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Diaries in this series: Iceland Calls :: The Icelandic Language :: Tvær Vikur Til Reykjavíkur ::  Reykjavík, A City of Lights :: Reykjavík, A City of Drizzle and Dancing Clouds :: Reykjavík, A City of Cats and Gods :: Reykjavík, A City of a Storied Tongue :: Reykjavík, A City of Yuletide :: Reykjavík, A City of Hope :: Frá Reykjavík, Til Hjartans Heimveldisins :: Doldrums and Storms :: Til Kaliforníu, Til Iowa, Til Íslands

Góðan daginn, allir!  Today we're going to be talking about íslenska, that living-fossil of a language that we call Icelandic.  I don't know how much interest there will be in the topic, and you could probably get a better teacher than a byrjandi like myself!  But after the interest I got in my last diary on the subject of my upcoming move to Iceland, I felt that it might be worth a post.

Eigum við að byrja? (shall we begin?)  :)


Let's start in the past with a picture.  Can you tell what this is saying?

That's a transliterated page of the Peterborough Chronicle, written around 1150, one of the couple hundred remaining documents written in Old English.  A modern English speaker can pick out a word here or there, but is largely lost.  Yet a modern Icelandic speaker can read the Icelandic sagas (saga is Icelandic for "story"), written in the same time period.  While other languages derived from Old Norse, such as Norwegian and Danish, have evolved significantly since then, Icelandic has remained relatively unchanged.

"Relatively".  Sometimes this fact is overplayed.  There have been significant pronunciation shifts since the days of the Viking settlements (note: what we call a Viking is, in Icelandic, víkingur; víking means "piracy").  There have been some vocabulary and grammar changes as well, some of which have left traces of their history behind.

For example, let's look at the neuter noun, fjall, meaning mountain.  You may recognize that from the names of Icelandic volcanoes from the news, such as Eyjafjallajökull (literally, "Island-Mountain-Glacier").


(Above: Eyjafjallajökull, a now-famous eldfjall ("volcano" -- literally, "fire mountain"))

The nominative plural of fjall is fjöll.  The rule in Icelandic is that when a word takes on an ending with a "u" in it, any non-blocked "a" in the stem becomes a "ö".  Great, except.... there is no 'u' in the ending here.  There is no ending at all!  Well, it turns out that in Old Norse, there was a "u" ending (fjöllu), which has since been lost.  Now only the vowel shift remains.

Despite some notable shifts, however, learning the Icelandic language is like stepping back in time.  In many ways, it reminds one more of Old English than modern English does!  Let's back up.

Two of the major Indo-European lingustic branches are the West and North Germanic branches:

The two started to diverge from each other several thousand years BC, and by about 200 AD were mutually unintelligible.  Not long after, English began to diverge from the mainland West Germanic languages, around 600AD.  English then began a period of rapid evolution, taking influences from a number of different languages.  One of those, in fact, being a reintersection with Old Norse, during the Viking raids.

While earliest visitors to Iceland were present as early as the 700s AD, the main settlement period began in the late 800s and settlement slowed by the early 900s.  These settlers were primarily a mix of Norwegians and some degree of Irish (and to a lesser extent, Scottish) captives.  While Iceland maintained (widely varying) diplomatic and trade ties with the rest of the Nordic world, its isolation allowed it to avoid the linguistic shifts underway on the mainland.  It even maintained its integrity better than its nearest linguistic relative, Faroese.


(Above: Þingvellir, "assembly fields", where the Mid-Atlantic ridge rises above the water, was the site of (arguably) the world's oldest modern parliament -- Iceland's Alþing)

In English, we might say, "Should we go?"  But in Icelandic, you'd say, "Eigum við að fara?" -- literally, "Have we to go?"  Sounds old-fashioned, right?  Let's do some more.

"Do you sing later?" vs "Syngurðu seinna?" ("Sing you later?")
"Thank you, mother." vs "Ég þakka þér mamma mín." ("Thank you, mother-mine")
"I go here." vs "Ég fer heðan." ("I go hither")
"I leave here." vs "Ég fer hingað." ("I go thither")
"Goodbye." vs "Vertu blessaður/blessuð." (equivalent to "Blessed-be" -- one of a number of ways to say goodbye in Icelandic.)

And so forth.

Icelandic still retains letters that we've lost from English -- Æ and æ (pronounced "aye"), Ð and ð (pronounced like the "th" in "that"), and Þ and þ (pronounced like the "th" in "thin").  The latter example, the thorn (Icelandic: þorn, pronounced more like "thord"), has been lost from all languages worldwide except Icelandic.

Iceland's naming system, too, is a throwback which has largely been lost outside the country.  In America, if you see a person with the last name "Carlson", you don't expect their father to actually be named "Carl".  But an Icelander with the föðurnafn "Karlsson" would literally have a father named "Karl".  Föðurnöfn are not passed down between generations, but are more of a descriptive term to help distinguish people with the same fornafn (first name).  Indeed, phone books in Iceland are sorted by first name, and you don't ever address people by just their föðurnafn (such as "Mr. Karlsson").  Even the prime minister of Iceland, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, is properly addressed as "Jóhanna".

Icelandic is famous for being a difficult language to learn.  I like to describe it thus: it has a grammatical complexity worse than Latin and greater irregularity than English.  Let me give you an example: here is how you decline the word "good" (góður):

Frumstig
Stark beyging     Eintala         Fleirtala
(karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)     (karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)
Nefnifall     góður     góð     gott     góðir     góðar     góð
Þolfall     góðan     góða     gott     góða     góðar     góð
Þágufall     góðum     góðri     góðu     góðum     góðum     góðum
Eignarfall     góðs     góðrar     góðs     góðra     góðra     góðra
Veik beyging     Eintala         Fleirtala
(karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)     (karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)
Nefnifall     góði     góða     góða     góðu     góðu     góðu
Þolfall     góða     góðu     góða     góðu     góðu     góðu
Þágufall     góða     góðu     góða     góðu     góðu     góðu
Eignarfall     góða     góðu     góða     góðu     góðu     góðu
Miðstig
    Eintala         Fleirtala
(karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)     (karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)
Nefnifall     betri     betri     betra     betri     betri     betri
Þolfall     betri     betri     betra     betri     betri     betri
Þágufall     betri     betri     betra     betri     betri     betri
Eignarfall     betri     betri     betra     betri     betri     betri
Efsta stig
Stark beyging     Eintala         Fleirtala
(karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)     (karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)
Nefnifall     bestur     best     best     bestir     bestar     best
Þolfall     bestan     besta     best     besta     bestar     best
Þágufall     bestum     bestri     bestu     bestum     bestum     bestum
Eignarfall     bests     bestrar     bests     bestra     bestra     bestra
Veik beyging     Eintala         Fleirtala
(karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)     (karlkyn)     (kvenkyn)     (hvorugkyn)
Nefnifall     besti     besta     besta     bestu     bestu     bestu
Þolfall     besta     bestu     besta     bestu     bestu     bestu
Þágufall     besta     bestu     besta     bestu     bestu     bestu
Eignarfall     besta     bestu     besta     bestu     bestu     bestu
That is, adjectives must match case, gender, and number with their nouns and have separate comparative and superlative declensions (a few English adjectives have this latter facet, but most do not).  Furthermore, there are "strong" and "weak" declensions, depending on whether the noun is modified by a definite article or not.

At least there are only about a dozen adjective declension patterns, all related to each other, with a relatively small number of exceptions.  Here's a typical masculine noun declension:

        Nefnifall    Þolfall    Þágufall    Eignarfall
 Eintala        bíll    bíl    bíl    bíls
 Eintala ákveðin        bíllinn    bílinn    bílnum    bílsins
 Fleirtala        bílar    bíla    bílum    bíla
 Fleirtala ákveðin        bílarnir    bílana    bílunum    bílanna
That is, it's split up by case, number, and whether or not it has the definite article ("the") attached to it.  But while there are some common, regular patterns of nouns -- the so-called "weak nouns" -- and there are some groupings of ways in which strong nouns are declined -- overall, it's quite chaotic, and really, you just have to memorize the declensions.  For example, here's the declension for another masculine noun, björn (bear):
        Nefnifall    Þolfall    Þágufall    Eignarfall
 Eintala        björn    björn    birni    bjarnar
 Eintala ákveðin        björninn    björninn    birninum    bjarnarins
 Fleirtala        birnir    birni    björnum    bjarna
 Fleirtala ákveðin        birnirnir    birnina    björnunum    bjarnanna
You'll note some things are handled similarly (most notably, the definite article suffixes, but also some of the stem endings).  But some changes are quite random.  That's just the nature of Icelandic.  And even for the consistent stuff (weak nouns, definite article suffixes, etc), each gender of nouns (masculine, feminine, or neuter) has its own different patterns for them.

In English, we have two types of verbs -- "weak" and "strong" verbs.  Weak verbs are made into past tense by adding a suffix (-ed) -- for example, "jump" -> "jumped".  Strong verbs are made into past tense with a stem vowel shift: "run" -> "ran".

Icelandic has just the same.  Only you don't need to memorize just a couple things about each verb -- there's a whole host of things that aren't necessarily linked to each other!

* Infinitive
* Present-singular stem
* Past-singular stem
* Past-plural stem
* Past participle
* Present-perfect stem
* Past-perfect stem
* Present-singular suffix pattern (1st, 2nd, and 3rd person endings)
* Past-singular suffix pattern (like above)

For example, let's look at how to decline "að finna" -- to find.  To fill in the blanks for the above:

* Finna
* Finn
* Fann
* Fund
* Fundið
* Finn
* Fynd
* -, -ur, -ur
* -, -st, -

For weak verbs, all of those correlate with each other predictably.  For strong verbs, like finna, it's all chaos; you just have to memorize it.  At least some things are predictable, like first-person plural (with only the occasional exception).

Not everything is difficult about Icelandic.  Some adjectives don't decline -- whenever you see them, æðislegt! (awesome!).  Same with a few nouns.  Adverbs, thankfully, never decline.  Icelandic is rich in compound words (including very long ones, like in German); it makes it easier to guess a word you don't know.  It's also very rich the use of idioms and short phrases instead of verbs.  For example, instead of "return", you say "koma aftur" (come again).  Instead of bring, it's "koma með" (come with).  Etc.

One final convenience is due to how closely related the languages are, linguistically; the vocabulary hasn't diverged too greatly.  To grab the first lyrics from a random Sigur Rós song:

Nú vaknar þú.
Allt virðist vera breytt.
Let's look at those words:

Nú = Now
Vaknar = Wake
Þú = You

Allt = Everything
Virðist = Seems (from virða, "to evaluate" or "to honor"; same proto-germanic root that led to the English word "worth")
Vera = To be (same root as "are")
Breytt = Changed (from breyta, "to change", which is from the same root as brjóta, "to break", which stems back to the same root as the English "break" and "brittle")

The relationships are quite clear.  :)

Well, this just about concludes our primer diary on the Icelandic language.  Let's close on one little fun fact.  The Icelandic word for Iceland is "Ísland" (pronounced "EES-land"), which literally means Iceland (or "Ice country").  However, in modern parliance, if you're in a restaurant and you ask for "ís", you're likely to be given ice cream.  If you go to the store and buy a bag of ice, it's most likely labelled using some form of the word "klaki".  So in a way, in modern parliance, the country's name could be better thought of as, "Ice Cream Land."

