What is the origin of the Icelandic language?

Asked By

Ólöf Vala Schram


Icelandic belongs to the branch of the original indo-European known as Germanic. The Germanic languages divided early into three sub families:

East Germanic is considered to comprise only one language, Gothic, which was spoken by the ancient race of Goths, and is now extinct. Sources about this can be found in Bishop Wulfilas' translation of the bible from the 4th century AD. Germanic languages include English, German, Dutch and Friesian.

The oldest North Germanic language is called Old Norse, which was spoken in Scandinavia from about 200 to 800 AD. Most sources of this language are found in runic inscriptions. Old Norse then divided into two branches, which in turn branched:

This explains why Icelandic is closer to Norwegian and Faeroese, than to Swedish and Danish though they all stem from the same root. The settlers brought their language with them when they settled Iceland. Most came from West Norway, but there were also settlers from other regions of Norway. Some came from Denmark and Sweden, if we can rely on ancient sources.

The settlers also brought slaves from Ireland. In the very earliest language one can find evidence of Celtic words, though their influence was never great. The language in Iceland developed gradually and diverged from Norwegian, which also developed in its own direction.

Through the centuries, Icelandic has changed in a number of ways, both in terms of pronunciation and in the inflections. Many words have also been incorporated from other languages. The creation of new words in the country itself is also continuous, so the language is in a process of steady development.

Translated by Paul Richardson.

Further answers in English:

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Published 5.3.2005


Answers in English


Guðrún Kvaran. „What is the origin of the Icelandic language?“. The Icelandic Web of Science 5.3.2005. (Skoðað 26.5.2024).


Guðrún Kvaranprofessor

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