About

In 2012, I was awarded a Fulbright/Icelandic Ministry of Education and Culture Grant to pursue a comprehensive study of the modern Icelandic language. In August 2012, I moved from Brooklyn, New York to Reykjavík, Iceland to start studying Icelandic as a Second Language at the University of Iceland. This blog is meant to document the language-learning process, as well as my experiences living in Iceland.

(Just to be clear: mine is not an official Department of State website. All the views and information presented are my own and do not represent those of the Fulbright Program, the Department of State, or any other entity.)

Some Background:

Since I was a child, literature has been a cornerstone in my life, has guided my interests and had a profound effect on the way in which I relate to the world. I grew up in the American Southwest, in the sprawling Sonoran city of Tucson, Arizona, and later moved to New York City for college. I studied Comparative Literature (with an emphasis on Spanish) and Creative Writing as a undergraduate, interned for small, non-profit presses and big-name publishers alike, and briefly dabbled with the idea that I would dedicate all of my time and energy to becoming a successful fiction writer. This didn’t work out exactly as I expected–fiction writing took a backseat as I pursued a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science and also became more involved in writing freelance book reviews for a handful of online and print publications. (See my literary/review blog, The Afterword.) But all of this meandering allowed me ample time to read, and also refine my literary interests and goals.

The irony of studying literature with any sort of seriousness is that you actually get to read, for pleasure, very little. After I graduated, I was thrilled to suddenly be able to really read again–to read whatever I came across that caught my interest. I believe in reading widely–reading genre novels and classic literature, books written by people in your own neighborhood and those written by authors in countries you know almost nothing about. This is basically what I set out to do after college, and it was during this time that I was introduced to Icelandic literature in earnest. Being an avid reader of crime fiction, I first read Arnaldur Indriðason’s Jar City and shortly after, met an Icelandic student who gave me a copy of the “Icelandic Issue” of McSweeney’s. This collection was a revelation for me, and its new translations of short contemporary fiction by wonderful authors such as Bragi Ólafsson, Einar Már Guðmundsson, Gyrðir Elíasson, and Hallgrímur Helgason led me to start seeking out more translated works by these and other Icelandic authors.

Even having access to an ample university library, however, it was very difficult for me to actually find much contemporary Icelandic fiction that had been translated into English, for the simple reason that very little has been translated into English. And believe me, there is a lot of contemporary Icelandic literature available and worthy of translation–the country publishes roughly 290 books per capita each year. (So little contemporary Icelandic fiction is translated that even some novels by Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature to date, are still unavailable in English. This seems crazy to me.)

Thus, loving Icelandic literature, and being very interested in translation and language-learning, the seed for my current project took root. My (long-term) goal is to become fluent in Icelandic and one day translate contemporary Icelandic fiction into English.

Questions or comments, or just like correspondence? Email me at ethandthorn@gmail.com.

All of my own photos which are included in posts on this blog are also archived here: ethandthornphotos.wordpress.com.

About the Title:

The Icelandic alphabet has 32 characters, several of which are not found in English. Two of the most recognizable of these characters are Eth and Thorn:

Eth

Thorn

These characters are used frequently in Icelandic, and–to an English-speaker’s ear–sound very, very similar. Observe:

Eth: “…ð represents a voiced dental fricative like th in English “them

Thorn: “It has the sound of…a voiceless dental fricative [θ], like th as in the English word thick

Totally straightforward, right? Getting to the point where I can not only recognize and identify the difference in these two letter sounds, but also accurately pronounce both is sort of a benchmark goal for me, hence the blog title.

living in Reykjavík

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6 thoughts on “About

  1. Hello,
    there does not seem to be the possibility to comment on your blog apart from here… So I came across your blog and find it particularly interesting since I am also trying to learn Icelandic. However in regards to your latest post I always find it strange when people tell that Icelanders reply to them automatically in English in shops, museums and so on (and obviously emphasize how off-putting this is). I’ve been to Iceland a few times and never ever have I been replied to in English despite my Icelandic being rather poor. Surely ‘daginn’ is enough to get people talking to you in their language no?

    • Hi, Anya-

      Thanks for reading. (All of the posts allow comments–just click the dialog box at the top of the normal posts, or at the bottom of the image posts.)

      I think the reason that you’ve read about people being spoken to in English in shops so frequently is because it is a frequent occurrence. I always say “goðan dag” or “goðan daginn” when I come to a counter at a shop or get on a bus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that A) I can follow that up with any sort of extensive conversation or B) that I will automatically receive a reply and further conversation in Icelandic, even if I know how to proceed. There are all sorts of external indicators–clothes, accents, your debit card from a non-Icelandic company with a non-Icelandic name, the fact that you haven’t been in that shop before, etc–that let people know that you aren’t a local. And since in most cases, the Icelander speaks better English than you speak Icelandic, the shift seems pretty natural. The urge, I think, is to have a conversation in which both parties can be understood. I don’t think the impulse to switch to English is anything but a matter of wanting to be expedient and/or polite. Perhaps your Icelandic is better than you think?

  2. Hey Larissa. Congrats on the Fullbright. I tried to practice my Norsk while in Norway this summer and either got a non-Native Norwegian speaker whose English was better than their Norwegian, or in some cases, a Norwegian with better English than my Norwegian (with a few exceptions). Touristy areas are like that.

    • Hi, Linda–

      Thank you for the congrats and for sharing your common default-to-English experience. How long have you been learning Norwegian, and how did you go about studying it? Having studied a little Danish–and not gotten very far at all with the pronunciation, especially–I have developed an appreciation for the way Norwegian sounds. So crisp comparatively!

  3. Hi! Just saw your Grapevine article about Icelandic Literature. Kudos–it was great. I wish I had been able to talk to you about my new project sooner–I’m working with a partner to start the Iceland Writers Retreat–and we are working with many of the organizations you mention in your article. Our first retreat is in April 2014. And too, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye before you left Iceland, especially because we move in July. But let’s keep in touch–and certainly I want to tell you about this retreat. Can you send me a note with your contact email so I can give you more info about this event? Erica@IcelandWritersRetreat.com
    Enjoy your time back in the US.
    Erica

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