A Captive Of The Mind: Transcending The Barriers Of Language With Eunsan Huh - The Reykjavik Grapevine

A Captive Of The Mind: Transcending The Barriers Of Language With Eunsan Huh

A Captive Of The Mind: Transcending The Barriers Of Language With Eunsan Huh

Published July 14, 2017

Björn Halldórsson
Photos by
Byron Hates

Young writer and illustrator Eunsan Huh already had several languages under her belt when she became infatuated with the Icelandic tongue. Having been born in Korea and raised in Canada, she’d always lived in a multilingual environment, and appreciated the specific qualities of other languages. But she was uniquely captivated by Icelandic.

“Every language is unique and special in its own way, because it’s so closely intertwined with the history and culture of the people who speak it,” she explains. “Many of the words I’ve come across in Icelandic strike me as quite poetic. Like ‘hugmynd’ (‘idea’)—a picture in your mind—or ‘hugfanginn’ (‘fascinated’)—a captive of the mind. When I think of the people who came up with these words I can’t help but think they must have been a rather creative bunch.”

Currently residing in New York, she started visiting the country every year, and even took knitting classes at the city’s Scandinavia House in order to make her own lopapeysa. “I’ve been to Iceland seven times in the last six years,” she says. “After a while, I started learning Icelandic to better understand the country’s culture and history. Although I’m far from fluent, learning the language has given me a deeper appreciation for the land and the people.”

The allure of icons

Eunsan’s fascination has now birthed the book ‘Iceland in Icons’, sold and distributed by local publisher Forlagið. It sets out to break down Icelandic compound words into their individual parts to make them more approachable to non-Icelandic speakers. “It’s something we do naturally when we are learning a new language,” says Eunsan. “Breaking words down into smaller pieces and try to pronounce each section.”

“Learning the language has given me a deeper appreciation for the land and the people.”

Being a visual thinker, she was naturally drawn to using images and icons to provide for a more inclusive learning experience. “Icons seemed rather appropriate, since they transcend the barriers of language,” she says. “The whole thing started out as a hobby project, but two years later, I’m still drawing.”

The first word that she drew was Eyjafjallajökull, the name of the famous volcano that was mangled in its pronunciation by newscasters the world over. “After deconstructing the word, I thought ‘island,’ ‘mountain’ and ‘glacier’ would make a good icon set,” she recalls. “After I made these three icons, I realised Icelandic is full of similarly wonderful compound words and that there were many more I could draw as simplified icons. This made learning a lot more fun—I’m terrible at studying, so the project kept me motivated to learn more.”

Folklore in icons

She has no intentions of stopping any time soon, as can be seen by the name of her website, Every Single Word in Icelandic (www.everysingle.is), where many of her icons made their first appearance.

“Recently, I’ve been enjoying Icelandic folklore,” she says. “Particularly when they offer contemporary reference points, like why a certain lake is called this or who climbed this mountain and why. I think it goes a long way to add context and history for your travels. I’m currently exploring how to retell classic Icelandic folk stories with icons and illustrations, so stay tuned.”

Info: ‘Every Single Word In Icelandic’ is out now.

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