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Re: history of Icelandic

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  • icelandstone
    Wow. OK.. There is a lot of misinformation here. 1) Old Icelandic is most definitely comprehensible to speakers of Modern Icelandic. I have no trouble
    Message 1 of 5 , Feb 2, 2002
      Wow. OK.. There is a lot of misinformation here.

      1) Old Icelandic is most definitely comprehensible to speakers of
      Modern Icelandic. I have no trouble reading texts written in the
      11th or 12th centuries. Even the few documents existing from earlier
      aren't very difficult to understand once the varying spellings are
      taken into account. When a speaker of Modern Icelandic says that he
      cannot understand things like the Snorra Edda or the Fornkvæði
      (Hávamál, Völuspá, etc.) he means that he doesn't understand their
      content, not the language.

      2) Spoken Faroese is mostly unintelligible to speakers of Modern
      Icelandic unless they have previous training in the language.
      Faroese is _not_ closer to Old Norse than is Modern Icelandic. They
      are the same distance away because they are both direct descendants.
      Faroese has, on the other hand, changed more from Old Norse than has
      Modern Icelandic, especially in its inflectional morphology (although
      it hasn't gone as far as the mainland Scandinavian languages in this
      respect) and pronunciation. In regards to pronunciation, many
      Icelanders say that Faroese is Icelandic spoken with a thick Danish
      accent. The written language, on the other hand, is almost totally
      similar and there are only minor variations. For example, Faroese
      does not use nearly as many neologisms as does Icelandic. Thus
      international words for 'telephone', 'computer', 'airplane' etc. can
      be found in the language borrowed from Danish or English, whereas
      Icelandic eschews borrowings (so-called "tökuorð" or 'taken-words')
      from other languages, unless they completely fit the sound and
      spelling scheme of Icelandic, which few do. The few in modern use
      include:

      bíll < Danish bill < English (automo)bile
      /bitl/ all stops devoiced and unaspirated, and the /l/ also devoiced
      because of environment (progressive devoicing)

      fæll < English file (computer file, that is)
      /faitl/ all consonantal sounds devoiced


      Otherwise, Icelandic makes up its words from internal sources or new
      coinages.

      sími < Old Icelandic síma (with change of gender from neuter
      to masculine and requisite inflectional ending change) 'long thread'

      tölva < Old Icelandic tala + (völ)va (with raising and rounding
      of the /a/ in typical Germanic ablaut) 'number prophetess'
      or 'computer'

      farsími < far + sími (far 'far' + sími 'telephone') 'mobile
      phone'

      gemsi < GSM + metathesis + inflectional ending 'mobile phone'
      (GSM is a acronym for types of mobile phones in Europe)


      3) It is not entirely accurate to say that Modern Icelandic has no
      dialects. It has been argued that Icelandic and Faroese are merely
      dialects of one common West Norse language, but I will ignore that
      here. There are no lexical differences around Iceland, but there ar
      noticeable differences in pronunciation, at least to Icelanders. To
      outsiders, even phoneticians, the differences are sometimes so slight
      as to be overlooked. For example, there is a type of pronunciation
      prevalent in the East around the towns of Seyðisfjöður and
      Egilsstaðir (flámæli or 'lax pronunciation') with open-mid (or
      middle) front vowels change to close (or high) front vowels in
      unstressed syllables. For example:

      sögur /,sög.Yr/ > /,sög.ör/ (the stress is on the first syllable)
      'stories, sagas'

      tölur /,töl.Yr/ > /,töl.ör/

      There are other features of regional pronunciation like the so-called
      harðmæli 'hard pronunciation' in the North.

      4) Icelandic does have rather fixed word order compared to other
      highly inflectional languages like Latin or Greek. However this can
      be explained by the fact that using words in different syntactical
      positions doesn't achieve the same meaning although the morphological
      endings are the same. Meaning, stress (meaning, not suprasegmental)
      and effect all come into play.


