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I wanted the title to be "ÍslensKos: The Icelandic Language, Or, What's So Scary About The Word Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur?", but Daily Kos apparently can't handle that  ;)

This is my second diary on the subject of the Icelandic language, the previous being here.  I figured I could use a change of pace on diaries and felt like doing something educational, as well as addressing the sheer-panic most native English speakers get when looking at a long word in another language.  By the end of this diary, I'll have you looking at long words in Icelandic and seeing that they're not really that tricky - promise!  :)  Also, we'll get into some of the fun idiomatic compound words you find in Icelandic.

But first, the scary stuff!

Let's say you saw a word in English you were unfamiliar with that looked like:


I bet you it didn't take you long to read it, right?  Well, that's literally what vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur means.  The difference in how the English equivalent doesn't look scary but the Icelandic version does is simply due the difference whether you know the component words and, more importantly, being accustomed to how words end/begin and what letter combinations are normal within a word.

There is no shortage of long Icelandic words - landbúnaðarframleiðsla, hæstaréttarmálaflutningsmaður, fjárfestingarfyrirtæki, byggingarverkfræðingur, etc will all get you thousands of hits on Google.   But let's look at vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur again.  While this is a word often cited as the longest word in the Icelandic language, it is in fact just a coined word to show the lack of limits on how long Icelandic words can get. It is based on an actually-sighted word of not-insignificant length, vaðlaheiðarverkfærageymsluskúr, meaning "a toolshed at Vaðlaheiði", or to break it down more, "Hipwader-Moor tool storage shed".  The longer coined variant breaks down as:

Vaðla (from vöðlur): hipwaders
Heiðar (from heiði): moor (think "heath")
Vega (from vegur): road (think "way")
Vinnu (from vinna): job
Verk (from verk): project (think "work")
Færa (from færa): move (think "ferry")
Geymslu (from geymsla): storage
Skúra (from skúr): shed
Úti (from úti): outdoors (think "out")
Dyra (from dyr): door (think "door")
Lykla (from lykill): key
Kippu (from kippa): bundle or string of objects
Hringur (from hringur): ring (think "ring")

Several of these are part of easily-recognized compound words, so it condenses down to:

Vaðlaheiði: Hipwader-Moor (a place)
Vegavinna: roadwork
Verkfæri: tool(s)
Geymsluskúr: storage shed
Útidyr: front door
Lyklakippa: keychain
Hringur: ring

Now, let's back up for a second.  You'll note that the components of the compound are not exactly the same as the word that makes them up.  This is a good thing!  Icelandic is a declined language, and compound words are often formed of the genitive, usually genitive plural, declension of their components.  This makes certain types of endings much more common.  

Common genitive singular forms: "-s", "-ar", "-a", "-u"
Common genitive plural forms: "-a" , or rarer, "-na"

The last part of the compound word, of course, is declined as is needed for the word as a whole, and you thus learn to ignore whatever declension it's currently in when breaking the word down.

So, let's treat it like your brain has been wired by reading Icelandic for a while and you see a giant compound word.  Let's highlight the parts that would stand out for it by putting a space after it:

Va Ðla Heiðar Vega Vinnu Verkfæra Geyms Lu S Kúra Útidyra Lykla Kippu Hringur

Not too far from the actual breakdown of component words, just from this simple rule alone!  But of course, more can be done.  Once you've begun learning the language, your mind becomes automatically accustomed to what sort of letter combinations to see together in what parts of words.  "Ðl" at the start of a word?  Ridiculous.  A word ending in "yms" looks more than a little suspect.  A word that's just "S"?  Hahaha, never.  And of course it's pretty hard not to instantly catch when a two letter word doesn't exist - there is no "va", no "lu", etc.  So your brain helpfully turns it into:

Vaðla Heiðar Vega Vinnu Verkfæra Geymslu Skúra Útidyra Lykla Kippu Hringur

Then recognizing compound words kicks in as your mind tries to combine the words (this one actually takes familiarity with vocabulary, so it doesn't come as quickly to a learner):

Vaðlaheiðar Vegavinnu Verkfæra Geymsluskúra Útidyra Lyklakippu Hringur

And there you have it!  

Hipwader-Moor roadwork tool(s) storage-shed front-door keychain ring


Okay, enough with all of the technical stuff.  Let's have some fun with compounds (and maybe a couple non-compounds) - in the form of a story!

Let's say you want to spend your wheat-bread-days (hveitibrauðsdagar, "honeymoon") in Iceland, but you don't have a big sheep (stórfé, "lots of money").  So your mass-obligation (fjölskylda, "family") gives you some money, you hop on a flight-engine (flugvél, "airplane"), pick up a cheap car-rent-car (bílaleigubíll, "rental car") and drive to Smoking Cove (Reykjavík) to stay at a migratory-birds' home (farfuglaheimili, "hostel").  You decide that they should have written the word hostel inside goose-feet (gæsilöpp, "quotation marks"), because it turns out to be a rather nice place - new bed-clothes (rúmföt, "linens"), wifi for your number-prophet (tölvu, "computer"), it comes with high-day-food (hádegismatur, "lunch"), etc.  Unfortunately, the weather is all heavy-being and down-killing (þungbúinn and niðurdrepandi, "gloomy") because the remains of a tripping-blizzard (fellibylur, "hurricane") are hitting the country, so you decide to be an indoor-goblin (innipúki, "couch potato / shut-in") for the evening.  

After the-food (maturinn, "dinner"), you flip on the vision-caster (sjónvarp, television) and catch a game of harbor-ball (hafnabolti, "baseball") and cheer "Foward With The Butter!" (áfram með smjörið! - "Go for it!") at your favorite team.  They work the game (vinna, fig. "win").  Then you two shut off the light-pears (ljósperur, "lightbulbs") to sleep.  In the morning, sun-canes (sólstafir, "sunbeams") shine out between the cushion-clouds (bólstraský, "cumulus") and so you get into your car, step on the gasoline-gift (bensíngjöf, "accelerator") and head out to see the natural-pearls (nátturuperlur, "natural treasures").  Over the next few days you see Assembly-Fields (Þingvellir), Falling-Falls (Dettifoss), Water-Glacier (Vatnajökull), even the famous Island-Mountain-Glacier (Eyjafjallajökull).  It takes you from Five-Day to Three-Day (Fimmtudagur to Þriðjudagur, "Thursday" to "Tuesday"), but you have a blast.  So far the trip is turning out to be a real whale-expel (hvalreki, "beached whale", or figuratively, "godsend").  Both of you had been so down-dragged and heavy-tempered (niðurdreginn and þunglyndur, "depressed") before the trip, but now you're both love-arrested (ástfanginn, "in love") again.

Back in Reykjavík, you return the car and decide to have a fun evening.  For dinner you have condom-fish (smokkfiskur, "squid"), and for dessert, earthberries and little cakes (jarðarber and smákökur, "strawberries" and "cookies").  Good think you're not a sugar-illness-patient! (sykursýkissjúklingur, "diabetic").  You hear that there's going to be a great sound-team (hljómsveit, "band") playing some interest-becoming (áhugavert, "interesting") note-art (tónlist, "music") made with unusual sound-movers (hljóðfæri, "instruments") in Harpa, a beautiful building built by outvasion-Vikings (útrásarvikingur, "Icelandic banksters").

