By the 8th century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia, Proto-Norse, had undergone some changes and evolved into Old Norse. This language began to undergo new changes that did not spread to all of Scandinavia, which resulted in the appearance of two similar dialects, Old West Norse (Norway and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Denmark and Sweden).
Old East Norse is in Sweden called Runic Swedish and in east Denmark Runic Danish, but until the 12th century, the dialect was roughly the same in the two countries. The dialects are called runic because the main body of text appears in the runic alphabet. Unlike Proto-Norse, which was written with the Elder Futhark alphabet, Old Norse was written with the Younger Futhark alphabet, which only had 16 letters. Due to the limited number of runes, some runes were used for a range of phonemes, such as the rune for the vowel u which was also used for the vowels o, ø and y, and the rune for i which was also used for e.
A change that separated Old East Norse (Runic Swedish/Danish) from Old West Norse was the change of the diphthong æi (Old West Norse ei) to the monophthong e, as in stæin to sten. This is reflected in runic inscriptions where the older read stain and the later stin. There was also a change of au as in dauðr into ø as in døðr. This change is shown in runic inscriptions as a change from tauþr into tuþr. Moreover, the øy (Old West Norse ey) diphthong changed into ø as well, as in the Old Norse word for “island”.
Famous authors of works in Danish are existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, prolific fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen, and playwright Ludvig Holberg. Three 20th century Danish authors have become Nobel Prize laureates in Literature: Karl Adolph Gjellerup and Henrik Pontoppidan (joint recipients in 1917) and Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (awarded 1944).
Old East Norse was once widely spoken in the northeast counties of England. Many words derived from Norse, such as “gate” (gade) for street, still survives in Yorkshire and the East Midlands (parts of eastern England) colonized by Danish Vikings. The city of York was once the Viking settlement of Jorvik. Several other English words also derive from Old East Norse, for example, “knife” (kniv), “husband” (husbond), “cold” (kalde) and “egg” (æg). The suffix “-by” for ‘town’ is common in place names in Yorkshire and the East Midlands that is, Selby, Whitby, Derby and Grimsby. The word dale in Yorkshire and Derbyshire is commonly used in place of valley.