[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J26, 1999/2 pp25-26]
[See other journal articles and Personal View by Zé do Rock.]

An Excursion into Icelandic Orthography

Zé do Rock

Iceland was one of the few countries Zé do Rock did not visit on the 11-year hitchhike that inspired his orthographic travelogue fom winde ferfeelt (written in German, reviewed in Cut Spelng in JSSS J23, pp24-27). Now active in the SSS, he here gives his orthographic impressions from a recent trip to that island. His text combines the cutting elements of his own simplified version of English spelling with some of the idiosyncrasies of written Icelandic.

A headline sample of printed Icelandic:

Háværar kröfur gerðar um afsögn Jeltsíns forseta.

Icelandic is quite a famus language, especially considering it is only spoken by 270,000 people, wich is less than some districts in big citis. It's famus because of its conservativ features, wich explain wy icelanders say they can read thousand-year-old texts without any problems. It's to preserv that quality that it bans the import of foreign words into the language - they hav an Academy wich at the site of a foren word imediatly invents or composes a new icelandic word.

I didnt go to Iceland to study the language, i just went there to enjoy the wether, the wind and the cold. But i tried to get a grasp of the language and found an ancient book translated into english as The First Grammarian. This faild to change the "bad orthografic manners" of the emergent new language icelandic, but it became one of the most important books for the study of old nors. I dont no too much about the history of spelling reform projects, but thats certainly one of the oldest, being ritten around the year 1200. The author is anonimous and he not only complains that icelandic is getting away from the alfabetic principle, but he also laments that icelandic and english ar drifting apart.

Wel, i personally dont lament it, i wouldnt be very happy if we had to speak something like icelandic as the international language. Altho i hav to say, at least they hav fewer silent letters, and u can lern the rules where these silent letters ar. Thats something english could lern from icelandic.

Altho the icelandic alfabet came from old english, it has no C, Q, W or Z. The C can be spelt with K (eg, kaffi) or S (eg, sentimetri), the Q with K (kvikasilfur 'quicksilver'), and they dont need W or Z. Two letters survive from old english wich modern english has lost, representing the (for many non-nativ speakers) difficult TH sounds: Ð (lower case ð) representng voiced TH, and Þ (lower case þ representing voiceless TH.

The pronunciation also has a kind of funny burp sound: to pronounce höfn 'haven', try to say hurpen with silent R; u hav alredy pronounced the hur-, and then u hav to burp and close yor mouth, so that the /pn/ comes thru the nose. For a word like steinn 'stone' u hav to say stedden, but the DN is pronounced with this burp-efect. One advantage of icelandic is that it doesnt hav (for foreners) funny vowels as english does, like short A, short U, ER, etc.

Stil, it has one thing in common with english: in other germanic languages, long vowels ar just the same as short vowels, but pronounced long, wile icelandic and english hav long vowels that ar pronounced quite differently from the short ones. Long A corresponds to english OW in how, long E is actually like YE in english yet, long O is a difthong as in english RP clothe, long U is 'continental', ie, as in english include, but the short U is something between shwa and german Ö.

Let us use U for shwa in this text, as the icelanders do, eg, there ar lots of endings with U in icelandic, such as vegur 'way', fullur 'full'. And to shó long vowels in ícelandic, ú just put an acút accent on the vowel. Quít ésy, as só meni reformurs shó. If inglish had priservd the accents it sumtíms úsed in óld english to shó long vowels, probably ther wud bé no problems kéing them in on compúturs and uthur ríting divíces today. But it hasnt, and now it séms to bé too lát.

Ícelandic speling is quít far from the pronunciátion. Móst leturs hav 3, 4 or évun 6 valús. But ther ar strict rúles, so eny ícelandur nós how tu pronounce an unnón wurd. A forenur has quít a fú dificultis, as wé can sé in the varius valús of the letur G:

1. at the bigining of a sylabul bifor A, Á, O, Ó, U, Ú, Ö, AU, L, N, R: 'normul' /g/, as in gata 'street' (not 'gate').

2. sylabul-initialy bifor E, I, Í, Y, Ý, OE, EI, EY, J: palatized G, a bit lík soft G in english, as in gefa 'giv'.

3. Bitwén vowels or bitwén vowel and R and ð: /j/ (ie, like english Y in yes), as in dagur 'day'.

4. Wurd-end aftur vowel: /j/, as in sög 'saw' (noun).

5. Bitwén vowel and I, J: /j/, as in bogi 'bow' (for arrows)

6. Bitwén vowel and L, N: /g/, as in gagn 'usefulness'

7. Bitwén F, G, L, R and vowel: /gv/, as in öfgar 'exageration'.

8. In guð /gv/, as in Guðni (proper nám).

9. Bitwén L and D, G, T, N, S and bitwén R and Ð, T, N: sílunt, as in margt.

Thats ól rathur complicáted. It's the prís pépul hav tu pá for béing ábul tu réd thousund-yér-old texts. Úsualy wot hapuns is not that the language as a hól stopd its évolútion, ónly the ritun language did - in ícelandic sum centuris bifor inglish.

