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Icelandic orthography

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Icelandic orthography

Icelandic orthography is the way in which Icelandic words are spelt and how their spelling corresponds with their pronunciation.

Alphabet

Eth
A handwriting extract; the Icelandic letters ð & þ are visible

The Icelandic alphabet is a Latin alphabet including some letters duplicated with acute accents, in addition it includes the letter eth Ðð, transliterated to d, and the runic letter thorn Þþ, transliterated to th, (pictured to the right); Ææ and Öö are considered letters in their own right and not a ligature or diacritical version of their respective letters. Icelanders call the ten extra letters (not in the English alphabet), especially thorn and eth, séríslenskur ("specifically Icelandic, uniquely Icelandic"), although they are not. Eth is also used in Faroese language, while thorn is no longer used in any other living language. Icelandic words never start with ð, which means the capital version Ð is mainly just used when words are spelled using all capitals.

Sometimes the glyphs are simplified when handwritten, for example æ (considered a separate letter, originally a ligature) may be written as ae, which can make it easier to write cursively.

The alphabet consists of the following 32 letters.

An Icelandic speaker reciting the alphabet in Icelandic

Problems playing this file? See .
Letter Name IPA Frequency[1]
Aa a [a] 10.11%
Áá á [au̯] 1.8%
Bb [pjɛ] 1.04%
Dd [tjɛ] 1.58%
Ðð [ɛð̠] 4.39%
Ee e [ɛ] 6.42%
Éé é [jɛ] 0.65%
Ff eff [ɛfː] 3.01%
Gg [cɛ] 4.24%
Hh [hau̯] 1.87%
Ii i [ɪ] 7.58%
Íí í [i] 1.57%
Jj joð [jɔð̠] 1.14%
Kk [kʰau̯] 3.31%
Ll ell [ɛtl̥] 4.53%
Mm emm [ɛmː] 4.04%
Nn enn [ɛnː] 7.71%
Oo o [ɔ] 2.17%
Óó ó [ou̯] 0.99%
Pp [pʰjɛ] 0.79%
Rr err [ɛr] 8.58%
Ss ess [ɛs] 5.63%
Tt [tʰjɛ] 4.95%
Uu u [ʏ] 4.56%
Úú ú [u] 0.61%
Vv vaff [vafː] 2.44%
Xx ex [ɛxs] 0.05%
Yy ypsilon y [ʏfsɪlɔn ɪ] 0.9%
Ýý ypsilon ý [ʏfsɪlɔn i] 0.23%
Þþ þorn [θ̼ɔrtn̥] 1.45%
Ææ æ [ai̯] 0.87%
Öö ö [œ] 0.78%
Deleted letter
Letter Name IPA
Zz seta [sɛta]

The letters a, á, e, é, i, í, o, ó, u, ú, y, ý, æ and ö are considered vowels, and the remainder are consonants.

The letters C (, [sjɛ]), Q (, [kʰu]) and W (tvöfalt vaff, [ˈtʰvœfal̥t ˌvafː]) are only used in Icelandic in words of foreign origin and some proper names that are also of foreign origin. Otherwise, c, qu, and w are substituted with k/s/ts, hv, and v respectively. (And in fact, hv is a direct cognate of Latin qu and English "wh": Icelandic hvað, Latin quod, English "what".)

The letter Z (seta, [ˈsɛta]) was used until 1973, when it was abolished, as it was only an etymological detail. However, one of the most important newspapers in Verzlunarskóli Íslands has it in its name. It is also found in some proper names of people. Older people, who were educated before the abolition of the z sometimes also use it.

While the letters C, Q, W, and Z are found on the Icelandic keyboard, they are rarely used in Icelandic; they are used in some proper names of Icelanders, mainly family names (family names are the exception in Iceland). Many consider the letters should be part of the Icelandic alphabet, as the alphabet is first and foremost a tool to collate words/proper nouns. Not having these letters in the alphabet makes it impossible to alphabetize names like Carl and Walter that are well known in Iceland. The alphabet, as taught in Icelandic schools until c. 1980, consisted of 36 letters: a, á, b, c, d, ð, e, é, f, g, h, i, í, j, k, l, m, n, o, ó, p, q, r, s, t, u, ú, v, w, x, y, ý, z, þ, æ, ö.