      I would welcome any more discussion of Icelandic in this forum, as I
      am a newcomer here. I am interested in Icelandic linguistics in
      particular, but also its intersection with broader Germanic and IE
      linguistics.

      Chad Stone
      Department of Literature and Linguistics
      University of Iceland
      Reykjavík

      chad@...




      --- In cybalist@y..., david.james29@b... wrote:
      > One further intersting point is that Icelandic has no regional
      > dialects despite the geographic isolation of many of the
      settlements
      > there.
      > Faroese, which is also close to Old Norse, is apparently pronounced
      > quite differently, and I'm told it is fairly unintelligible to
      > Icelandic speakers. Perhaps Faroese represents something closer to
      > the pronunciation of Old Norse.
      > Would anyone care to speculate?
      >
      > David James
      >
      >
      > --- In cybalist@y..., "Knut" <aquila_grande@y...> wrote:
      > > Hi
      > >
      > > There are many exaggerations in this story.
      > >
      > > Icelandic is actually quite different from old norse, but the
      > > difference lies mainly in the pronunciation, the written language
      > is
      > > close to the old one.
      > >
      > > The old flexional system, however has not changes very much, even
      > in
      > > the dayly spoken language.
      > >
      > > The other scandinavian languages have reduced their flexional
      > > systems, but have not at all carried reductionism to extremes.
      > >
      > > Why the other scandinavian languages have shed many of its
      > flexional
      > > forms, for example the dative and accusative case, is difficult
      to
      > > understand.
      > >
      > > One explanation sometimes heard is that fixed word order has made
      > > case distinction unnessesary, do not explain very much, because
      > > scandinavian word order is still fairly free.
      > >
      > > I think the explanation is of some other kind. In whole europe
      > there
      > > has been a drift from the word order type s-o-v to s-v-o/v-s-o.
      In
      > a
      > > v-s-o type case distinctions are avoided, and prepositional
      > > constructions prefered. I think scandinavian simply has taken
      part
      > in
      > > this common prosess, whereas in icelandic the process has been
      > > interrupted because of its separated geografical position.
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > > --- In cybalist@y..., tgpedersen@h... wrote:
      > > > --- In cybalist@y..., "P&G" <petegray@b...> wrote:
      > > > > > In books about the Icelandic language, it is frequently
      > stated
      > > > that the
      > > > > > language has resisted change over the last millennium
      enough
      > > > that, without
      > > > > > special training, those literate in Modern Icelandic can
      read
      > > the
      > > > Elder
      > > > > Edda
      > > > > > in its original language. Is this accurate or an
      exaggeration?
      > > > >
      > > > > As far as I know, it is exaggerated, although not
      > excessively.
      > > A
      > > > > colleague of mine is Icelandic, and says he can't understand
      > the
      > > > stuff at
      > > > > all. Perhaps you could compare a literate modern English
      > person
      > > > trying to
      > > > > read Chaucer.
      > > > >
      > > > > > If it is accurate, is there a clear explanation of why it
      has
      > > > changed so
      > > > > > little?
      > > > >
      > > > > The separation of Icelandic from the mainland was important,
      > but
      > > > here's a
      > > > > quote with another idea:
      > > > > "While its Scandinavian congeners have carried reductionism
      to
      > > > extremes,
      > > > > Icelandic remains close to Old Norse. This is partly due to
      its
      > > > > geographical position as an outlier. More important,
      however,
      > > and
      > > > the major
      > > > > factor in its linguistic conservatism, was the presence in
      > > Iceland
      > > > of the
      > > > > saga literature of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries."
      > > > >
      > > > > Peter
      > > >
      > > > I recall from somewhere that Icelandic (or some Icelandic) went
      > bad
      > > > during the time of Danish domination with Low German and Danish
      > > > influence (the Danish administration and court were largely
      > German-
      > > > speaking) and had to be rescued with a determined puristic
      effort.
      > > >
      > > > Torsten
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