And yes, their ice cream is quite tasty.  ;)

----

Update: By request, here's an Icelandic pronunciation guide for those of you who want to try your hand at it.  :)  A tip for the "ll" sound: it's formed by putting the tip of the tongue on the top of your mouth near the teeth, letting air pressure build between the tongue and the roof of the mouth, then letting the air spill out to the side of the tongue with a "click" (keep the tip of the tongue in place).  

Sorry, I can't help you roll your Rs; I'm not very good at it myself!  :P

Originally posted to Rei on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:33 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos Foreign Language Edition Group Newsletter and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  As to the letter "Þ"... (28+ / 0-)

    It was used in English until around 500 years ago...the printing letterforms for presses were made mostly in France and Holland, where the letter Þ wasn't used, so printed matters didn't have them and the letter "th" was used instead, mostly, and sometimes the letter "y" as well....from the latter, we've got things like "Ye Olde Sandwich Shoppe" and the like....

    •  Oh, I hate that whole "Ye Olde" thing! (12+ / 0-)

      Especially when people pronounce it "old-ey".  There was one episode of Mythbusters where Adam kept saying "Ye Old-Ey" over and over again, and it's painful to listen to.

      •  It's properly pronounced just the same (8+ / 0-)

        as you would "the".  That's what it's saying...or should I say, "yat's"?

        :)

        Although actually I think that the letter being replaced is "ð", not "Þ".

        (OK, that didn't work in preview, hope it does in the actual comment.)

        •  No. In fact AS 'th' is pronounced two ways (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          PeterHug, JVolvo, PrahaPartizan, Ahianne

          and was designated by two different characters, one representing voiced and one unvoiced. Listen to yourself say 'then, and 'thin' closely and you will see the difference is not just in the vowel. And in any case is different from the sound of 'you'.

          Do you think every English speaker who says 'you' and 'yours' is the victim of some lazy Dutch printer unwilling to cast a new letter for his typeface?

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          by Bruce Webb on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 06:18:51 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  My (completely naive) understanding is (4+ / 0-)

            that the "th" in "then" would be represented by "ð", and the "th" in "thin" by "Þ"; and that the "th" in "the" would therefore be "ð".

            Which would make some sense, in that the printers replaced the "ð" with "y" which at least looks a bit like the "ð".

            (I think we're mostly agreeing, BTW...)

            •  I can't specifically to the 'Ye' (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              PrahaPartizan, PeterHug, Ahianne, Temmoku

              in 'ye olde' but what you are saying certainly isn't true of such things as 'hear ye, hear ye' where the 'y' does represent something like modern 'y, as used in second hand plurals and always has. The onward reader would take away the idea that ANY use of 'y' in a leading position was an indication that the word should be pronounced with a voiced 'th', I guess as in Scotland Thard simply due to deficiencies in Dutch typesets. In point of fact there was no mystery in creating a new character as needed, it they did use 'y' for both actual semi-vowel sound 'y' and voiced 'th' is wasn't for simple convenience.

              Not that I am convinced that 'ye' in 'ye olde' stands the the definite article 'the' to start with but instead might derive from some odd use of the possessive or objective of old fashioned 'you'. Although a quick discussion with Mr. google giving a citation from the American Heritage Dictionary, generally rock solid on matters of etymology, supports you..

              But even granting that the use 'ye' for 'the' the deployment of that in an establishment name sounds pretty affected at best, as if that was the only 'curiosity shop' in the County in the same sense as I might emphasize I was going to THE Hollywood Bowl or THE Apollo Theatre. Semantically it would seem equally possible it was intended as YOUR Curiosity Shoppe, which while also affected maybe not so much so.

              But again Mr. Google does supply a passage where 'y' is multiplie used for what has to be a 'th' from 1645.

              So a thorny issue indeed.

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              by Bruce Webb on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 01:06:37 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Can't it be that (0+ / 0-)

                ye is ðe is the
                you is ðou is thou

                ie y is ð

                ???

                Dissolve Israel; stop distinguishing between jew and non-jew in Palestine.

                by high5 on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:37:46 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  In Old English Þ and ð were interchangable (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Bruce Webb, Rei, Temmoku, Oh Mary Oh

                the "ye olde" thing came about from certain book hands wherein loop on the þ is extended upwards and it looks a bit like a "Y" you can also see that form of þ in some early editions of Old English texts such as those published by Archbishop Matthew Parker's circle.

                I Middle English "Y" attached the front of a word is a past participle indicator (and a close cognate with the Germanic "Ge-" prefix): eg "ycleped" (named) is the past participle of "cleppan" (to name) and is pronounced I.

                One specific example of the interchangability of þ and ð is the word "oþþæt" it is also spelled (sometimes on the same page written by the same scribe) oððæt, oðþæt, and (in one late OE text I have seen) othþæt.

                Hroþgar and Hroðgar are both used in "Beowulf" and the variations þæt, ðæt, þæm, ðæm, etc are all common.

                Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa? Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
                Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga! Eala þeodnes þrym!

                by Alea iacta est on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 09:36:46 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  You comes from the OE formal/plural (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Rei, terabytes, Oh Mary Oh

            We did away with the informal second person pronoun in the Early Modern era (ie thee, thine, etc.). The declension for the Old English second person pronoun is as follows (please note the ge- in medieval Germanic languages is pronounced something like "ye" and the alternative forms are common dialectical alternative):

            Second Person
            Case                Singular    Plural    Dual
            Nominative    þū               gē             git
            Accusative    þēc,þē          ēow         incit, inc
            Genitive          þīn             ēower       incer
            Dative            þē               ēow         inc

            As I note in my post below, though þ and ð represent two different versions of the 'th' sound (as you say voiced and unvoiced in Icelandic) in Old English they were completely interchangable, I went with þ in the above paradigm for the sake of simplicity and cconsistency.

            Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa? Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
            Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga! Eala þeodnes þrym!

            by Alea iacta est on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 09:54:14 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I always pronoune it old-ey (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JVolvo, Ahianne, Perry the Imp

        How else are we going to make fun of it?

        The extra e's at the ends of words were often added by olde printers to justify lines. Now, of course, it's just an affection without, um, justification.

        •  The old-ey (8+ / 0-)

          Is also found on the east, relatively uninhabited, east coast of Iceland where the bonde would gather for a Mid-Summer festival.  There they would sell their extra, unwanted, agricultural products - especially salted fish (cod) - to the merchants of Norway, the Isle of Man, and Dublin in exchange for unwanted European goods.  

          The port was called Ey-vik or, as we would say today: E Bay.

          "...[one] must still have Chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." Nietzsche

          by ATinNM on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:46:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  No 'thou' vs 'you' is not just (4+ / 0-)

      a product of Dutch printing technology being unable to handle English character 'thorn'.

      It is the result of a change in person between singular and plural. And fully parallel with most other related  IE languages as in French 'tu' vs 'vous'.

      And had the same distinction between familiar and formal as still seen in  Germanic and Latin languages.

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      by Bruce Webb on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 06:09:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  thee-thy-thine-thou (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        el dorado gal, Oh Mary Oh

        These terms are basically archaic in the modern English dialect of English. The most familiar use today would be in (what I presume is the early 17th century English of the King James bible) the Lord's prayer - 'Our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done ...' and so on.

        There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

        by Gary J on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 03:20:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Well, not just singular vs. plural, but (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PrahaPartizan, Oh Mary Oh

        familiar vs. formal (which is the same as plural).

        And since they're in both Germanic & Italic languages, one should expect to see them in the nearest neighbors to Italic, Celtic.

        And they're there too: (thu vs. sinn for "thou/you", do vs. ur for "thy/your").

        Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit. -Declaration of Arbroath

        by Robobagpiper on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 03:50:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  English Threw Mess Overboard Too (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Oh Mary Oh

        Further, didn't the two forms of address come into English from two different directions.  The "thy/thee/thou" forms coming from Old English and being the singular/familiar as well, while the "you/your/yours" form coming from the Norse and being the plural/formal.  English collapsed them, as it did with so many other forms.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 05:53:32 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I have long believed (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Oh Mary Oh

          that English, although it began as a Germanic language, is a true creole:  Too many words derived from Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, and a host of others (canoe, anyone?).

          Over the past 30-odd years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved into a mental hospital. --Bill Maher

          by Youffraita on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:02:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  The additions from Old Norse (0+ / 0-)

          of which you are thinking are third person plural pronouns. The OE forms were "H" stems (eg hem and hē) were replaced by the ON third person "th" forms which became "them" and "they"

          Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa? Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
          Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga! Eala þeodnes þrym!

          by Alea iacta est on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 10:17:12 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •   (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JVolvo

      Almighty Þorr!

      Yes, it's my favorite weird letter.  Perfect for emoticons.

    •  Thanks for that explanation. Perhaps you can (0+ / 0-)

      help with another typographical issue of which I've long been curious. In English language printed matter from the 1600 and 1700s, the S's often looked like f's. What's up with that?

      •  I'm not absolutely sure of this, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Bruce Webb, Oh Mary Oh

        but I'm pretty sure the "f" as "s"  peculiarity is in fact  a misreading/misinterpretation of the actual letter.  I say this because it is essentially what happens in the old-fashioned German Fraktur typescript, a derivative of which must be the form you mention.  In Fraktur, the lower case "s" looks almost exactly like an f except that the crosspiece does not go all the way through the vertical part of the letter.  In the f, the crosspiece does go completely through it, thereby differentiating the two. (Upper case Fraktur letters are wildly different from their lower case counterparts, by the way)  Anyway, in 18th century English handwriting, this "f" that isn't an f, only occurs in the middle or at the end of a word, but never at the beginning, where a form of  the more familiar letter is used.  

        -7.13 / -6.97 "The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion." -- Edmund Burke

        by GulfExpat on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 09:46:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The tall "S" comes from book hands (0+ / 0-)

          that evolved from late-Roman cursive forms of the letter. The tall S is used in various Carolingian book hands that went on to form the basis of late medieval and early modern Humanist scripts that were developed as a reaction to gothic Black Letter bookhands.

          The humanist scholars looked back to the Carolingian hands (like uncial, half uncial, and the various miniscules) as examples of highly readable scripts that they felt reflected a golden age of education and which they thought should replace the much more difficult to read gothic hands which had turned into a hyper-stylized series of minims. Te gothic hands made it difficult to read sries of letters such as m, n, u, v, I, l, w, and H. As they were all basically made up of minims (the basic component stroke of a letter) they were very difficult to muddle through a word with more than one of the above letters in a row.

          After a while the tall s and the regular s started to be used according to position in the word (but not always consistently — look at the different instances of each in the US Constitution).

          In the example cited in the above comment, the "cross piece" of the S would actually be a serif incorporated into the type set because of how the serif would be formed when the letter was hand-written. That is part of the confusion of why it is often thought to look like an F

          Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa? Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
          Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga! Eala þeodnes þrym!

          by Alea iacta est on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 10:29:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I have no clue whether... (27+ / 0-)

    anyone but me will find this interesting, but I felt like posting it nonetheless, as a breather from the usual Wall Street and Obama-Good/Obama-Bad diaries.  :)

    •  Oh, cool!!! (7+ / 0-)

      Já, finnst mér það áhugavert...Þetta er gaman!