You each have a shot of burned-wine (brennivín) and watch the neck-backs try with the hams (hnakki ("back of the neck") and skinka ("ham") also mean Jersey Shore-style guys and girls, respectively; reyna við, lit. "try with", also means "hit on").  The band starts and soon you're lost in the breathing-space-air (andrúmsloft, "ambiance").  It's like you're floating through a field of dream-sun-islands (draumsóley, lit "dream buttercups", fig. "poppies").  To your disappointment, you forgot your picture-engine (myndavél) and your spouse forgot their up-taking-engine (upptökuvél, "video camera").  Oh well!

Afterwards, you stroll past the office of the Head-Seat-Advice-Master (Forsætisráðherra, "Prime Minister").  So many attractive people partying about - too bad you're not a pepper-lad/pepper-virgin (piparsveinn/piparmey - "bachellor / bachellorette") anymore!  But it doesn't take a flight-fire reality-man (flugeldur vísindamaður, "rocket scientist") to figure out that if you want to catch your flight tomorrow, you can't afford to get blind-full (blindfullur, "totally drunk/wasted").  You catch a rent-car (leigubíll) to the hostel, and after only a few hours rest, catch the first plan-car (áætlunarbíll, "scheduled bus") to the flight-field (flugvöllur, "airport").  What an after-memory-ly (eftirminnislegur, "memorable") trip!

Originally posted to Rei on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 12:28 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Compound words are the common heritage (19+ / 0-)

    ... of Germanic languages. In English we prefer to break them up with spaces and hyphens. But, as you note, the compounding syntax is not particularly foreign to us.

    "The smartest man in the room is not always right." -Richard Holbrooke

    by Demi Moaned on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 12:40:17 PM PDT

  •  This is a great way (11+ / 0-)

    to spend my day as an indoor-goblin with my number-prophet.

    I would, however, dispute your characterization of the compounded English translation of the super-word as 'not scary'. Presumably, if English did this with any regularity, it would become less scary, but adult English readers lean heavily on word length and 'shape' for fluent reading, and jamming them together seriously throws us off even when we technically know the component words.

    There's a reason why uncommon compounds are hyphenated even though English is perfectly capable of simple compounding.

    "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

    by kyril on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 12:53:37 PM PDT

    •  Putting words in the genitive is sort of like (6+ / 0-)

      hyphenating.  It makes it a lot easier to see how words connect together.

      To be fair, the process requires a bit more mental computing power than using spaces as is done with long words in English, although not much.  On the upside, it not only saves a bit of space when written out, but also helps group related concepts together.  Let us take a random sentence from the front page of Morgunblaðið today to demonstrate:

      "EFLA verkfræðistofa undirritaði nýlega fjórða rammasamninginn sem félagið hefur gert við Statens Vegvesen, eða norsku vegagerðina."

      In English, that is literally:

      "EFLA engineering office signed recently the fourth framework agreement which the group has done with Statens Vegvesen, or the Norwegian road construction [department]."

      To write that in English as it is written in Icelandic, however (using a hyphen to represent where there's a clear declension break):

      "EFLA engineering-office signed recently the fourth framework-agreement which the group has done with Statens Vegvesen, or the the Norwegian road-construction [department]."

      Note how related concepts are usually neatly grouped together?

      •  It's not so much that it uses more (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        phonegery, Rei

        computing power as that it uses a different kind of computing power - one which English readers aren't practiced at, even in our native language.

        (We are very well-practiced at a similar process in audio decoding; we blend words all the time when we talk. The analogous visual process is entirely learnable. But it's a new skill, just like e.g. learning a new alphabet, which slows down the acquisition of written languages that require it.)

        "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

        by kyril on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 01:25:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Then there is this. (11+ / 0-)
          Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. ceehiro.

          Time is a long river.

          by phonegery on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 02:20:16 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's actually misleading (8+ / 0-)

            I'm not sure about the research itself (this is posted all over the place, but a link to the supposed article is never given) but the claim is untrue.

            1) Even the above passage is read more slowly than a correctly-spelled version would be. It's still technically readable - although one might stumble over a few of the words, and this version is less readable than the more common quote because some of the misspellings are miosspelled - but it won't be read as fluently as it would be if it were correctly spelled.

            2) The passage mostly contains short, common words with common transpositions. These words would be easily readable even if the last letter (and in some cases the first) were transposed in common patterns: hte, englihs

            2) The jumbling of the longer words in that passage is done in a fairly specific, deliberate manner: it generally follows common transposition patterns. Letters aren't moved "too" far away from their neighbours, and in general, 'chunks' are simply reversed. The overall shape of the words is relatively similar to the original.



            "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

            by kyril on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 06:16:13 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Need something translated. (4+ / 0-)

    I have a Facebook like with a museum of Icelandic magic and it had an interview with some guy, talking about traditions. Bing did not offer a translation.

    Thanks for this diary - will study it and maybe find a way to take my tourist Danish into understanding a little of this.

    George W. Bush: the worst Republican president SO FAR.

    by Chun Yang on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 01:02:44 PM PDT

  •  Old English (9+ / 0-)

    These words are cognates of English -- thanks for showing that.  But then Icelandic and English are pretty closely related, both spun off of old Low German.  English picked up a lot of French vocabulary around a millennium ago, something about this Norman guy showing up with his friends ;-) .  But the original Beowulf looks about like that, doesn't it?

    •  The intersection between English and French (9+ / 0-)

      is one of the big differences you note with Icelandic.  One of my favorite examples is of "vulgar" terms.  In Icelandic, for example, the words for to urinate is "pissa" - literally, "piss".  Little old ladies say that, there's nothing vulgar about it.   English, however, tended to adopt French words for bodily functions as "polite" and relegated the older words to vulgar speech.

      •  That's because they were literally... (5+ / 0-)

        separating the tongue of the conquering Normans from that of the common (i.e., "vulgar", as the terms was originally used) people who spoke Old English (what was once called Anglo-Saxon, though that term seems to have fallen out of favor.)

        On a side note; I ran across a reference a while back to the difficult-to-pronounce nature of Icelandic. It was in the Kevin Hearn novel Hammered: he uses a fair number of Icelandic (and Old Norse) names and words and included a set of notes on them. In these notes, he claims to have won many bar bets (with English-speakers) by having people try to pronounce the name of the Icelandic town Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

        Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu The Art of War

        by Stwriley on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 02:38:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Note, too that we dine on the polite (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rei, FarWestGirl

        beef (boeuf), rather than the vulgar cow, pork (porc) rather than pig, and poultry (poulet) rather than chicken, though the last is making a comeback.

        Socialist? I do not think that word means what you think it means.

        by Kimbeaux on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 07:57:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Your diary is a beached whale and respite (7+ / 0-)

    from the whale-expelled Republican words and deeds.

    Thanks, Rei, much.



  •  Don't see much correlation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with Norwegian, but I never could read that only speak it when I was younger, so not sure.  I was always surprised at the spelling of something anyway.

  •  Super long words scary? (2+ / 0-)

    Are super long words supposed to be scary?  What can I say, other than:  supercalifragilisticexpialidocious....

  •  Yay! I love your Icelandic diaries! (9+ / 0-)

    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 Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 04:37:25 PM PDT

  •  And I thought arbeitslösichkeit was long. :) (4+ / 0-)

    More seriously, I find this stuff really fascinating :).  I'm kind of still processing so I don't have much of significance to say, sadly (let alone be able to find a single, compound word to describe my response ^_^) but thank you for writing these :).

