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.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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.