      (Yes, I find it interesting... this is FUN!)

      And now I'm following you in case you want to teach another class!

      Thanks, Rei...

      "In other words, if we bust our butts, there's an even chance things will get better; and if we sit on our butts, there's a major chance things will go completely to hell". --- G2geek

      by Lorinda Pike on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 02:37:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Knew I'd find you in here, Lorinda. :) (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        marsanges

        And, yes, it's fun.

        We´re going to have a rough time anyhow this century, but we could face it with confidence and trust in each other, if only we could get over our fears of each other.---marsanges

        by DawnN on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 04:23:44 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I love this stuff! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          PrahaPartizan, Timothy J

          But also know just enough about Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse and Indo-European stuff to make people careful about fact checking. Just because I am on the razor edge of being a tragic victim of the housing crash doesn't mean I forgot my six years studying this stuff in grad school at Berkeley back in the day.

          (BTW I am moving back to the Bay Area in December, rooms for rent or jobs in or around Berkeley more than welcome)

          Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

          by Bruce Webb on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 06:27:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Remarkable diary, thank you. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lorinda Pike, Ahianne

    Just one point, I think the three branches of the Germanic family started to diverge later than you suggest, I'd say around 200 bc or so. When they are first documented, they are still very close to one another, and they differ more like various dialects of the same language than like different, mutually unintelligible languages.

    •  I was going by Wikipedia: (5+ / 0-)
      From around the year 200 AD, speakers of the North Germanic branch became distinguishable from the other Germanic language speakers. The early development of this language branch is attested through Runic inscriptions.

      Do you perchance have a reference?  I'd love to correct the Wikipedia article if you do.

      •  No, that's fine with me... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PrahaPartizan

        but you seemed to imply that the several branches of the germanic family had separated several thousand millenia BC, perhaps I misunderstood you, or else you meant the IE family - in which case it would be perfectly correct of course.
        My point was that the germanic family was pretty homogeneous around the beginning of the christian era.

      •  There's a discrepancy however (0+ / 0-)

        between what wikipaedia says, and what your diary says. By 200 AD, the three germanic branches were already differenciated, but they were certainly not mutually unintelligible.

  •  Very interesting indeed! (11+ / 0-)

    I have only met one person of Icelandic descent and wouldn't you know it, he was a poet and singer of songs.  He once entertained us with the story about the loneliness of women who lived so far from civilization that one woman built her house right in the middle of the only highway going north and south through the country in hopes that someone might stop and visit the family.  In time and with tolerance, her house looked like this (house).  Our friend told great folklore tales about Iceland.

    •  Most non-Icelanders only think of the Vikings as (10+ / 0-)

      barbarians.  But not only is that not true (they were actually one of the most advanced peoples in Europe at the time), but they were also renown for their poetry.

      And yeah, there's really only one reasonable way to get around the country (Þjóðvegur 1).  Especially in the southeast   ;)  But the road is great, and the scenery so beautiful, I could drive it over and over again.

      •  Poetry ain't Civilization (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JVolvo, PrahaPartizan

        and I say this as an acolyte of Professor Peter Sawyer who not only wrote the book supporting your view (called " The Vikings" go figure) but also as  the Visiting Distinguished Medieval Scholar at Berkeley in I think 1983 I managed to study under (plus he gave me the best grade on a term paper I ever got) showed that the Vikings were not the crazies they were depicted as. In fact some of Peter's detractors deriding him as depicting Vikings as just hippies breaking windows like modern anarchists.

        Which trivializes Sawyer's argument. But even he wouldn't buy into "most advanced", lots of 'primitive'people have complex poetic traditions, it is not like the Vikings were the proto-Enlightenment in Western Europe.

        Civilization in Europe mostly went South to North and right from the beginnings. 'skalds' ain't Icelandic for 'scholars'

        Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

        by Bruce Webb on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 06:53:16 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Note that I wrote, "but they were also known". (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ahianne, Youffraita

          I did not make them being advanced contingent on poetry; that was an "also".  :)  They were "advanced" because they had some of the best (if not the best) seagoing vessels of the age, excellent weaponry, etc -- they might have even invented the telescope way before Galileo.

          •  They had "The Thing" -- (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Oh Mary Oh

            your Icelandic word for it is much more accurate, but that's how it was translated when I read the Eddas.  It was (as you know) kind of like a modern senate: the king didn't just decree by fiat, iow.

            Over the past 30-odd years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved into a mental hospital. --Bill Maher

            by Youffraita on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:10:38 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Heh - þorn nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lorinda Pike

    “In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.” Terry Pratchett

    by 420 forever on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:50:45 PM PDT

  •  Quick question: (6+ / 0-)

    since the language is case-heavy, how does that affect word order?  Does it allow for relative freedom, like in other inflected languages?  

    Really enjoyed this.  Czech has some similarly headache-inducing rules, and also because it's a relatively 'old' language (it had to be partially reconstructed at the beginning of the 19th century, so it has a lot of vestigial forms that had withered away in other Slavic languages.)

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:54:07 PM PDT

    •  Very word-order flexible. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Magnifico, Lorinda Pike, Orinoco, cpresley

      Word order is mainly for emphasis (and also for whether something is a question or not).  For example:

      Grímur sér Leif.
      Leif sér Grímur.

      There's no ambiguity; "Grímur sees Leifur".  Grímur is in nefnifall (nominative) and Leifur is in þolfall (accusative).  

    •  Czechs Under the Hapsburgs (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timothy J, milkbone, cpresley, Youffraita

      Czech, as a Slavic language, would be as complicated as any other Slavic language might be, especially for a member of the West Slavic branch.  Czech could only be  considered "old" in the sense that it is a fully declined/conjugated language.  Of course, the only "new" languages would be English/French/Spanish/Italian which reduced their case construction and verb conjugations.  Czech retains the classic Indo-European constructions found in most of the languages running from Mitteleuropa into the India subcontinent.  

      What is cool about Czech (and all Slavic languages) is the use of aspect to deal with time/simultaneity issues rather than tense as is the case with the western IE languages most of us have exposure to.  It's a totally different way of ordering events happening in the world.

      Czech had to be reconstructed starting in the 19th century because the language had been banned under the Hapsburgs starting in the 17th century.  New Imperial rulers came to power in the early 1600s, attempting to overturn the religious freedom which had prevailed in Bohemia up until then.  The new Hapsburg Emperor crushed the rebellion at the Battle of White Mountain, which did nothing t stop the Thirty Years War from kicking off.  The Czech lands were as badly fought over as any during that conflict, which mirrored what happened 300 years later.  The Czech population was more than decimated, the Hapsburgs hated the Czechs and despised their trouble-making ever since the times of Jan Hus and the Hussite Wars and decided to crush the Czech culture and language.  So, from the 1600s to the late 1800s, the Czech language was banned and had to be reconstructed when nationalities were being revived in the Romantic period.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:24:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's pretty interesting stuff, thanks for the (0+ / 0-)

        history lesson!  As a lifelong hockey player and devotee, I've always been fascinated by the extraordinary number of exceptional hockey players from that entire region [including Slovakia].  

  •  Hrmm... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anak, ATinNM

    ᚦᛆᚦ​᛫​ᚵᛅᛏᛁ​᛫​ᚡᛂᚱᛁᚦ​᛫​ᚡᛂᚱᚱᛆ​᛭​​᛫​ᚦᚢ​᛫​ᚵᛅᛏᛁᚱ​᛫​ᚦᚢᚱᚠᛏ​᛫​ᛆᚦ​᛫​ᛚᛂᛋᛆ​᛫​ᚱᚢᚿᛁᚱ​᛭​

  •  great diary! (16+ / 0-)

    I am so interested in lingustics.  Here is something I've always wondered:  why are the languages that preserve old features so complex?  Or to put it more precisely, why, when people came up with languages, did they make them so complicated?

    For instance, why should nouns change form (usually with a suffix) to indicate case?  In English, we don't do that, and get along just fine.  'The dog barks' and 'I feed the dog' and 'I give the ball to the dog' are just fine and I don't need to change the word 'dog'.  But in Latin, you need to change from canus to canum to cani to express subject, direct object, and indirect object, respectively.  What's the point?

    Why would people, as they were developing a language, make it complicated, for example with separate noun cases, rather than simple, when simple works just fine?

    •  The English language was simplified (15+ / 0-)

      when the Germanic (Anglo-Saxon) and Norse branches met in England. English evolved to use word order to convey grammar rather than word ending. This innovation has allowed for English to adopt many loan words from other languages without much difficulty.

      The Story of English, part 2 has a good explanation of how it happened.

      •  I know why English simplified (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Lorinda Pike, Ahianne

        my question was more like why was proto-Indo-European complicated to begin with?

        •  well, these things weren't actually written down (8+ / 0-)

          until later--

          and P.I.E. (to the extent that there actually was a P.I.E) was probably culturally varied and fluid.  Rules likely changed on the fly--but as with evolution certain aspects made sense, and had staying power--although these likely varied from group to group.

          So my guess is that the derivative languages ended up retaining some of that...essentially offering a kind of linguistic dogma that was previously loosely there by tradition.

          I'm making this up as I go along but it seems somewhat reasonable, no?

          •  One thing I've noticed about Icelandic... (8+ / 0-)

            is that much of the grammar has a "cobbled together" feel.  Which is strange when you first think about that, because you expect that more with English, right?  But, just for example, it's "Ég elska" (I love), but "Mig langar" (Me'd like"), but "Mér líkar" (I like).  It's crazy enough when different verbs or particles take different cases as objects or direct objects, but when they even take different cases for the subject?  If proto-Germanic was similar, I'd strongly suspect this is a linguistic atavism of it or an earlier language being cobbled together from a bunch of local dialects.  

            •  Meh... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Lorinda Pike

              "Mér líkar" is literally "Me like".  :P  Djöfulsins lyklaborð...

              •  As in "me like dogs" ? (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                rhubarb, JVolvo

                It's like that in German and Spanish too, if I understand you correctly.

                German: "Mir gefallen Hunde."
                Spanish: "Me gustan los perros."

                For both, literally something like "Dogs please me," but this is the normal way to say "I like dogs."

                Lamentablemente, por ahora, los objetivos que nos planteamos no fueron logrados en la ciudad capital. - Hugo Chávez, 1992

                by Anak on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:30:25 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  That's a very common pattern (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Anak, Ahianne

                ... maybe better thought of as "it likes to me" i.e., "it is pleasing to me." There's a bunch of verbs that happens to in all the Germanic languages.  English used to do the same thing, for ex. Shakesperian melikes, methinks, meseems - these have dropped out, but we still say "it seems to me."

            •  English Dropped Reflexive Constructions (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Youffraita, Oh Mary Oh

              That construction you cited about personal preference, etc. is a reflexive construction, which English has dropped.  Actually, most of the western IE languages have retained more extensive forms of that construction.  French, German and Spanish all have similar forms.  English is the odd man out.

