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Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300.
The changing processes that distinguish Old Norse from its older form, Proto-Norse, were mostly concluded around the 8th century, and another transitional period that led up to the modern descendants of Old Norse (i.e., the modern North Germanic languages) started in the mid- to late 14th century, thereby ending the language phase known as Old Norse. These dates, however, are not absolute. For instance, one can still find written Old Norse well into the 15th century.
The first major dialectal distinctions in the language arose in the Old East Norse, Old West Norse, and Old Gutnish dialects. No clear geographical boundary exists between the Eastern and Western dialects. Old East Norse traits were found in eastern Norway and Old West Norse traits were found in western Sweden. Most speakers of Old Norse dialects spoke the Old East Norse dialect originating in what are present-day Denmark and Sweden. Old Gutnish, the more obscure dialectal branch, is sometimes included in the Old East Norse dialect due to geographical associations. It shares traits with both Old West Norse and Old East Norse but had also developed on its own.
The 12th century Icelandic Gray Goose Laws state that Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders and Danes spoke the same language, dǫnsk tunga. Speakers of the eastern dialect, spoken in Sweden and Denmark, would have said dansk tunga ("Danish tongue") or norrønt mál ("Nordic language") to name their language. Gradually, Old Norse splintered into the modern North Germanic languages: Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish; but mutual intelligibility has not fully disappeared.
In some instances the term Old Norse may refer specifically to what is here called Old West Norse.
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