    "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

    by auron renouille on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 04:58:49 PM PDT

    •  oh, no (6+ / 0-)

      I assume you mean Arbeitslosigkeit (worklessnessship or something alike, in the mode of the diary); admittedly the -g is pronounced -ch in many dialects.

      The standard long word in German is "Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän" (Danube steam-shipping's company's captain), of course to be extended at whim.
      Donau(danube)dampf(steam)schiffahrts(shipping's)gesellschafts(company's)kapitäns(captain's)mützen(caps')hersteller(manufacturers')dachverbands(umbrella organization's)sprecher(speaker's)handbuch(handbook).

      German language editors, of course, will kill you for anything like this and flush your manuskript down the toilet.

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

      by intruder from Old Europe on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 07:20:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ah, it was an inside joke that nobody would get. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Back in my college days I could not remember the word for "unemployment" so I instead gave basically a paragraph describing it - my flustered yet detailed response actually won the day.  Of course, I just checked a dictionary and learned that the last laugh was on me - there's no umlaut plus one other spelling error :).

        "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

        by auron renouille on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 07:35:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The one i learned in 8th grade was: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:


        Danube inland shipping captains' Sunday afternoon walk in the park!

        "I am not interested in why man commits evil, I want to know why he does good (here and there) or at least feels that he ought to."
        --Vaclav Havel

        by drobnox on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 01:33:39 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Fremdsprachschulunterrichter (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      terabthia2, FarWestGirl

      On my first day of German class in 9th grade mumbledythree years ago Frau Freeman sprung this on us as an example of how long German words can get. My German is rusty, but with the help of Google translate I think it means something like "vice principal of a foreign language school." (I don't remember what she said the meaning of the word was - just the word itself. Amazing how memory works sometimes.)

      You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children's children what it was once like in America when 25% of the population was batshit insane.

      by Omir the Storyteller on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 09:31:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't know where Frau Freeman (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        got her "Unterrichter", which, if it existed, would mean "instructor."   You might refer to a "Fremdsprachenlehrer(in) -- the "in" in parentheses is a feminine suffix -- but more normally you would use Englischlehrer(in), Deutschlehrer(in), etc.  Actually, "Fremdsprachenlehrer" isn't even in common usage.  And the word you've used does not in any sense connote the idea of "vice principal", which would be a "stellvertretender  Schulleiter."  

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

        by GulfExpat on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 11:30:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The errors are all mine (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Like I said, I did this with the help of Google Translate through the fog of over 40 years of memory, and it translated "Unterrichter" as "jurist" or something. "Instructor" sounds much more like what was intended. I don't know where she got it either, but I remember it fairly clearly, and I suspect it was created to show how long German words can get rather than to be 100% accurate as an example of proper German.

          You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children's children what it was once like in America when 25% of the population was batshit insane.

          by Omir the Storyteller on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 12:54:33 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Then again (2+ / 0-)

            languages shift. I haven't paid close attention, but I heard that something that I learned when I took German around ten years more recently than you is no longer the way most German kids speak.

          •  A penny dropped (0+ / 0-)

            when you mentioned "jurist."  "Unterrichter" could, in fact, mean something akin to an associate judge:  der Richter is judge, while "unter" is a preposition/prefix, which is often used to mean a sort of "lower level" something, used in the same way as we use "under", e.g., undersecretary.  That said, "Unterrichter does not occur in any of the online dictionaries that I've checked.  Unhappily, I don't have my Grosser Duden to hand.  It's packed away in storage in the US, I'm afraid.  

            BTW:  I can give you an even longer one, one which a German professor provided in a class many, many years ago.  Again, it's a bit of an artifice, but makes the point of how German happily creates very long compounds.  Here it is:

            Die Oberösterreichischerdonaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänsmütze

            That translates as the "cap of the captain of the Upper Austrian Danube River Steamer Company."

            One last thing:  English speakers are often appalled at the length of German nouns as you are clearly aware.  Interestingly, if you count syllables and NOT letters, there's often very little difference.  A good example is the German for "insurance company."  It's only 6 syllables and 16 letters in English, and of course divided into two words.  The German equivalent is Versicherungsgesellschaft.  While this is a seemingly daunting 25 letters BUT only 7 syllables, so only one more than the English!  

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

            by GulfExpat on Fri Sep 28, 2012 at 10:25:30 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Or der Erdanziehungskraft (0+ / 0-)

      (gravity) in German. (At least, in the song Völlig Losgelöst.)

      And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

      by Pale Jenova on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 08:59:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The night out sounds lovely (7+ / 0-)

    but I'd warn people that Scandinavian tone-poems aren't as bucolic and carefree as they may sound to the uninitiated.

    Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

    by ActivistGuy on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 05:13:37 PM PDT

  •  now tell them about article-number-noun endings (8+ / 0-)

    Icelandic is the most declined European language. For example:

    I have a daughter and a son and a glass.
    I have two daughters and two sons and two glasses.
    I have three daughters and three sons and three glasses.
    I have four daughters and four sons and four glasses.

    Ég er með dóttur og son og gler.
    Ég hef tvær dætur og tvo syni og tvö glös.
    Ég hef þrjár dætur og þrjá sonu og þrjár glös.
    Ég hef fjórar dætur og fjóra syni og fjögur glös.

    Note that the numbers and nouns both decline -- different endings for the numbers depending on the gender, number, and case of the noun. Look at one-two-three for daughter compared to son compared to glass. And this is only one case (accusative).  Oh and, the articles or pronouns will jump around -- sometimes in front of the noun, sometimes after.

    Look what happens to both number and noun when you change case:

    I have three glasses
    I wrote names on three glasses

    Ég hef þrjú glös
    Ég skrifaði nöfn á þremur gleraugu

    I truly love Icelandic. It is so incredibly twisty.

    Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. -- Eleanor Roosevelt

    by greenery on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 05:48:23 PM PDT

    •  Hehe, my favorite is when matching pairs of (6+ / 0-)

      words don't take the same case.  For example:

      Ég man þig (I remember you - accusative)
      Ég gleymi þér (I forget you - dative)

      I mean, huh?  ;)

      One of the things that I get a laugh out of every time is when Icelanders can't agree on how to use the language.  And there's an increasingly common thing among some segments of youth of what's called "Þágufallssýki" - "Dative Sickness".  That is, there's a number of verbs where not only do you need to memorize what tense to use for the object, but the subject isn't in the nominative.  For example:

      "Mér (dative) finnst..." (I feel)
      "Mig (accusative) langar...." (I'd like)

      The overwhelming majority of verbs, obviously, use nominative for the subject - "ég."

      Well, apparently the dative forms are "cool" or something because some people like to use them where they don't belong, and they're starting to become common with some verbs - "mér hlakkar til", "mér langar", "mér vantar", etc.  It's a good way to make an Icelandic grammar teacher cringe  ;)

      Hehe, yeah, the jumping around takes some getting used to.  The one I'm having the most trouble getting used to is when people start the sentence with an adverb!  For example, "Rosalega er hún skemmtileg" (lit. "Extremely is she fun" instead of "She is extremely fun").  I also find it tricky knowing when to reverse word order due to the subjunctive.  And don't even get me started on adverbs!.  Lol.