              You speak about languages being cobbled together, with reference to Icelandic.  It's English which is the creole.  Middle English differs radically from Old English, which did resemble Old Norse.  Once the Normans invaded with their bastardized version of French (remember, they had been Old Norse speaking Northmen who had settled on the Cotetin Peninsula only about 200 years before William the Bastard took his little cruise), crushed the Anglo-Saxons and imposed their new government and language, Old French and Anglo-Saxon got pushed together on the British Isles.  Out of that stew bubbled up Middle English, with the reduced noun case and verb conjugation structures one would expect from a creole.

              "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

              by PrahaPartizan on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:37:24 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  My Latin teacher once said (0+ / 0-)

                that the reason it devolved into Italian was because few people could figure out all the declensions.

                After one year of Latin, I tend to think she was right.  It was a monstrously difficult language to study & that was my one and only year of attempting it.  It may have helped my English skills, but really, I think French was much more useful: at least when someone speaks to me in Spanish, I understand the sentence structure.  Latin was just too confusing.

                For me, anyway.  ;-D

                Over the past 30-odd years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved into a mental hospital. --Bill Maher

                by Youffraita on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:21:28 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  maybe (0+ / 0-)

            but picture some primative humans inventing words.  Would they really want a different word or form of a word for the dog when I pet him versus when he barks?  He's just a dog either way.  No need for canum and canus, in my mind.

            •  Where is the compexity hidden? (8+ / 0-)

              Why have an 's' or an 'es' for plurals in English? Why not just have one dog and two dog?

              Native speakers of a language are unlikely to see their own mother tongue as complicated at all. Since languages evolved and language skills are acquired by infants, the complexity is due to the circumstances that the language came into being. We're making up new words everyday and even grammar is changing, albeit more slowly.

              Languages seem to shape the way and how people think, and so for English-speakers languages like Mandarin, which has a simpler grammar, are still challenging.

            •  maybe direction or action was important? (0+ / 0-)

              who knows...different cultures have different concepts altogether--so it could be that, say, having something done to you vs. doing something were conceptually different enough to warrant different grammar.

              maybe there was some symbolism.

              Maybe certain grammatical elements reflected the prominence of a certain word in the sentence.

              who knows....

              •  the title of my comment related to text that i (0+ / 0-)

                ended up erasing, so it doen's tmake much sense...

                I was thinking that some cultures could have just-as-complex directional terms....if the directions are extremely important.

                So run east might take a different form than run west.

                grammatical complexity could arise out of all sorts of things...

              •  BTW, on that subject... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                bevenro

                Icelandic has a so-called "middle voice".  In English, we have active ("I hear you") and passive ("I am heard by you").  Icelandic also has a middle voice: "I and you are heard by each other".  In fact, one of the most common goodbyes is "Við sjáumst".  Við means "we", and sjáumst is the middle voice of að sjá, "to see".  So it basically means, "We'll see each other."

            •  Ask Noam Chomsky (5+ / 0-)

              before he became every leftist anti-colonialist hero he was a Professor of Linguistics at MIT that came up with the idea of Generative Grammar which argued that ALL human languages were generated from a hard wired structure in the human brain.

              The implications of Chomsky is that modern languages are if anything a SIMPLIFICATION  of proto grammar and syntax and fizziks question should operate the other way.

              Me, I never bought it, then again nobody made me the most famous linguist of the early 70s and incidentally launched Noam on his current career. On the other hand I took a course from George Lakoff at about the same time that made a hell of lot of more sense.

              But really I don't know that anyone ever came up with a theory of why originally complex language a la Chomsky would devolve to more simplified versions over time. Per Noam we went from 'ugg' to really complex grammar almost over night. Read his early work, grok it, and get back to me.

              Cause I never got it.

              Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

              by Bruce Webb on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 07:18:48 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  But Latin has fewer articles (0+ / 0-)

              so "Canus Cano pellat" shows that the first dog would fight with the second dog.

              When you have lots of article inflected endings aren't needed, but without them they're necessary for clarity.

              Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa? Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?
              Eala beorht bune! Eala byrnwiga! Eala þeodnes þrym!

              by Alea iacta est on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 11:01:15 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  simplification (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Magnifico, Orinoco

          usually follows after systems develop.  And many systems first develop their precision (which is what the noun inflection complexity is -- a matter of language precision), then look to simplify.

          Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

          by a gilas girl on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 03:31:12 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Hard to fit into evolutionary theory (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            fizziks

            How did such complex systems evolve to start with sonthat they could devolve?

            The fatal flaw in Generative Linguistics, it requires language to have been born like Athena out of the brow of Zeus.

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            by Bruce Webb on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 07:23:52 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Perhaps every concept or object started out (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Rei

              with an abstract sound. One word utterances would differ and describe particular situations and things. There'd be a different word for a deer standing on a rock and a completely different word for the same deer in the forest and a completely different word for that very same deer wading in a stream or sleeping etc. Then simplification could be made by dropping the different word for deer and deciding on one form for that word, but adding a second word for the stream. Those two words would then mean "Stream Deer (in) ".
              Apparently many animals have specific utterances for specific predators etc. What I propose is an extension of that situation. If I recall, a little of this generalization and addition of utterances actually is seen in prairie dogs with variations in their whistles.

          •  In Language, It's the Exact Opposite (0+ / 0-)

            In languages, the simplification starts at the beginning  and the languages then evolve into more complex forms as they age.  New languages usually evolve out of the clash of several languages which then stew together until something just a little bit different develops.  The simplest forms of languages are pidgins, which always sound childish to the ear of the speakers of the original language because the pidgin has ground away all but the most essential parts of language for nouns and verbs.  If the pidgin speakers wind up living together for a long period, one usually finds a creole developing.  From there to a fully recognized language is a pretty small step.  But, they all start simply and then get more complicated as they develop.

            "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

            by PrahaPartizan on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:14:34 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  They had a lot of spare time on their hands (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          fizziks

          Seriously, what other explanation fits?

          "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

          by Orinoco on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 06:18:36 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  According to certain theories (0+ / 0-)

          in its earlier stages Indo European was less complicated.
          There were 3-consonant roots like in semitic languages, with suffixes. Pretty simple and regular. But many suffixes were equivalent and usage later chose specific suffixes for specific roots, only usage did not chose consistently, thereby creating complexity. Then phonetic evolutions made the basic structure less apparent (disappearance of certain consonants, the so called laringuals, changes in vowels, etc). So that you end up with very complicated morphology where initially, you had something probably as regular as finnish. The system then tended to simplify (loss or reduction of suffixes) which lead to totally obscuring the initial simplicity.

          Something like that. See Benveniste, for instance, Les Origines de la formation des noms en indo-europeen. An old reference but I guess all that stuff is still basically recognized as valid.

          •  Just Go Back to Nostratic (0+ / 0-)

            One might as well advance the Nostratic language theory, because that's the trend discussed.

            "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

            by PrahaPartizan on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:24:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The Nostratic thing is just a hypothesis. (0+ / 0-)

              Whereas the theory of laringals has been considered totally established when Hittite was deciphered;  those consonants, whose existence had been assumed by Saussure to explain certain irregularities in Sanskrit, Greek and other languages from which they had disappeared, were found to be still present in Hittite. It was a huge intellectual achievement. From that point, Benveniste could formulate a very convincing theory on the structure of indo-european words. All this is based on very sound reconstruction techniques. Nostratic, on the other hand, is mostly speculative - plausible, but probably not provable. It just goes too far back in time. The further back you go, the more difficult it is to prove anything.

    •  It's a tradeoff. (10+ / 0-)

      A complex case system decreases the ambiguity of a sentence and the dependence on a precise word order (thus giving the user more flexibility to play with word order for emphasis of words).  This comes at a cost of increased difficulty to learn and increasing odds of "collision" between words and/or increasing word length.  "Increased difficulty" usually isn't much of a cost, however, because young children are incredibly good at picking up even complex languages.

      The reason we see "old = complex" so much is that we mainly focus on European languages, and Proto-Indo-European (PIE) had a complex grammatical system.

      •  Other language families simpler? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        fizziks

        not snark but are Finno-Ugartic languages really that much simpler in structure? Or the multi-tonal languages characteristic of East Asia? I mean nine tone Cantonese seems a little complex to me. Maybe because I am pelting from a Chinese owned bar in Seattle's Chinatown and the owner and his friends are talking. And it is not like I am picking it up as I go.

        Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

        by Bruce Webb on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 07:29:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Putting on the Polish? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne

      We have a Polish born friend who as a child loved to go to museums and she became curious what the tourists were saying so she learned Spanish, Russian, French, German, and English.  She said many times that English was the hardest language to learn.  Perhaps what sounds easy to us is difficult to others?  We received an invitation to a "Putting on the Polish" party which I read as putting as in golf, on the polish which I read as Polish and not putting on the Pledge wax.  

      I take it the video had something to do with Freedom?

      •  English is NOT easy (0+ / 0-)

        We grew up with it & so it's normal for us.  But I took French from junior high through college...and if I worked at it, I could be proficient in Spanish and Italian, just because I know French.  (Well, the sentence structure, anyway: I've forgotten a lot of vocabulary over the decades.)  But French, Italian and Spanish have more in common than English does with any language, to my mind.  Maybe I can decipher a word or two of German, but that's about it.  (Gesundheit, LOL.)

        Over the past 30-odd years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved into a mental hospital. --Bill Maher

        by Youffraita on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:38:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  That is one of the great mysteries of language; (11+ / 0-)

      and the short answer is, no one knows for sure.  We do know that the process of language simplification correlates most highly with number of speakers, then with area of spread.  (Note: it's the process itself, not the simplicity, that correlates.)   We can chart real evolution in the ways that contact with other languages, or social/economic changes, or whatever affect grammar, and they do.  But why the earliest languages are sometimes the most complex is something of a mystery still.

      Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

      by pico on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 01:10:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  thanks, yeah, that is what I was getting at (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mightymouse

        I see all the reasons that languages would simplify over time - that makes sense to me.

        But I just don't get why they were complex in the first place.  Why do nouns need cases, and why do verbs need to conjugate?  In English we do just fine mostly without either.  To me, when I picture people first inventing words, it makes no sense that they would want a different form for the dog that gets the rabbit versus the dog that I pet.  It's just a f_cking dog in either situation.

        •  We use word order. They use case. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pico, Magnifico, fizziks

          There is no right answer.  Both have advantages and disadvantages.

        •  There is a surprisingly large amount of (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Magnifico, a gilas girl, Ahianne

          material you can convey with word forms, that in English you'd otherwise have to slough off into other words.  So (since I mentioned Czech above), if I want to talk about the dog I can already say a lot by choosing pes, psa, psem, or whatever.  You'd have to invent and include another couple of words to convey the same material, so it's easy to see why that may have evolved later.

          That being said, and this is to Rei above as well, it does involve a lot more specific complexity than a streamlined word-order system, where SVO generally holds true no matter what you stick in there.  

          Problem is, we don't have access to the 'original' data.  We can only take guesses based on reconstructions of proto-languages.  

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 01:34:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  You gotta to be careful though (5+ / 0-)

          with saying "they were developing a language" or "inventing words). No natural language was "developed" by any one. You just speak what your mom spoke, and she spoke what her mom spoke, and she spoke what her mom spoke, and she spoke what her mom spoke, etc, etc, going back to the dawn of time. That's why it's wrong to talk about any langauge being older than another (except for creoles.)* Hebrew is NOT the oldest living language in the world, in spite of what the Hebrew department at my university says on their advertisements. (Sorry, had to get that off my chest. ;) )

          As others have noted, it's tricky saying something is complex. German has three genders for nouns while Spanish has two. Why? Well, over time, that is just how they evolved. No one was actively guiding the process.

