Stefán Einarsson

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This is an Icelandic name. The last name is a patronymic, not a family name; this person is properly referred to by the given name Stefán.

Stefán Einarsson (9 June 1897 – 9 April 1972) was an Icelandic linguist and literary historian, who was a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the United States.

Life and career[edit]

Stefán was born and raised on the farm of Höskuldsstaðir in Breiðdalur. His parents were Einar Gunnlaugsson and his wife Margrét Jónsdóttir.[1] After attending school in Akureyri and graduating in 1917 from the Menntaskólinn in Reykjavík,[2] he attended the University of Iceland and completed a Master's degree in Icelandic in 1923–24; while a student, he assisted Sigfús Blöndal and Jón Ófeigsson on the Icelandic dictionary for four years.[3] He then studied phonetics at the University of Helsinki in 1924–25 and at the University of Cambridge and completed his Ph.D at the University of Oslo with a dissertation on the phonetics of Icelandic.[4]

He became a faculty member at Johns Hopkins the same year, 1927, at the invitation of Kemp Malone, for whom he had recorded a study text in Icelandic,[5] and worked there until his retirement in 1962. He taught primarily in the English department, in the fields of Old Norse and Old English, and beginning in 1945, Scandinavian literature. He became Professor of Scandinavian Philology in 1945.[6][7] He remained loyal to Iceland, accepting all invitations to contribute articles about Iceland to reference works and becoming one of the founding officers of the Icelandic Patriotic Society, for whose journal he wrote at least one article a year.[8] He edited Heimskringla, the Icelandic newspaper published in Winnipeg. In 1942 he was appointed Icelandic vice-consul in Baltimore; from 1952 to 1962, when he retired from Johns Hopkins, he served as consul.[7][9] After retirement he moved back to Iceland and lived in Reykjavík until his death (in Hrafnista nursing home);[10] he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for 1962–63.[11]

He played violin and piano and drew and painted well;[2] several of his works include illustrations by him.[12] He was married twice. His first wife, Margarethe Schwarzenberg[13] (26 May 1892 – 7 January 1953), was an Estonian historian. They had no children. Her ashes are buried with his at the family farm.[4][14][15] His second wife, whom he married in December 1954, was Ingibjörg Árnadóttir[4][7] (1896 – 1980), from Njarðvík, a relative of Halldór Hermannsson, the librarian of the Fiske Icelandic collection at Cornell University.[16] She had four children from a previous marriage.


Stefán Einarsson published prolifically, over 500 books and articles in all.[17] In addition to books and articles on linguistic and literary topics, in English he published a grammar of the Icelandic language (which grew out of a wartime Armed Forces course and contains a valuable glossary of Modern Icelandic words)[18][19] and two histories of Icelandic literature, one the first treatment of modern Icelandic literature[20] and the other the first survey spanning the entire national literature from the settlement to the contemporary period, including émigré literature.[21] He was the first Icelander to take a structuralist approach to Icelandic phonetics, and an early explorer of the idea of a link between skaldic and Latin meter.[22] In Icelandic, in addition to two further books on Icelandic literature, one of them an expansion of his general survey published in English,[23] he also co-edited and wrote a large part of a book on the history of his native Breiðdalur and was responsible for two of the annuals of the Ferðafélag Íslands, covering Austurland. His publications show three areas of emphasis: Icelandic language and culture as revealed in literature; the East Fjords; and great living Icelanders, particularly Sigurður Nordal, with whom he studied, Þórbergur Þórðarson, and Halldór Laxness.[24] Early in his career, at Sigurður's urging, he wrote a biography of Eiríkr Magnússon, who was his maternal great uncle.[25] However, he ranged extremely widely in his reviews, "from Medieval Latin to Strindberg and Icelandic telephone directories."[26]

He was also on the editorial boards of the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Modern Language Notes, and Scandinavian Studies (and Notes).[27]


Stefán was an honorary member of numerous learned societies, including the American Philosophical Society, to which he was only the second Icelander to be elected.[4] He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of the Falcon, Iceland's highest honor, in 1939,[28] and in 1962 received an honorary doctorate from the University of Iceland.[27]

