Iceland Language: Languages of Iceland

Iceland Language

The Iceland National Language is Icelandic. It has been used in the country since its settlement in the 9th century and has changed only a little. The Icelandic language became official in 2011, and according to statistics from 2015, Icelandic is spoken by around 314.000 people (native speakers). Therefore, icelandic is also the primary language in Iceland. Icelandic is a North Germanic language closely related to Western Norwegian and Faroese. It is also close to the now extinct Norn. Interestingly, Icelandic is one of the most conservative Western European languages. The Icelandic alphabet was established in the 19th century and consisted of 32 letters. Although tricky at first, it is easy to learn once users get the hang of the letters duplicated with acute accents. 

What is the Official Language in Iceland?

The national and official language in Iceland is Icelandic. The language was declared official under Act No 61/2011 and adopted by the Parliament in 2011. The same year, Icelandic laws recognized the Icelandic Sign Language. The Icelandic language had a significant impact on the development of Iceland Culture, and today is spoken by around 314.000 people. 

What are the native Languages of Iceland?

The native language for Iceland’s early settlers was Gaelic. Despite Icelandic and Norse languages being prevalent in the area, Northern Trade Routes impacted the language development in Iceland, bringing English, Dutch, German, French, and Basque to the country. The influence of these new languages is mainly due to merchants and clergymen settling in Iceland. 

What are the forms of Icelandic Language?

The early form of the Icelandic language is Old Norse or, more specifically, Old West Norse and Old Icelandic. Today, Icelandic is similar to Faroese, at least in written form. Icelandic is not mutually intelligible with neither Scandinavian nor widely spoken languages such as English and German. 

Who regulated the Icelandic Language?

The Icelandic language is considered to be a survivor among the old languages. Interestingly, the archaic Icelandic seems to be resilient to modern changes. With so many modern words being absent from the Icelandic dictionary, Icelanders have two options, either to take words from other languages or coin new ones. More often than not, they choose the second option. 

Is Icelandic recognized by the Nordic Council?

Yes, Icelandic is recognized by the Nordic Council. Formed in 1952, the Nordic Council is an official body that regulates inter-parliamentary co-operations. Today, the Nordic Council has 87 members from Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Greenland, Faroe Islands, and Aland.   

How is the history of the Icelandic Language?

The history of the Icelandic language starts in the 9th century, when Iceland was first settled by Norwegians. They brought an Old Norse dialect which affected the language of the era. The initial language was termed Old Icelandic, and it was, in fact, a dialect from Old or Western Norse as the most common Scandinavian language during the Viking Era. The language has sustained only minor vocabulary and grammar changes, and even modern Icelandic is considered one of the most archaic languages in the group. The first printed book in Icelandic was the New Testament from 1540.  

How is the Phonology of Icelandic?

When it comes to sounds, the modern Icelandic language has minor dialectal differences. Icelandic has monophthongs and diphthongs, and consonants can be unvoiced or voiced. Interestingly, unlike most languages, instead of having a voicing contrast, Icelandic has an aspiration contrast between the plosives. The phonology of the Icelandic language is hard for non-native speakers as specific syllables are pronounced differently from English syllables and the words are pretty long.  

How is the Grammar of Icelandic?

Icelandic is an inflected language with four main cases, including nominative, dative, genitive, and accusative. Based on grammar rules, the nouns get one of the three possible grammatical genders, masculine, feminine, and neuter. The end letter of the noun depends on the grammatical gender. Due to complex grammar and archaic vocabulary, Icelandic is one of the hardest languages to learn. 

How is the Language Policy of Iceland?

The language policy of Iceland is to discourage the use and entrance of new words. Instead of accepting such words, the language finds alternatives using roots from Old Norse and Old Icelandic. The resistance towards changes and loanwords has led to the Icelandic language being archaic. To be more accurate, Icelandic marks only slight changes since its origin in the 9th century following the settlement of Iceland. 

Is Icelandic a Pure Language?

Yes, Icelandic is a pure language. Namely, linguistic purism in Icelandic indicates a movement that began in the early 19th century and focused on discouraging new words from entering the language. Instead, the language offers derived substitutes using old Icelandic and Old Norse roots. 

How is the Writing System of Iceland?

The writing system in Icelandic is Latin (Icelandic alphabet). Basically, the Icelandic alphabet is a Latin-script alphabet with some letters being duplicated with acute accents. The Icelandic alphabet consists of 32 letters. The alphabet was established by the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask in the 19th century based on an official orthographic standard from the 12th century named The First Grammatical Treatise. 

What Language do they speak in Iceland?

Here is a list of the languages spoken in Iceland:

  • Polish: In Iceland, Polish is spoken by 2.74%
  • Lithuanian: In Iceland, Lithuanian is spoken by 0.43%
  • English: In Iceland, English is spoken by 0.32%
  • German: In Iceland, German is spoken by 0.31%
  • Danish: In Iceland, Danish is spoken by 0.31%
  • Portuguese: In Iceland, Portuguese is spoken by 0.28%
  • Filipino: In Iceland, Filipino is spoken by 0.24%
  • Thai: In Iceland, Thai is spoken by 0.17%
  • Latvian: In Iceland, Latvian is spoken by 0.14%. 

