Published December 13, 2017
Notoriously, our barbaric ancient language is one of the most difficult to learn in the world. Therefore, Icelanders are routinely amazed when they stumble upon one of the brave souls that goes on the foolhardy journey to learn our language, all just to able to converse with just over 300,000 people on a barren rock in the Atlantic.
But Eunsan Huh decided that it wasn’t enough just to learn the language, despite being a non-native speaker, she wanted to teach it. However, instead of going the mind numbingly boring route of repetitive word lists and grammar exercises, she turned to deconstruction and imagery, and the result was the book “Iceland In Icons”.
The composite craze
“With English you have a word like “volcano” and you don’t know why it’s called a volcano. But with Icelandic it’s easy to understand that “Eldfjall” are two words put together–“fire” and “mountain”, so it’s a “fire-mountain”, Eunsan says. “I started deconstructing words and adding to my vocabulary, and Icelandic breaks down really well into small words.”As she learned to breakdown the composite words in Icelandic she began to doodle, to draw representations of the words. The drawings become more numerous an finally she decided they needed to be compiled into a collective work–“Icelandic in Icons. A book that matches our quirky words with imagery, creating the ultimate visual aid for learning Icelandic–that’s not boring.
“Icons have the power to transcend language barriers and that is what makes them so useful for teaching languages,” says Eunsan.
Language and culture
Eunsan was born in Korea, but after moving around the world her family settled in New York, before she moved to New York where she has lived over the past 10 years. In a way it was her disconnect with her adopted country’s culture that first brought her to Iceland.“In America thanksgiving is a big holiday, generally people go home. Big celebration. My family being form Canada, in 2011, all my roommates at the time were going home to meet their family. But I decided to travel somewhere new and lone,” Eunsan explains. “There I was alone in this beautiful place and I wanted more–there was so much to see.”
But she didn’t want to experience Iceland like most tourists–stopping for a short while, enjoying the sights. She wanted to get under the skin of its people, to learn about the culture and more importantly their language.
Becoming an Icelandophile
To me it always seems odd that people choose to learn this language that is spoken by so few. I find it equally strange that there are people so fascinated in us–this nation living on a rock at the end of the world. And Eunsan freely admits that she fits perfectly the label of an “Icelandophile.”“I don’t mind being one, but I don’t know how it comes across to Icelanders,” she ways. “I’m not a native speaker, but I think there is something you can bring as an outsider. Notice things that the natives maybe don’t think about. Even in Korean, I don’t look into how words are built. But as inquvisit, that is an approach I can use. Can offer as an outsider.”
When images take flight
Through her time learning Icelandic Eunsan has encountered many words that have inspired and interested her, but one word stands above the rest.“My favourite Icelandic word is the word for idea, “hugmynd” and it was also one of the first words I actually broke down. “Hugmynd”–an idea is a picture in your mind, which is a really good way to explain things to people. Because you can see something in your head, but can’t explain it,” she says. “Then from that we get “hugmyndaflug”, which means imagination, or the flight of ideas.”
Icelanders are mad for the composite word–mashing two or more words together is almost as much a national sport as football and Eunsan says that she can often find the process of breaking words down to be quite humorous, but also quite magical.
“With some words I can’t believe they call it that because it is so literal and with other words I find it so beautiful the way a word is composed. It’s really nice to see both,” she says. “I am a very sentimental person so I prefer the more poetic words.”
Take in more than just Gullfoss
Eunsan hopes that she can add a bit to the travels of every tourist in Iceland. That they will get a deeper sense of what these sub-Arctic people are about.“Ultimately what I’m trying to do is share my love for the language and how it can add to your travels,” she says. “It’s one thing to go and enjoy the physical stuff, but it adds to your trip to learn the history and culture. The book is trying to frame these two.”
Iceland in Icons is a fantastic insight into the daunting Icelandic language. It’s informative and humorous, and at at times quite cute. It is something that should add to the experience of everyone who visits our barren shores.
Click here for information in English about how to buy “Iceland in Icons”.