On the Street Where You Live…

My grammar lesson today had some very practical and useful information about the common suffixes used for street names in Icelandic. This is a good example of that “basic but new and helpful” kind of lesson that I have been getting lately, and I thought I’d share.

There are a number of typical suffixes that are used for street names, and besides often indicating whether a byway is a “road,” or “street,” or something basic like that, these suffixes also often indicate something about the general landscape. When giving a street name as a location, you use either the preposition á or the preposition í, but either way, the street name that follows is in the dative case.

So how do you know whether to use á or í, you ask? The suffix determines it!

Here’s a short list of common street suffixes, their meanings, and which preposition they take:

í +

  • -bær: town
  • -gerði: fence/hedge
  • -fell: (an isolated) hill
  • -heimur: world? (this one seems a bit broad to me)
  • -hlíð: slope
  • -holt: hillock
  • -leiti: hill
  • -múli: cape
  • -mýri: swamp, moorland
  • -stræti: street, road
  • -sund: channel, alley, lane
  • -tún: hayfield


  • -braut: course, way
  • -gata: street, path
  • -grandi: isthmus
  • -hagi: pasture
  • -melur: gravel bed (?)
  • -nes: cape, peninsula
  • -stígur: path, sheep track
  • -teigur: piece of grassland
  • -vegur: road, way

So, okay: maybe you don’t think this is the most interesting grammatical lesson that I have ever tried to give here (if there have been any, I suppose), but when you start considering just how many place names in Iceland include these suffices, I think the value of knowing these becomes pretty clear.

I, for one, tend to take place names here a bit for granted. I see the street name “Sæbraut” and don’t actually think of it as meaning anything—I just see it as a somewhat meaningless word, a name that doesn’t actually designate anything beyond a familiar bus route. This is, of course, simply because I don’t recognize the words in Icelandic names all the time yet, because I certainly don’t miss the opportunity to point out the meanings of Spanish street names to Mark whenever we’re in Arizona (my childhood home was on Camino de Oeste–Street of the West.”) But perhaps if I am a little more attentive to these Icelandic suffices, I can be just as irritating about place names here. So:

  • Sæ-braut: Sea-Way
  • Snæ-fells-nes: Snow(y?)-Mountain-Peninsula
  • Kópa-vogur: Seal pup-Cove
  • Bauga-nes: Circular-Peninsula
  • Hverfis-gata: Neighborhood-Street
  • Tún-gata: Hayfield-Street

Back to a Good Start

Well, halló again, internet. After a whirlwind couple of weeks—a whirlwind summer, when you get right down to it—Mark and I have made it back to Iceland. That Gortex rain slicker I acquired this summer came in handy immediately—it was rainy and a bit nippy when we left the airport. But, although I may seriously regret saying this later, I can tell you now that I am full up on sunshine for awhile (you can remind me that I said this in February). I got enough 100+ weather and more than my fair share of sunburns over the last few months and so cloudy weather, sweaters, and rain seem like just what I need right now.

We flew in Saturday night/Sunday morning (got in right around midnight), had a day to stock up on groceries, run errands, and unpack most of our stuff, and then bam: it all started today. But before I get to “It All,” let me just take a pause to share the epically awesome triumph I experienced at the airport.

Picture Mark and I at the very end of a long, but quickly moving line at Passport Control. It has been, of course, about three months since I have had a spoken conversation with anyone in Icelandic, and while I have been trying to practice as much as I have been able to, one worries that all one’s language skills have dribbled out of one’s ears. But, as King Henry Shakespeare my mother would say, “once more unto the breach!” And so, when it came our turn at the window, I presented our passports and documentation to the policeman and greeted him with a chipper “Góða kvölðið!”

And wouldn’t you know it? He answered me in Icelandic! And gee golly, I answered him back. And whoopitee doo, we had a whole blinking conversation.

Continue reading

Adventures in Amateur Translation: Skrímslapest

Before I left Iceland and finished my term as a Fulbright grantee, I was invited to participate in a presentation with my fellow Fulbrighters to present the work we had undertaken during our nine months in Iceland. My colleagues had a diverse range of interests, talents, areas of expertise and projects, ranging from poetry derived from Norse mythology to volcanic research, and child psychology to marine coastal management. Some of these projects are easier to quantify than others; for my part, I was a bit nervous that I’d need to stand up and talk to my audience in perfect Icelandic for 15 minutes straight in order to convey that I had actually been doing something all year. (Which, as I hope this blog indicates, I certainly had.) Instead of panicking (or attempting an oral presentation well outside of my abilities at that particular juncture in time), I decided to give a brief summary of my writing projects, my work on Little Free Library Reykjavík, and finally, to try my hand at a short translation from Icelandic to English. After all, that is my end goal. And I did read a great deal of children’s books this year for practice. So I took a book from one of my favorite children’s series, Skrímslapest, and translated it into English. Then I created a Reading Rainbow-style video where I read the Icelandic text over the English subtitles. It took me a whole day to create the video (I had to learn how to work with iMovie), but I was pleased with the final product and had a good time making it.