Thá dónt hav PH, bikos thá dónt hav grék wurds; and insted of SH, thá rít SK, like SC in old inglisk.

All in all, íslandisk sounds lík grék béing spóken by fins. The vokabulari is not as púr as the íslandurs klám: í hafa hurd thaþ a hundrað (íslandurs luv ð and þ) yérs agó ther vur much mor 'internasional' ords, but sins thá founded an akademi vich has bén 'kléning' the language, such ords bikám much rerur. Meny tíms thá had tu kombín nú ords from old íslansk ones, and í vil giv hér sum exampuls:

togleður'pull-lether'rubber
kvikmynd'living pictur'film
lýðveldi'persons power' democracy
þjóðveldi'pépls power' republik
heimspeki'worlds wisdom'      filosofy
hreyfill'moov maker'motor
eind'unity'atom
verkfræðingur      'work expert'engineer
sími'wire'telefon
tölva'number orracal'computer


In a núspápur it is rély harð tu finna non-germanisk ords. Biscuit is a 'small cake', in islandsk smákaka. Stil, if ú gó tu a kafé, ú'l find ords lík kaffi, sykur, súkkulaði 'chocolat', café au lait, etc. And a pizza is a pizza, évun if ðe íslandurs sá ðat ðis is no islansk ord. Thá sá ðat ðe rít ord is flat baka, but í'v nevur sén ðis ord, evryvair ðá ofur pizzur. Ðe ord is ólsó purfektli diklínabul in islansk: pizza 'a pizza', um pizzu 'about pizza', etc, ðe plúrul pizzur 'pizzas', pizzur 'about pizzas', pizzum 'from pizzas', etc. Ðer ar 8 kás endings, but ðe artikul is at ðe end of ðe ord, so vé hav tu lurn 16 endings: pizzan 'ðe pizzas', pizzurnar 'about ðe pizza', pizzunum, pizzanna, etc. Pizza is a kvít regulur ord, but an ord lík maður 'man' is a bit hardur: maður, mann, manni, manns, menn, menn, mönnum, manna, etc. Ólsó ðe konjugátions arnt veri simpul, and ðer ar évun 3 ords for inglish they: ðe plurul for he (ðeir, ðe plurul for she (ðær) and ðe plurul for it (ðau).

And ðe náms: ðá dont hafa family náms, ónli a kristian nám and ðen ðe faðirs first nám + son. Só if yor nám is Mikael and yor faðirs nám is Jon, yor nám vil bé Mikael Jonsson. If ú er a vuman, ú vil get ðe fyrst nám + ðe faðirs (or sumtíms muðirs) nám + dóttir. If ú vont tu bikum an íslandur, ú hafa tu ajust tu ðat system. Vladimir Ashkenazy, ðe fámus pianist and konduktur, vonted tu bekum an íslandur, but he didnt vont tu chánge his nám. In his kás, ðá sed, vé kan mák an ekseption: ðe nám Vladimir Ashkenazy var aloued. Sumtím látur anuthur gý hú vonted tu bikum an íslandur aplíd tu get ðe nám Vladimir Ashkenazy. Aftur ól, Ðessi var aloued, vosnt it?

Ðe temperutur var ólveis around 10°C. In ðe sumer. Hou ðe vinter is, ú kan imagin ven ú nó ðe language: ðe ord for 'weather' is veður vich ólsó méns vind, ðe ord for 'winter' is vetur, and ðe ord for 'wet' is votur. Ol ðés ords ar kvít similur, arnt ðá? Í mén, wether-winter-wet arnt exactly far from éch oður, but in islansk ðá ar olmóst ðe sám.

Tu kompensát for Ðéssi problums, ðe landskáp is grát and fasináting: desurts and béches in ól kolurs, volkánós, and Ísland is surtunly ðe ónly kuntri in ðe verld við mor ðan 3 vaterfalls per inhabitunt. Bikos ðer ar not meny pépul and bikos ðer ar réali lots of vatenfalls. And í'm just tauking about ðe vatnfalls ðat kum from ðe mountins, not about ðe vuns ðat kum from ðe ský. Of kors ðer ar meni geysirs, and nou í nó ðat néiðer ðe britisk nor ðe amerikansk pronunsiásion of ðe ord is rít: ðe rít speling vud bé gaser in inglisk, pronounsed lík ðe kvestion "gay, sir?"

Ðá ét fisk, pizza and hamburgurs, but sumtíms it gets a bit wérd. Ðeir móst fámus dish is kald hákarl. Ðessi is a shark. Ðá fisk it and bery it for 3 manþs, then ðá ét it. Hraw! Or hrotten, as sum pépul mít sá.

And ðe íslandurs, ðe folk? Vel, ðe íslandur ar frendly, but it is veri difikult tu fínna vun. And the konklusion: í vud by ðeir fisk, but vudnt import éiðer ðeir veður or ðeir speling...

Coppyrite zé do rock, coppyrong also zé do rock

Back to the top.