History

The modern Icelandic alphabet has developed from a standard established in the 19th century, by the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask primarily. It is ultimately based heavily on an orthographic standard created in the early 12th century by a document referred to as The First Grammatical Treatise, author unknown. The standard was intended for the common North Germanic language, Old Norse. It did not have much influence, however, at the time.

The most defining characteristics of the alphabet were established in the old treatise:

The later Rasmus Rask standard was basically a re-enactment of the old treatise, with some changes to fit concurrent North Germanic conventions, such as the exclusive use of k rather than c. Various old features, like ð, had actually not seen much use in the later centuries, so Rask's standard constituted a major change in practice.

Later 20th century changes are most notably the adoption of é, which had previously been written as je (reflecting the modern pronunciation), and the abolition of z in 1973.[2]

Function of symbols

This section lists Icelandic letters and letter combinations, and how to pronounce them using a narrow International Phonetic Alphabet transcription.[3][4]

Icelandic vowels may be either long or short, but this distinction is only relevant in stressed syllables: unstressed vowels are neutral in quantitative aspect. The vowel length is determined by the consonants that follow the vowel: if there is only one consonant (i.e., a [VC] syllable), the vowel is long; if there are more than one ([VCC]), including geminates, the vowel is short. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule:

  1. A vowel is long when the first consonant following it is [p t k s] and the second [v j r], e.g. esja, vepja, akrar, vökvar, tvisvar.
  2. A vowel is also long in monosyllabic substantives with a genitive -s whose stem ends in a single [p t k] following a vowel (e.g. ráps, skaks), except if the final [p t k] is assimilated into the [s], e.g. báts.
  3. The first word of a compound term preserves its long vowel if its following consonant is one of the group [p t k s], e.g. matmál.
  4. The non-compound verbs vitkast and litka have long vowels.

The chart below is incomplete:

Vowels
Grapheme Sound () Examples
Long Short Before
[ŋ]
a [äː] [ɐ] [äu̯] taska "handbag, suitcase"    
kaka "cake"    
svangur "hungry"
á [äu̯] fár "damage"    
au [œy̯] þau "they"    
e [eɛ̯] [ɛ] [ɛi̯] skera "to cut"
drekka "to drink"    
drengur "boy"
é [jɛ] ég [jɛːɣ] "I"    
ei, ey [ɛi̯] skeið "spoon"    
i, y [ɪ] sin "sinew"    
í, ý [i] íslenska "Icelandic"    
o [oɔ̯] [ɔ] lofa "promise"    
dolla "pot"
ó [ou̯] rós "rose"    
u [ʏ] [u] hundur "dog"    
munkur "monk"
ú [u] þú "you"    
æ [äi̯] læsa "lock"    
ö [œ] ör "scar"    
Consonants
Grapheme Phonetic realization () Examples
b In most cases:
[p⁼] unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop
bær "town"    
Between m and d, t, s, or g:
Ø
kembt [cʰɛm̥tʰ] "combed [past participle]"
d In most cases:
[t⁼] unaspirated voiceless alveolar stop
dalur "valley" About this sound   
Between l or n and g, n, l, k, or s:
Ø
lands [lans] "land [genitive case]"
ð between vowels, between a vowel and a voiced consonant, or at end of word:
[ð̠] voiced alveolar non-sibilant fricative
eða "or"    

bað "bath"    

before a voiceless consonant:
[θ̠] voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative
maðkur "maggot"    
Between r and n, and between g and s:
Ø
harðna [ˈhartna] "harden"

bragðs [braxs] "trick [genitive case]"

f At the beginning of a word or before a voiceless consonant, and when doubled:
[f]
fundur "meeting"

haft [haftʰ] "had [past participle]"