          But, note, children learn both languages with no problem. An adult who can't speak them, might think 3 is more complex than 2, but once you learn them it doesn't really make a difference.

          *Of course, dads play a role too! And if you get enslaved or you move, your family might start speaking a different language.

          Lamentablemente, por ahora, los objetivos que nos planteamos no fueron logrados en la ciudad capital. - Hugo Chávez, 1992

          by Anak on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:00:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Opera Lovers Beware (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Anak
            "...Hebrew is NOT the oldest living language in the world, in spite of what the Hebrew department at my university says on their advertisements. (Sorry, had to get that off my chest. ;) ).."

            Many years ago the New York Metropolitan Opera had a campaign built around the idea that opera promoted and embodied culture (they never mentioned whether societal or bacteriological), which I found totally off-putting.  They seem to be re-introducing that same meme now that their finances have crashed.

            The funny thing about Hebrew is that the modern Israeli version very likely bears zilch resemblance to the forms spoken in the Levant 2500 years ago.  Even by Roman times, the vernacular in Judea was Aramaic, not Hebrew.  Besides, we all know that the oldest living language in the world is Klingon.

            "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

            by PrahaPartizan on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:33:00 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Older and younger languages (0+ / 0-)

            there are languages that got frozen in time precisely because they were used in liturgical rites that put a premium on invariability. Thus Sanskrit mostly froze in place even as Hindi developed out from it, the Latin of the Catholic church freezing with the form found in the bible translation by St.Jerome, Hebrew in  the Torah/Talmud, and in the Eastern Orthodox Church in Old Church Slavonic. And in most or all these cases the Priestly/Rabinical caste might continue to speak the 'dead' language right alongside its 'living descendent'. This mostly came about through the intermediation of text, but in the case of Sanskrit I know second hand that there was a period or oral transmission in what to the student's ears had to be farther and farther from the language he spoke outside the temple.

            Closer to home we see this happening in the oldest strata of the old Roman religion, as in most other I-E cult traditions precise recitation of the religious/magical formulae was essential to it's efficacy.

            You even see a more modern example with the King James Version of the English Bible, the 'thee's, 'thy's, and 'hath's surviving in sermons and prayers even as they became obsolete. I mean you would have to be a very ignorant Christian to be thrown by "thy Kingdome come, thy will be done".

            In that sense some languages currently being spoken, even if in limited conditions really are older than others. That is Pope Benedict might struggle to understand St. jerome's accent there is little question that they would be speaking the same language.

            So when a modern Icelander shows the ability to work their way through an Old Norse text with a minimum of instruction while most native speakers of English are lost even at encountering Middle English and sometimes scratch their heads at the King James Version and Shakespeare, which actually are classified as Modern English, it is fair enough to claim Icelandic is "older" than English, its isolation did to that degree did freeze it in time just as liturgic languages did.

            Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

            by Bruce Webb on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 05:33:48 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Your first examples (0+ / 0-)

              I don't think qualify as "natural languages."

              As for your last paragraph, no. Both English and Icelandic can be traced back to proto-IE. Hence, they are just as old. Does Modern Icelandic preserve more features from its earlier history than English? Sure.

              Lamentablemente, por ahora, los objetivos que nos planteamos no fueron logrados en la ciudad capital. - Hugo Chávez, 1992

              by Anak on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:57:45 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Vedic Sanskrit and St Jerome's Latin (0+ / 0-)

                were never "natural languages"?

                Certainly they were always more likely to be informed by even more classical forms but the idea that they weren't closer to the then current vernaculars than their modern written and spoken descendants is just nutty. St. Jerome didn't translate the Bible to Latin so that it WOULDN'T be understood .

                Maybe you are trying too hard.

                Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

                by Bruce Webb on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 06:42:28 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Amigo, it is you who is trying too hard and who (0+ / 0-)

                  had to put on your  pendantic hat in order to make some irrelevant point!

                  Icelandic is just as old as English. English is just as old as Icelandic. That was the point.

                  If some educated classes preserve an older state of a language, of course that older state is older. If you and I decided to chat using Old High German, of course we would be using an older language than Modern German. No seas pendejo, carajo!

                  Lamentablemente, por ahora, los objetivos que nos planteamos no fueron logrados en la ciudad capital. - Hugo Chávez, 1992

                  by Anak on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 07:19:06 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Thank you for conceding the poster's point (0+ / 0-)

                    icelandic is in an older state than modern English in relation to the forms of the respective languages as they were spoken in the 10th century. As is evident on inspection of the records of both languages. And for the same reasons that Church Latin in by and large, because literacy was more widespread in meideval Iceland than elsewhere and helped  fix the language in place, just as the Medieval Church's relation to the Bible served to freeze Church Latin in place. Once you have 'correct' speech typified in written form actual speech only drifts so far because now being exposed to explicit norms.

                    I was responding to claims about Hebrew being the "oldest" language and debunking thereof to point out that when measured in terms of linguistic drift it isn't a nutty claim at all.

                    Plus I spent most of my adult life working towards being a pedant, i.e. a teacher, things just didn't fall out that way. So 'pedantic' doesn't have the sting you want it to. Sometimes you are forced to talk down to people who don't know quite enough about what they are talking about and part of that process requires showing that you in fact do know more about the subject at hand. Which tends to have the listener call you things like 'smarty-pants', or if they like to preserve their dignity a little 'pedantic'.

                    Well you can bring those 'insults' on, water off a duck.

                    Basta.

                    Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

                    by Bruce Webb on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 05:23:00 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Bruce, you are wrong. Sorry. (0+ / 0-)

                      And I spent most of my adult life as a teacher as well. Interesting, though not surprising based on what I've read of your posts, that you assume that you occupy some sort of higher, teacher position compared to your interlocuter.  

                      In short, you are not tallking down to me, that's the problem. You are attempting to. But, since in this case you don't know what you are talking about, you're trying to talk down to me is kinda annoying,  ¡carajo!

                      I have no idea what you are talking about in your first paragraph. Why are you talking about the 10th century? And who is "the poster"? The diarist? The diarist was talking about modern Icelandic. Saying it was some sort of fossil. That is totally wrong. It is just as old as English. See what the great historical linguist R. L. Trask has said about the myth of "older languages."

                      Or are you saying Icelandic hasn't changed at all since the 10th century? Wow! That would indeed be interesting. Lol.

                      Lamentablemente, por ahora, los objetivos que nos planteamos no fueron logrados en la ciudad capital. - Hugo Chávez, 1992

                      by Anak on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 09:41:06 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Dictionary (0+ / 0-)

                        Living fossil:

                        an organism that is a living example of an otherwise extinct group and that has remained virtually unchanged in structure and function over a long period of time, as the coelacanth and the horseshoe crab.

                        Insert into my phrase, "living-fossil of a language".  You'll find it to be a perfectly apt usage of the term.

                      •  To further this: (0+ / 0-)
                        Or are you saying Icelandic hasn't changed at all since the 10th century? Wow! That would indeed be interesting. Lol.

                        Are you saying that the Coelacanth is likewise unchanged from the Devonian?  And the Horseshoe Crab from the Triassic?  "Living fossil" does not, and never has meant, "hasn't changed at all", and nor did I describe Icelandic as "hasn't changed at all".

                        •  I was replying to Bruce (0+ / 0-)

                          Bruce is saying that your "point" was that one could say that Modern Icelandic is older than Modern English. Is that what you are saying?

                          If you are merely using "living fossil" as a metaphor for "retains many features now lost in other North Germanic languages," ok. Notice that I wrote various comments on your diary, but I never replied directly to your diary on this, because this reading of "living fossil" I don't find too problematic. Though, one could also then say that Dutch "appel" is a living fossil because it didn't undergo the Second Sound Shift like in German. Is Modern Dutch a living fossil compared to German because it retains pre-SSS forms? But, anyway, yeah, I wasn't arguing against this reading of the phrase.  

                          Lamentablemente, por ahora, los objetivos que nos planteamos no fueron logrados en la ciudad capital. - Hugo Chávez, 1992

                          by Anak on Fri Sep 30, 2011 at 01:57:42 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                    •  Ok, sorry, I see now that you wanted to be (0+ / 0-)

                      a teacher but it didn't work out? The phrase, "things didn't fall out that way" isn't part of my dialect," so I misread it.

                      Lamentablemente, por ahora, los objetivos que nos planteamos no fueron logrados en la ciudad capital. - Hugo Chávez, 1992

                      by Anak on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 09:44:44 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  Ok, let's see where we are having a problem... (0+ / 0-)
                      just as the Medieval Church's relation to the Bible served to freeze Church Latin in place

                      As I said, of course Church Latin represented a freezed state of Latin. Chinese literature was frozen like this for centuries: it was only until Lu Xun in the 1930s that someone finally decided to write as Chinese actually speak.

                      So, again, of course there existed an older Chinese that was used for several centuries. But this Chinese was totally artificial and unnatural. It was the language known by a tiny elite, while for centuries the Chinese spoken by all the rest of China went largely unrecorded, until the 1930a.

                      I agree with what you said about Church Latin. But this has nothing to do with the age of modern, living, natural languages. ALL modern, living languages are of the same age. None is older than any other. But, as I said yesterday, uh, yeah, of course, if we decided to speak Old English to each other, that would be an older language than Modern English.  

                      Has this helped to bridge our misunderstandings?

                      Lamentablemente, por ahora, los objetivos que nos planteamos no fueron logrados en la ciudad capital. - Hugo Chávez, 1992

                      by Anak on Thu Sep 29, 2011 at 11:39:14 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

        •  It may be as simple as laziness :) (0+ / 0-)

          Languages are continually "invented", that is evolving. At first people just talked, there were no written language and as such being the lazy creatures that we are we used as few words as possible to convey something.

          A simple example: 'Vamos!' (spanish) is easier to say than 'Let us go!' (english)

          Dissolve Israel; stop distinguishing between jew and non-jew in Palestine.

          by high5 on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 08:41:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I took an Akkadian class once-- (6+ / 0-)

      grammar was absolutely ridiculous.

      Plus it was 8:00 a.m. and I couldn't deal with the nonsense.  I'm sure the Akkadians were up at 4:30am tilling the fields and selling mina of wheat to the neighbors, but I'm a noon guy.

    •  The equal complexity axiom (5+ / 0-)

      There is an axiom in linguistics, All languages are equally complex.

      Essentially, that greater complexity in one area of a language will always be matched by lesser complexity somewhere else.

      Conceptually, perhaps, that there is a fixed "space" in the brain, or in the culture, for language, which is always the same everywhere. And it always gets filled up.

       

      •  i'm curious-- (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Anak, fizziks

        how new is this axiom?  It sounds like something that might have come out the worry that 'simpler language could be misinterpreted as simpler people' and thus frowned upon.  We see that sort of thing in anthropology all the time.

        linguistics isn't math--or a zero sum game.  I'm sure some are more complex than others.

        •  Yeah, newish, I'm guessing (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          fizziks, Ahianne, penguins4peace

          post WWII.

