A committee within the University of Iceland’s School of Humanities is conducting a search for the most beautiful word in the Icelandic language, Morgunblaðið reports. The committee invites anyone interested (both native and non-native speakers) to submit their word suggestion, along with a short rationale, via the email at: fegurstaordid.hi.is. (Suggestions can also be submitted via postal mail, marked “Fegursta orðið,“ and directed to: Hugvísindasviðs Háskóla Íslands, Aðalbyggingu, 101 Reykjavík.) Proposals must be submitted by October 22, 2013 and each participant can only submit once. All submissions will be taken under consideration by the committee, which will then select a few finalists for the public to vote on.
An announcement circulated by the School of the Humanities further explains that it is the project committee’s goal to solicit suggestions from people in different age groups. There will be three age group divisions: people who were born after 1998, people born from 1988 to 1997, and people who will be 26 years or older in 2013.
Ástráður Eysteinsson, Dean of the university’s School of Humanities, emphasized that people’s rationales for their word choice need not be lengthy or involved. Neither do the word choices themselves need to be particularly lofty or unusual. In fact, Ástráður says that a word suggestion which has especially strong personal connotations for the person making the submission— such as, for instance, “afi” (grandpa) or “amma” (grandma)—would be very well received. Submission rationales can refer to a word’s locational context, indication of personal relationships, humor, or just overall aesthetics.
If pure linguistic appreciation is not enough incentive for participants, there will also be several prizes awarded for those submissions which make especially good arguments for why the word proposed is, in fact, the most beautiful word in the Icelandic language. One participant in each age group will receive a trip for two within Iceland. And three runners-up will be given books as prizes.
Although the competition is meant to be fun for participants, the committee says that it should not diminish the importance of the project, not least as a survey of Icelandic speakers’ connection with the language. It is important, they said, that many people take part, including “children, teens, and adults, men and women, people from both urban areas and rural areas, people with diverse education, work, and life experience, foreigners or people of foreign origin who have learned Icelandic as a second language, and Icelanders who live abroad, and are bilingual or have an equal connection to both Icelandic and another language.”
“All words will be considered,” the project announcement continued. “Nouns, verbs, adjectives, particles, interjections, neologisms, slang words, loan words (from other languages), etc. The rationales for the word choice can be of various kinds, everything from objective reasoning to emotional and personal explanations…The explanations can be just one line long, or can be longer. The School of Humanities reserves the right to publish word submissions and their related rationales, but participants’ names will only be published with their permission.”
Beyond collecting and drawing attention to a wide range of lovely Icelandic words, the committee hopes to increase awareness, both among Icelanders and people for whom Icelandic is not a mother tongue, of the dynamic nature and diverse uses of Icelandic, and the beauty and importance of its various purposes and contexts.