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View Diary: IMF & Iceland: If this isn't true, I want to know, because if it IS true I want to bathe in it! (147 comments)

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    Funny thing, this á and í problem. May I assume you would be understood anyway if claiming to be í Íslandi and á Reykjavík?

    Sometimes I wonder to what extent, if any, linguists take into account how much of the grammar you can skip or get wrong and still be understood.

    People say the three genders in German were making the language difficult, and more so their arbitrary assignment. (Which is not completely arbitrary, by the way. "Mädchen"/girl is neuter because all diminutives are. "Bübchen"/little boy would be neuter als well; all words ending "-chen" are.)
    But if you get the gender wrong that usually only sounds funny, but is not a problem in making yourself understood. For informal everyday speech you could also forget half of the tenses. We'd say something like "Tomorrow I go to the cinema". From what I read, Icelandic doesn't require use of a future tense either?

    Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

    by intruder from Old Europe on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 06:25:07 PM PDT

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    •  Backwards :) (0+ / 0-)

      Ég bý á Íslandi og rétt hjá Reykjavík í Kópavogi (I live in Iceland and right by Reykjavík, in Kópavogur).

      Correct, there is no future tense in Icelandic.  There's lot of stuff you can do to indicate how you feel about the probabilities of actions, though, if you need to be clear.  So in casual talk about the future, especially if you have a time clause (for example, "á morgun" -> "tomorrow"), people generally just use the present - for example, "ég fer á morgun" -> "I go tomorrow".  If you want to say that something is probable, you use "munu".  If you want to say that you'll do it because you have an obligation to, you use "skulu".  If you simply plan to do it, you use "ætla".  If it must happen or you generally want to force the future tense, you use verða (literally, to become).  And on and on.  

      Now, there can be some linguistic ambiguity at times if people get too casual with their speech.  For example, the common phrase, "Hvernig þekki ég þig?"  To not translate the the verb, we get "How þekki I you?"  If we treat it as present, it translates as "How do I know you?"  If we treat it like future, it translates as "How will I recognize you?"  You just have to rely on context, or if you want to be more explicit, you can.

      A lot of Icelandic grammar can be skipped or screwed up with the speaker still being understood - you just slow people down and make them work harder to understand you.   It's important to remember that this linguistic complexity isn't for no good reason - it's to give you clues to how words are being used in the sentence.  English relies almost exclusively on word order.  Icelandic uses both word order and declensions; it's extra information which ads extra clarity (and also gives more flexibility for, say, poetic usage).

      The same sort of thing applies to genders.  If I'm talking about a car and a window and a tire in one sentence, in English I'd use "it" for all of them.  That's vague.  In Icelandic, if you hear me say "hann" (he), I'm talking about the car.  If you hear me say "hún" (she), I'm talking about the window.  If you hear me say "það" (it), I'm talking about the tire.  And so forth.

      If a person screws up a gender, for example, the listener has to stop and think back and try to figure out what you were referring to.  They almost always can, but it's extra work.

      The disadvantage to the extra lingustic complexity - beyond, obviously, difficulty of learning - is that you're sort of filling up the auditory search space, so to speak.  The more different forms of each word you have, the more you risk homonyms or things that at least sound close to each other (either that, or you necessitate longer words).  Icelandic tends to handle this due to heavier use of short word phrases instead of having dedicated nouns and verbs.  For example, there's no word for bring - it's literally "come with".  There's no word for "notice" - it's literally "take after".  Etc.  Also, there's organized patterns for forming nouns from them.  For example, to run for office is "bjóða fram" - "offer (yourself) forward".  So a candidacy is a "frambóð".  "Benda á" means "point out".  "Ábending" is "tipoff".  Etc.   Adjectives formed from verbs are also more common.  For example, I don't say "he is here" - I say "Hann er kominn" (literally "He is come").

      English has this sort of stuff to a degree, but not as great of one as Icelandic.

      Both languages are highly irregular.  I can't imagine that's a good thing for the language, but the fact that neither language has weeded out this irregularity effectively, I think, says a lot about it not being to destructive, and possibly even useful sometimes.

      •  You make my head spin. (0+ / 0-)

        Ok, I wasn't planning to deny that Icelandic is difficult. ^^ Whether more difficult than Chinese, Japanese, or those languages from the Amazon or southern Africa, I can't tell.

        If you want to say that you'll do it because you have an obligation to, you use "skulu".  If you simply plan to do it, you use "ætla".  If it must happen or you generally want to force the future tense, you use verða (literally, to become).  And on and on.  
        Might "skulu" be related to "should" (German "sollen")? "Verða" looks like German "werden".
        For sure we also have all kinds of auxiliary verbs to qualify meaning in German. And we actually have two future tenses (as can be construed in English as well), they just are not needed for or used in casual speech. Maybe Icelandic is ahead of us in language development there.
        English relies almost exclusively on word order.
        So this may be, but: Understandable English is when oddly arranged, young Icelandian, correct am I?

        (Please forgive me if this was badly garbled; I never watched the Star Wars movies in English.)

        I wouldn't call English highly irregular, except at times for the spelling. Plural is almost always just adding -s, and the vast majority of verbs are regular, unlike in German.

        Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

        by intruder from Old Europe on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 09:15:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  English is pretty irregular. (0+ / 0-)

          Like German (from what I know of it; I don't speak German), both Icelandic and English have the concept of "strong" and "weak" verbs, for example.  Weak verbs have fairly regular ending shifts to show other tenses - for example, jump -> jumped, look -> looked, smile -> smiled, etc.  Strong verbs however do this through vowel shifts in the stem, and usually these shifts are pretty random.  run -> ran, dig -> dug, write -> wrote, etc.  There are also exceptions that have additional bits of weirdness.

          Icelandic is like this, but with even more shifts and even more patterns to the endings and even more exceptions.  To learn a strong verb in Icelandic, for example,, beyond learning the general rules for verbs (which are not at all simple), you have to learn its infinitive form, its past participle, the suffix pattern it takes in the infinitive present, the suffix pattern it takes in the infinitive past, the stem vowel(s) it uses in the infinitive present, the stem vowel(s) it uses in the infinitive past, and the stem vowel(s) it uses in the subjunctive past (subjunctive present is always simple, both vowels and endings).  There are correlations on different elements - certain suffix endings are linked with certain past participle forms, and there are some complex rules for trying to determine what vowel a strong verb will shift to in different forms - but the complexity and irregularity makes it simpler for most people to just memorize the proper forms for each individual word through usage.

          Also, in Icelandic, there's really a couple different forms of "weak" verbs; some sources have trouble deciding on what counts as a weak and what counts as a strong.  The simplest ones are the ones that form the past with -aði and have past participle -að.  However, there's also some large groups of a slightly more complex (but still simpler than the general strong form) which form the past with -ti, -tti, -ði, or -di, and past participle likewise without the i.

          Note that all forms of weak verbs still have some stem shifts that are universal in the Icelandic language whether you're talking about nouns, verbs, adjectives, whatever - for example, the "a->ö,u" rule.  This one means that any word, regardless of word class, which takes on an ending involving a "u" (or where there historically was a "u") has the first "a" in the relevant part of its stem turn into a "ö" and any later "a"s become "u".  The rule applies even if the base form starts with a suffix containing a "u".  A good illustration of all of these: "þjappaður" (compressed) becomes "þjöppuð" in first person feminine singular positive strong declension form.  Note how the multiple "a"s shift and how they shift despite the fact that the base form (first person masculine singular positive strong) has a natural "-ur" suffix and despite the fact that the historic -u suffix in the first person feminine singular positive strong declension form which causes this shift no longer exists in modern Icelandic.

          Yeah, sorry, I probably got too into depth there.  :)

          Now, weak verbs are significantly more common in English than strong - about an order of magnitude or more in absolute terms (although strong verbs are more likely to be common verbs, so in usage the difference isn't that great).  The ratios of strong to weak verbs - especially if you consider the latter four verb forms above as "strong" - is much closer in Icelandic.

          That's just verbs of course.  I could go into nouns, adjectives, etc but I don't want to bore you.  :)  I'll just point out that, for example, English plurals are more complex than you may be thinking.  Nothing like Icelandic (and from the sound of it, German as well?), but still...

          BTW, one curious realization I had - almost all bony fish English whose names don't end in -y have identical singulars and plurals.  I have no clue why.  Examples: Fish, trout, pike, cod,  herring, salmon, char, bass, pickerel, tuna, chub, flounder, halibut, etc.  I wonder if it's a result of a tradition of net fishing leading to people to think of multiple individuals as being a single mass, akin to, say, sugar or salt?

          Might "skulu" be related to "should" (German "sollen")? "Verða" looks like German "werden".
          Again, I don't speak German - sorry!  Skulu is related to the English word "shall"; similar if not identical meaning, and indeed, the 1st-person singular present indicative form is "skal".  Verða, I'm not sure if there's an English equivalent.  It's:

          inf: verða
          pres ind: verð verður verður : verðum verðið verða
          past ind: varð varst varð : urðum urðuð urðu
          pres sub: verði verðir verði : verðum verðið verði
          past sub: yrði yrðir yrði : yrði yrðir yrði
          participles: verðandi, orðið
          imp: verðu, verðið þið
          base adjective form: orðinn (declines into 120 forms accordant with the standard -nn adjective pattern.

          I personally don't see any connections with English... but I really don't know.

          So this may be, but: Understandable English is when oddly arranged, young Icelandian, correct am I?
          Only with certain word orders.  Example: "The boy loves the girl." vs. "The girl loves the boy."  Totally different meanings even though its the same words, simply because the word order changed.  Icelandic equivalent: "Strákurinn elskar stelpuna" vs. "Stelpuna elskar strákurinn".  These are reversed order but mean the exact same thing (the boy loves the girl); the latter just sounds more poetic.  To actually reverse the meaning you'd have to say "Stelpan elskar strákinn" - note how the words change.  
          •  Amazing. (0+ / 0-)

            But really too much for me, going into linguistics of a language which I don't speak. Thank you for the effort, though.
            You could perhaps copy that and write a diary on the Icelandic language.

            Freedom is not just a word. 'Freedom' is a noun.

            by intruder from Old Europe on Wed Aug 29, 2012 at 05:42:18 PM PDT

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