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What Languages Are They Really Speaking On Vikings?

When Vikings premiered on the History Channel in 2013 as a one-off mini-series, few would have predicted that the show would extend its run across six seasons. However, the show managed to bottle the same high stakes, old-world drama that Game of Thrones perfected on HBO while placing its story in a world that viewers could believe was real.

Although Vikings was ultimately a work of historical fiction, its creators based it on an actual timeline that begins with the rise of the show's initial hero, Ragnar (Travis Fimmel). The show included episodes based around historical events such as the Siege of Paris, the invasion of Anglo-Saxon England, and a Viking expedition that reached the Mediterranean. Series creator Michael Hirst chose Ragnar as a starting point because his story is at least anchored in truth. Hirst told Looper exclusively, "We know that Ragnar married a shield-maiden called Lagertha. We know he had all these sons, because his sons are historically recorded and reported."

While basing a series on available historical documents certainly does a lot to help an audience accept the story as accurate, the History Channel did plenty of work to ensure that the show felt and sounded as authentic as possible as well. Throughout the show, characters speak in ancient languages that even people familiar with Scandinavian dialects wouldn't recognize. Here are the languages that they are really speaking on Vikings.

Characters speak Old Norse and other ancient languages on Vikings

As an English language production developed for an English-speaking audience, for most of their time on screen, the characters in Vikings speak English, regardless of where they are from. Occasionally, this practice can lead to confusion, as fans on Reddit note, such as when a character switches from one language to another when interacting with characters from different cultures, but generally, the show handles these transitions with grace.

The question is, what language is it that the characters on Vikings switch to when English isn't appropriate? While it would have been easy for the creators to simply sub in a modern-day Scandinavian language, which most likely would have sounded foreign enough for most English speakers, the show took a bit further than that. According to Express, when a Viking character begins using their native tongue, they speak in Old Norse. A specialist in Old Norse from the University of Iceland, Erika Sigurdson, translates portions of the show's actual script into the ancient language. From there, a dialect coach, Poll Moussoulides, works with the actors to help them pronounce sounds from the lost language correctly.

However, Old Norse is not the only language featured on Vikings. Characters from the English provinces that find themselves under attack by invading Vikings, for example, speak Old English translated by Dr. Kate Wiles from Leeds University. Likewise, during the Siege of Paris, French characters speak Old Low Franconian, which "is based on words collected from old psalms and poems," Moussoulides told TV Insider. "It's the first time the language has been heard in 1,000 years."