Icelandic orthography

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

Alphabet[edit]

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

The Icelandic alphabet is a Latin-script alphabet including some letters duplicated with acute accents; in addition, it includes the letter eth (Ðð), transliterated as d, and the runic letter thorn (Þþ), transliterated as th (see picture); 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" or "uniquely Icelandic"), although they are not. Eth is also used in Faroese, and while thorn is no longer used in any other living language, it was used in many historical languages, including Old English. 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.

Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
A Á B D Ð E É F G H I Í J K L M N O Ó P R S T U Ú V X Y Ý Þ Æ Ö
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a á b d ð e é f g h i í j k l m n o ó p r s t u ú v x y ý þ æ ö
Letter Name IPA Frequency[1]
Aa a [aː] 10.11%
Áá á [auː] 1.8%
Bb [pjɛː] 1.04%
Dd [tjɛː] 1.58%
Ðð [ɛːð] 4.39%
Ee e [ɛː] 6.42%
Éé é [jɛː] 0.65%
Ff eff [ɛfː] 3.01%
Gg ge [cɛː] 4.24%
Hh [hauː] 1.87%
Ii i [ɪː] 7.58%
Íí í [iː] 1.57%
Jj joð [jɔːð] 1.14%
Kk [kʰauː] 3.31%
Ll ell [ɛtːl̥] 4.53%
Mm emm [ɛmː] 4.04%
Nn enn [ɛnː] 7.71%
Oo o [ɔː] 2.17%
Óó ó [ou] 0.99%
Pp [pʰjɛː] 0.79%
Rr err [ɛrː] 8.58%
Ss ess [ɛsː] 5.63%
Tt [tʰjɛː] 4.95%
Uu u [ʏː] 4.56%
Úú ú [uː] 0.61%
Vv vaff [vafː] 2.44%
Xx ex [ɛxs] 0.05%
Yy ufsilon y [ˈʏfsɪlɔn ɪː] 0.9%
Ýý ufsilon ý [ˈʏfsɪlɔn iː] 0.23%
Þþ þorn [θɔrtn̥] 1.45%
Ææ æ [ai] 0.87%
Öö ö [œː] 0.78%
Deleted letter
Letter Name IPA
Zz seta [ˈsɛːta]

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 (, [sjɛː]), Q (, [kʰuː]) and W (tvöfalt vaff, [ˈtʰvœːfal̥t 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 replaced by k/s/ts, hv, and v respectively. (In fact, hv etymologically corresponds to Latin qu and English wh in words inherited from Proto-Indo-European: Icelandic hvað, Latin quod, English what.)

The letter Z (seta, [ˈsɛːta]) was used until 1973, when it was abolished, as it was only an etymological detail. It originally represented an affricate [t͡s], which arose from the combinations t+s, d+s, ð+s; however, in modern Icelandic it came to be pronounced [s], and as it was a rare letter anyway it was decided in 1973 to replace all instances of z with s.[2] However, one of the most important newspapers in Iceland, Morgunblaðið, still uses it sometimes (although very rarely), and a secondary school, Verzlunarskóli Íslands has it in its name. It is also found in some proper names, and loanwords such as pizza. 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 believe these letters should be included in the alphabet, as its purpose is a tool to collate. The alphabet as taught in schools up to about 1980 has these 36 letters (and computers still order this way): 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[edit]

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 replacement of z with s in 1973.[3]

Function of symbols[edit]

This section lists Icelandic letters and letter combinations, and how to pronounce them using a narrow International Phonetic Alphabet transcription.[4][5]

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 and pre-aspirated stops, 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.


