Monday, October 10, 2011

Speaking in Tongues

Grocery, Reykjavik

Before this trip, the only thing I knew about the Icelandic language was that it was sprinkled with letters I didn't recognize, most notably the eth (ð) and the thorn (þ). Aren't they pretty?

Now that I've been here a few days and heard it spoken constantly, I'm in love with it. It has lilt and sparkle. It falls gently on the ear. A casual conversation in Icelandic sounds less like chitchat than a duet. (Or a trio, quartet, or–after a substantial amount of Gull has gone down the hatch–a free-for-all twelve-tone Viking war chorus.)

I love languages and am usually pretty good at picking them up on the fly. But not Icelandic. Three days and I still can't pronounce the name of my street (Þórsgata) in a way that doesn't make taxi drivers say, "What?"

Being unable to decode anything written–menus, shop signs, magazine titles, street signs–is wildly disorienting. The street signs, in particular, make me seasick. Þórsgata is an easy one. Usually you're confronted with Rauðarárastígur, which when spoken properly sounds as though it only has two syllables, neither of which uses any of the letters in "Rauðarárastígur."

To cope, while I try earnestly to improve myself, I've had to resort to remembering street names by what they kinda look like instead of what they actually are. This morning, I'm in charge of navigating myself and my companions (Mike of FiberBeat and Stephen of Hizknits) to a thermal pool we haven't tried yet. It's at the corner of Burgermunch and Snuffleuppagus.

If you don't hear from us in 24 hours, send help.

Addendum: I opened Flickr this morning to be greeted by this.

Very Funny, Flickr

Go fuck yourself, Flickr.

28 comments:

Anne said...

if you think there's a disconnect between how Icelandic looks and is pronounced , try Scots Gaelic where the word for book, just to take one example, looks like this 'leabhar' and is pronounced 'yower'

The Foggy Knitter said...

Thank you, that was just the laugh I needed this morning

Mel said...

It's actually very phonetic, but they speak so goddamned fast. And then you get the declension wrong. But at the same time, it all felt so familiar. I kept saying to David, "It's just like back home, except everybody's speaking Elvish."

I'm glad you're trying out the different sundlaugar. I loved Sundhöll for it's 1930's charm, but I think my favorite of the ones we tried was Vesturbæjarlaug (though it was pretty spectacular at Árbæjarlaug sitting in heitum potti while snow squalls blew through).

Sally said...

Still jealous.

Lisa/knitnzu said...

Just smile and nod... point and grunt...

me too jealous...

are you going to visit the place where the earth is growing?

Cynthea G said...

Sounds like Irish Gaelic: I recall seeing the closed-captions on a Gaelic news report and thinking: any resemblance between what is being spoken and the written word is purely coincidental!

Anonymous said...

Sæll Franklin ;)
Thank you for your course yesterday, it was very good and I learned a lot.

Glad to see you are enjoying your stay in Iceland

Anna Kristin

Aubrey said...

I'm still rolling - I SOO needed that laugh this morning! And please to give Sir Hizknits a hug from me? So jealous...

Lily said...

I loved Iceland more than anywhere else in the world. The only way I was able to survive was to bring my own Viking with me. :) I hope you enjoy the knitting and the great people that you find there. Thorsmark, Thingvalla, Gullfoss - all beautiful places.
Avoid the Greenland Shark!! Try the Char- it's delish.

Cat Bordhi said...

Franklin, there is an easy and practical solution: photograph street signs with your camera, and just show them to the taxi driver. Iceland is one of the places I long to visit someday! I am getting much vicarious pleasure from having so many of my friends there at once.

Maxly said...

Tomorrow I will know this all to be true! See you Tuesday.

3goodrats said...

Last year I flew through Iceland on my way to Amsterdam, on Iceland Air so everything was in both languages. All the announcements were about 4 times longer in Icelandic than English and I was convinced they weren't telling us English speakers everything. But the best part? Icelandic movies and music on the plane! You're right, it's a beautiful language to listen to. I found one musician that I especially liked and one of her songs was even in English. It was called "Honey, You're Gay" and yes, it was as awesome as it sounds.

CatBookMom said...

Great irony with the Flickr greeting - just wish they would show HOW to pronounce these greetings!

Sounds like you're having a fabulous time; loving the posts.

kmkat said...

We had a similar experience in Japan, attempting to recognize place names by the overall shape of the word. We got ourselves a street map, only to discover... there were no street names on it.

Anonymous, too said...

But you're forgetting one of the best language translation tools you inherited from your parents ---

Those big, brown, puppy-dog eyes! Just take your glasses off and give a pleading stare . . . .

And Mr. HIZKnits will see his nose grow longer if he insists Ms. Sparkles could do any better.

Enjoy the trip. You know you have to get at least one of the sweater patterns with little sheep on it, so you can alater it to show little Ms. D's!

Caroline said...

That's how I felt in Vietnam. After earnestly trying for a month before I went, I ended up only able to say Please, Thank you, and How much.

soxanne said...

That's how I felt in Tunisia ... And funny thing, I'm good with languages too, and when I got on the light rail leaving MSP airport the other day I heard a language I didn' t recognize...and I wondered if it might be Icelandic...and whaddaya know, their bag had a tag on it for KEF!

danielle said...

Use your phone camera - take a photo of the street name - and then just show it to people! LOL
Because my memory is getting worse, I use my phone camera as a memo!

Seanna Lea said...

I think it highly appropriate for you to swear at Flickr. It is obviously taunting you.

I'm glad that you are enjoying Iceland despite your discombobulation.

LindaV said...

How do you say go fuck yourself in Icelandic again? ;)

Jennifer said...

Careful in remembering street names that way...I was in Germany and wandered about on my own one day... I had to stop and ask for directions in my very very very broken German, telling the vendor that my hotel was on Einbahnstraße.... I was certain that that was what the sign outside of our hotel said.... He cracked up and translated for me.

Einbahnstraße means "one way street".

Amy said...

When we were there a couple of weeks ago, we did the streets by recognition, but we had nicknames for them talking to each other. Hubby can speak basic Mandarin, but Icelandic was too much.

Lækjargata = Bakery Street
Skólavörðustigur = Skolagata

I told someone there they have the most intense language ever.

Lori said...

I had the same problem in Greece. It looked like it said butter pancakes to me but was actually apollyana? yea, okay. Hope you can tell me more about Chicago soon. my DD moved there three years ago, she's only 23 and I miss her.

Evelien said...

About phonetics: Did you know the Dutch saying 'flikker op'(pronounced flickr op) actually means something like 'go fuck yourself'. At the same time it's also not a very nice word in other contexts as well. Hope I'm not offending anyone...;)

sivilce nasıl geçer said...

thanks it will help me a lot

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