influenced the morphology and syntax of Þrjótrunn.

One prominent difference between Proto North Romance and other Romance is the final -r were Latin had -s. This is certainly due to Germanic -az, -iz, -uz nouns, which made the Latin -vs, -es, -is became pronounced as -uz, -ez, -iz. By analogy, most other final -s in Latin was also shifted to -z. The further development then changed this -z into -ʀ and ultimately into -r.

It is also noteworthy how Germanic loans appear in Þrjótrunn, which declension and gender they became. Loans of masculine Germanic -az, -iz, -uz nouns usually were rendered as Latin masculine -vs nouns of the second declension, e.g. fjörður < *ferþuz (also note how this loaned f did not shift to þ). Further, Germanic feminine -ō nouns became 1st declension, feminine -a nouns in Proto North Romance.

There are examples where this typical correspondence had some influence back on Latin words with unusual forms. E.g. the Greek loan into Latin boreas is börr in Þrjótrunn, which requires a reconstructed form of *borivs. This is probably due to an imagined Germanic **borjaz.

Other developments are probably independent from Germanic influence.

The Latin ablative had already gone when the Romans reached Scandinavia. Þrjótrunn retains a few irregular vocative forms and even locatives, but these are rare and will not be listed in the normal tables, but handled as separate lexicon entries. Otherwise, the Latin case system is retained, i.e., the language has four cases: the nominative, the accusative, the dative, and the genitive, both in pronouns and in nouns.[8]

All three genders of Latin are retained: the feminine, the masculine, and the neuter (to show similarities more clearly, we will use this order of the genders throughout the document).

Further, the Latin fourth declension class ('u' declension) is retained. Mostly feminine plants in -vs, even originally 2nd declension ones, and some frequent words use the fourth declension. The declension contains almost only feminine nouns.


Old Norse shows some traces of this in Latin loans: þúst < fūstis (apart from súst).
Old Norse shows some traces of this in Latin loans: ametta < amictvs.
Some traces of this metathesis tendency are visible in Icelandic, too, e.g. in fylskni < fylgsni.
One could expect Latin ē to be shifted to ā like many Germanic long 'e' which are shifted to Proto-Norse ā. Whether you believe many linguists reconstructing two long 'e' vowels in Germanic, one of which keeps 'e', the other being shifted to ā, or whether you have another theory for this phenomenon, looking at Old Norse loans form Latin, there seems to be no evidence that Latin ē is like the Germanic long 'e' that shifted to Proto-Norse ā, since the Latin ē usually becomes Norse ē or e. There are not too many examples, however. It seems that Þrjótrunn went the same path of not shifting the vowel.
Here, Sardinian has retained this vowel system.
Romanian and sometimes Portuguese retain [au], too, and in most Romance language it collapsed with /o/ later than the other Classical Latin diphthongs.
Justs like in Icelandic tradition, the cases are listed in that order.
October 28th, 2007
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