      I'm not so sure about some of your examples above (á dætur, er með glös, gleraugu are eyeglasses, glös is not the plural of gler, , etc).  But yes, the declensions extremely complicated.  :)  For example, there's 120 forms of every adjective (compared to three in English), in about 10 patterns (compared to only one pattern in English: -, -er, -est), plus some exceptions (as in English, but more complicated).  But at least adjectives are more regular than nouns and verbs!

      To put it another way (for those reading this not that familiar with Icelandic), look at how grænn (green) changes....

      ... er grænn bíll (is a green car)
      ... er græni bíllinn (is the green car)
      ... með græn bíll (with a green car)
      ... með græna vél (with a green engine)
      ... með grænar vélar (with green engines)
      ... með grænt hjól (with a green bike)
      ... með græna hjól (with a greener bike)
      ... með eitt af grænustu hjóli (with one of the greenest bikes)
      ... með grænasta hjólið (with the greenest bike)

      Just to pick a couple examples.

      But trust me when I say that nouns and verbs are harder!  :)

      •  i know a smattering (7+ / 0-)

        of Finnish and Hungarian, and I have to say this is one of the greatest diaries I have ever read. If I wasn't a musician I would have been a linguist even though I had no desire until I moved to Berkeley and started hearing languages all around me.

        I used to read a Hungarian dictionary even though I had no idea of what most of it meant, I could still pick out patterns.

        For example, it appears the word for pear is perur and pearl is perlur? I wonder if there are other combinations where changing the spelling of the english word is identical to changing the spelling in Icelandic?

        I remember my Finnish friend telling me that in Finnish you have to decline? many parts of a sentence, her example was; if you want to say 'I left my book on the desk on the 152nd floor' in Finnish you have to say ' I left my book on the desk of the 100th, on the desk of the 50th, on the desk of the 2nd floor'. or something like that. This is so fascinating.

        They say Bobby Fischer learned Icelandic when he played his World Championship match in Iceland. I learned one word, skyr, some kind of ice cream dessert. Anyway, this bar I started going to was owned by some Icelandic guys and one day I asked if I could get a free beer if I knew some Icelandic. I said skyr and they were so shocked that I got free beer just for saying it all the time!

        Also there is a TV program about this guy that memorized 10,000 digits of pi and he described how he saw numbers as colorscapes in his mind. He took Icelandic lessons for a week then was interviewed on Icelandic TV, they said he spoke well.

        I am amazed how many words I could pick out that have latin roots; sol=sun, draum=dream,etc. Must have a common proto-European root or something.

        Lastly, I cannot believe I am a innipuki, how insulting!

        The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. - Elbert Hubbard -9.62/-8.15

        by GustavMahler on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 07:50:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks for the nice words. :) (5+ / 0-)

          And the nominative singular form of pearl is "perla".  "Perlur" is the nominative and accusative plural.

          Haha, that's an awesome story about the bar.  Bet you could have really blown them away if you had started talking in full sentences with them.  There was a case a while back of a guy in... I think it was the former Soviet state of Georgia, who on his own taught himself fluent Icelandic, having never been to Iceland but wanting to translate things.  It actually made some news in Iceland and he ultimately ended up getting offered a free trip to Iceland, free lodgings, etc.  ;)

          People here are getting more and more used to foreigners speaking Icelandic, but it's still the exception, not the rule.  Most native English speakers who move to Iceland never bother, and even a lot of non-native English speakers who move here still just rely on their English.  I even know an Icelandic woman whose daughter doesn't speak Icelandic.  No kidding!  She and her then-husband got divorced when her daughter was very young, and while she saw her daughter regularly, the daughter grew up in the US with the father, never learned Icelandic, and while she's lived in Iceland for several years now, she's never bothered to learn the language.  Her mother has tried to get her too, but she's too shy to use it and not willing to put forth the effort to study it, and all her friends just talk English with her.

          And outside of Iceland?  You pretty much never find people who speak Icelandic unless you specifically set out to meet them on purpose.

          Now, don't let that trick you into thinking that everyone in Iceland is a bunch of pasty-faced white folk - far from it.  It's actually surprisingly diverse.  For example, I think I mentioned in some comment in some thread somewhere, the first person I met when moving onto my street was a little black girl, who spoke only Icelandic, having grown up here and not yet being old enough to start to learn English.

          Note that actually sól is the new word for sun; the older word for sun, which can be seen in some compounds like sunnudagur (sunday) is "sunna".  Which should also look familiar.  "Moon" changed too, from "máni" to "tungl".  I don't know why.  Speaking of days of the week, I find it funny that in English we use days of the week mostly derived from the names of Norse gods, while here in Iceland, where people and streets actually are named after Norse gods and a small percent of the population still even worships them, the days of the week are not.

          •  Worship Norse gods.... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:


            We take for granted the Christians' Sunday wafer-cannibalism, so this can't be any more far-out. Or can it?

            What an idea!

            On a different tack, what does Icelandic do about cases, per se? A zillion? Or relatively few like English?

            Since nouns are declined for any reason that seems to have come to mind, it sounds like this could be a language with 5,000,000 words in common use.

            You'd study hard, get that last set of ablative qualifiers down pat on your 94th birthday, then forget the middle 4,687,000 word-items in a snap! The-perfect-great-cleansing-moment.

            (Lovely, lovely diary. An example of why I come to dkos instead of the benighted-huff-poo.)

            •  I see the comment about cases was (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bontemps2012, Kimbeaux, FarWestGirl

              answered to your satisfaction below, so just for the rest.  Yep, a couple percent of the population still worships the old gods, and there's even an official revived old norse paganism church (Ásatrúarfélagið) to which nearly one percent of the population is officially enrolled in.  Paganism in general is in the ballpark of 10% of the population.  And even among non-pagans there's still a lot of belief in old pagan concepts like the álfur / huldufólk (elves / hidden people).  About 10-15% are absolutely convinced they exist and a little over half willing to consider their existence.  Now, most people these days don't think that they're actual physical beings running around; it's more like the Japanese concept of kami, that places in nature can have a spirit and they don't like being f'ed with.

              Note that Iceland also has one of the highest percentages of atheists and agnostics in the world, too.  And while a majority are still Christian, it's a very liberal, live-and-let-live Christianity - it's important to them in their personal lives, but they usually don't feel the need to push it on other people (at least not like in America).  For example, I've not once seen a single Jesus-fish or Jesus bumper sticker - I'm not sure there's one in the whole country.  Christians here generally also do not reject science (world's highest rate of acceptance of evolution, for example) or reject other people for their lifestyles / beliefs / attitudes (for example, gay pride is one of the largest annual festivals in Iceland, with a third of the population attending).

              Again, to reiterate, that doesn't mean that there's no pushy Christians, or no bigotry.  And remember that there's a state church (although 75% of the population wants to change that, so it'll probably change some time in the next decade, probably sooner rather than later) and the official national anthem is a hymn (although it's not a very popular song here - actually saw a standup comedian making fun of it last Friday).  But this sort of stuff comes from an earlier time, when religion exerted a more dominant influence on the country than it does today.

              BTW, back to Ásatrúarfélagið - in case you ever want to attend, they welcome outsiders to their ceremonies, especially the blót feasts.  :)

      •  Old English has some of those verbs (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ozsea1, bontemps2012, FarWestGirl

        I forget if you call them dative verbs or impersonal verbs or something like that. Some of them still exist.

        In Old English (OE), they'd say things like, "it thinks to me" or "it likes to me" or "it dreams to me" or "it seems to me." If you look at Shakespeare, he often used "methinks," which is the dative/impersonal. I suspect the "it so happens... " construction might also be in this category.

