A way with words

“Icelandic Language Day” (Icelandic: dagur íslenskrar tungu) is celebrated in Iceland every year on the 16th November. The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of the much loved Icelandic poet, Jónas Hallgrímsson.
The Minister of Education awards the Jónas Hallgrímsson Award on this day to someone who has “in a unique way contributed to the Icelandic language”.

I think it’s safe to say that that ‘someone’ is never going to be me.  Though, dare I say it, maybe in a roundabout way I have actually ‘in a unique way contributed to the Icelandic language’ – namely by way of appalling grammar and pronunciation.
I can kind of understand it. And I can kind of speak it. But even my 7 year old grandson Mikael is prone to throwing me the odd pitying glance when I try to start up a conversation with him in this ancient Nordic tongue that he so effortlessly speaks. Thank goodness his mother, (my eldest daughter Milly) chose to raise him bilingually – otherwise I’m not sure quite how our relationship would have panned out. As it is, he speaks beautiful English and we natter on together in a familiar mishmash of Wenglish (Welsh and English) and Icelandic. Brilliant!

It’s not like I haven’t tried. Really I have. I have attended a number of language classes during my 18 years here, but that’s where it ends or should I say it begins – all over again. The language class completed and buoyed by enthusiasm and confidence, I muscle in on a conversation only to bring it to a complete standstill as everyone stops and tries to figure out what it is exactly that I am trying to say.
My poor husband is continuously berated for my failings. He is frequently scolded by well-meaning family and friends, and told to stop speaking English with me and to only speak Icelandic. “Easier said than done”, he responds. “First I have to be able to get a word in edge ways”.

Icelandic is a very beautiful language and really I do hope to one day be able to speak it, if not fluently, then at least with some degree of proficiency.
Until then I continue to stumble through such everyday tasks as figuring out the correct way to answer the supermarket cashier when asked how many carrier bags I need. Shoot! With sweaty palms and a dry mouth, I try to think – mentally going back to the class room, trying to remember which of the “fours” I should use. Fjorir, fjorar, fjögur – it all depends on the gender you see. And for that awful fleeting moment I have forgotten whether a carrier bag is a male, a female or an it. (You’d be forgiven for thinking it is an it – but actually it’s a male, and I only know that because I just checked.)
It’s at this stage I usually play it safe and say with a confident smile, five – “fimm takk”. Five is always an easy option as there is no mind-bender-gender-ender to have to consider. Fimm stays fimm.
In my defence, and I do realise that after 18 years I am clutching at straws here, but Icelandic is considered one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn.

And before you judge me, how about you trying this little beauty for size: “Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur”
Yeah, thought so… and no, this is not me keymashing and please don’t ever ask me to pronounce it.
It means something along the lines of “ring on a key chain for the main door of a tool storage shed used by road workers on the hill, Vaðlaheiði”. It’s a real word, though granted not one that crops up in conversation very often, being mainly used by people showing off.
For now I leave you with one of my go-to all-time favourites, “hjálp ég er týndur.” Meaning, “help, I am lost”.
Post Script Note: Having just read this out loud to Ægir, my husband, he has politely pointed out that, as I am female, the correct verb ending is, in fact, týnd not týndur.


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