The Icelandic alphabet….a simple ABC?


The Icelandic alphabet….a simple ABC?

Well almost, apart from the fact that the letter C is not actually part of the alphabet, although it can be used in names like Iceland Outfitters for example.

If you are lucky enough to visit Iceland and do a bit of hunting or fishing then you may notice as you are driving around and reading signposts..as one does, that the alphabet is slightly different to the English one and even sounds a bit like gobbledegook. In fact if you learn what each letter sounds like and put them together you can more or less speak it….of course understanding it is a another kettle of fish:)


The language contains 33 letters, similar to the modern English language but omitting C, Q, W and Z, although this was in use until 1973. All of the vowels and the letter Y have two versions, one plain and one with acute accents giving it a different sound, you may note that most of our rivers end in á which actually means river...Laxá ..the river Lax and lax actually meaning salmon. So there we have salmon river. The letter Á is pronounced ow as in the noise you would make if you ran barefoot through the lava.

The other extra letters are Þ, Ð, Æ and Ö. Interestingly enough Þ which is called thorn can be found in old english, it represents the sound th as in that in modern English. The letter thorn, Þ was similar to the letter Y and so the Þ was replaced with Y, hence Ye Olde Fishing Lodge actually reads The old fishing lodge. The river Þverá is often written Thverá.

Ð, known as eth was also to be found in anglo saxon English, but disappeared a lot earlier than the thorn. So maybe Icelandic is not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Icelandic is spoken by about 300,000 people, most living here in Iceland, some though in Scandinavia and some in the U.S.A and Canada, especially in a place called Gimli which is in Canada and not Middle Earth as in The Lord of the Rings:) In the late 19th century many left Iceland, the weather was harsh and had recently had two volcanic eruptions, 1875 Askja erupted and Mt Hekla in 1878, the winters were harsh so many left the country to find pastures new...and green, the majority going to Canada.

Photos are shot by the photographer Kamila Nora Netíková

Best regards, Jane