Re: history of Icelandic
- 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
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
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'
farsími < far + sími (far 'far' + sími 'telephone') 'mobile
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)
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
Department of Literature and Linguistics
University of Iceland
--- 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
> 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
> > close to the old one.
> > The old flexional system, however has not changes very much, even
> > 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
> > forms, for example the dative and accusative case, is difficult
> > 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
> > has been a drift from the word order type s-o-v to s-v-o/v-s-o.
> > v-s-o type case distinctions are avoided, and prepositional
> > constructions prefered. I think scandinavian simply has taken
> > 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
> > > that the
> > > > > language has resisted change over the last millennium
> > > that, without
> > > > > special training, those literate in Modern Icelandic can
> > the
> > > Elder
> > > > Edda
> > > > > in its original language. Is this accurate or an
> > > >
> > > > As far as I know, it is exaggerated, although not
> > A
> > > > colleague of mine is Icelandic, and says he can't understand
> > > stuff at
> > > > all. Perhaps you could compare a literate modern English
> > > trying to
> > > > read Chaucer.
> > > >
> > > > > If it is accurate, is there a clear explanation of why it
> > > changed so
> > > > > little?
> > > >
> > > > The separation of Icelandic from the mainland was important,
> > > here's a
> > > > quote with another idea:
> > > > "While its Scandinavian congeners have carried reductionism
> > > extremes,
> > > > Icelandic remains close to Old Norse. This is partly due to
> > > > geographical position as an outlier. More important,
> > 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
> > > during the time of Danish domination with Low German and Danish
> > > influence (the Danish administration and court were largely
> > > speaking) and had to be rescued with a determined puristic
> > >
> > > Torsten