          And people actually said things like "they are a simpler people because they lack the sounds s, sh, and g." Educated people said stuff like that in the 19th century. But even these days you might hear intelligent people make statements about how "Africans couldn't develop philosophy because of their languages," as I heard a professor say about 2 decades ago.  

          As for "surely some are more complex," you'd have to define what that means. If you think no verb conjugation or noun inflection, as in Chinese, is not complex, try learning it! You'll run into lots of other things that make it hard to learn.

          Lamentablemente, por ahora, los objetivos que nos planteamos no fueron logrados en la ciudad capital. - Hugo Chávez, 1992

          by Anak on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:11:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Bet on Chomsky and Generative Linguistics (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Anak, Ahianne

            He wasn't always a anti-imperialist and equal complexity seems a natural outcome of his overall theory.

            At least I don't know of any other academic linguist from whom this could derive, and back in the day (early 80s) I was pretty up on this stiff back in my Grad School Lit Crit/Linguistic days.

            Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

            by Bruce Webb on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 07:41:38 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  What a fascinating theory. nt (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Garrett, Anak

        "These are not candidates. These are the empty stand-ins for lobbyists' policies to be legislated later." - Chimpy, 9/24/10

        by NWTerriD on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 04:29:27 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  For what it is worth (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Garrett, fizziks, penguins4peace

        Russian has as confusing and particular a case system as Latin, but syntax matters less, there are no articles, no indicative form of "to be" and verbs are curiously impoverished.

        •  Slavic Verbs are Impoverished? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rhubarb

          Russian has a more extensive case system than Latin actually, with seven cases versus five for Latin.  The last time I looked, classical Latin didn't have an article either.

          What do you mean that Russian verbs are "impoverished?"  "Impoverished" how?  Slavic languages use an aspect form to deal with issues of temporal simultaneity rather than a tense form.  It's no less complicated than the Latin constructions or the Germanic constructions for that matter.  It just works differently.  That hardly makes it "impoverished."  In fact, one could build an argument that a language which deals with completed versus on-going actions is even better equipped to to handle computer language coding than a language like English might be, since repetitive structures exist so often in computer programs.

          "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

          by PrahaPartizan on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:40:42 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Great points about aspects (0+ / 0-)

            i assume you're from Prague? The only thing I know about Czech are the everyday greetings and "kitchen words" that my grandpa used. I speak Russian, and all the prefixes and such just gave me the feeling that there wasn't a lOt there. But I suppose you could say a similar thing about English, with its many verb+preposition variations. One thing I love about Russian is how good it feels to pronounce, unlike French, which trashes my throat in ten minutes.

    •  When you learn a language with cases from birth (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne

      it is like falling off a log, and anything else seems bizarrely wordy. For example, imagine English with no possessive case. (our only remaining case)

      I think that case systems make things much more clear and concise, but yeah, I loathed it when learning Russian.

  •  Interesting (7+ / 0-)

    As I posted on your other diary, we had Icelandic friends, of whom, the husband recently died.  They were very proud of Iceland and that the Icelandic language was the only classical language still in existence as a spoken language.

    Also, I remember him telling us that his family was originally from Ireland.  I thought he was joking at the time.  But it also explains how his last name did not end in "son" like many other Scandanavian names.  His wife's maiden name did end in "dotter" like a classic Scandanavian name.  

    I hope you will continue to write more as I am enjoying reading these diaries.  I am now following you.  

    The United States is not just losing its capacity to do great things. It's losing its soul.--Bob Herbert. gulfgal98's corollary- Our soul is gone.

    by gulfgal98 on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 12:57:39 PM PDT

  •  T & R for (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lorinda Pike, DawnN, elfling, NonnyO, gmb, cpresley

    later reading.

    I may have missed it in skimming, but do you have any kind of pronunciation guide, too?

    Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why. -- Hunter S. Thompson

    by Mnemosyne on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 01:04:35 PM PDT

  •  ugh--"neuter" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a gilas girl, mightymouse, rhubarb

    I was able to kind of get the gender thing in French--not that I thought a table or a pen should be one gender or another really, but I was able to grasp it and associate it.

    But I was never able to grok the common and neuter stuff in Danish. Just never. Thank you for bringing back that painful memory.... ;)

    Darwinic pilgrims claim the image fills them with an overwhelming feeling of logic. --The Onion

    by mem from somerville on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 02:42:41 PM PDT

  •  Oh, how I wish I had the gift of tongues (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Magnifico, NonnyO

    Spoken and written languages other than English do not come easily to me. Magnifico asked above "where is the complexity hidden?".

    I certainly don't disagree with the comments in that section. I pride myself on grokking English but when I study other languages I struggle mightily with the task.

    Thank you, Rei, for sharing some of your insights here, and kudos for being able to translate so well.

    Heh ... now tell us an Icelandic joke :D

    "If we want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we need to reduce the number of our senators dependent on fossil fuel contributions." - Rodney Glassman

    by Darryl House on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 04:29:59 PM PDT

  •  How to roll your Rs (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jnhobbs, Rei, NonnyO, cpresley

    Icelandic, like Swedish, has an Alveolar trilled "r."

    1.  Form your mouth like you were going to pronounce the English "r"

    2. Enunciation the English "r" while simultaneously moving the tongue backwards.

    3.  To help 'get it,' you can try over-stressing the sound by punching in your gut using your stomach muscles causing the lungs to expel a short, hard, burst of air.

    "...[one] must still have Chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." Nietzsche

    by ATinNM on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:06:00 PM PDT

    •  I've tried so many different techniques (0+ / 0-)

      that I've read about, but this one's certainly worth a shot  :)  Whenever there's nobody around to stare at me for making weird sounds for no obvious reason, I'll give it a try.  :)  I've never had a problem with getting a roll or two after a hard consonant -- dr, tr, pr, br, etc.  While in Iceland, I started getting a brief roll accidentally (after a little brennivín  ;)  ).  I've since become able to get fairly consistent at getting that, but never a sustained roll, and it requires that I really slow down at the "r" to get it; if I go too fast, it doesn't happen.  Also, it's a "dirty" r; it often has a bit of a "th" or "d" sound to it.

      So yeah, I could use practice.  :)

      I was surprised to learn that Danish has no trilled "r"; I just figured that all of those languages had one.

      •  Going through the (0+ / 0-)

        same thing with Swedish.  

        What I really need is a How-To tape and book of Swedish phonetics.  

        "...[one] must still have Chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." Nietzsche

        by ATinNM on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:56:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  You tap an R every time you say (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NonnyO

        "water" or "butter."

        Now, somebody tell me which Norwegian R to favor. My people come from the Oslo area.

        •  Here is a... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rhubarb

          ... Text-to-speech program that has proved useful to some of us on Scandinavian genealogy email lists.  Norwegian and Icelandic are both choices if you wish to use it.  There are usually choices of different voices (regional accents) to choose from on the right side.  Check the scroll menu.

          Another pronunciation page for Danish names.  Just click on the names.  The names would be similarly pronounced in Norwegian and Swedish, if not exactly the same, very close.

          I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

          by NonnyO on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 08:08:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Danish doesn't have a trilled 'r'? (0+ / 0-)

        That may be one language I can learn, then. I can't trill an r to save my life, whether I'm trying to speak Spanish, French, German or Russian.

        Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

        by milkbone on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 08:43:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  We have a local Danish friend who we met (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          milkbone

          through Couchsurfing, and that's what he told us.  :)  And I've never heard him trill an r, intentionally or accidentally, so I have no reason to doubt it  ;)

          •  A couple of years ago I was with my dad (0+ / 0-)

            in Germany and after eating lunch I went off across the plaza to grab a postcard to send home. As I was at the postbox mailing it out an older German couple who were sitting next to us at the restaurant told me that my German pronunciation was very good, but I needed to roll my 'r's. What's really funny is that except for ordering food (and beer, and wine), I barely speak German at all.

            Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

            by milkbone on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 12:30:22 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Mesmerizing video and song (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei, NonnyO
    Nú vaknar þú.
    Allt virðist vera breytt.

    (My copy and paste:)

    Indeed...

    "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

    by zenox on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:15:27 PM PDT

    •  Sigur Rós is incredible. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zenox, NonnyO

      Be sure to listen to more of their music.  Listening to Popplagið when I'm in the right mood can throw me into a trance and make me move in a way that if I was a smoker, I'd need a cigarette afterward.  ;)  But a lot of Icelandic music is really good.  I mean, I still don't get how such a small population can produce so much incredible music.  It's a very creative country.

      •  I've already checked a few of their videos (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rei, NonnyO

        ...and you are right, they are magic. Makes me want to move to Iceland. Thank you for sharing this wonderful diary with us. I look forward to reading more.

        "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

        by zenox on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 07:49:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I can't even finish this right now (0+ / 0-)

    but your viking moonspeak fascinates me.

  •  Great diary! Thank you so much. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NonnyO, PrahaPartizan

    I spent 10 days in the Faroe Islands, the summer of
    2009, and recorded with an artist who sang in Icelandic.

    It's truly beautiful when sung. I was surprised to learn that many Faroe Islanders speak English, Danish, and Icelandic, in addition to their native language.

    “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” ~ Malachy McCourt

    by jnhobbs on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:25:11 PM PDT

  •  I had a horrible time trying to learn the language (9+ / 0-)

    First, I disagree about it being more irregular than English - the strong verbs fall into 7 neat categories, unlike English, where you just have to learn them as "irregular."

    Anyway, I'd studied Old Norse (= Old Icelandic) for a while and could read a modern newspaper with some dictionary work; also I was reasonably fluent in conversational Swedish (and German, which does help), so Icelandic seemed like an obvious thing to try. But it's not so easy to get the Icelanders to help - the instant you make a mistake (which doesn't usually take very long), they will switch to English, and they won't switch back. They have absolutely no problem in dealing with foreigners in English, but they view their own language as a wall against the outside world, and they're very uncomfortable when foreigners try to scale it; at least, when foreigners start to make some real progress.

    Obviously a ridiculously broad generalization, but that's been my experience.

    Incidentally, the sounds of the language have changed quite a bit since medieval times. The present spelling system dates from the late 19th century (it was developed by a Dane, Rasmus Rask; there have been a few minor spelling reforms since then). It was designed specially to make the language look more archaic on paper than it really is. I have a bible from the 1820s, and it's pretty funny, because some of it looks like illiterate or comic-book spellings.

    One final warning: don't go to Iceland for the food.

    •  Great comment :) (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Anak, NonnyO, ozsea1, penguins4peace, cpresley

      Ostensibly the strong verbs fall into neat categories.  In practice... no.  I actually took the time to graph them out using a database I compiled from an Icelandic dictionary.  I could show you some of the graphs if you're interested.  :)

      But it's not so easy to get the Icelanders to help - the instant you make a mistake (which doesn't usually take very long), they will switch to English, and they won't switch back.

      I know!!!!  It bugged me so much that I had this T-shirt made  ;)  I haven't had a chance to get back there since I had it printed, mind you, so I don't know how effective it'll be  ;)

      Icelanders seem to be really uncomfortable correcting people.  I don't think it's so much as defensive as that they think they're doing you a favor by switching to English.  I mean, you still see Icelanders commenting in newspapers and online, things like, "Why don't those foreigners just learn Icelandic?  We learned English", stuff like that.  And yeah, they usually get scolded by other Icelanders for talking like that, but still, I think it's clear that it's not like they want to keep the language a secret or anything.  The papers run articles about how well immigrants are doing learning the language, all immigrants are ostensibly required to learn the language, polls strongly support having immigrants learn the language, etc.

