Icelandic - interesting facts


Icelandic is the native language of 320,000 people (about 0.005% of the world's population).

Íslenska is the official language of Iceland. It is also the language of a small Icelandic diaspora in Denmark, the USA and Canada.

Icelandic belongs to the group of Germanic languages, specifically to the North Germanic subgroup. This language, like Norwegian, developed from the Western dialects of the Old Norse language. However, unlike Norwegian, Icelandic retained many archaic features (major changes occurred only in pronunciation). The oldest monuments of literature date back to the beginning of the 12th century and the language of the sagas created in the Middle Ages is easily understood by modern Icelanders.

The modern version of the Icelandic alphabet was developed based on the Latin alphabet in the 19th century. Letters that have not been used in the English alphabet for a long time have been retained, e.g. Þ, þ and ˈ, ð (soundless and soundless equivalents of the consonant th).

The Árni Magnússon Institute regulates the Icelandic language. A characteristic feature of Icelandic language policy is the strong purist tendencies. Foreign words, especially English, are replaced by native words (derived from Old Norse or Old Icelandic). There is no significant dialectal variation in Icelandic.

There are 8 single vowels and 5 diphthongs in Icelandic. Any vowel and diphthong can be short or long. However, the length of the vowels does not differentiate the meaning of the words.

Compared to other Germanic languages, Icelandic is characterized by a fairly extensive flexion (due to its conservative nature – small changes throughout history). Four cases (denominator, complement, sights and passive) and three grammatical types exist.

Sagas played an important role in the development of Icelandic language and culture. Interestingly, the ability to read and write was quite common in all sections of the population already in the Middle Ages.

The language culture is quite intensively popularized in the everyday life of Icelanders. For example, you can find language advice on milk packaging.

Icelandic Language Day is celebrated every year on 16 November (the birthday of the Icelandic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson).


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Language of the Vikings

Icelandic is derived from the Old Norse language spoken by the Vikings. With Iceland's geographical isolation and little external influence, modern Icelandic is one of the earliest heirs to this ancient language. People who speak Polish may be interested in learning Icelandic due to its rich history and unique roots.

Grammatical Difficulties

The Icelandic language has a complex grammatical system consisting of, among others, four cases, a plural and a rich system of verb varieties. Learning Icelandic can be challenging for people who speak English.

A wealth of literature

The Icelandic language has a rich literary tradition dating back to the 10th century. The most famous works are Icelandic sagas, such as "Saga o Egilu" or "Saga o Njalu". For Polish speakers, learning Icelandic can be an opportunity to discover this fascinating literature and to understand the impact of the language on the work of many contemporary Icelandic writers.

Ancient Poetry

The Icelandic language is also known for the tradition of ancient scald poetry. The Skalds were poets at the Vikings' courts, creating works about life, love, war and the gods. For those who speak Polish, learning Icelandic can be an opportunity to explore this remarkable literary tradition.

Conservative language

Icelandic is a conservative language, which means it has not changed significantly over the centuries, unlike many other languages. Thanks to this, a person speaking modern Icelandic can read and understand works from centuries ago without much problem. For people who speak Polish, learning Icelandic can be a fascinating experience, allowing you to understand the evolution of the language and its extraordinary stability.

Influence of Icelandic on English

While the influence of Icelandic on English is relatively minor compared to that of languages such as French, Latin, or Germanic languages, it has still made a notable contribution, particularly in the realm of Old Norse, the ancestor language of modern Icelandic.

During the Viking Age (around 793-1066 AD), Norse settlers in England significantly impacted Old English, with many Old Norse words entering the language, some of which persist in modern English. Words such as 'sky', 'egg', 'cake', 'window', 'they', 'their' and 'them' are all of Norse origin.

Interestingly, the common English pronoun "they" and its related forms "them" and "their" are borrowed from Old Norse. This is a particularly noteworthy influence, given how integral these words are to English grammar.

Although Icelandic today doesn't contribute much to English, its ancestor, Old Norse, played a crucial role in shaping the English we speak today.


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Your Essential Icelandic




yes tak (tahk)
no nei (nay)
please vinsamlegast (vin-sam-le-gast)
thank you takk (tahk)
I'm sorry fyrirgefðu (feer-ir-geh-fthu)
good morning góðan daginn (go-than-dai-yin)
good evening gott kvöld (got-kvulth)
goodbye gott nótt (got-not)
good night bless (bless)
hi halló (hal-loh)
how are you?  hvernig hefurðu það? (kver-nig hev-ur-thu thad)
well Takk, mér líður vel. (tahk, mair lee-thur vel)
My name is... ég heiti... (yeh heit-i...)
I don't understand ég skil ekki (yeh skil eki)



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