1. German in Iceland

It is estimated that around 0.31% of Icelanders speak German. The German language is not similar to Icelandic. However, considering that Germans are the second most numerous group of visitors in the country, many Icelanders have learned the language. 

2. Dutch in Iceland   

Dutch is spoken by a small group of individuals in Iceland. However, Icelandic and Dutch belong to the same linguistic family of Germanic languages. Today, the two are quite different and not mutually intelligible.  

3. French in Iceland

French is an occasionally spoken language in Iceland. French does not belong to the same linguistic family as Icelandic but was brought to the island by traders and merchants. 

4. Basque in Iceland

The Northern Trading Route is also responsible for some Icelanders speaking Basque. There is even a Basque-Icelandic pidgin developed by Basque whale hunters in the 17th century. The language consisted of Basque, Romance, and Germanic words. 

How did the Northern Trade Route affect the Languages of Iceland?

The Northern Trade Route contributed to new languages entering the Icelandic country. As traders, merchants, and clergymen traveled, and some even settled in Iceland, they brought their languages such as English, Dutch, German, French, and Basque. 

What are Icelandic Names?

According to Icelandic statistics, the most common female name in the country is Guðrún, and the most common male name is Jón. Also, all the Icelandic names need to be approved prior to being given, and there are specific names that are banned. Surnames in Iceland are derived from the father’s or mother’s name and added the suffix son for son and dóttir for daughter. 

What are the steps of learning the Icelandic Language?

To learn Icelandic, you need to follow several basic steps. Here are those steps and what they include. First, you need to start by mastering the letters of the Icelandic alphabet, then choosing the right Icelandic resources, learning the most common Icelandic words, practicing speaking Icelandic, using memory tricks to remember more words, and not being afraid of making mistakes.  

Is there a course to learn Icelandic?

Yes, there are Icelandic courses for learning the language. Namely, the University of Iceland offers a full BA program in Icelandic for those who want to master the language. There are also short practical courses for international students. You can even learn Icelandic using mobile apps. 

Is Icelandic and English similar to each other?

Yes, as surprising as it sounds, Icelandic is similar to English. The two languages have the same origin as they are both members of the Germanic group of languages. Also, they share many words. Icelandic and English are archaic languages surviving modern changes. However, there are still some differences between the two languages. For example, Icelandic has a much more complex grammar than English. 

Is there a sign language in Iceland?

Yes, there is a sign language in Iceland. Sign language is used by the country’s deaf community. The Icelandic Sign Language is based on the Danish Sign Language. In fact, until 1910, deaf Icelanders were sent to learn in Denmark. However, since 2011, the country has had its sign language. 

How is the Icelandic Language in Literature and Art?

Icelanders are highly literate people, and the Icelandic language has a huge impact on the country’s literature and art. They value the country’s outstanding prose and poetry tradition. Ancient Icelandic sagas are of particular interest and are studied by Icelanders regularly. Also, in rural areas, Icelanders enjoy composing and performing versified sagas known as rímur. 

Is Icelandic spoken only in Iceland?

At the moment, there are around 35.000 Icelandic speakers, and most of them live in Iceland. Icelandic speakers can be found worldwide, including in Iceland Neighbor countries and more distant places such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the US, and Canada.  

Are there poets who use Icelandic?

Many Icelandic poets use the country’s official language in their work. Famous modern poets who use Icelandic are Einar Benediktsson, Tómas Guðmundsson and Davíð Stefánsson. Another Icelandic poet is Halldór Laxness, the only Icelandic poet to have been awarded the highly-esteemed Nobel Prize.

Are there authors who use Icelandic?

Many famous names mark Iceland literature. In addition to the Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness, other authors use Icelandic. Here are some of the well-known Icelandic authors: Arnaldur Indriðason, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Andra Snær Magnason, Einar Már Guðmundsson, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, etc. 

Are there Icelandic Movies?

Yes, there are Icelandic movies. Popular Icelandic movie choices include Land og Synir (Land and Sons), Útlaginn (Outlaw), Gullsandur (Golden Sands), Hrafninn flýgur (When the Raven Flies), Dansinn (The Dance), Á köldum klaka (Cold Fever), Myrkrahöfðinginn (Witchcraft), etc. All of these movies are produced in Iceland and by Icelanders. Some are even based on Icelandic sagas and old stories. 

Are there Icelandic Songs?

Yes, there are Iceland Songs. The oldest Icelandic song still sung is Heyr himna smiður, composed in 1208 by Kolbeinn Tumason. Another popular song is Iceland’s national anthem called Lofsöngur or Ó Guðs Vors Lands, composed by Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson and adopted in 1944. Other popular Icelandic songs include Lokbrá, Dágóða Stund, Sólskríkjan, Ein á klúbb, Harlem Reykjavik, Fjara, Gleipnir, etc.