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Language Information

Icelandic is spoken by the 250,000 inhabitants of Iceland. It is one of the Scandinavian languages, which form a branch of the Germanic languages, in turn a part of the Indo-European family.

Icelandic is remarkably similar to Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, which was brought to iceland from Norway in the 9th century. Whereas the other Scandinavian languages have been strongly influenced by those of neighboring countries, Icelandic, insular and isolated, has retained its pristine character over the centuries. As a result Icelandic schoolchildren today have no difficulty reading the Eddas and the sagas, the great epics written in Old Norse. Their language is a sort of parent tongue to the other modern Scandinavian languages. It also has many features in common with Old English, the result of the Viking invasions of Britain in the 9th century.

Another factor behind the purity of Icelandic is the absence of international words for modern ideas and inventions. Icelanders avoid such words wherever possible, preferring to coin their own purely Icelandic words instead. Thus "telephone" in Icelandic is simi, an old Icelandic word for "thread" or "wire." The word for "radio" is útvarp ("broadcast"). "Automobile" is bill, but may also be bifreið ("moving ride"). "Electricity" is rafmagn ("amber power").

Icelandic's links with Old English are also reflected in the alphabet, which contains the old runic letters ð (eth), the voiced th, and the þ (thorn), the unvoiced. It also contains the æ of Danish and Norwegian.

The English word geyser and eider are of Icelandic orgin.

During the nineties and the early years of the 20th century an ultrapurist form of Modern Icelandic has been created. High Icelandic or Háfrónska (frónska is the poetic name of the Icelandic language). The High Icelandic language movement (Háfrónska málhreyfingin) has accomplished an enormous tast and icelandicized thousands of words for which no Icelandic equivalent existed. (High Icelandic language centre/ Miðstöð háfrónska tungumálsins).

Icelandic is spoken/used in Iceland

Language Family
Family: Indo-European
Subgroup: Germanic
Branch: North (Scandinavian)

Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.

Writing Sample

Writing Sample


Though you wayfaring wander
all the world to explore,
yet your mind has been molded
by your motherland's shore,
kin of ice and volcano,
child of stream and defile,
daught'r of lava and ling-moor,
son of inlet and isle.

Over earth, over heaven,
though your heart may aspire,
yet will cascades and mountains
stud the land you desire.
In the ocean eternal
lies your isle, girt with brine:
nightless world of spring's wonders
where the grand vistas shine.

For the land of your wishes
has an Icelandic form,
but the rocks grow with flowers
and the glaciers are warm,
kin of ice and volcano,
child of stream and defile,
daught'r of lava and ling-moor,
son of inlet and isle.

—STEPHAN G. 5TEPRANSSON, From a Speech on Icelanders' Day

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