      And really, I think your average store clerk or whatnot just wants to get their job done and get it over with, and they know that speaking English will get it done faster.  I'm sure you've at some point, when there's a word in a store that you didn't understand, asked some store clerk, "Hvað þýðir (eitthvað)?", or perhaps said "Hvernig segir þú (eitthvað)?"  Some are nice about it, but others look like they're thinking, "Hvenær varð ég kennara?"  ;)

      Iceland is very different from Japan in that regard.  In Japan, everyone has to pretend to love their job and act like they want to help you, even when they don't.  Icelanders tend more to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

      And hey, I liked the food in Iceland!  Don't expect to see me chowing down at a Þorrablót, for example  ;)  But give me a cup of skyr, some fresh blueberries, a loaf of rúgbrauð, and perhaps some húsavíkur havarti, and ohhhh... yummmm.  :)

      Don't go to Japan for the food  ;)

    •  Oh please (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Anak, NonnyO, ozsea1

      Icelandic smoked salmon is to die for! They also do some wonderful dishes with lamb, including their hot dogs. And who else in the world puts remoulade sauce on french fries? nom nom nom...

      "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

      by Orinoco on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 06:30:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This does not surprise me (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rei

      Icelanders are really impressed when native foreigners take the time to learn the language. Not only because it's really hard to learn as Rei has so clearly shown but also because it's a rather useless language to know!

      Really the best thing about being able to speak Icelandic is the fact that when you're travelling abroad, which is something that Icelanders do a lot of, you can speak Icelandic anywhere and everywhere without worrying about anyone understanding what you're saying. That can definitely be useful.

      As for people in Iceland switching to English that rings true to me. I think it's in part a misplaced attempt to be helpful and I think Icelanders also like to show of their fluency in English. I can speak German haltingly and the same thing happens to me when I try to speak with people there in their native tongue.

      Best regards from Reykjavík

  •  Your diary brings back good memories (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    taonow, Rei, NonnyO, ozsea1, PrahaPartizan, cpresley

    of my visits to Iceland. One thing I found interesting was that I could "read" the newspaper there and understand a reasonably good amount of it. I suppose like many others I was taught at a young age that English came from Latin mostly, with all those Latin prefixes and suffixes. I was surprised to learn through experience that it came equally or more so from Old Norse!

    Tak.

    "Without LOVE in the dream it will never come true..." -Robert Hunter/Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia; -8.88, -9.54

    by US Blues on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:34:24 PM PDT

    •  Great Britain... (3+ / 0-)

      ... was not called England until after the Anglo-Saxon invasion (pre-Viking invasions in the 9th century).  With the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (Danish & Germanic languages) came the Danelaw..., and when the Angles settled one segment of Britain, it was called Angle-Land which morphed into the word England.

      Anglo-Saxons were first invited to Britain [during the period that spawned tales of King Arthur who was apparently a Dux Bellorum, a warlord, not a king, but a local petty chieftain or warlord doesn't sound as grand as a king] help the local chiefs subdue other petty kingdoms after the Romans left by 410 ACE.  The Romans had invaded with Julius Caesar in 55-54 BCE (he failed in the first attempt, succeeded in the second attempt, and others completed the invasion).  Caesar has already subjugated the Gauls and the Germanic tribes with whom he came in contact.  Some of the mercenaries who went with the Roman armies to Britain were from the Teutonic/Germanic tribes; others were from other places in the Roman Empire.

      Then the Vikings invaded, followed by farmers, traders and craftsmen from Denmark and Norway, just as what had happened when the Anglo-Saxons invaded.  Jorvik/York was one of the primary harbors for a while.  In Ireland the Vikings founded many coastal towns, including Dublin.  The longest Viking ship ever found was in Roskilde harbor in Denmark, but dendrochronological tests revealed it was made from timber in Ireland (ergo, almost certainly made in Ireland, too).  The people who became the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians had overland routes via European rivers and portages to the Byzantine Empire when they didn't sail in their very seaworthy ships past the English Channel then down to the Mediterranean Sea.  William the Bastard was the son of a Norman Viking in Normandy, France..., so when he invaded in 1066 as William the Conquerer, that was another "Viking invasion," but many of the nobles who came with him were French (or French-Viking).

      In any case, England, Scotland, the Orkneys and other islands off of Scotland and England, and Ireland all had Viking settlements eventually.  Any location in England ending in 'by' [town] shows the Viking influence.  In ancient and modern times 'by' has meant 'town.'  A lea is a meadow.  It has morphed into several spellings for both male and female names.  Beverly, Beverlee, Beverley, etc., are names that mean 'dweller by the beaver meadow.'  (Several towns in England named Beverly, and one in MA that I know of was named for one of those locations.  The first English settlers brought the names of their home locations with them and gave them to locations in the US.)

      That one little area of the world is remarkable for the number of cultural influences from various peoples.  Ancient Celts, Romans (with attendant mercenaries at times; retired troops were given farms of 40 acres, so their descendants became British/English after enough time passed), Angles, Saxons, Jutes, people from what is modern-day Germany and Holland, Denmark, Norway.

      When I was listening to Jens Stoltenberg and King Harald and others from Norwegian memorial services after 7/22 and the memorial service in Copenhagen, Denmark, I was surprised at how much I could comprehend when the speakers kept their sentences measured and pronounced their words clearly.  I had forgotten much of what I learned in taking two years of Norwegian, but it kinda came back to me the longer I listened to the online webcasts.  I learn best when I totally immerse myself in one subject.  So, too, with language, I think.

      That's too long a short explanation of the influences that went into the "English language" (which is a collection of many languages), but that's why you could understand some of the words you were reading with no translation.  English has its roots in ancient Viking languages like Icelandic, which included the Anglo-Saxon areas all those centuries ago.

      Pretty neat, huh?  :-)

      I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

      by NonnyO on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 09:45:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Tiny suggested correction (0+ / 0-)

        my studies would have me believe the Dane Law came with the Vikings and not the Jutes of centuries before. That is the Jutes are most associated with Kent and the Isle of Wight while the Dane Law associates more closely with  E and W Anglia, Yorkshire, and the Mid-Lands historically overrun the the Viking/Danish Great Army in the ninth century. The two invasions may blend together for us moderns  but in reality the ages of Hengist and Horsa and that of  the Viking invasions are quite close to the timeframe that separates the immigrant of today from the Mayflower, I.e right on 400 years.

        Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

        by Bruce Webb on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 05:50:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It's Old Icelandic (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NonnyO, Ahianne, milkbone

    but you may find the Tattúínárdǿla saga of interest.

    :-)

    "...[one] must still have Chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star." Nietzsche

    by ATinNM on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 05:40:07 PM PDT

  •  Might this be a key to understanding why ....... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco

    people complicate their lives so often or so much?

    Do Icelanders have a tolerance of arbitrary complications because of early exposure to Icelandic?

    •  My theory is the long winter nights (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NonnyO, nicethugbert

      gives them plenty of time to hash out the complexities.

      "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

      by Orinoco on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 06:32:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nintendo will cure that. n/t (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco
      •  Funny but doesn't explain Sanskrit (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco

        Not a lot of long winter nights in north India.

        I don't see that Icelandic differs in complexity beyond that of languages of similar development in the I.E. language tree in the main post.

        If only it were as easy as proximity to the equator or length of winter night.

        The idea of sitting around the fire thinking up ways to make the language even MORE eff'd up for the next generation is admittedly amusing ("ablative"? and "Past subjunctive"? Dude you're killing me!).

        But somehow I can't see language development as the product of the equivalent of inventing 'swirlies' for the incoming Freshmen. Though it would explain a lot.

        Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

        by Bruce Webb on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:00:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  OK, new theory (0+ / 0-)

          still has to do with copious spare time. In India, because of abundant food supplies in prehistoric years. In Iceland, the long winter nights.

          So, people wind up archetypally sitting around the campfire, telling stories. No TV, not everyone plays chess or backgammon. So they sit around and listen to someone telling stories. And they have questions. Were you chasing the boar, or was the boar chasing you? So the next time the story's told, there's a new case ending, or prefix, or some other language widget, that clears up that bit of confusion.

          But there are still more questions. What would have happened if the boar got you? It didn't. I know, but what if? And some more language widgets are brought forth to add more texture and detail to the story.

          And so it goes. And the next generation invents new words, not as swirlies for the freshmen, but as generational code so they can talk without their parents understanding what they are really talking about.

          "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

          by Orinoco on Wed Sep 28, 2011 at 02:03:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  We should suggest Icelandic to Benny (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei, PrahaPartizan, cpresley

    If you don't know who Benny is, he is an Irishman who goes around the world trying to learn a new language every three months. A very entertaining guy who is a real inspiration for those of us trying to learn another language - hearing him talk and reading his blog convinced me to go out and try and learn Spanish, even now in my older years. It has been a blast (and a lot easier than it was learning Chinese years ago).

    Here is a fun video of him explaining his method in 8 languages. A great encouragement for any language learner.
    http://youtu.be/...

    "I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong". Feynman

    by taonow on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 06:00:27 PM PDT

  •  I see Icelandic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NonnyO, allensl

    and I think of poor Detective Erlendur and his tormentor Arnaldur Indridason.

    Thanks for the fascinating overview.

  •  Learned Norwegian and (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Anak, NonnyO

    it is flippin' simple compared to Icelandic.  The beauty part is that, with a little practice, you'll navigate it as a cod does the North Atlantic.

  •  I love this diary! (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    taonow, Anak, NonnyO, marsanges, cpresley

    I teach a course about Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung, and I always start my students off reading something from the Poetic Edda.  I tried to learn a bit of Old Norse so that I could pronounce the names properly.  Didn't get very far with that, but I'd love to go to Iceland anyway.

    "We *can* go back to the Dark Ages! The crust of learning and good manners and tolerance is so thin!" -- Sinclair Lewis

    by Nespolo on Mon Sep 26, 2011 at 06:32:47 PM PDT

  •  Is Finna an Icelandic name? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NonnyO

    I was under the impression that my step-great grandmother was Icelandic. We called her Grandma Finna. I was surprised to see finna is the verb find which doesn't seem like something you'd name a baby. Perhaps I'm spelling it wrong. I don't recall ever seeing her name written down.

    •  Yes. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NonnyO, Coastrange

      It's in the Mannanafnanefnd list of valid Icelandic girls' names (there's a naming committee in Iceland which approves valid names for children).  I don't know how common it is.  

    •  Finna (0+ / 0-)

      As an Icelander I can tell you that Finna sounds Icelandic but I've never met a person who bears that name. It might be a shortening of the name Finnbjörg but that is also a very rare name.

      •  Finna seems like a borrowing of Finn (0+ / 0-)

        which since the earliest Icelanders seems to have taken a generation long intermediate stay in the Gaelic parts of northern Ireland and Scotland and seem to have brought any number of Irish wives and slaves with them a certain incidence of Irish derived names in the Settlement Period is not just expected but actually found.

