Glacier up close from above

A Quick Guide to Some Icelandic

In Tradition, Uncategorized by Sandra

September 8, 2017

The Icelandic Language

Icelandic is the Nordic language that most resembles old Norse which was once the language spoken throughout Scandinavia. We often get asked if all Icelanders can still read the old Sagas dating back to the year 1000. It is true, but it does take some effort. Most of us need to have the text cleaned up a bit and put into our current use of alphabet. We then read it very carefully to understand the story fully. So yes, we can read the old Sagas but it does not come as easy as one might think. If you want a quick example of how the written language has changed in the last 800 years I recommend this beautiful hymn written in the 12th century.

Icelandic is not the easiest language to learn but it might surprise you that many words you will recognize from English. For example, the word hús is a house, hundur (dog) from the word hound and barn (child) like the word bairn, just to name a few. The difficulty of the language lies more in all its inflections as well as pronunciations. Words constantly changing with tense, gender and number is not ideal for quick learning. Icelandic might sound scary but I encourage you to try it out. We do love when foreigners learn Icelandic. Even if it is just a few words and I promise we are not very concerned with grammar mistakes and are happy to help with pronunciation.


Eyjafjallajökull vs. Eye-a-fya-tlah-jo-kutl

Helicopter on top of EyjafjallajokullSince the infamous volcanic eruption in 2010 many people have endeavored to pronounce the name of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Some of our tours go out to this stunning glacier and as you would expect many of our guests ask for a quick lesson in Icelandic. Most people give Eyjafjallajökull a try, some very creatively but only a few have succeeded! Someone suggested that the easiest way might be saying “hey, I forgot your yogurt” fast, which is not too bad. I suggest you check out this video of reporters trying their luck with this tongue twister and this video if you want to learn to pronounce it correctly.

The name Eyja-fjalla-jökull is actually 3 words in 1 and like so often in Icelandic the name describes the phenomenon. Eyjafjallajökull literally means “the Island Mountains Glacier” since under the glacier you will find mountains from which you have a very nice view over the Westman Islands. The same goes for our capital Reykjavik that got its name from the early days where you would see steam rising from the ground due to flowing hot water in the area. Reykja-vik is 2 words and simply means “Smokey creek”.


Sounding Icelandic

There are a few words that could be fun learning before you go flying and will probably come in handy. First of all, you would want to know how to say helicopter, “þyrla”. The first letter is an Icelandic letter that should be pronounced like “th” and the “y” sounds like the “i” in thing. So, if you want to sound Icelandic you would say “th-i-r-tl-ah” and do not be afraid of rolling that “r”.

Landmannalaugar Icelandic highlandsIf you are excited before your tour and want to get going, a good word to indicate that feeling is “jæja”. It is pronounced “y-uy-yah” and you have to sound optimistic while saying it to convey the right message. Jæja is a fantastic word that can be used in all sorts of situations and mean different things, all depending on the intonation.

You will definitely need this phrase “ótrúlega fallegt“  when flying with us. It is pronounced “oh-true-leh-cha  fah-tl-echt” where the “ch” in both words sounds like a hissing cat or like the German word for me “ich”. I guarantee you will need this phrase and use it A LOT. Since it means unbelievably beautiful.

And last but not least. When you come fly with us again you should greet us with this phrase “takk fyrir síðast” or “tack fi-rir see-thast”. This phrase is very commonly used, it indicates that the last time you met a person it was a happy/fun occasion and you are grateful to have enjoyed the occasion or moment together. You could use it if you last met at a party, date, dinner or maybe on a helicopter tour 🙂

You are ready! So let´s go flying!