I was lucky enough to meet the book’s illustrator and co-author, Áslaug Jónsdóttir, at an event this year, and not only did she generously introduce me to her writer’s group (who then generously donated books for Little Free Library Reykjavík), she also kindly gave me permission (along with her co-authors Kalle Güettler and Rakel Helmsdal) to post the video I made of my translation on Vimeo. So I am sharing the video with you all now (below).

Some points on the translation process (such as it was) however, before you watch:

-The title, Skrímslapest is a combo word: skrímsli, or monster + pest, which can mean “disease, illness, or epidemic.” I decided to translate it as Monster Pox, because that had a nice ring to it, and in the pictures, it did look like the chicken pox, not some insurmountable monster-plaugue.

-I was made aware of one mis-translation in the text, where I translate ís to “ice” instead of “ice cream.” For the record, if you want ice in your drink while in Iceland, the correct word is klaki. It did not occur to me to even look this word up when I was doing the translation—I assumed “ís” was ice because of “Ísland” (the Icelandic name for Iceland) and because it seemed to make some sense in context. I’ve left the error in the video because a) it would be very time consuming to fix, and b) it is a good record of my learning process. It is also a fair indication that this is not, by any means, a perfect translation.

-There were a couple of interesting vocab translation pickles:

1. þungarokk: this is a combo word, from þungur, or heavy, and rokk, or rock music. I opted to just refer to this as METAL! (caps to match the original text) in the text because that’s what my high school metalhead friends used to enthusiastically yell while headbanging or drumming on their chests at lunch time. Short and emphatic and to the point. Plus, “heavy metal” has too much of a moms-talking-about-the-kids’-music vibe to it, I thought.

2. hrútleiðinlegur: another combo, from hrútur, or ram, and leiðinlegur, a sort of all-purpose word for boring/tedious/dull and which is used for everything from a boring class to tiresome weather. I was absolutely delighted with the word “sheep-boring” (I’ve also heard “dog-boring”) and thought long and hard about coming up with some sort of fun, animal-themed, catchy word for super-boring in English. (I had a ton of excellent suggestions from my YA-author friend/mom of a toddler, too. So thanks for those, buddy!) In the end, I opted to just translate this awesome word as “TOTALLY BORING!” because it really didn’t sound like the kind of wordplay you get from kids in English, and who hasn’t heard a child refer to something as “totally” dull/lame/boring etc.? Also, the original book wasn’t going for super word play, either—it’s just a common expression in Icelandic.

So there you have it. My first foray into literary translation, with its attendant debates. I hope you enjoy the video below (and share your thoughts on the translation, if you have them), but please do note that although I have permission from the authors to post this, it is still entirely their creation, and they retain all rights to its adaptations, translations, and dissemination.

I write for blood: a munnlegt próf recap

Bright and early this morning I trekked into school for Part 2 of my munnlegt próf (oral exam) in my Pronunciation and Speech class. My two group mates and I had been working diligently on our practice dialogs, but I was still nervous: the test would start with each of us (the students) introducing ourselves a little—name, where we are from, how long we’ve been in Iceland, what we’re doing this summer, etc—and then we’d have to have a short conversation about a topic which we had prepared for in advance. (There were actually four topics, and then we picked exactly which one we’d be discussing from a hat 15 minutes before the test this morning.) The test was done in front of our teacher and also an objective observer whose job it is to make sure that the grading is done fairly and impartially.

All in all, I’d say we did pretty well. Our teacher asked us to introduce ourselves one by one, but then asked us a number of short follow-up questions which we hadn’t had a chance to prepare in advance for. I don’t think that my grammar or accent were flawless by any means, but I did understand everything she asked and was able to talk a little about my interest in Icelandic literature and the fact that I want to be a translator. So far so good.

Then my teacher asked if I was a poet. I said no, but that I did write. She said, “just stories?” and I replied that yes, I wrote stories, but also that I wrote for papers.

