New Website / Ný vefsíða

I’m not regularly updating this blog anymore, but I *do* have a website now! Head on over to to check out new projects, publications, and news.

Hlakka til að sjá ykkur þar!

Icelandic with an Accent

Just a quick post to share this five-minute (subtitled) film “Ég tala íslensku með hreim” (‘I Speak Icelandic with an Accent’) that a fellow útlendingur, or foreigner, shared with me today. It’s a series of quick interviews with Icelandic speakers who have different native languages, and therefore, different accents when they speak Icelandic. It’s short and sweet, and being as this hits pretty close to home for me, I got quite a kick out of it.


“What is she saying?”


You might think, perhaps, that it’s obvious that people who grow up speaking languages other than Icelandic will have different accents when speaking Icelandic. Það er bara þannig—that’s just how it is. But the fact is that although the percentage of foreigners speaking Icelandic in Iceland is going up (10% percent of the population, I believe the video says), many people still find it surprising (or off-putting, or unintelligible, or maybe just unbearable) to hear Icelandic spoken með hreim—with an accent.

To wit, here are three very recent cases-in-point from my own life (all exchanges, it should be noted, took place in Icelandic):

  • I walk into a bank and explain that I want to make a withdrawal from a bank account in the US and then a deposit the money in my Icelandic bank account using the ATM, but I’m not sure how to go about this. “Sure,” the woman replies, before proceeding to explain to me exactly what I need to know—because she understood the question, you see—in English. I’m sorry, I stop her to say. Will you not speak Icelandic with me? Was my grammar that bad? “Oh!” she says, surprised. “Do you speak Icelandic?”
  • I ask a six-year-old boy in the after-school program that I work at to take a seat and finish his snack so that we can all go outside and play. He looks at me, wide-eyed, somewhat desperate, maybe a little panicky. “I don’t speak útlenska [a word that sort of generically means ‘foreign language’]!” It’s okay, I tell him, you don’t have to speak anything but Icelandic. “I don’t understand útlenska!” he insists. It’s okay, I say, again. I’m speaking Icelandic. “Oh!” he replies, relieved.
  • I’m sitting in the open bar/lobby of a hotel after a literary reading. Two boys—not exactly young, but not fully teenagers, either—are sitting near me, gobbling down candy and sodas and gleefully shocking a pair of older American tourists by saying some pretty rude things (in English), but in such a way that the tourists aren’t sure if the kids are purposefully being jerks (they are) or if they just don’t understand what they’re saying (they do). The tourists eventually get tired of the charade and walk away, leaving the boys to laugh at silly Americans. I start giving them The Eye. They notice, ask me (in Icelandic) if I’m looking at them. , I say. Are you Icelandic? they ask. Nei, I say. But wait, one of them says. If you’re not Icelandic, why did you say nei? Because it’s possible to speak Icelandic without being an Icelander, I explain. They take this in, nod, and return to their candy.

And so, yes, it’s worth putting a face and a voice—and an accent—to people like us second- (or third- or fourth-) language Icelandic speakers so that eventually, daily interactions between Icelanders and Icelandic-speaking foreigners won’t be quite so disconcerting as they sometimes can be. Já, ég líka tala íslensku með hreim.

Campaganza 2016: Hraunborgir

Midsummer is nigh here in Iceland and although our run of astoundingly sunshiney summer days seems to have finally caved to the status quo and gotten rainy again, Mark and I have finally gotten the Summer 2016 Campaganza (that is a camping-extravaganza…the portmanteau maybe didn’t work as well as I was hoping) underway. Having done an absurd amount of research on tents, collected a not inconsiderable amount of gear, and investigated a number of local campground options, we decided to take our inaugural outing this weekend—a sort of test run, if you will, for a longer two-week expedition we intend to take further afield in July.

Because we were leaving later in the day on Friday, we decided to find a campground relatively close to the city and settled on Hraunborgir, a campground/summer cabin community close to Selfoss which boasts a swimming pool, golf course, mini golf ‘course,’ and a rec center where it’s possible to order yourself a pizza and watch sporting events of note, such as Iceland’s just-fine-not-great Eurocup match against Hungary on Saturday.

The weather forecast was, in all honesty, not so spectacular for Friday and Saturday, but waiting for the right weather in Iceland is a distinctly futile exercise, and also, what is the point of finding yourselves a sweet, water- and windproof tent with a sheltered ‘living room’ if you only camp in the driest and sunshiney-ist of conditions? So off we went, getting rather lucky with our weather on the first afternoon and night, even if it did go from being super warm to super chilly quite quickly. Which is when I realized, a bit despairingly, that I’d forgotten both a coat and a scarf.

