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Icelandic language

Icelandic is a North Germanic language spoken in Iceland. It is an inflected language of moderate complexity.

While most Western European languages have reduced greatly the extent of inflection, particularly in noun declension, Icelandic retains an inflectional grammar comparable to that of Latin, Ancient Greek, or more closely, Old English.

Written Icelandic has changed very little since the Viking era. As a result of this, and of the grammatic similarity between the modern and ancient grammar, modern speakers can still read, more or less, the original sagas and Eddas that were written some eight hundred years ago. This old form of the language is called Old Icelandic, but also commonly equalled to Old Norse (an umbrella term for the common Scandinavian language of the Viking era).

Icelandic orthography is notable for its retention of two old letters: and ­, representing the voiceless and voiced "th" sounds.

The preservation of the Icelandic language has been taken seriously by the Icelanders - rather than borrow foreign words for new concepts, new Icelandic words are diligently forged for public use.


Icelandic phonology is somewhat unusual for European languages in having an aspiration contrast in its stops, rather than a voicing contrast. However, Icelandic continuant phonemes exhibit regular contrasts in voice, including in nasals (rare in the world's languages). Additionally, length is contrastive for nearly all phonemes; voiceless sonorant consonants seem to be the only exception. The chart below was developed from data found at BRAGI and related pages; refer to the SAMPA Chart article for information on values of the symbols.

  bilabial interdental dental palatal velar glottal
stops p / ph   t / th c / ch k / kh  
fricatives f / v T / D s C x / G h
nasals m / m.   n / n. J / J. N / N.  
semivowels w     j    
laterals     l / l.      
rhotics (trills)     r / r.      

 front unroundedfront roundedcentral & back
closei u
open  a

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