Languages in Iceland

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Languages in Iceland

The official language of Iceland is Icelandic (íslenska), which remains very similar to, although not quite the same as 13th-century Norse. Icelandic writing uses the Latin alphabet, but with two characters long ago lost from English: eth (Ð, ð), pronounced like the voiced th of "them", and thorn (Þ, þ), pronounced like the unvoiced th of "thick". Materials in English often substitute "dh" and "th" respectively, so eg. Fjörður is written Fjordhur and þingvellir is written Thingvellir. Loanwords are shunned, and new words are regularly made for concepts like computers, known as tölva ("number-prophetess"). Icelandic is related to the other Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Faroese), and while it is hardly mutually intelligible with them in spoken form, this is not as much the case in written form.

Most Icelanders also speak English and Danish, as both languages are compulsory in schools, and because of their Danish knowledge also understand Swedish and Norwegian. Icelandic college students choose a "fourth language" to study, usually Spanish, German, French, or Italian, but proficiency is most often nonexistent. Even though the majority of Icelanders are competent in English, attempts at speaking Icelandic are always appreciated, and learning some basic greetings and phrases in Icelandic will make your trip much smoother.

Icelanders use the comma instead of the decimal sign for integers, i.e. 12,000 means 12, not twelve thousand, whereas 12 000 or 12.000 means twelve thousand. Icelanders use both the 24 and 12 hour system, speaking the 12 hour system and using the 24 hour system for writing. Icelanders do not use PM/AM to indicate morning and afternoon. In Icelandic, "half ten" ("hálf tíu") means half past nine (9:30). When speaking to a person not fluent in English it is best not use this form to avoid misunderstanding. Dates can be seen abbreviated in a number of ways, but the order is always DAY-MONTH-YEAR; 12.7.08, 120708, or 12/07/08 is equivalent to July 12, 2008. Icelandic calendars also indicate the number of the week 1 through 52.

Iceland uses the metric system only. There is limited knowledge of Imperial or US measurements.

In Iceland there is no concept of a ground floor as e.g. in the UK. Instead, the entrance level of a building is called the first floor ("jarðhæð"), like in the US. Levels are then counted 1, 2, 3 etc.

Foreign television programmes and films are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Icelandic.

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