Here's a brief guide which will hopefully make life a little easier in understanding Icelandic place names and their corresponding attractions, as well as the pronunciation! Once you are familiar with the basics, you should find this handy when planning your study trip to Iceland, as well as when you're out there of course!
FREQUENTLY USED TERMS
Here you'll find the spelling, the phonetic pronunciation in brackets then an example of usage and finally, what it means!
Foss/fossar (foss) Gullfoss – waterfall
Fjordur (f-yor-dur) Isafjordur – fjord
Hraun (ha-rune) Stadarhraun – lava, lava field
Vatn (vat) Myvatn - lake
Jokull (yoh-cull) Vatnajokull – glacier, icecap
Fjall/fjoll (f-yall/f-yoll) Kerlingarfjoll – mountain
Hlid (h-lid) Reykjahlid - gate/hill
Gerdi (ger-dee) Hveragerdi – garden
Strandir (stran-deer) Hornstrandir – beach/coast
Vik (vic) Grindavik – small bay/cove/inlet
Lon (lon) Jokulsarlon - lagoon
Bjarg (b-yarg) Latrabjarg - cliff
Stadir/Stadur (stah-deer/stah-dur) Hallormsstadur – place, spot
Dalur (dah-lur) Modrudalur – valley/dale
Hofn (herp) Hofn – harbour, port
The official language of Iceland is Icelandic (íslenska), which remains very similar to, although not quite the same as 13th century Norse. Icelandic writing uses the Latin alphabet, but with three characters long ago lost from English:
Ð, ð (eth) = shown as ‘d’, such as Reykjahlið = Reykjahlid
Þ, þ (thorn) = shown as ‘th’, such as Þingvellir = Thingvellir
æ (a-er) = shown as ‘a e’, such as Arbær = Arbaer
As for accents over letters, don’t even get me started! Á, Í, É and Ú all change the sound of a word, but let's stick with the basics for now.
It’s worth bearing in mind that when speaking, the emphasis/intonation is placed on the first syllable – an easy rule to follow!
HANDY PHRASES – A BIT OF BASIC ICELANDIC
Although most Icelanders speak excellent English, a few simple words and a little effort is always appreciated.
Hello Hallo (hal-law) / Hi Hae (high)
Goodbye Bless (bless; often said twice, ‘bless bless’)
Good morning Godan daginn (goh-dhan dahg-in)
Good evening Gott kvold (got kvur-lt)
Good night Goda nott (goh-da noh-t)
Thank you Thakka ther fyrir (thah-ka thyer fi-rir)
Thanks (informal) Takk (tah-k)
Yes Ja (your) or Ju (you; for answering a negative question)
No Nei (nay)
SONS AND DAUGHTERS…
Iceland maintains another Norse tradition: the custom of using patronyms rather than surnames. An Icelander’s given name is followed by his or her parent’s first name (usually the father’s), and the suffix -son or -dottir, e.g. Gudrun Petursdottir (Gudrun, Petur’s daughter). Because of the patronymic last names Icelanders usually use first names, for instance phone books are alphabetised by first name rather than last name! This also applies when addressing an individual; Icelanders would never expect to be addressed as Mr or Ms Jonsson/-dottir, no matter how important they might be!