Today, November 16, is dedicated to the Icelandic language, with various events staged throughout the nation. People are commended for their contribution to maintaining the language, awards are given out, etc. etc.
With a population of just under 300,000, and an estimated
1 million people worldwide who speak Icelandic [a figure that may be grossly inaccurate – I seem to recall hearing it somewhere], it should come as no surprise that Icelanders are obsessive about preserving their mother tongue. Akin to the Name Committee, Iceland has a Language Committee that looks after things like finding new Icelandic words for things that enter the common lexicon. To commemorate the day, there was a full-page advert in the newspaper that had a bunch of those new words – really fascinating to see them all grouped together. Things like: hringitónn [ringtone], pappírstætari [paper shredder], amapóstur [SPAM – made up of the old word ama, meaning ‘something that annoys’, and póstur, post], áfallahjálp [trauma counselling], vistakstur [eco-driving], ærumorð [honour killing] etc. etc. The cool thing is that these new terms are very often made up of older words put together to convey a new meaning, for example tölva [computer], which is made up of the words völva [prophetess] and tölur [numbers]. Makes eminent sense, no?
AND NOW FOR SOME FACTUAL INFORMATION…
Icelandic is a Germanic language, and because of Iceland’s geographical isolation it has remained relatively unchanged since the settlement in 874. It’s complicated; as I’ve written about before in this space it conjugates not only verbs but also nouns. In other words, you get irregular nouns, such as the name Alda, which in other cases changes to Öldu. Nouns are also divided into three genders; male, female and neutral – ‘he’ the chair, ‘she’ the door, ‘it’ the table. If you’re not a native speaker it can be a bitch to know which noun is which gender, and then to apply the proper ending to it and aso to the other parts of speech, according to the case, to make a correct sentence. The pronounciation is another chapter altogether; Icelandic has sounds that for example English speakers find virtually impossible to make [e.g. the click at the back of your mouth when you say double l’s, as in bíll [car]].
There are three special characters in Icelandic: þ, ð and æ. Þ is pronounced as a voiced ‘th’ sound [as in ‘this’], ð is a silent ‘th’ sound [as in ‘there’] and æ is the same as ‘I’. In addition, vowels in Icelandic carry accents: á [pronounced ‘ow’], é [pronounced ‘ye’], í [ee], ó [oh], ú [oo], ö [sort of like the vowel sound in ‘jerk’]. There are also compound vowels, ei [pron. ‘eh’] and au [which is quite impossible to describe in writing].
Conversely, Icelandic does not use c, q or w.
RIGHT! NOW THAT YOU HAVE THAT INFORMATION…
See if you can decipher these slang words/phrases that have entered Icelandic via English but are normally written phonetically in Icelandic. Because despite the best efforts of the Language Committee, they are commonly used; in fact while we were trying to think of them at home this evening we were actually surprised to register how many English phrases we use regularly without even thinking about it:
[NB - if you're Icelandic and are reading this, please refrain from giving it away until the English speakers have had a go...]
… and BTW, we don’t use all of those on a regular basis. Ahem.
AND SINCE WE’RE CELEBRATING…
We bring you the weather in Icelandic today: Það var frekar kalt í morgun, smá frost, en hlýnaði þegar leið á daginn og var orðið nokkuð þægilegt seinni partinn. Smá strekkingur – ekkert rosalegt. Hitinn kominn yfir frostmark, 1°C í augnablikinu og fer víst hlýnandi. Ágætt. Sólin kom upp kl. 10.00 í morgun og sólarlag var kl. 16.25.