Ask A Scientist: Where Did Inhaling While Saying “Já” Come From? - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Ask A Scientist: Where Did Inhaling While Saying “Já” Come From?

Ask A Scientist: Where Did Inhaling While Saying “Já” Come From?

Published April 19, 2017

What a lot of newcomers to Iceland may notice, when listening to Icelanders speak with each other, is that they will sometimes say “Já” while inhaling. This quirk of speech, known as the innsog, is done to denote emphasis of agreement, or to encourage the speaker to keep talking.

This is a natural speech pattern to all Icelanders. So natural, in fact, that Icelanders we spoke to were frankly surprised to learn that many foreigners find this curious. But where did the innsog come from, exactly?

It turns out: we don’t know. We asked several Icelandic linguists, specialists in the language and its history who have spent years studying every minutiae of the language, and none of them knew the origins of innsog or when it arrived in Iceland. However, we did some digging of our own, and discovered clues that gave rise to speculations.

The innsog, it turns out, is not native to Iceland. It’s known in linguistics as the “ingressive sound” and can be found, in fact, in northern Germany, across Scandinavia, in parts of Ireland, and even in the Maritimes of Canada. Moreover, it is also done with local variants of “yes” and done for the same reasons. This could mean—and we are not anthropologists—that the innsog migrated across these areas.

However, we have no idea from whence the innsog came, nor when it arrived in Iceland. As such, it may remain a mystery, until such time as a linguist or anthropologist reading this shoots us an email to clarify the matter.


If you have a question about Iceland that you would like answered, email us at ask@grapvine.is and we will find the most suitable expert in the field in Iceland to resolve your conundrum.

For more “Ask An Expert” articles, read here.

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