Word of the day #5

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(Nf.: nominativ , Þf.: akkusativ , Þgf.: dative , Ef.: genitive ; með greini: with article )

Kjötsúpa is a traditional Icelandic recipe for a hearty soup of lamb and vegetables flavoured with mixed herbs. The main ingredients are: lamb, onion, cabbage, carrots, rice, rutabaga, potatoes, and leeks, Kjötsúpa is a feminin word made from two words. Kjöt is a neutral word means “meat” and súpa is a feminin word means “soup“. In case of a compound word the gender of the word depends on the gender of the last word in the combination of words. (kjöt n.+ súpa f. = kjötsúpa f. )

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Happy Birthday, Icelandic!

The Day of the Icelandic Language (Dagur Íslenskar Tungu) is celebrated each year on 16 November, which is also the birthday of the famous and beloved Icelandic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson. In his poetry he often mentioned Iceland, its landscapes, people, and his deep love for the country. Every year, the Jónas Hallgrímsson Award is given to someone who has contributed to the language.

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Although it still seems to be Mission Impossible to learn the language, we’re all in love with every consonant, vowel and sound of it. Also it’s a good opportunity to celebrate, so if anyone is in the mood today, raise your glasses to Icelandic. *clink*

A (very) short history of the Icelandic Language

Iceland was first settled in the 9th century by Norwegians, so at this time the same language was spoken in Iceland and Norway as well. No significant changes occurred in the vocabulary till the 11th century, the introduction of Christianity, when new religious concepts were introduced requiring new names in the language. These words were mostly taken from other Scandinavian languages. Icelandic also has some loanwords from English, French, Low German, Danish and German. The modern Icelandic alphabet has developed from a standard established by a Danish linguist in the 19th century.

The pronunciation of the language has changed a lot since the old days, but the written version has not changed much in the past thousand years. It means that modern speakers can understand sagas and Eddas written hundreds of years ago! (With the help of some footnotes and modern spelling, but still, an impressive thing.)

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How many words are in Icelandic and how many of them are used?

As I was studying for my exams, an interesting question popped into my head and gave me a pretty good excuse to procrastinate for a while.

Of course it’s borderline impossible to count all the words in a language. There are new ones invented every day, some of them don’t even make it to the official dictionaries. The words that never appear in print are called “augnablikssamsetningar” which means that they were “assembled in a moment”. There are also some archaic words that haven’t been used for centuries, but nevertheless, they are part of the vocabulary.

For new concepts and ideas Icelanders rather introduce new compound words instead of using the foreign equivalent. Icelandic is a North-Germanic language and like other Germanic languages it has the tendency to be compounded. This is how words like “vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur (a ring on a key chain for the main door of a tool storage shed used by road workers on (the hill) Vaðlaheiði”)” are created.

About ten years ago a research was conducted on determining the number of words in written Icelandic. This study includes all words that appeared in print between 1540 and the mid-eighties and helps to give an estimated number of words occurring in the language. If we consider that quite a lot of words have been created since – just think of the new compound words, slang, technological vocabulary etc. – the study might be a bit obsolete but still, this is the only official source we have. And it contains 610,000 words of which about 519,000 were compound words, half of them only occurring only once in the source documents. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it?

If you feel like, share with us why you like/don’t like Icelandic, we would be happy to hear other opinions besides ours. Have a nice Sunday everyone!

Word of the day #4

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Mjöll
: snow that has just fallen. You can also use nýsnær which means “new snow”. Mjöll is a girl’s name as well, and Snow White in Icelandic is Mjallhvíti.

Mjöll is a feminine word,what doesn’t have plural form and  you need to inflect it like that:

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(Nf.: nominativ , Þf.: akkusativ , Þgf.: dative , Ef.: genitive ; með greini: with article )

Did you know there are 46 words for snow in Icelandic?

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Icelandic, you tameless bastard

I’ve lived in Iceland for years, and at the beginning had the insane idea of learning the language by myself. Of course it didn’t work out, so I decided to apply to the practical Icelandic course taught at the University of Iceland to pick up the desired language skills in a more formal environment (well, at least it’s more formal than my bedroom).

I’ve studied many languages, ancient and modern as well, and never had big difficulties with acquiring them. But my friends, I need to admit, Icelandic is the most time-consuming and soul-sucking language that I have ever had to deal with. Seriously, I’ve been struggling so much. It’s absolutely not fun. I tried my best and made all the effort I could. If we count the hours I spent sitting in front of different language books in different positions in different places, we would get a really high number of hours. Days. Months.

Let me tell you why I think Icelandic is the evil of modern languages.

First of all, the geographical isolation of Iceland (being an island) means that speakers of Icelandic used to have less direct contact with speakers of other languages, and therefore there were fewer competing influences from other languages. The population of Iceland is mostly made up of people who are Icelandic, and the number of Icelandic-speaking people living outside of Iceland is quite small. This means they have created their own words for everything. The only language it was influenced by in the last couple of hundred years is probably Danish, which has to do with the fact that the Danish conquered Iceland.

Also by now the language has picked up some English words, but they formed a committee (like the French) to preserve the language so they invent new Icelandic words for new things. For example, instead of using the word ‘television’, they use ‘sjónvarp’, which means ‘vision projection’. Clever, huh? But it doesn’t make the life of a language learner easier.

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Do you remember the name of the volcano which caused a big trouble in air travel across western and northern Europe in April 2011 giving the reporters a hard time with trying to pronounce its name correctly? Of course you remember.

Icelandic pronounciation in general is difficult as hell. There are many different sounds that might be difficult to pronounce correctly for a non-native speaker:

The rolled R can give trouble for those whose mother tongue is English or French. I’m lucky in this case, Hungarians can roll that R all day long.

This sound þ (thorn) should pose no problem to an English speaker. It is, after all, a letter that used to belong to the Old English alphabet as well and is still widely used in words such as “Thursday” and “thick” to name two examples. This one can be very challenging to people whose mother tongue do not have the sound. (Like me.)

The sound eth (ð) an another one that’s both common in English and crucial in Icelandic, ð exists in the pronunciation of such English words as “the”, “this” and “that”.

Then there is my favourite the ‘ll’ that really needs a huge amount of input to master. I can’t pronounce this sound without spitting on my face or on those whom I’m talking to.

Then there is that weird soft L sound. I always have a hard time when I need to ask for ´mjólk´ in my coffee.

And on the top of these there is a scary monster sitting on an iron throne (no, it’s not someone from Game of Thrones) with the blood of language learners dripping from his axe.  He is the Icelandic Grammar. I could talk about our relationship for hours, but not now. Not until I find a way to tame this beast.