Icelandic is spoken by
the 250,000 inhabitants of Iceland. It is one of the Scandinavian
languages, which form a branch of the Germanic languages, in turn a
part of the Indo-European family.
remarkably similar to Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, which
was brought to iceland from Norway in the 9th century. Whereas the
other Scandinavian languages have been strongly influenced by those
of neighboring countries, Icelandic, insular and isolated, has
retained its pristine character over the centuries. As a result
Icelandic schoolchildren today have no difficulty reading the Eddas
and the sagas, the great epics written in Old Norse. Their language
is a sort of parent tongue to the other modern Scandinavian
languages. It also has many features in common with Old English, the
result of the Viking invasions of Britain in the 9th century.
Another factor behind
the purity of Icelandic is the absence of international words for
modern ideas and inventions. Icelanders avoid such words wherever
possible, preferring to coin their own purely Icelandic words
instead. Thus "telephone" in Icelandic is simi, an
old Icelandic word for "thread" or "wire." The
word for "radio" is ˙tvarp ("broadcast").
"Automobile" is bill, but may also be bifrei
("moving ride"). "Electricity" is rafmagn
Icelandic's links with
Old English are also reflected in the alphabet, which contains the
old runic letters (eth), the voiced th, and
the ■ (thorn), the unvoiced. It also contains the Š
of Danish and Norwegian.
The English word geyser
and eider are of Icelandic orgin.