Or, I tried to say that: “Ég skrifa fyrir blöð,” is what I went for, trying to pronounce the plural form of “blað,” or newspaper.

At this point, the objective observer looked up and asked me to repeat what I had said.

“Blöð?” I ventured. “Eins og Reykjavík Grapevine?” (Like the Reykjavík Grapevine?)

“Oh!” he said, smiling a little. “Blöð.”

Well yes, I thought, like I’ve been saying. But then I realized that I had been having trouble, as I always do, pronouncing the “ö.” So instead of saying, “blöð,” I’m pretty sure that I was saying “blóð.” Or, “Ég skrifa fyrir blóð” – I write for blood.

And, in the words of the marvelous Gilda Radner, that’s very different.

But, hey! Two tests and one (vampire) paper down! That just leaves two more tests to go! Which means, obviously, that it is time for Babs:

Í dag, erum við að tala um ketti…

Tomorrow, I have the first of my final exams: a short oral presentation on cats. It’s a group project and can be no longer than five minutes (it’s a big class), so it shouldn’t be too stressful, but nevertheless, preparing my minute and 10 seconds or so of narration has been a touch nervous-making. We can have notes for the presentation, but can’t just read directly from them, so I need to have a goodly amount of it memorized, or at least mostly-memorized. Which means focusing on pronunciation and grammar on the fly…like in a real conversation, except with note cards.

I thought it would be useful to make a recording of myself speaking my part of the presentation so that I could listen to my accent and see where I slipped up, etc. After a few trial runs, I’m not actually unhappy with the result and feel pretty good about tomorrow’s presentation.

In the event that you are interested in learning a minute’s worth of information about cats and their origins as pets—or perhaps would just get a kick from listening to me talk about cats in Icelandic—I have embedded the video I made of myself reading along with our slide presentation. Below the video, you’ll see the Icelandic text and the English translation. I ran this text by one of my groupmate’s Icelandic husband (very thankful for his corrections), but in the event that I get something wrong and you notice, tell me quick! And cross your fingers for me tomorrow!

Fyrirlestir um ketti (fyrri hluti) from Larissa Kyzer on Vimeo.

Fyrirlestur: fyrri hluti
Lecture: First Part

Í dag, erum við ad tala um ketti—ketti sem eru gæludýr í dag og líka ketti til forna áður en þeir urðu gæludýr.

Today, we are talking about cats—cats which are pets in the present and also cats in days of old before they became pets.

Kettir hafa verið vinsæl gæludýr um mörg þúsand ár. En fræðimenn vita ekki beint hvenær ketti urðu gæludýr.

Cats have been popular pets for many thousand years. But scholars don’t know exactly when cats became pets.

Fræðimenn hafa fundið beinagrindur katta á eyjunni Kýpur sem voru jarðsett með fólki fyrir tólf þúsan árum.

Scholars have found cat skeletons on the island of Cyprus which were buried with people twelve thousand years ago.

Það er mögulegt að fólk byrjaði að temja ketti þegar það tók sér fasta búsetu og hóf að rækta jörðina.

It is possible that people started to tame cats when they established permanent residences and began to cultivate the land.

Fólk þurfti þá ad hafa ketti vegna þess voru svo margar mýs í húsum þeirra.

Then people needed to have cats because there were so many mice in their houses.

Kettirnir voru ánægðir að éta mýsnar og fólkið var ánægt að meindýr spilltu ekki uppskeru þess.

The cats were happy to eat the mice and the people were happy that vermin did not spoil their crops.

57 Days and Counting

Happy April, everyone—I can hardly believe we’re here already. This means not only the start of a lovely, sunny spring here in Reykjavík (one of the sunniest in years, I’m told) but it is also, not to get all doom-and-gloom sounding, the beginning of our last two months here in Iceland. Until we come back in late August, that is. But in 57 days, there is a lot to be done. Shall we list? (List! list!)