        But the angle said to them, "Do not be Alfred. A sailor has been born to you"

        by Dbug on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 07:53:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yep - (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bluedust, Dbug, FarWestGirl

          translation of "mér finnst".  :)  Not everything takes the nominative!  Unfortunately, some people love trying to make even things that don't belong take the dative as the subject, lol.

          The language is definitely not static, and unfortunately its rate of change seems to be accelerating.  At least it's resisted the influx of loanwords better than most languages.  You know, for example, French gets credit for having official "French" words for stuff... but in terms of actual usage, people in Iceland really do use the Icelandic-origin words when they're available and widely understood; there's a sort of social pressure to do so.  When tablet computers first became available, for example, everyone was calling them tablets.  But then there was a big push in the media that, no, they should be spjaldtölvur... and now if you go to a computer store, they're actually called spjaldtölvur and that's what people buying them will refer to them as.  And even when it comes to official words, Icelandic is excellent at language preservation. for example, in French, telephone is "téléphone".  In Icelandic, it's "sími", from an old word for line or thread.

          That's not to say that foreign words haven't made their way in - far from it.  "Okei" (okay) is ubiquitous, of course.  One that grates on my ears when I hear people use it is "basically".  Icelandic has perfectly adequate words and phrases for basically, like "eiginlega" and "í grunninn" and "í rauninni" and "í grundvallaratriði" and so forth, depending on context.  I do find it curious how the loanwords shift a bit in meaning, though.  For example, "okei" usually has more of an implication of "oh really?"  And loan verbs almost always get an -a tacked onto the end and then are declined in weak declension and even have their stems bent according to Icelandic declension rules.  Loan nouns are generally declined as neuter or undeclined at first, but if they resemble a weak masculine or feminine declension, they may eventually start to be declined that way.

          But still, the language is changing.  One change that a teacher I know was talking about at one point is the slow loss of the -i in the dative singular of masculine nouns.  Some nouns have lost it entirely - for example, to say "returning the car" you always say "að skila bílnum" instead of "að skila bílinum".  Some other nouns are in various stages of losing it.  This represents a small step in a sort of flattening of the declensions (making the dative more like the accusative), which I hope doesn't continue.  Because as difficult as Icelandic is, I love its historic nature and would hate to see it just turn into another degenerate Indo-European language. Plus, the declensions actually provide useful information to help clarify sentences.

    •  I don't think it's the most declined, (4+ / 0-)

      or even in the running.  Icelandic has only four cases compared to e.g. Polish and Czech (seven), Finnish (fifteen!) and I'm not even touching the craziness of Hungarian, which has the standard set of cases and genders and numbers plus personal and possessive suffixes.  

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

      by pico on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 07:48:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A former Estonian girlfriend showed me declination (5+ / 0-)

        15 or 16 cases!

        It's fun walking through Helsinki or Tallinn or Budapest and see these monsterously long words in the window for something that would be 6-7 letters long in English.

        "now this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." W. Churchill

        by Thor Heyerdahl on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 11:49:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yep, in terms of noun cases, Icelandic is pretty (4+ / 0-)

        low.  On the other hand,  declensions of both nouns and adjectives change whether or not the definitive article is attached, there's 120 declension forms of adjectives, and verbs are a special hell   ;)  Also, Icelandic is famous for its declensions being "bendy" and irregular.  It's not just endings (which is basically the same as a postposition) like declensions in a lot of languages.  The stem itself often changes in all sorts of crazy ways.  For example, cat:





        That's not an irregular noun - it's actually a whole declension pattern.  And for all nouns and verbs there's stuff like the u-ö shift.

        •  Though to be fair... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          there's no real distinction between "pattern" and "exception".  For example, the above "pattern" probably represents about 10-15 base words, and there's probably 100 or so compounds that end with such a base word and are thus declined as such.  At what point of rarity do you declare something to no longer be a pattern and be an exception?  There's no clear line in Icelandic.

          Let's show how blurry it gets.  Do you group örn (eagle) with that pattern, or is it its own thing?  That's örn, örn, erni, arnar / ernir, erni, örnum, arna || örninn, örninn, erninum, arnarins / ernirnir, ernina, örnunum, arnanna.   Okay, then do you group, for example, björn (bear) with the same big group, or is it it's own thing, or is it a group with örn?  That is, björn, björn, birni, bjarnar / birnir, birni, björnum, bjarna || björninn, björninn, birninum, bjarnarins / birnirnir, birnina, björnunum, bjarnanna.

          And then you start getting into patterns that have some characteristics of one declension but then other characteristics of a totally different one!  That's especially common in verbs; they're sort of mix-and-match.

          It's kind of hard to categorize Icelandic noun and verbs sometimes.  It's easy with the big groups but then it gets harder and harder with no clear cutoffs.

        •  Answered my question, above. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Of course.

        •  Yeah, but that's how other inflected languages (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          work, too.  I was just responding to the comment above - it sounded strange (because I speak a few inflected languages) to hear that claim made about Icelandic, and I looked it up, and it's not the case. (pun!)

          Hungarian I think takes the cake for most needlessly complicated grammar, and I doff my cap to people who can speak it with anything like fluency.  Some of these languages have a few alternate case endings that are more aesthetic than strictly grammatical, which for non-native speakers, can be a real pain.

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

          by pico on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 11:17:14 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Hmm, I just picked a couple random Hungarian (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            declension tables and they don't bend the stem at all - it just appears to be suffixes.  What languages are you thinking of that have significant stem-bending in declension?

            I took Latin in high school, and it had very little stem bending.  The only non-irregular case I remember is the pattern of rex/regis - and one could just argue that the x/g is part of the suffix, there's no deep-stem changes like in Icelandic.  The entire stem can get twisted - for example,  For example, nominative-singular-strong-noncomparative-masculine of "pressurized" is "þjappaður".  The same but dative is "þjöppuðum".  And that's not an exception, either.

            Anyway, there's "only" sixteen forms of each noun (and half of those are usually fairly easy to form if you know the other half), but there's 120 for adjectives, and for verbs, it depends on what you count as a form, but it's quite sizeable.  And they're just so danged irregular!  :Þ.  At least for adjectives, the 120 aren't usually too hard and there's not too high of a rate of exceptions  - the main challenge is just memorizing the differences between the 10 or so patterns.

            When it comes to noun genders, it could be worse.  I hear that there's no way to recognize gender in German, for example.  Icelandic has three genders, and you can only kind-of deduce them.  You can basically get a probability matrix out of looking at an unknown word if you know what to look for.  Nominative ends in -a?  Easy one - Over 99% chance it's weak feminine.  Ends in -i?  Hmm, 70% chance it's weak masculine, 30% chance it's strong neuter.  But if it's something like "hótel" that you've never seen before?  Haha, good luck.  If it doesn't fit into any obvious rules and there's no obvious suffix, odds are probably 20% it's strong masculine, 35% that it's strong feminine, and 45% that it's strong neuter. .  

            Also, even once you know the gender, if it's not weak and it's not neuter, that's not enough to know how to decline it.  You need to know at a minimum the genitive singular ending and the nominative plural ending.  You also need to know if it's an exception (of which there are tons) or fits one of the dozens of rarer declension patterns.  For strong masculine, common exceptions (or sshould they be called patterns?) is the loss of the -i in the dative singular.  For strong feminine, the equivalent common irregularity is -na in the genitive plural instead of -a.

