Gotland’s Secret Language

One thing you’ll certainly want to try during your visit to Gotland is the islander’s ‘secret language’ – Gutnish. This language of Gotland is a dialect of Old Norse which was used by their Viking forefathers during Medieval times. Gutnish still survives and many people throughout the island speak it, though Gutnish is most commonly used on the southern parts of Gotland and the island of Faro.

Although Old Gutnish and Modern Gutnish are often mixed, the Gutnish which is used today derives from Old Gutnish which is indisputably considered a separate dialect and branch of the Old Norse language family. Linguists acknowledge Gutnish as a language, but for political or other reasons, it still hasn’t been officially recognized by the Swedish government. There is an ongoing effort and movement among Gotlanders to preserve their heritage and have their native tongue and language restored to official status and given the recognition it richly deserves.

The most famous surviving piece of Gutnish literature is the famous Gutasaga which is preserved and kept at the Swedish Royal Library in Stockholm where it can still be seen today. |Written around the year 1350, this manuscript is a saga covering the history of Gotland before its Christinization. A mixture of legend and verifiable historical facts, the saga begins with the story of how a mythical figure named Þieluar discovered Gotland. In the story Gotland remains underwater during the day and rises during the night. Þieluar breaks this spell by lighting a fire on the island.

Þielvar’s son Hafþi married a fair maiden named Hvitastjerna and they were the first to settle on the island. They had three children, Guti, Graipr and Gunfjaun. After their parents died the brothers divided Gotland into three parts, each taking one. This division of the island remained in place until 1747 and is still recognized by the church as the three deaneries. Guti remained the highest chieftain and gave his name to the land and its people. A Gotlander is called a ‘gute’, one of Guti’s native descendants. There are many good books available on the Gutasaga if you would like to read the full story.