mánudagur, maí 29, 2006


In order to promote greater cross-cultural understanding, a new occasional (or maybe regular, we'll see) feature here on IR is gonna be a little online etymology smackdown/tutorial. A word of the day kinda gig. As some of you know, the language here in Iceland descends directly from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. Old Norse was itself descended from a proto-language that also spawned Old English late in the first millenium AD. And around that same time the Vikings went raiding and conquering and amassed a vast area of control that remained for a few centuries. This Viking world encompassed lots of Jolly Old England. And so through both of these mechanisms many words in English have counterparts in Old Norse, and thus Icelandic.

This fact always seems to surprise Icelanders (who like to think that their language is so difficult and obscure as to be unlearnable) and Americans/British (who think that Icelandic is some crazy language too strange to have any relationship to what they speak, and thus unimportant to learn). In fact, learning Icelandic is an excellent way to learn more about English, as the Icelandic language preserves a language very similar to the Old English that was spoken a thousand years ago. To kasta some ljós on the situation, I present you the very first word of the day:

window comes from a compound word in Old Norse: vindauga, with an Icelandic prounciation close to that of the English word (the end "auga" is very vowelicious and soft). In turn, vindur means wind and auga eye, so the next time mom yells at you to close the window, you can know that it's the wind's eye you're dealing with. (Now, back to Vindauga XP and my day job...)


Blogger Sigvaldi said...

I was on the bus to JFK airport once back in the 1980´, talking to a buddy of mine and an older lady asked us what language we were speaking and we said "icelandic".
She asked us what language Icelandic was a dialect of and we replied that English is an Icelandic dialect.

Blogger JB said...



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