  • Six finals, including two oral exams my Speech & Pronunciation class (one 5 minute group presentation—about cats—which we will be giving next week; one conversational group test in which three students have to speak together on one of a few general topics which is randomly selected on test day), two written tests for my Vocab and Self Study classes, and a paper—on vampires—for the undergraduate English class on vampires which I enrolled in for fun.
  • Two pending articles for The Reykjavík Grapevine
  • One book review of an Icelandic book for a literature website
  • File for a tax extension!
  • Presentation about this year’s experience for the Fulbright Commission, which I would really like to do at least part of in Icelandic
  • And oh yeah, that whole Little Free Library Reykjavík thing, which is well-underway, and yet has a lot further to go before it will be done…
    • Permits still pending for installation
    • Unit has been painted, but still needs to be put together (this week!)
    • Final book selection needs to be culled (this is going to be the really time-consuming part)
    • Extra books need to be distributed to people in Reykjavík to hold over the summer for restocking purposes
    • Gifts need to be sent out to contributors

And really, I can’t take any more listing, so I’m just going to leave it at that. A lot of the above will be enjoyable, and there are all sorts of enjoyable things that we’ll tuck in the midst of all these activities (more friends visiting! yay!), but still. Deep breaths, calm spirit, good attitude: þetta reddast.


With a nod to the Best Movie Ever Made.

It probably isn’t hard to guess that social life in Reykjavík varies somewhat from social life in New York. I’m not saying this just because I don’t know as many people here (and that’s changing, anyway), it really has to do with differences in people’s social expectations in both cities. And never are these differences more apparent than when considering the bar scene in both places.

New York is a drinking city. I knew this when I lived there, sure, but I didn’t realize the extent to which bars play a role in dominate social life until I got to Reykjavík. There are a lot of reasons for the significance of bar culture in New York, but if I were going to give a guess at the primary one (besides the fact that New Yorkers just really like to drink), I’d say that people just tend to spend a lot of their free time (often the majority of their free time) outside of their frequently tiny, often shared apartments in New York. So social life gets kicked to the bars. And there’s not really a cafe scene in New York the same as I’m told there is in Seattle or Paris (or like there is in Reykjavík, for that matter). So bars become the main forum for socializing.

Here in Reykjavík, by contrast, people spend a lot more time at home, both in the personal/family context and in the social context. As evidence of this, I might point to the fact that happy hour–an almost holy institution in New York–is still relatively new here. If you go out on a weeknight after work hours to one of the bars offering happy hour specials in Reykjavík, you will yes, run into Icelanders. But my experience thus far is that weeknight/after work drinking is still primarily the practice of foreigners and tourists.

But I digress. Again. The point of all this is that at the end of January, Mark and I had two rather different, but quite enjoyable bar experiences, and ones which I think will inevitably enhance our pub-going in the future. Firstly, we decided to give a try to the Red Lion, a pub in Seltjanarnes which is, perhaps unsurprisingly, located on the ground floor of the mall under the post office (same mall as the library, matter of fact). We headed out on a Sunday afternoon to catch a soccer match (Manchester United-Liverpool, if that’s of interest) and were rather surprised when we arrived that not only was this place huge, but it was also crammed to the gills with very enthusiastic supporters. We clammored to a back room which was relatively empty and had some extra arm chairs and couches which could be turned to face either of the large tvs and enjoyed a very nice afternoon–good pizza, too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The best part, I think, (if not the posters for a match between the local team KR and the Greek squad from the city of…Larissa) was that at half-time, a bunch of kids went out into the mall atrium and started playing their own game. Occasionally, the ball would batter the pub windows or small children would slam up against the glass (either on accident or to see what the current score was once play resumed), and I think that really added to the atmosphere.

Just shortly after our afternoon at the Red Lion, we stopped by the brand new Stúdentakjallarinn, or student (basement) pub in the…basement of the central building on campus. This pub has been under construction since before we got to Iceland, and it definitely fills a niche on/around campus. (Before this, if you wanted to get a drink in the vicinity and didn’t want to walk into town, you could go to the expensive bar at the Radisson Blú Saga Hotel or for a cheap, but kinda weird, bottle at the domestic airport. Obviously, the walk into town is not that far and well, you’d have to be in an interesting place in life to elect to go have a beer at the airport just for kicks, but, nevertheless, that was the landscape.)

Interior of the student pub, HI.

Interior of the student pub, HI.

The student pub offers very reasonably priced café drinks and snacks (the quesadilla wasn’t half bad), the beer is extremely cheap for students, and although the whole place was super dark atmospherically-lit when we arrived, there were lots of people sipping coffee and working on their laptops while Saturday Night Fever played on a large screen on the back wall. The decor is comfy-chic, there’s a whole wall that is made of plants, and there are also regular events scheduled there like poetry readings and, excitingly, a popular (English) language pub quiz which Mark and I plan to attend with some friends later this month.