            Only once you know all that can you accurately decline it.

            •  Not sure how much experience you have (0+ / 0-)

              in other contemporary inflected languages, but stem-bending (?) happens all over the Slavic languages, for sure.  The Russian for "child" (дитя, nominative) morphs into two separate stems (for a total of three), дит- -> дитят- and деть- in oblique and plural cases; it's part of the template of nouns most of which describe young animals, including children (heh).   Czech has a set of words whose stem not only changes, but is declined either as an adjective or as a noun depending on ...  well, I'm not exactly sure when or why one or the other is used (týž or tentýž -> touž or tutéž, etc.)  These aren't irregulars but paradigmatic.  

              Ditto with gender: both languages have three, both have certain 'typical' signals, and both have deep slates of words that are entirely unrecognizable as any particular gender... you just have to "know".  Throw numbers into the mix and sheer chaos results.  In Russian, if you're looking at "three beautiful women", "three" is accusative singular, "beautiful" is genitive plural, and "women" is genitive singular, so literally none of the words share a common declension pattern, despite being a single phrase.   This is only the case in the numbers 2, 3, and 4, because anything higher has a different set of declensions, and anytime a large number ends in 1 (e.g. 1,001) the whole number is treated as a singular instead of a small or large plural.   Bah.

              Anyway.  I'm not questioning the beautiful complexity of Icelandic, and you've written quite a good diary about it.  But it's certainly not the most inflected European language.  

              For what it's worth, it's probably Basque.

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

              by pico on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:39:47 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Other languages (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I also speak some Japanese, which doesn't do stem-bendings for any form of word.  And there's obviously English too  ;)  The only nouns I can come up with in English with stem bendings are archaic words with rare plurals, like brother -> brethren, and one common exception: man->men.  Now, English has strong verbs, which use a single stem-bend of a single vowel to form the past tense - for example, run -> ran, sit -> sat, dig -> dug, etc.  Of course, Icelandic strong verbs have three separate vowel stem bends plus the universal u-umlaut rule plus you need to memorize two suffix patterns and the past participle for each  ;)  There are some rules for strong vowel stem bends, but they're so complicated and so full of exceptions, they don't really help much.  It's always nice to learn that a new verb you're learning is weak, or at least one of the -ti, -di, or -ði past pattern verbs.  :)  A looooot less to memorize for it.

                Not trying to argue that Icelandic is the hardest  :)  Just describing it.

                I'm curious about the Russian stem shifts.  I looked it up and the only example I saw of it was the one you gave, with a difference between singular and plural for child.  A grammar page I found told me that "hard nouns" add -ы and "soft nouns" replace their nominative suffix according to a couple specific rules, but none of them involved stem morphs.  But дитя is not an exception?

                Hmm, interesting abount bending a noun as an adjecctive - how does that work?  Like, what would be the adjective form of "spoon" mean - "spoon-ish"?  Icelandic lets you bend verbs as adjectives (analogous to, run -> running), so that adds the 120 adjective forms to each verb.  Thankfully not every adjective-bending pattern is represented among verbs!  :)  The past participle (which you have to memorize) forms the basis of the adjective bending (in fact, the literal Icelandic translation of the word for past particple is "adjectivemood of past"

                Funny the thing about low numbers in indoeuropean languages being declined but high numbers not.  In Iceclandic, it's 1-4 that are declined.  For cardinal numbers of things that aren't "pairs" (they get their own set, as do cardinal numbers), there's 12 forms (okay, well, there's 24 for "1", but that's special).  But 5-19 are undeclined (after that, it depends on what singles-digit it ends in).  There's actually a joke here about an immigrant going into a store trying to buy four of something who keeps guessing at what form of "four" to use, to the confusion of the shopowner, until finally giving up and buying five of it  ;)

                •  дитя isn't an exception: (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  It's the same paradigm is котенок, where the stem morphs to котенк- for singular oblique cases and котят- for plural declensions.  Like I said, most of the nouns in this paradigm refer to young animals.

                  Not sure how it works in Hungarian per se, but Russian does 'bend' nouns into adjectives: e.g. the stem for "milk" is молок- (noun) -> молочн- (adj).  As for verbs to adjectives: from the infinitive читать (to read) -> the stems читающ- ([who] is reading), читавш- ([who] was reading), читаем- ([which] is being read), (про)читанн- ([which] was being read), plus all the attendant declensions of each, and the thankfully non-declinable читая for the adverbial participle.  Thankfully Russian has only three tenses and two moods, so the simple verbs themselves aren't that bad, but their system of describing motion is ridiculously complex and difficult for non-native speakers: directional/aspectual prefix plus directional/frequentive verb stem plus whatever conjugation you need.  So: prefix у- means to depart, stem идти normally means to go in a single direction on foot with an imperfective aspect, but the combination turns it into a perfective stem, and it's irregular anyway, giving us уйд- for "[someone] will depart on foot".  There is no verb for just plain "go".  Of all the things I've taught, no single topic creates more headaches for students, though it turns out to be hugely efficient (look how short that stem is compared to the translation!)

                  Comparatives are weird, because they have far more than the English three (adj, comparative, superlative).  For the adjective "beautiful" (красив-):

                  enhanced: прекрасив-
                  comparative: более красив-, красивее
                  superlative: самый красив-, красивейш-, наикрасивейш-
                  comparative superlative: более наикрасивейш-
                  superlative superlative: самый наикрасивейш-

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

                  by pico on Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 02:58:23 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Haha, that's great (0+ / 0-)

                    This is why I love learning languages; there's so many different ways to express things and different peoples have come up with all sorts of neat approaches.  Neat about the comparatives and directions (the latter I assume only applies to verbs of motion).

                    One of the things that Icelandic has that I understand is rare is the "middle voice".  That is to say, there's active voice (subject does something to object) and passive voice (object does something to subject), but with the middle voice, both subject and object are mutually doing the action.  So, for example, a common way to say goodbye is "sjáumst" or "sjáumst seinna".  "Sjá" is "to see", and "sjáumst" is the middle-voice third person plural indicative.  It's literally "[We] [will] see each other (later)".

                    I still don't get the concept of forming adjectives from nouns.  Seems to me to get an adjective from a noun you also need an implicit passive verb.  That is, what is the adjective form of "spoon"?  Well, you could have something that "looks" like a spoon, "tastes" like a spoon, "scoops" like a spoon, "shines" like a spoon, etc.  But how would you do that generically?  Making adjectives from verbs is easy, because the implicit noun needed is simply "one".  "One who jumps" -> "jumping" -> "jumping spider".  "One who burns" -> "burning" -> "burning tree".  Etc.  The same sort of thing like the English -ing construction is done in Icelandic, except of course there's 120 forms of the adjective and you have to know the past participle.

                    But adjectives from nouns without a verb?  I don't get that concept.  What's the implicit verb?

                    Also there's the issue of getting nouns from verbs, but that's a whole different story!  :)

                    Also, would you mind explaining how that stem morph in Russian works and how it's not an exception?  Like I said, I looked up a page that said how to form Russian plurals and they didn't mention stem morphs, so clearly it wasn't nearly comprehensive enough of a page.  :)  Maybe if it's not an exception  then it's a pattern or something, and they just didn't go into patterns?  You've got me curious. Icelandic, too, has some stem-morphing pluralization patterns beyond the universal stem-bending rules like the u-umlaut rule - Js showing up or disappearing, rotating stem vowel patterns like ö-ö-e/i-a:e/i-e/i-ö-a, and so forth.


