From Iceland — Icelanders Too Impatient With Accented Icelandic, Professor Of Icelandic Says

Icelanders Too Impatient With Accented Icelandic, Professor Of Icelandic Says

Published June 27, 2022

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, a professor of Icelandic who has been very outspoken on how inclusive the language needs to be, told the radio station Bylgjan yesterday morning what many foreigners living in Iceland can likely attest to: Icelanders need to be more patient when it comes to Icelandic spoken with an accent.

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The subject has been raised numerous times in the past, and it re-entered the discussion following the June 17th celebrations. One part of these occasions is a ceremony held at Austurvöllur in which fjallkonan–literally, “the woman of the mountain”, but more a living embodiment of the country itself in the form of a woman wearing the national costume–reads a poem to the gathered crowd. This year, the fjallkona was Sylwia Za­jkowska, who moved to Iceland from Poland, and recited a poem in Icelandic, albeit with a Polish accent.

The reaction to this was mixed, but Eiríkur reminded listeners yesterday that Icelanders need to get used to hearing Icelandic spoken with an accent.

“We need to make up our minds,” he said. “Are we going to make it easier for these people to gain command of Icelandic and show patience while they’re learning it, or are we going to be inflexible and demand someone speak perfect Icelandic, with perfect pronunciation and perfect grammar and so on?”

The message is especially important as more people move to Iceland all the time, almost universally with the willingness to learn Icelandic–and naturally so, as gaining command of the language not only helps one get a better paying job, but also helps one establish bonds with members of the community.

Despite this, Eiríkur has pointed out previously that the government is not doing enough to help people learn the language.

“We are doing a terrible job of teaching Icelandic to foreigners,” Eiríkur told the Grapevine in 2017. “Not all of the courses are suited to the learners, and we should be offering Icelandic classes during the day, as a part of their jobs. Many people will come to this country, get low-paying jobs, and they’re stuck there. We import people to come work in Iceland, and they don’t have the time to learn Icelandic [on top of working full time].”

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