Vowels
Grapheme Sound (IPA) Examples
Long Short Before
ng or nk
a [aː] [a] [au] taska [ˈtʰaska] (About this soundlisten) "handbag"
kaka [ˈkʰaːka] (About this soundlisten) "cake"
svangur [ˈsvauŋkʏr] "hungry"
á [auː] [au] fár [fauːr] (About this soundlisten) "disaster"
au [øiː] [øi] þau [θøiː] (About this soundlisten) "they"
e [ɛː] [ɛ] [ei] skera [ˈscɛːra] "to cut"
drekka [ˈtrɛʰka] (About this soundlisten) "to drink"
drengur [ˈtreiŋkʏr] "boy"
é [jɛː] [jɛ] ég [jɛːɣ] (About this soundlisten) "I"
ei, ey [eiː] [ei] skeið [sceiːð] (About this soundlisten) "spoon"
hey [heiː] "hay"
i, y [ɪː] [ɪ] [i] sin [sɪːn] (About this soundlisten) "sinew"
syngja [ˈsiɲca] "to sing"
í, ý [iː] [i] íslenska [ˈistlɛnska] (About this soundlisten) "Icelandic"
o [ɔː] [ɔ] lofa [ˈlɔːva] (About this soundlisten) "to promise"
dolla [ˈtɔtla] "pot"
ó [ouː] [ou] rós [rouːs] (About this soundlisten) "rose"
u [ʏː] [ʏ] [u] hundur [ˈhʏntʏr] (About this soundlisten) "dog"
munkur [ˈmuŋ̊kʏr] "monk"
ú [uː] [u] þú [θuː] (About this soundlisten) "you"
æ [aiː] [ai] læsa [ˈlaiːsa] (About this soundlisten) "lock"
ö [œː] [œ] [øi] ör [œːr] (About this soundlisten) "scar"
hnöttur [ˈn̥œʰtʏr] "globe"
öngull [ˈøiŋkʏtl̥] "hook"
Consonants
Grapheme Phonetic realization (IPA) Examples
b in most cases:
[p] unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop
bær [paiːr] (About this soundlisten) "town"
between m and d, t, s, or g:
kembt [cʰɛm̥t] "combed [past participle]"
d in most cases:
[t] unaspirated voiceless dental stop
dalur [ˈtaːlʏr] (About this soundlisten) "valley"
between l or n and g, n, l, k, or s:
lands [lans] "land's [genitive]"
ð between vowels, between a vowel and a voiced consonant, or at end of word:
[ð̠] voiced alveolar non-sibilant fricative
eða [ˈɛːða] (About this soundlisten) "or"
bað [paːð] (About this soundlisten) "bath"
before a voiceless consonant and before a pause:
[θ̠] voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative
maðkur [ˈmaθkʏr] (About this soundlisten) "worm"
between r and n, and between g and s:
harðna [ˈhartna] "to harden"
bragðs [praxs] "trick's [genitive], flavour's [genitive]"
f at the beginning of a word or before a voiceless consonant, and when doubled:
[f]
fundur [ˈfʏntʏr] "meeting"
haft [haft] "had [past participle]"
between vowels, between a vowel and a voiced consonant, or at the end of a word:
[v]
lofa [ˈlɔːva] (About this soundlisten) "to promise"
horfa [ˈhɔrva] "look"
between ó and a vowel:
prófa [ˈpʰr̥ou.a] (About this soundlisten) "test"
gulrófa [ˈkʏlˌrou.a] (About this soundlisten) "rutabaga"
before l or n:
[p]
Keflavík [ˈcʰɛplaˌviːk] (About this soundlisten) "Keflavík"
fnd [mt] hefnd [hɛmt] (About this soundlisten) "revenge"
fnt [m̥t] (voiceless) nefnt [nɛm̥t] (About this soundlisten) "named"
g beginning of word, before a consonant or a, á, é, o, ó, u, ú or ö; or between vowel and l or n:
[k] unaspirated voiceless velar stop
glápa [ˈklauːpa] (About this soundlisten) "to stare"
logn [lɔkn] (About this soundlisten) "windstill"
beginning of word, before e, i, í, j, y, ý, æ, ei or ey:
[c] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
geta [ˈcɛːta] (About this soundlisten) "to be able"
between a vowel and a, u, ð, l or r; or at end of word:
[ɣ] voiced velar fricative
fluga [ˈfl̥ʏːɣa] (About this soundlisten) "fly"
lag [laːɣ] (About this soundlisten) "layer"
before t or s or before a pause:
[x] voiceless velar fricative
dragt [traxt] "suit"
between a vowel and j or i:
[j] palatal approximant
segja [ˈsɛjːa] "to say"
between á, ó, ú, and a or u:
fljúga [ˈfl̥juː.a] "to fly"
gj [c] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop gjalda [ˈcalta] "to pay"
h [h] voiceless glottal fricative hár [hauːr] "hair"
hj [ç] voiceless palatal fricative hjá [çauː] "next to"
hl [l̥] voiceless alveolar lateral approximant hlýr [l̥iːr] "warm"
hn [n̥] voiceless alveolar lateral approximant hné [n̥jɛː] "knee"
hr [r̥] voiceless alveolar trill hratt [r̥aʰt] "fast"
hv [kʰv] ([xv] among some older speakers in southern Iceland) hvað [kʰvaːð] (About this soundlisten) "what"
j [j] [jauː] "yes"
k beginning of word, before a consonant or a, á, é, o, ó, u, ú or ö:
[kʰ]
kaka [ˈkʰaːka] (About this soundlisten) "cake"
