Icelandic Language

Iceland’s official language is Icelandic, which is a Germanic language. Between the 8th and 10th centuries, the Viking era, all Nordic peoples had a common language. After that, separate languages evolved in what is now Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Iceland kept the old language and there were no changes to it over the centuries. That’s why today, Icelanders are able to read medieval Icelandic sagas, which were written between 1200 and 1400, the “Age of Sagas.”

Icelandic is grammatically complex. There are 33 letters in the alphabet, including two that don’t exist in any other language. Many Icelanders love everything that has to do with language, literature and history. In fact, Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country.

The Icelandic language is dear to many people. They even have a committee that exists for the sole purpose of creating new Icelandic words for foreign words whenever possible. This committee comes up with Icelandic words for terms like computer to keep Icelandic as pure as possible.

However, Icelanders are not against learning foreign languages. Most people speak English fluently and often times one or more other languages. They are taught Danish from age 10 to 16 and English from age 11 to 16.

Icelandic Names

Icelanders call each other by their first name, even doctors or politicians. Titles such as ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ are not used, either.

Also, family names don’t really exist in Iceland. Instead, most Icelanders use the old Viking patronymics. The result is that members of the same family have different last names.

Family names are formed by the possessive form of the father’s first name, followed by dottir, for women, (meaning daughter) and son, for men, (meaning son). So if Ragnar has a daughter named Margret, the daughter’s name is Margret Ragnarsdottir. And if Ragnar has a son named Petur, the son’s name is Petur Ragnarsson. That’s why women don’t change their name when they marry because they can’t become someone else’s daughter. Also, people are listed by their first names in the telephone book.