You’re a Dragon. Got that?

So, we’ve started doing presentations in my Phonetics and Phonology course (barrel of laughs that, I assure you), all of which are meant to demonstrate something about pronunciation for the rest of the class. Two of the first three groups actually ended up using the same clip for their presentations, a skit from the fabulous (and not yet available in English translation, I think?) sketch comedy show, Fóstbræður (Foster Brothers), which starred Jón Gnarr and (film director) Benedikt Erlingsson among others.

I’m familiar with some of the more classic sketches from this show, although I hadn’t seen this one, in which an acountant-type (Jón Gnarr) is called into his boss’ office for some serious news. (Sorry, couldn’t embed the video, so just click the picture for the link.)


The gist of the video is that Jón Gnarr comes into the office and is told by his boss (Benedikt Erlingsson) ‘Þú ert rekinn,’ which means, you’re fired. But what he hears is “Þú ert drekinn,” or you’re a dragon. Hilarity ensues, particularly for all us útlendingar who are pleased that Icelandic pronunciation isn’t always clear to Icelanders either.

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Heyrðu! Útlensk!

That’s me. Sorta.

So: on Friday I had my last day as an official member of the Grapevine staff (although I will continue in a freelance capacity), and on Monday—following a great trip North, which I will tell you all about later—I set about updating my CV for the zillionth time and putting out some feelers for my next expedition into gainful employment abroad. The ink was hardly dry on the CVs when I got an unexpected phone call from the first after school program that I applied to work at, a job basically herding, feeding, entertaining, and preserving children ages 6-9 for a few hours in the afternoon between the end of school and when they are picked up by their parents.

I had thought this job was a no-go, even though I had a very successful interview (I thought, at least), as I hadn’t heard back from anyone since I had gone in for my interview in early/mid-June. But then here was the call I’d been hoping for: ‘You still want a job? Yes? Great—can you start tomorrow?’

Well, yes, actually.

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Language-Learning and Fluent Slang: It’s Hard All Over


Sometimes when I open my university account to check on assignments etc, I spend some time browsing the smáauglýsingar, or classified ads. They are short and often interesting, and usually involve more talmál—spoken,  colloquial language—than I encounter on a regular basis. Here is one from today (with the poster’s personal details removed, obv):

Trommara Vantar
I was drawn to this ad for one reasons initially: I mistook the word “trommari” (here declined to “trommara”) for trumpet player (trompetleikari, actually) and was really intrigued by the idea of a “doom-band” with a trumpet player. Alas, that is not the idea, but the ad was interesting for other/additional reasons. It reads:

Trommara vantar í doom metal band. Þarf að nenna að spila hægt, vera ligeglad og nett(ur) og vera ekki að flytja úr landi. Við erum fjögur á aldrinum 21-25. Frekari upplýsing/spurningar/whatever í pósti [email address omitted].


Drummer wanted for doom metal band. Needs to be willing to play slowly, be [ligeglad] and cool and not be moving out of the country. We are four in between the ages of 21-25. More information/questions/whatever to email…

Why is this interesting, Larissa? Well, let me draw your attention (back) to the bolded word ligeglad.

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Google Translate: A Cautionary Tale

Not a skræpa.

In discussing the various language-learning resources that students of Icelandic should be aware of, one of my professors last semester commented that because Icelandic is a “small” language, finding comprehensive dictionaries–even to/from commonly spoken languages like English or German–can be difficult. I have certainly found this to be true myself. Even reading kids’ books in Icelandic, I often have to employ a whole battery of dictionaries and cheater methods of varying levels of ingeniousness in order to figure out what a single word means.

Example: I read a book called Það var skæpa last semester, which means It was a pigeon. Except “skræpa” is not the normal everyday word for a normal everyday pigeon (that’s dúfa, for reference). Instead, skræpa is a word for a sort of mangy pigeon–the mutt of pigeons, if you will. The kind of pigeon that New Yorkers refer to as a “rat of the sky” and kick at violently instead of sweetly feeding bread to. The dictionary that I generally use online, however good it can be sometimes, did not include this nuanced variation on pigeon breeds. And since the word didn’t appear in the text in the book until about halfway through, my teacher-provided glossaries didn’t have the word on the vocab list, either.

It bothered me that I didn’t know what the title of the book I was reading meant, so I tried to be clever. I Google image-searched the word “skræpa,” hoping to turn up the word in an article or post, in context. Try this, if you’d like. You’ll get pictures of pigeons, yes, but also a whole lot of cows, which definitely confuses the issue. (Yes, there were illustrations in the book I was reading, but I wanted to be sure about what it meant.) Anyway, a whole variety of Google results eventually helped me confirm, for certain, that skræpa (this totally useful word that I am going to use in life all the time), means “mangy pigeon.” But not before I ran across an article in the newspaper about a woman who had been found dead in a pigeon coop, surrounded by skræpa-s. Which again, confused things for me for a bit.

Alongside the online dictionary that I often link to in this blog, I also have a pocket dictionary, and an illustrated Icelandic version of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever for kids (in Icelandic, My First Dictionary) which is actually really helpful, and, in some cases, Google Translate. Google Translate, I hasten to add, wouldn’t be recommended by any language instructor. And it is frequently missing words, or translates into wonky phrases. (It also occasionally renders proper nouns which only have an Icelandic context into different proper nouns which have a context familiar to English speakers, which is a whole other rabbit hole of problematics.) But sometimes, it helps show how a phrasing you don’t understand can be rendered cleanly in English, and sometimes it has words that the online dictionary, and the pocket dictionary, and the Richard Scarry picture dictionary, and Google image search don’t have. It is basically one’s last line of defense in language learning.

But, of course, you have to keep its shortcomings in mind and pay very close attention to the translations that it is giving you. As a particularly wonderful case in point from today, I give you:

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He’s Not a Communist: Adventures in Conversation

Well, dear readers, I’ve made it. My final exam was yesterday (it went quite well, thank you) and I am officially on jólafrí (Christmas break) until January. (I actually just found out that there is one more week in January that we have off than I thought. Win!) I am thrilled at the prospect of this long brain break–the better for some around-town excursions that we’ve been waiting to have some free time for, and the better for some reading/writing/and jelly impressions (that’s me, doing my best physical approximation of jelly, most likely while in ankle-length flannel PJs and watching (the BBC mini-series version of) Pride and Prejudice over and over and over). But I am also hoping that the long break doesn’t push me into total regression and allow me to forget all of the grammar and Icelandic that I have been working so hard to acquire over the last three some-odd months.

Which is why, among other worthy reasons, I will be visiting a local nursing home once a week to talk with at least one, and maybe more, residents there. I had a conversation with the woman who directs my grant organization a few weeks ago and it came up that I had not made tons and tons of Icelandic friends who were just thrilled to talk to me in Icelandic yet. So she wrote to a colleague of hers who happens to be a pastor/activity organizer at a large nursing home in Reykjavík and arranged for me to come and talk to someone who lives at the home. Ideally, this is good for both me, the learner of Icelandic, and the resident, who perhaps would enjoy having some regular company.

I had my first visit this week, sandwiched in between two test days. I would say it was successful on most levels, save maybe the linguistic one, but never fear–I shall trouble through!

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