beginning of word, before e, i, í, y, ý, æ, ei or ey:
[cʰ] aspirated voiceless palatal stop
keyra [ˈcʰeiːra] "to drive"
kynskiptingur [ˈcʰɪːnscɪftiŋkʏr] (About this soundlisten) "transsexual"
other contexts, before a, á, é, o, ó, u, ú or ö:
[k]
skarfur [ˈskarvʏr] "cormorant"
haka [ˈhaːka] "chin"
other contexts, before e, i, í, y, ý, æ, ei or ey:
[c] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
skip [ˈscɪːp] "boat"
hroki [ˈr̥ɔːcɪ] "arrogance"
before t:
[x] voiceless velar fricative
október [ˈɔxtouːpɛr] "October"
kj beginning of word:
[cʰ] aspirated voiceless palatal stop
kjöt [cʰœːt] "meat"
other contexts:
[c] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
þykja [ˈθɪːca] "to regard"
kk [ʰk], [ʰc] þakka [ˈθaʰka] (About this soundlisten) "to thank"
ekki [ˈɛʰcɪ] "not"
l in most cases:
[l]
lás [lauːs] (About this soundlisten) "lock"
at end of word, or next to a voiceless consonant:
[l̥] voiceless alveolar lateral approximant
sól [souːl̥] (About this soundlisten) "sun"
stúlka [ˈstul̥ka] "girl"
ll in most cases:
[tl]
bolli [ˈpɔtlɪ] (About this soundlisten) "cup"
milli [ˈmɪtlɪ] (About this soundlisten) "between"
in loan words and pet names:
[lː]
bolla [ˈpɔlːa] (About this soundlisten) "bun, bread roll"
mylla [ˈmɪlːa] (About this soundlisten) "mill"
m in most cases:
[m]
mamma [ˈmamːa] "mum"
after and before voiceless consonants:
[m̥]
lampi [ˈlam̥pɪ] "lamp"
n in most cases:
[n]
nafn [napn̥] "name"
after and before voiceless consonants:
[n̥]
planta [ˈpʰlan̥ta] "plant"
hnífur [ˈn̥iːvʏr] "knife"
ng in most cases:
[ŋk], [ɲc]
vængur [ˈvaiŋkʏr] "wing"
engi [ˈeiɲcɪ] "meadow"
before d, l or s:
[ŋ]
kringla [ˈkʰriŋla] "disc"
gangs [ˈkauŋs] "movement's [genitive]"
nk [ŋ̊k], [ɲ̊c] hönk [ˈhøiŋ̊k] "coil, loop"
banki [ˈpauɲ̊cɪ] "bank"
nn after accented vowels or diphthongs:
[tn̥]
steinn [steitn̥] "rock"
fínn [fitn̥] "fine"
all other contexts:
[nː]
finna [ˈfɪnːa] "to find"
p beginning of word:
[pʰ] aspirated voiceless bilabial stop
par [pʰaːr] (About this soundlisten) "pair"
other contexts:
[p] unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop
spara [ˈspaːra] (About this soundlisten) "to save"
kápa [ˈkʰauːpa] "coat"
before s, k or t:
[f] voiceless labiodental fricative
September [ˈsɛftɛmpɛr] "September"
skips [skɪfs] "ship's [genitive]"
before n:
[ʰp]
vopn [vɔʰpn̥] "weapon(s)"
pp [ʰp] stoppa [ˈstɔʰpa] (About this soundlisten) "to stop"
r at the beginning of words and between vowels:
[r] (voiced alveolar trill or tap)
rigna [ˈrɪkna] "to rain"
læra [ˈlaiːra] "to learn"
before and after voiceless consonants and before a pause:
[r̥] (voiceless alveolar trill or tap)
svartur [ˈsvar̥tʏr] "black"
rl [rtl̥] karlmaður [ˈkʰartl̥ˌmaːðʏr] "male human"
rn in most cases:
[rtn̥]
þorn [θɔrtn̥] "the name of the letter Þ"
before d:
[rn]
vernd [vɛrnt] "protection"
s [s] sósa [ˈsouːsa] "sauce"
sl [stl̥] rusl [rʏstl̥] "garbage"
sn [stn̥] býsna [ˈpistn̥a] "extremes"
t beginning of word:
[tʰ] aspirated voiceless dental stop
taka [ˈtʰaːka] (About this soundlisten) "take"
other contexts:
[t] unaspirated voiceless dental stop
stela [ˈstɛːla] (About this soundlisten) "to steal"
skutur [ˈskʏːtʏr] "stern"
tt [ʰt] detta [ˈtɛʰta] "to fall"
v [v] vera [ˈvɛːra] "to be"
x [xs] (or [ks]) lax [laxs] "salmon"
z [s] beztur [ˈpɛstʏr] "the best" (former orthography)
Zakarías [ˈsaːkʰariːas] "Zachary"
þ [θ̠] voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative þú [θuː] "you"
Aþena [ˈaːθɛna] (About this soundlisten) "Athens"

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Icelandic Letter Frequencies". Practical cryptography. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  2. ^ Hvers vegna var bókstafurinn z svona mikið notaður á Íslandi en því svo hætt? (in Icelandic)
  3. ^ Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson. "Stafsetning og greinarmerkjasetning" (in Icelandic). 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). (in Icelandic)
  4. ^ Höskuldur Þráinsson (2002). "Icelandic". In König, Ekkehard; van der Auwera, Johan. The Germanic Languages. Routledge Language Family Descriptions. pp. 142–152.
  5. ^ Stefán Einarsson (1949). Icelandic: Grammar, Texts, Glossary. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 1–25.

External links[edit]