Continue reading

Fun Fact for Friday: Ye Olde Þ

Image via Stephen McKay, Wikimedia Commons

In between various projects the other night, Mark and I fortified ourselves with a soothing dose of British television, this time, an episode of Stephen Fry’s panel show QI. And wouldn’t you know it, but he had some very interesting historical trivia about the letter Þ—or this blog’s eponymous ‘Thorn,’ in English. Now, perhaps the linguists, book historians, typography buffs, and and Old English enthusiasts among you already knew this, but news to me: in Old English, the word “Ye,” as in ‘Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe above’ (not, for the record, ‘ye’ as in “Hear Ye, Hear Ye!”) was not pronounced with a ‘y’ sound, but rather as ‘th.’ This is because in the early years of the printing press, the letter Y was substituted for the letter Þ, which was part of English orthography at the time. Apparently, printing presses didn’t have Þ, so plucky printers simply substituted Y instead. But people understood that it was still pronounced with the ‘th’ sound.

You can watch Stephen Fry explain this rather eruditely, with humorous commentary, in the video below (the clip should be cued up, but if it isn’t for some reason, the ‘Ye’ clip starts at 36:53).

Fun Fact!

Winter Has Arrived (And I Feel Fine)

First snow this year, Oct. 21, 2014

So, it’s been a really long time, hasn’t it? My saying this is getting to be a habit, I know, but as I’ve mentioned, it has somehow seemed more complicated to write about life here in Iceland now that I don’t always want to follow the phrase “my life” with the phrase “here in Iceland.” Most of the time it’s just “my life” full stop, and while that is frequently full of amusing and/or culturally-observant anecdotes, I feel a bit strange just telling The Internet about my ho-hum, everyday comings and goings. But I do miss you, Internet! Suffice to say, I’m not gone, I’m just working a little harder to come up with super good content.

Continue reading

Psyching up for the last exam…

In just over three hours (yep: my second three hour exam in about a week), I’ll be done with my final exam for the semester. This calls for some psyching up, yes? (Now, this isn’t Icelandic, of course, but it is very possibly the best music video that has ever been video-d. Those back up singers! That chorus! That sax! That strange puzzle quest!)

You are gold! GOLD!

How English Sounds to Non-English Speakers

Reblogging a fun post from “linguaphile and translator” Rachel over at the Happy Linguist…I love the fact that in the first video especially, there are actual English words sprinkled throughout the fake conversation. This is basically how I feel every single day…catching a word here or there and then missing huge swaths of language in between.

In the same vein, check out this video of another talented language-impersonator, running through various world languages (UK and American English both admirably represented), mimicking the sounds, but basically speaking gibberish.

It’s Pretty Whimsical at the Top of the World, But…

Illustration by Steingrímur Gauti Ingólfsson, via Grapevine.

Let’s not exaggerate that too much, eh? One more for your Christmas-reading pleasure. You know that “elf lobby story that AP published a few days ago and now everyone and their cat is re-posting? About how Icelandic environmentalists are actually Elf Believers? Well, that is a great story, y’all, but not exactly “factual” and RÚV and several other Icelandic news sources are taking issue. I recapped in my last news article before Christmas. Here’s the start:

“Elf advocates” have joined the fight to protect the Gálgahraun lava field on the Álftanes peninsula, The Associated Press reports, but RÚV and several other Icelandic news outlets contend that the article contains “numerous misrepresentations.”

The AP article is ostensibly about the construction of the road Álftanesvegur, which, as reported, was opposed from the start by environmental activists who point out that the area was designated as a protected natural area in 2009. Cobbling together quotes from notable figures, such as author and environmentalist Andri Snær Magnason and University of Iceland folklorist Terry Gunnell, the AP article presents a picture of environmentalists who “see the elf issue as part of a wider concern for the history and culture of the very unique landscape,” and of a country in which “elves are no joke,” even while our Scandinavian neighbors “haven’t taken them seriously since the 19th century.”

See the full article on The Grapevine website, here.

13 Icelandic Yule Lads!

Iceland, Defrosted


The Yule lads, of which there are thirteen in Icelandic folklore, come from the mountains to visit every Christmas. They arrive one by one, and leave again fourteen days later. The Yule lads used to have a bit of a reputation, and whilst they are still mainly naughty, they now leave presents in children’s shoes left on window sills. Unless you have been naughty, of course, then you will receive nothing, or worse, a rotten potato.

Unlike Santa Claus, they do have this mischievous side. Each Yule lad has specialised in one sort of trickery or another, such as licking spoons, slamming doors and stealing sausages. The idea of Santa and the Yule lads has been confused over recent years, with the Yule lads now often seen adopting the red and white costume of Santa himself. This is either an image thing, or the cheeky little scamps might have just…

View original post 159 more words

Green, Red, and White Christmases

So, we’ve all obviously heard of a White Christmas, and if you grew up in a desert, like me, you know the brown Christmas, but here in Iceland, I’ve discovered that in addition to the preferred White Christmas, there are two other types of Christmases: Red and Green.

Rauð Jól:
a snowless Christmas
(actually what we had last year, apparently)

Græn Jól:
A particularly warm Christmas
(As experienced, to a much more acute degree, by my friends in the Southern hemisphere)

This year, it looks like Iceland is going to get a very, very white Christmas (blizzard).

Christmas Weather

But at least there’s a bit more light!