There is a room dedicated to his work at the Breiðdalur Institute in Breiðdalsvík.[15][23]

Selected works[edit]

In English[edit]

In Icelandic[edit]

  • Skáldaþing. Reykjavík: G. Ó. Guðjonsson, 1948. OCLC 2076523
  • Islensk bókmenntasaga, 874–1960. Reykjavík: S. Jónsson, [1961]. OCLC 2050896
  • with Jón Helgason, ed. and contributor. Breiðdæla: drög til sögu Breiðdals. Reykjavik, 1948. OCLC 2915592
  • Austfirðir sunnan Gerpis. Árbók Ferðafélags Islands. [Reykjavík]: Ferðafélag Íslands, 1955. OCLC 256958732
  • with Tómas Tryggvason. Austfirðir norðan Gerpis. Árbók Ferðafélags Islands. [Reykjavík]: Ferðafélag Íslands, 1957. OCLC 55778776
  • Austfirzk skáld og rithöfundar. Austurland safn austfirzkra fræða 6. [Reykjavík]: Bókaforlag Odds Björnssonar, 1964. OCLC 1806111


  1. ^ Anatoly Liberman, "Stefán Einarsson: Austfirðingur í húð og hár", in Stefán Einarsson, Studies in Germanic Philology, ed. Anatoly Liberman, Hamburg: Buske, 1986, ISBN 9783871187551, pp. ix–xlii, p. ix.
  2. ^ a b Liberman, p. xv.
  3. ^ Liberman, p. xvii.
  4. ^ a b c d Dr. Stefán Einarsson: eini Breiðdælingurinn til þess að hljóta doktorsnafnabót á 20. öld, Breiðdæla, 2002, retrieved 9 March 2013 (Icelandic)
  5. ^ Liberman, pp. xvii, xxi.
  6. ^ Liberman, p. xxix.
  7. ^ a b c Biographical Note - Einarsson (Stefan) 1897–1972: Papers 1942–1959, Special Collections, The Milton S. Eisenhower Library, The Johns Hopkins University.
  8. ^ Liberman, p. xxv.
  9. ^ Liberman, p. xxvi.
  10. ^ Liberman, p. xxxiii.
  11. ^ Liberman, p. xxx.
  12. ^ John G. Allee, Jr., "Stefán Einarsson", in Nordica et Anglica: Studies in honor of Stefán Einarsson, ed. Allan H. Orrick, Janua linguarum series maior 22, The Hague: Mouton, 1968, OCLC 631499, pp. 7–9, p. 8.
  13. ^ Liberman, p. xx; other sources spell her name Margarete Schwarzenburg.
  14. ^ Liberman, pp. xxxi, xxxiii.
  15. ^ a b History of Hoskuldsstadir, Odin Tours Iceland, retrieved 8 March 2013.
  16. ^ Liberman, p. xxxii.
  17. ^ Allee, p. 7, "approaching five hundred"; see "The Writings of Stefán Einarsson", Nordica et Anglica, pp. 175–96. The bibliographical supplement in Liberman, pp. xliii–xlvi, brings the number to 525.
  18. ^ Review by Fritz Frauchiger, Books Abroad 21.3, Summer 1947, p. 352.
  19. ^ Review by Gabriel Turville-Petre, The Modern Language Review 41.2, April 1946, pp. 219–20.
  20. ^ Review of Stefán Einarsson. History of Icelandic Prose Writers, 1800–1940 by Knut Bergsland, Books Abroad 24.4, Autumn 1950, pp. 415–16.
  21. ^ Review of Stefán Einarsson. A History of Icelandic Literature by Raymond E. Lindgren, Books Abroad 32.3, Summer 1958, p. 322.
  22. ^ Liberman, pp. xxxvi–xxxvii.
  23. ^ a b Málþing um ævi og störf Stefáns Einarssonar,, [2012], retrieved 9 March 2013 (Icelandic)
  24. ^ Allee, pp. 8, 9.
  25. ^ Liberman, p. xi.
  26. ^ Liberman, p. xl.
  27. ^ a b Liberman, p. xxxv.
  28. ^ "Just Begging to be Explored: Breiðdalur Valley of East Iceland", The Icelandic Times, September 2011.

External links[edit]