About the Icelandic language

The Icelandic language

Icelandic language

The Icelandic language is spoken by about 300,000 native speakers.
Apart from about 20,000 of these living abroad the majority of these live on the island where it is also an official language.

A brief history of the Icelandic language

The Icelandic language belongs to the Indo-European group of languages.

In the course of its history Icelandic developed from Old Norse.
This was distributed throughout Scandinavia between the 8th and 15th Centuries.
In 874 Norwegian colonists brought Old Norse to the island and brought about its distribution all over the island.
From the 11th Century onwards Icelandic had become sufficiently different to Old Norse to be classified as its own language.

history of the Icelandic language

Iceland’s geographic isolation means that written Icelandic has remained virtually unchanged, so that an Icelander today can read a text from the 13th Century without difficulty.

Limited outside influence on the Icelandic language

Although Norway and Denmark ruled over Iceland for many centuries, their languages have had little influence over the Icelandic language.
English, which has influenced many other languages particularly in technical fields, has had little influence on Icelandic.
Instead Icelandic words are found to describe new innovations.

Icelandic does not have any dialects

The various dialects that the original settlers brought to the island have disappeared over time.
This is a result of the island’s relative isolation and the high mobility of the islanders within the island.
Therefore Icelandic is one of the few languages of the world without any dialects.

The Icelandic Alphabet

learn the Icelandic alphabet

Icelandic uses the Roman alphabet.
It comprises 32 letters.
It includes 3 letters that are characteristic of Icelandic: the Æ (æ), the Ð (ð) and Þ (þ).
The last two letters are pronounced similarly to the English “th”.
The letters C, W, Q and Z do not occur in Icelandic.

Another characteristic of Icelandic is that for every vowel has two distinct pronunciations.
To denote the different pronunciation an accent is used.
For example the letter A is pronounced [a] and the letter Á is pronounced [au].

Would you like to listen to the Icelandic alphabet?
We asked a native speaker to record the ABC in Icelandic for you:


Modern Icelandic

Interestingly Icelandic has very few foreign words.
Instead a Government Commission attempts to find Icelandic equivalents for every new concept, usually by adding existing words together.
For example the Icelandic word for Internet (veraldarvefur) literally means “interlinked world”.

Would you like to learn more about the Icelandic language?

  1. Here is a very informative entry about the Icelandic Language from Wikipedia.
  2. How about learning the 50 most important words in Icelandic?
    Try it: it's free and words are pronounced by native speakers.
  3. Would you like to learn Icelandic?
    Here are the Icelandic courses from 17 Minute Languages.
    A1/A2: Basic Icelandic for Beginners
    B1/B2: Further Icelandic for Intermediate Students
    Or maybe you would like to start with our traveller's course for Icelandic?