Between vowels, between a vowel and a voiced consonant, or at the end of a word:
[v]
lofa "promise"    

horfa [ˈhɔrva] "look"

between ó and a vowel:
Ø
prófa [prou̯ɐ] "test"    

gulrófa [ˈkʏltˌrou̯.ɐ] "rutabaga"    

before l or n:
[p⁼]
Keflavík    
fnd [mt] hefnd [hɛmt]    
fnt [m̥t] (voiceless) nefnt [nɛm̥t]    
g beginning of word, before a consonant or a, á, é, o, ó, u, ú and ö; or between vowel and l or n:
[k⁼] unaspirated voiceless velar stop
glápa "have a look"    

logn "calm (weather)"    

beginning of word, before e, i, í, j, y, ý, æ, ei or ey:
[c⁼] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
geta "can"    
between a vowel and a, u, ð, l or r; or at end of word:
[ɣ] voiced velar fricative
fluga "fly"    

lag "song"    

before t or s
[x] voiceless velar fricative
dragt "suit"
between a vowel and j or i
[j] palatal approximant
segja "to say"
between á, ó, ú, and a or u
Ø
fljúga "to fly"
gj [c⁼] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop gjalda "to pay"
hj [ç] voiceless palatal fricative hjá "next to, with"
hl [l̥] voiceless alveolar lateral approximant hlýr "warm"
hr [r̥] voiceless alveolar trill hratt "fast"
hv [kʰv] ([xv] among some older speakers in southern Iceland) hvað "what"    
j [j] "yes"
k [kʰ] kynskiptingur "transsexual"    
beginning of word, before e, i, í, y, ý, æ, ei or ey:
[cʰ] aspirated voiceless palatal stop
keyra "drive"
before t
[x] voiceless velar fricative
október "October"
kj beginning of word:
[cʰ] aspirated voiceless palatal stop
kjöt "meat"
all other contexts:
[c⁼] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
þykja "to be regarded"
kk [ʰk] þakka "thank"    
l in most cases:
[l]
lás "lock"    
at end of word, or next to a voiceless consonant:
[l̥] voiceless alveolar lateral approximant
sól "sun"    , stúlka
ll in most cases:
[tl]
bolli "cup" About this sound   

milli "between"    

in loan words and pet names:
[lː]
bolla About this sound   

mylla "mill"    

m in most cases:
[m]
mamma "mum"
after and before voiceless consonants
[m̥]
lampi "lamp"
n in most cases:
[n]
nafn "name"
after and before voiceless consonants
[n̥]
planta "plant"

hnifur "knife"

nn after accented vowels or diphthongs:
[tn̥]
steinn "rock"

fínn "elegant"

all other contexts
[nː]
finna "to find"
p beginning of word:
[pʰ] aspirated voiceless bilabial stop
par "pair"    
after a voiceless sound:
[p⁼] unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop
spara "save"    
before s, k or t:
[f] voiceless labiodental fricative
September "September"

skips "ship's"

pp [ʰp] stoppa "stop"    
r at the beginning of words and between vowels:
[r] (voiced alveolar trill)
rigna "to rain"

læra "to learn"

before and after voiceless consonants and before a pause
[r̥] (voiceless alveolar trill)
svartur "black"
rl [rtl̥] karlmaður "man"
rn [rtn̥] þorn "the name of the letter þ"
s [s] sósa sauce
sl [stl̥] rusl
sn [stn̥] bysna
t beginning of word:
[tʰ] aspirated voiceless alveolar stop
taka "take"    
after voiceless sound:
[t⁼] unaspirated voiceless alveolar stop
stela "steal"    
tt [ʰt] detta "to fall"
v [v] vera "to be"
x [xs] lax "salmon"
þ [θ̠] see Ð above þú "you"

Aþena "Athens"    

See also

External links

  • Guidelines for phonetic transcription

References

  1. ^ "Icelandic Letter Frequencies". Practical cryptography. Retrieved 4 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson. "Stafsetning og greinarmerkjasetning" (in Íslenska). Retrieved 9 May 2014. 2. og 3. grein fjalla um bókstafinn z, brottnám hans úr íslensku, og ýmsar afleiðingar þess. z var numin brott úr íslensku ritmáli með auglýsingu menntamálaráðuneytisins í september 1973 (ekki 1974, eins og oft er haldið fram). 
  3. ^ Thráinsson, Höskuldur. Icelandic in The Germanic Languages, 2002, eds. König, Ekkehard; van der Auwera, Johan. pgs 142-52. Routledge Language Family Descriptions
  4. ^ Einarsson, Stefán (1949). Icelandic: Grammar, Texts, Glossary. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 1–25. 
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