So, nice additions both. (If you’d like to see more admittedly dark photos of the student pub and, for that matter, other shots from the whole month of January, check out the photo blog.)

The Christmas Owl

The Jólauglu! (I’m not sure about the compound declension there…) In place of the regular owl on our school’s student portal, there is now a Christmas Owl running a countdown to Christmas. Today, he has a festive red nose.

I Say Tomato, They Say Þðöqqxædn

Well, actually, they say “tómatur” in Icelandic, which isn’t all that hard. However, there are a whole host of interesting and interestingly difficult notes on Icelandic pronunciation which I have been picking up over the last couple of weeks which I thought I’d share, this ostensibly being a blog which deals not only with my wild and crazy adventures on The Rock (not this one; not this one; this one, and yes, they really call it that sometimes), but also the process of learning Icelandic.

So here is a list (another one! I love lists) of…

Things I’ve Learned,

or Learned that I haven’t Learned,

About Icelandic Pronunciation:

Continue reading

Ég er nemandi.

So I’m in my second week of classes and can officially say (and am quite literally now able to say) that ‘Ég er nemandi,’ or that I am a student (again). Along with my first class in pronunciation and speech last week (which going forward, I’ll abbreviate to ‘F&T,’ for the Icelandic ‘framburður og tal’), I also had the first sessions of my other courses as well. F&T is divided into two sections with two different teachers–on Monday, B– helps us with our general pronunciation, and on Wednesday, in a much smaller section, I– helps us actually speak. Tuesdays and Thursdays are Orðaforði (vocabulary), with J–. To round everything out, I have an Icelandic Culture class which is on Thursdays and Fridays, and is taught by a well-established scholar of Icelandic. (I also have a self-study course, but there are no regular meetings with the tutor for this–I just work through it at a consistent pace and check in with the tutor occasionally.)

Orðaforði is a bit of a misnomer: we aren’t going over a lot of new vocab in class, rather we review dialogs and workbook exercises and the professor, J– throws in a lot of asides about pronunciation, sentence structure, declension patterns and the occasional tidbit about Icelandic culture. It seems to be a sort of catch-all class, and so far, the coursework and the professor may actually be my favorite.  When explaining anything–the fact that f’s are pronounced like v’s, or that definite articles are often attached to objects when describing possession (like ‘penninn minn’ — literally ‘the pen mine’ — to say ‘my pen’), or that almost all words for careers are masculine words, even if the person doing the job is a woman–he shrugs and squinches up his face, looking wistful but resigned about this strange fact of (Icelandic) life and language. It is delightful. On a practical level, he is also very good at demonstrating pronunciation: he really emphasizes words and exaggerates letter sounds when he speaks so that students can hear all the rolling r’s and aspirated h’s and ‘voiceless’ l’s a lot better than they might normally, and then he also repeats longer phrases more quickly, demonstrating the way in which words and sounds are dropped or smushed together in “normal fast speech.” His recommendation for study at the end of last week’s class was that we memorize all the declensions of personal pronouns (and there are a lot of these in Icelandic) so that we’ll recognize them even before we really know how to use them. “Just learn these all by heart,” he shrugged, regretfully. “Like a poem.”

My speech section is, like I said, my smallest class, and affords a much better perspective on who the students in the ISL program actually are. Among my classmates–some exchange students in other programs, some recent immigrants who have married Icelanders or come to the country for work, some direct enrollees–are two Iranians, three Poles, a German, a Swede, a Finn, a Czech, two Danes, a Frenchman, a Canadian, a Lithuanian, an Englishwoman, a South Korean, and three Americans, including myself. It is a remarkably global class. The instructor I– is a doctoral student from somewhere in Central Europe, I believe. She teaches in English, but during the break, answered some of the French student’s questions in what sounded to me like pretty great French. We did a lot of short introductions and verbal repetition in her class, wrote dialogs with partners, and for the next session, were told to prepare a longer introduction about ourselves and to find an Icelandic word to describes ourselves. (I’m still deciding on the adjective–it’s a lot of pressure to describe yourself in one word!–but two contenders are ‘bókhneigður’ (bookish) and ‘eftirtektar’ (observant). I think I am going to go with the latter because I was able to figure out the correct feminine form…)

The Icelandic Culture class is gigantic and is definitely a survey course, which is good and bad. Good because you get the general overview of history and culture, bad because it all is pretty cursory (and oh, there’s group work, which I despise). But the book list is good and there will be a lot of interesting guest speakers.

So that’s the full academic recap for now. Back to the books.