                    •  There are at least three (that I know of) (0+ / 0-)

                      paradigms in Russian declension that involve stem morphs.  I wouldn't call them exceptions because they're not: it's one thing if a word or two follows the pattern, but we're talking categories of words.  The example I gave you holds true for (among others) ребенок, котенок, медвежонок, цыпленок, ягненок, гусенок, индюшонок, козленок, олененок, etc. etc. and the slightly irregular дитя, which otherwise follows the pattern.   At what point is this no longer an exception but a bona fide paradigm?  And it's a productive category (meaning the paradigmatic stem can be  used to create new words as well.)

                      Other stem-changing paradigms: words like гражданин- which have a variable infix -ин- that disappears in plural cases (so you get stem variants like северянин-/северян-).  This category deals with nouns referring to types of people, and involves a large list of words as well.   And another, albeit smaller paradigm for all the neuter nouns that end in -мя, where oblique cases involve a stem shift from -мя -> -мен-, words like имя (name), время (time), etc.  

                      I haven't included all the nouns whose stems end in consonant clusters, so the oblique cases sometimes add vowels for pronunciation purposes.   It's not a genuine stem shift in the way you're describing it (it has to do with the language's medieval roots), but it's plenty common to see things like окно -> окон, бабушка -> бабушек, etc.  

                      I don't understand the question about making adjectives from nouns.  Why do you need a verb in there?  In English we tend to use the nouns themselves as modifiers (i.e. "milk chocolate", milk is a modifier), but Russian requires an adjectival form here, so they just create one out of the noun: молоко -> молочный, etc.

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

                      by pico on Wed Sep 26, 2012 at 11:53:24 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  Adjectives from nouns? Spoony! (0+ / 0-)
    •  I take it from your examples (0+ / 0-)

      that Icelandic doesn't have an indefinite article (e.g. Ég er með dóttur og son og gler). Or is it one of those things that "just depends"?

      You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children's children what it was once like in America when 25% of the population was batshit insane.

      by Omir the Storyteller on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 09:36:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What's this word "declined"? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pale Jenova

      Is that for suffixes?  I thought the term was "inflection" when verbs changed for subject, numbers or tense, or nouns changed for gender or number.

      My suggestion: Mandarin.  They don't do any of that shit.  

      "The one big advantage to being a boring candidate is that you give the appearance of calm and stability. But, suddenly, Romney seemed to want to go for a piquant mélange of dull and hotheaded."-- Gail Collins

      by Inland on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 07:48:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a delightful diary (4+ / 0-)

    I speak no Icelandic. Is there any hope for someone to start learning it in adulthood?

    I hope you are doing well in Iceland these days.

    •  I am most definitely an adult. (6+ / 0-)

      So yes, there is hope.  :)  It's all about motivation.  If you have motivation, it can be fun to learn languages.  If you're not motivated, it can be a chore.  Just like anything else in life, except this one takes years to master.

      •  I think I'll stick with Esperanto :-) (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FarWestGirl, Pale Jenova

        No knock against Iceland, but I had enough trouble keeping the various cases and genders and stuff straight in German, and there were only four cases. I'd probably go stark raving mad trying to keep all the linguistic fiddly bits in Icelandic straight.

        Also, the World Esperanto Congress is going to be in Reykjavik next year. I don't know how many Esperantists there are in Iceland, but I figure there has to be at least a stable core group to do the ground work for a World Congress.

        You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children's children what it was once like in America when 25% of the population was batshit insane.

        by Omir the Storyteller on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 09:51:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Total immersion! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rei, FarWestGirl

        Of course, so many Icelanders speak flawless English that immersion is only as total as one chooses...

        Those who do not move, do not notice their chains. - Rosa Luxemburg

        by chuckvw on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 01:58:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I think I'll stick with Esperanto :-) (0+ / 0-)

      I could go to Rekjavik and have no trouble finding someone to speak Esperanto with (in fact the World Esperanto Congress is going to be held in Rekjavik next summer). I could do that with Icelandic too, but I could also go to Prague, Beijing, Abidjan or Rio de Janeiro and find Esperantists. Somehow I don't think Icelandic would be as useful. :-)

      This is not a knock against Icelandic - in fact I've long been fascinated by Old English and Old Norse and similar langages. It's just that based on my experience with German, where I could never get cases and genders straight, it would be a pretty tough slog. German only has four cases, so I don't hold out much hope for keeping all of the grammatical fiddly bits of Icelandic straight. (Esperanto, for the record, has only one - the accusative. Everything else is handled by prepositions.)

      You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children's children what it was once like in America when 25% of the population was batshit insane.

      by Omir the Storyteller on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 09:44:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  how to deal with long words (4+ / 0-)
    light-pears (ljósperur, "lightbulbs")
    Funny, and nice picture. They are Glühbirnen (glow-pears) in German. I wonder who came up with this in either country, if anybody needed to - it looks so fitting.

    Here is how to deal with overlong words in Norse languages, if need be:
    I am a god an I'll go with words I glean good.

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

    by intruder from Old Europe on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 07:32:20 PM PDT

    •  I know that "goose feet" for quotation marks (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluedust, FarWestGirl, miscanthus

      is also shared among the other Nordic languages.  I find that one cute.  :)

      I had to get used to referring to the bulbs as "pears" for short instead of lights (ljós).  If you say that you're going to change the light, it's assumed that you mean the fixture.

      You know, it's really amazing when I think back at how much I've learned through trial and error so far.  Normally I can only see what's ahead of me, the overwhelming amount that I have yet to learn.  But there really is an awful lot that I've learned already, when I think about it.

      Just not nearly as much as there is yet to learn  ;)

    •  I wonder what they call those scary twisty bulbs! (0+ / 0-)


      And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

      by Pale Jenova on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 09:01:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a wonderful diary (6+ / 0-)

    I enjoy reading about langages and the various similarities and differences between them. As I alluded in a post above, I am fascinated by the old Germanic languages and Icelandic seems like a throwback to the earliest days of what we now know as Germanic languages. Thanks for posting it!

    You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children's children what it was once like in America when 25% of the population was batshit insane.

    by Omir the Storyteller on Mon Sep 24, 2012 at 09:47:31 PM PDT

  •  "compound words are often formed of the genitive," (0+ / 0-)

    "usually genitive plural, declension of their components."

    Now this is most likely not a problem for the people who read your whole diary, but the misuse and misunderstanding of apostrophes (or as many would now write, "apostrophe's") and plural formations makes me wonder if American English usage has gone off the tracks and crashed to smithereens upon Grammar Rock.


    "Had we gone the invasion route, the US could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land." -- George H. W. Bush, "A World Transformed," 1998 memoir (explaining why the US did not occupy Iraq in the 1991 "Desert Storm" war)

    by nuclear winter solstice on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 04:12:45 AM PDT

  •  A fabulous diary. Thank you. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    So much to learn!  Wow!

