Icelandic orthography (de-lurking)
|From:||Oskar Gudlaugsson <hr_oskar@...>|
|Date:||Sunday, November 5, 2000, 5:50|
I've been away from the list a little while...
Anyway, being the only Icelander here (presumably), I ought to have
something to say in this topic;
On Thu, 2 Nov 2000 15:22:23 +0100, BP Jonsson <bpj@...> wrote:
>>>Spoken languages are trouble in that regard, yes. I've heard
>>>Icelandic cited as an example of this, as it hasn't changed
>>>gramatically very much over the last 1000 years or so, and
>>>Icelandic schoolchildren can study the Sagas and such in the
>>>original language without explanation of words and such (as we
>>>have when studying Shakespeare), but if an Icelandic scientist
>>>were to invent a time machine and go back to that time, they
>>>wouldn't understand a word of the language.
I suspect we'd understand it by the same margin as we're currently able to
understand spoken Faroese - i.e., it's a very similar difference; basically
the same phonemes and words only with different values of the phonemes, and
a marginal difference in lexis. This probably doesn't mean anything to
anybody here, as few would really know how an Icelandic-speaker perceives
Faroese. Basically, an Icelander hearing Faroese for the first time will
catch about one word per sentence but yet have the uncanny feeling that he
should be understanding more; as if it were his own language, only spoken
extremely unclearly. It's kind of disturbing. Anyway, after some further
contact with Faroese, the Icelander should be able to start understanding
most words that he's lexically familiar with (though I can't confirm this,
as I haven't yet reached this stage with Faroese, having had very little
contact with it). There are, however, plenty of "false friend" cognates
between the two languages, most of which make for excellent jokes.
>>What the Icelanders read when they think they read the Sagas
>>has been respelled in modern orthography. The differences are
>>small, but they're there. And the modern orthography has some
>>quite strange conventions to keep the differences to the old
>>language _visually_ small.
Overall I feel that Icelandic students are presented by too much respelled
or conveniently legible material and two little of the opposite. Actually,
one need not show them raw 13th century for that. I find 17th or 18th
century Icelandic texts at least equally hard to read, if not more so
(because the spelling is more Latin-like, and that the language is so
Danish-influenced). Of course, reading from an original 13th century
manuscript is pretty much impossible, given a) an impossible-to-read Gothic
writing, b) that every other word is abbreviated or encrypted in some way,
to save valuable calf-skin line space, and c) the lack of standardization.
Also, not a single page of non-Icelandic text is ever presented in school,
even though Old Icelandic is always equated with Old Norse (which would
mean that we should be able to read old texts from Scandinavia, but yet do
not do so). And, in cases of doubt, teachers and school books often favor
texts to have originated in Iceland rather than somewhere else. Lamenting
the school system as always...
I recently read a brief summary of Icelandic history in a tourist guide,
which said, more or less, that the blood-thirsty uncultured Vikings, never
having made any scholarly efforts, *mysteriously* dropped their swords and
started writing nice texts upon settling Iceland!
"Vikings" have sadly tended to be one of the more misunderstood and
culturally underestimated civilizations in history. Worse still, the
exciting period in which they played their part (meaning ca. 8th - 13th
centuries) is too often overlooked in traditional history teaching. Don't
really know why, I mean, "the centuries where culture and science
flourished in the Arab world; where the Byzantian Empire was at its peak,
preserving and advancing the old Graeco-Roman culture; where a Frankish
king united Western Europe; and where pirates/traders/poets from the North
poured out of their homeland to every direction, dominating the North Sea,
keeping Western Europe in awe, settling the west as far as N-America, and
trading/adventuring in Russia and the Middle East." Compare that to what
followed: "the centuries when plagues devastated Europe, fanaticism
abounded, popes bickered, and when the church and aristocracy hustled the
people (so to speak)." My least favorite time in history, for sure.
>It was/is Oskar who wants ð abolished. I just keep pointing out that these
>letters are essentially in complementary distribution postvocalically, or
>would be if compound boundaries were marked.
Hmm. I'm only fairly literate in linguistics jargon, so I think you've got
me there, BP :) Could you make examples or clarify the sentence above?
>On the contrary the great changes in vowel pronunciation (essentially
>diphthongization of old long vowels) are thought to have taken place after
>the 13th century but before the 17th. Due to the conservative orthography
>we have no idea exactly when what happened, only that people around 1600
>were complaining about the "vulgar" pronunciation of é as je; apparently it
>underwent the shift from [e] to [je] at about that time. The old short was
>[E] then as now. OTOH [je] was established enough in the second half of
>the 16th century to be reflected in the spellings of the Bible, so maybe
>the complainers were just antiquarians influenced by the spelling of older
>manuscripts which had fe instead of fie.
If this change came so late, how come every Scandinavian language featured
the same change, more or less? Wouldn't have had to be an earlier change,
or a very early tendency, a "bound-to-become" change, sometime back in the
time of Old Norse? Or is it just a coincidence that all the languages had
the same change?