        For people who want to get deeper in this Google the history of 'Aud the Deep-Minded'. As always take the Wiki version as a starting point and not an ending one, but the Settlement Age wasn't as simple as the 'fleeing from the tyranny of Norwegian Kings' as popular history would have it. Once Iceland was established well yes, but the story of the very first generations showing a lot more interaction with Ireland than the pure descent from Norwegians would have it. However true Icelandic might be to Old Norse, a detailed genomic study of the people might give you some interesting results.

        Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

        by Bruce Webb on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:14:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei, NonnyO

    I have always had an interest in different languages. Usually I first start to pick up words because of some music I am listening to.

    Don't speak any other language very well but wish I could find the time to become more fluent in several.

    The music that influenced my interest in some languages is as follows:

    Irish-Gaelic from listening to Clannad

    Icelandic from listening to Bjork (sorry, I'm getting ready to go to bed and am too tired to look up the correct format for the o in her name; specifically the two dots over the o that are called an umlaut in German)

    German from the many classical music pieces I sang in college by composers like Bach, Haydn, Schubert et al

    I am hotlisting this so that I can study it in depth. :-)

  •  Embedded verb second (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei, NonnyO, PrahaPartizan, cpresley

    Thanks for the fun diary.  One feature I love about Icelandic is embedded verb second (V2).  Verb second is when the verb is the second element as in "Yesterday went I to the store."  Embedded V2 is found in Icelandic and another linguistically conservative language, Yiddish, as in "She said that yesterday went he to the store."  

  •  Tangent: Welsh vowel shortage (4+ / 0-)

    in the 800s, a few of the Viking raiders of the Welsh coast settled and occupied some villages for a few years, under the leadership of Harald's son Eiríkr.  Eirikr was a great believer in the magic of runes.  He decreed that all signs in the area he ruled must use the Norse tree runes, in which each letter/ rune also represents a tree.  He also ordered that each letter be made from the proper wood.

    This may have been economic exploitation as much as superstition, for several of the required trees, particularly the vowels, did not grow in Wales and so the wood would have to be imported from Scandinavia, enriching Eirikr's family.

    The Welsh, being Welsh, were having none of that.  They simply used "W" or "LL", or sometimes nothing at all, where the rare vowels were supposed to go.  The habit stuck, and this is why the Welsh tongue looks like it does today.

    OK, I made that up.  The real story involves a Welsh merchant/explorer who sold most of their vowels to the Hawaiians....

    Rosa sat, so Martin could walk, So Barack could run, so our children can fly.

    by On Puget Sound on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 12:06:22 AM PDT

    •  Funny. And had me going. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ahianne, PrahaPartizan

      Oddly I have a degree in Middle Welsh and also oddly live in sight of Puget Sound and was going to come down hard here but found my leg being pulled.

      FWIW I have always found the place name evidence for an actual Norse presence in South Wales to be unconvincing. Notably because so many seem associated with seamarks, that is distinctive features on land as seen from the ocean.

      For example pretty much the heart of the Welsh Kingdpm of Gwynedd was the island called Anglesey, almost always explained as derived from Onguls-ey which looks pretty clearly to be the 'ey' or island/isle of a common Norse name Ongul. Okay. But an examination of a map of Anglesey shows that the coast when approached from the north and west is shaped very much like a fish-hook, or in Norse 'ongul' and I would think fully cognate with English 'angle'. That is I always found it plausible that the English word for 'Anglesey' is not originally local at all, in fact the Welsh still don't call it that, it was and still called Ynys Mon, in the Latin of  Tacitus 'Mona' Yet scholars working backwards from the English place name eagerly look for evidence of a Norse presence. Sensible enough in that most of the islands west of Scotland and east if Ireland were occupied in historic times by raiding Vikings. But apart from a devastating raid Mon always seems to have been firmly under control of the Welsh Kings of Gwynnedd through to the 13th century, that the English would associate it with some vapory figure named Ongul seems more a name seeking an explanation and back in the day philologists tended to jump to eponyms and settlement patterns rather than consider such things as seamarks.

      But Wiki for example simply sites Ongul's Island as if written on stone (presumedly in runes).

      Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

      by Bruce Webb on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 01:49:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I bought "Teach Yourself Icelandic" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ahianne, Rei

    decades ago and had a blast with it, rattling off the sample sentences, such as "Thu tharft ath fara ath laera ath lesa, Thora-minn, segir hann."

    Now that I know a little German, I can look at Icelandic with a bit more understanding.

    A few jobs ago, I had an Icelandic coworker and I gave her the sentence written above. She managed not to wince. "I know my pronunciation is awful," I said, "But how many people have you met who know even that much Icelandic?" Not many, she admitted.

  •  I love reading about complicated languages, (0+ / 0-)

    but it makes me wonder if we will ever make an effort to develop the simplest possible language which can do everything we need done, and get it into use.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:08:14 AM PDT

  •  I once wrote a dissertation (0+ / 0-)

    on Icelandic inflectional morphology. I took classes in it for a year, one of them taught by a native speaker; I read a few books in it and many about it; and, as I say, 30 years ago I wrote a dissertation on the inflectional morphology. It was really more about my amazing theory of grammatical paradigms, using Icelandic as the test case. Anyway, I immediately branched out into psycholinguistics and never did anything else in linguistics or Icelandic after I had my PhD.

    Even back then, I was never really able to understand what people were saying and I couldn't express myself beyond some extremely basic memorized formulas. I can still probably get pretty close to the “radio announcer” (formal) pronunciation as I read it out loud, but that's about it. I never really learned the everyday (informal) pronunciation, but I recall that it was pretty different from the formal.

    Oh, and sometimes it helps me if I have to read another Scandinavian language for some reason.

    Best of luck on your linguistic adventure.

  •  fascinating! nt (0+ / 0-)

    Je regretez tout. How's me French?

    by Mark B on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 08:30:03 AM PDT

  •  Loved this estoterica! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    paytheline, Rei

    Who says we are haters?  

    Reporting from Tea Bagger occupied America

    by DrJohnB on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 08:55:33 AM PDT

  •  Is the antiquity intentional? (0+ / 0-)

    I've heard that Iceland actively discourages borrowed words and so forth - for example, "computer" was never adopted, and instead some committee formed and decided that there would be a descriptive appropriated Icelandic word for it.  And apparently this was successful.  Is this true of grammar also?  Is there a sort of nationalistic impulse to not simplify so as to retain Icelandic roots?

    •  Yes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      skralyx

      They try to keep the language from changing as much as they can, preferring to resurrect old words rather than take in foreign loanwords, and to fight against grammatic shifts.  One of my favorite Icelandic words I ran into a while back was "Þágufallssýki" -- "Dative Sickness".  It's something teachers have been trying to stop, where people sometimes try to substitute the dative for the accusative of other impersonal verbs, or even for the nominative.

      Iceland has to take an active stance against the changing of their language, because without it, it'd be overrun by English in no time.  Pretty much all Icelandic adults are fluent in English and, due to their small population, they're always exposed to it.  Larger countries can produce enough of their own products, media, etc that nearly everything their citizens are exposed to in their daily lives is written in their native tongue.  That's not the case with Icelandic.

    •  French is worse (0+ / 0-)

      the Academie Francaise is one of the most prestigious appointments you can get as a person of letters in France, much like a English Heraldic Order, and tasked with determining why is and isn't 'French'.

      The French generally seeming to have a hard time distinguishing between the concepts of 'pure', 'normative', and  'logical' in relation to their language with all seeming in practice to become identical with the collective judgement of the Academie.

      Please visit, follow or join our Group: Social Security Defenders

      by Bruce Webb on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:23:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  And I'd really like to know (0+ / 0-)

    the words (english, please) to that song. The video is very compelling.

    I want to go back to believing in everything and knowing nothing at all.

    by Audri on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 11:44:19 AM PDT

  •  Why is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei

    everything from Iceland so damn beautiful? The land, the sky, the children, the steam, the green, all so very achingly beautiful.

    •  I know. Þetta land snart mig djúpt. (0+ / 0-)

      It's really a combination of a lot of different factors.  Here's some.

      1) Its geological uniqueness.  There really is no other place on Earth that is geologically like Iceland; it's output 1/3rd of all of Earth's lava in the past 600 years. There are plenty of hotspots and plenty of mid-oceanic ridges, but to have the two combined, well... that's pretty much only Iceland  ;)  The net result is a stunning array of amazing volcanic features (shapes, colors, etc)

      2) Its high latitude.  This leads to unusual cloud formations, a low-angle sun which casts long shadows and creates stark contrasts, aurorae, etc, and makes it easier for glaciers to form.

      3) Its moderated temperatures despite its high latitude.  Places that far north with such a moderate climate are rare.  This leads to the combination of #2 with significant plant and animal life.

      4) Its fresh, dark volcanic surface.  The presence of such a young surface means little silt in the water, which combined with so little pollution, means exceedingly clear waters over dark rock in many places.  Which makes for exceedingly reflective surfaces (made all the moreso by the low-angle sun), which makes the waters look unnaturally blue.

      5) Its isolation, which has led even its domesticated livestock to undergo adaptive changes.

      6) Its very rugged terrain combined with large amounts of precipitation leads to abundant raging rivers and waterfalls.

      Combine all of that stuff and, well, you get Iceland.  :)

  •  A video recommendation from a native Icelander... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei

    that even has English subtitles (even though they seem more interested in getting the English version to rhyme rather than translating it correctly) I heartily recommend this.

    It's from Besti flokkurinn (The Best Party) that won last year's municipal elections in Reykjavík.

    http://www.youtube.com/...

    If you have any questions about the country I would be happy to answer but Rei is doing a very nice job.

  •  Rei - það væri gaman að hitta ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei

    ... þig þegar þú kemur til landsins. Við Íslendingar verðum alltaf ofboðslega stoltir og hrærðir þegar einhver leggur sig fram um að kynnast þessu litla skeri eins vel og þú hefur gert. :)Við gætum t.d. mælt okkur mót á kaffihúsi við tækifæri. Þú getur að minnsta kosti æft íslenskuna og við höfum allavega sameiginlegan áhuga á bandarískum stjórnmálum. :)

    •  Já, þetta væri frábært :) (0+ / 0-)

      Ég eigi að vara þig við að mér finnst einfaldara að skrífa/lesa íslensku en að tala/heyra íslensku.  Þegar ég skrifa íslensku ég get tekið tíma og notað orðabók þegar ég er orð vant og enginn get heyrt hróðalegur framburður minn  ;)  

      Ég veit ekki þegar ég mun eiga atvinnuleyfi og dvalarleyfi (ég held janúar eða februar), en mér finnst gaman að hitta eftir ég kem  :)  Ætti ég sendi tölvupost þegar ég veit meira?

      E.s. - Gerðu svo vel að leiðrétta íslensku mína ef þú vilt; ég aldrei mun verða móðgað.  :)

      •  Já sendu mér (0+ / 0-)

        tölvupóst á hallurorn(at)yahoo.com þegar þú kemur. Vonandi gengur vel að fá dvalarleyfi.

        Ég get allavega sagt þér að skrifaða íslenskan þín er mjög góð, raunar nánast villulaus. :)

        Bestu kveðjur,
        Hallur

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