  •  I feel after having read this diary, I find (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    myself in a state of floccinaucinihilipilification as if I had contracted a case of pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis that tore thrrough my osseocarnisanguineoviscericartilaginonervomedullary, that could only be eased an a bath of water that was just aqueosalinocalcalinoceraseoaluminoso cupreovitriolic enough

    Slow thinkers - keep right

    by Dave the Wave on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 06:10:24 AM PDT

  •  Speaking as an antidisestablishmentarian (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terabthia2, FarWestGirl

    with pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis whose ancestors hailed from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch, I cant' see anything wrong with sesquipedalian verbage.

    We get what we want - or what we fail to refuse. - Muhammad Yunus

    by nightsweat on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 06:18:50 AM PDT

  •  I like Icelandic þorn (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Just saying.

    (From previous diary: þorn = thorn).

  •  walibe... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ya'llgotchersevs somepurtylong wordsthar.  Iffenihadtolarn thatthere languageidbeuppacrik.   Io capisco gl'italiano, ma non questo.

    The longer I live, the clearer I perceive how unmatchable a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the courage to utter his convictions." Mark Twain

    by Persiflage on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:01:17 AM PDT

  •  I love language stuff...thanks! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Not to mention the fact that I would love to visit Iceland (Finland first, though--sorry!) someday. All of Scandinavia, of course.

    I've read that Icelandic is a very conservative language in that it does not allow loan words at all...that all new words and new things have to have a "traditional" Icelandic word to them, correct? (hence translating "number prophet" into the word for "computer"--I read about that one.)

    Just don't ask me to try to pronounce the name of that volcano, though! :)

    And three cheers for Iceland giving us the world's first openly LGBT head of state!

    "If you're looking for somebody with George W. Bush's economic policy, Dick Cheney's foreign policy, and Rick Santorum's social policy, then Mitt Romney's your man." -- James Carville

    by terabthia2 on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 10:11:06 AM PDT

    •  The best part about having a lesbian prime (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FarWestGirl, terabthia2

      minister here... is that nobody cares.  It's a total non-issue.  The only time her sexuality comes up in the Icelandic press is to note that it came up in the foreign press for some reason or another.  

      There are some loan words that have made it into the language, but overall I'm extremely impressed with how well it's kept them out.  If you look at your average Danish online newspaper, for example, half the major links will be English loanwords.  In your average Icelandic online newspaper, you probably won't find any.  I think it's especially impressive how well Icelandic has kept loanwords out given how well everyone here speaks English and how essential English is to life here (the simple reality is that a country this small can't produce all its media, all its products, most information on the net is English, etc).

      It's sort of a shaming that helps maintain this - it's seen as uncultured or uneducated in some circles to use loanwords, at least for physical objects.  The main words that have migrated into Icelandic are parts of speech and expressions - okay, cool, basically, hi (although often hi-hi), etc.  In technical fields, also, where there's no obvious loanword, the import terms tend to be taken up until the concept becomes mainstream enough that a push starts to replace it with an Icelandic equivalent.  So, for example, I "commit-a" code to the code repository at my job, or you may hear someone say how they "root-aði" their phone the other day.  One that rather bugs me is that my coworkers all refer to the CVS repository system as "se-VEE-es" instead of "se-VAFF-es" as would be the proper Icelandic pronunciation.  :Þ.  But that all said, even before there's a mainstreaming of a term, if there's an obvious Icelandic equivalent of a technical term, that tends to get used (for example, over the network our software sends "skeyti" instead of "messages" - skeyti (message) being the obvious word to use here).  

      Also, even in technical fields, there's been a wealth of native-Icelandic words coined.  It's not photon, it's ljóseind.  It's not centrifugal force, it's miðflóttaafl.  Etc.  So while almost everywhere in the world was reporting on "the Large Hadron Collider" was smashing "protons" together to find "the Higgs Boson", Icelandic newspapers were reporting on how "Stóri Sterkeindahraðallinn" was smashing "róteindir"  together to find "Higgs Bóseindinn" .

      Volcano time!  Let's apply the rules above to Eyjafjallajökull.  First, breaking at the letters that look like genitive endings:

      Eyja Fja lla Jökull

      Words in Icelandic don't begin with "ll" and "Fja" isn't a word, so the mind automatically ignores that potential split:

      Eyja Fjalla Jökull

      Pronounced: EY-yah FYAH-tlah JEH-kih-tl.  Notes: the "ö" is sort of like "eh" said with rounded lips, sort of a drop in tone as it progresses.  "u" is sort of like "ih" said the same way.  The "ll" isn't really "tl", but that's the closest English sound to it.  You let the air pressure build up behind your tongue, then spill out to the sides with a pop.   It's actually pretty easy once you figure out what you're supposed to be doing.

      And there you go!  Eyjafjallajökull, Islands' Mountains' Glacier.  The origin of the name isn't entirely certain, but the mountain ridge on which the glacier sits (and which contains the well-known volcano) is fairly close to Vestmannaeyjar, the Westman Islands, so that's the most likely explanation.

      •  That 'll' pronunciation is the same as Welsh. n/t (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rei, Pale Jenova

        Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

        by FarWestGirl on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 03:38:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks, again. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Actually, it's not as hard as it looks. Like you say, sometimes the sheer word length can turn people off. I love long words, though. :) I know about the umlated "o", too. That's always been an easy one for me as I have always had a tendency to use that pronunciation naturally in English I've noticed. It's sort of upper midwestern, even though I'm from New England. :)

        "If you're looking for somebody with George W. Bush's economic policy, Dick Cheney's foreign policy, and Rick Santorum's social policy, then Mitt Romney's your man." -- James Carville

        by terabthia2 on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 06:10:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It's all.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    orismological sesquipedalianisms* to me!

    * the exuberant use of long technical terms ;-)

    Great diary - thanks.

  •  THANK YOU! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei, FarWestGirl

    This is a gem of a diary.  It's the offbeat, general-interest stuff that appeals to open-minded, interested people that helps makes DailyKos so much fun.

  •  Is Icelandic smallest googe translator language? (0+ / 0-)

    I think I read that on Wiki there is only about 400,000 people that use the Icelandic language.

    80 % of Success is Just Showing Up ! ! !
    Stop it. This is hard !

    by Churchill on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 08:32:04 PM PDT

    •  I doubt it's even that high. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There's only 320k people in-country, and probably 4% percent of those or so don't speak much Icelandic.  And most second-generation Icelandic immigrants to other countries don't speak Icelandic, and it's been a long time since any major exoduses.

  •  Sounds like the Icelandic (0+ / 0-)

    genitive plural is a lot easier than the Russian genitive plural.

    And God said, "Let there be light"; and with a Big Bang, there was light. And God said "Ow! Ow My eyes!" and in a flash God separated light from darkness. "Whew! Now that's better. Now where was I. Oh yea . . ."

    by Pale Jenova on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 08:52:09 PM PDT

    •  Yep, Icelandic genitive plural is usually (0+ / 0-)

      pretty regular.  Excepting exceptions, it's either -a, or less common, -na (always with weak neuter, sometimes with strong feminine - gotta memorize them).  But not bad.  The nastiest one is always nominative plural.  There's just no pattern to them for strong masculine and feminine.

  •  I think its funny that they use number days when (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    we use the days named after the Norse gods. Thor's day and Twi's day.

    compassion for things i'll never know ~ david byrne

    by little lion on Tue Sep 25, 2012 at 09:04:59 PM PDT

  •  Did you ever see the (0+ / 0-)

    Varfeevervatin where the old Icelandic partying took place and democracy got started?  What a great place to visit.  Thanks for this post the tongue twisters not withstanding.

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