Icelandic orthography

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Icelandic orthography is the way in which Icelandic words are spelt and how their spelling corresponds with their pronunciation.

Function of symbols[edit]

This section lists Icelandic letters and letter combinations, and how to pronounce them using a narrow International Phonetic Alphabet transcription.[1][2]

Icelandic vowels may be either long or short, but this distinction is only relevant in stressed syllables: unstressed vowels are neutral in quantitative aspect. The vowel length is determined by the consonants that follow the vowel: if there is only one consonant (i.e. in a [VC] syllable), the vowel is long; if there are more than one ([VCC]), including geminates, the vowel is short. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule:

  1. A vowel is long when the first consonant following it is [p t k s] and the second [v j r], vg. esja, vepja, akrar, vökvar, tvisvar.
  2. A vowel is also long in monosyllabic substantives with a genitive -s whose stem ends in a single [p t k] following a vowel (vg. ráps, skaks), except if the final [p t k] is assimilated into the [s] (what sometimes happen, vg. báts).
  3. The first word of a compound term preserves its long vowel if its following consonant is one of the group [p t k s], vg. matmál
  4. The non-compound verbs vitkast and litka have long vowels.

The chart below is incomplete:

Grapheme Phonetic realization Examples
a long: [äː] open central unrounded vowel

short: [ɐ]

taska "handbag, suitcase" About this sound listen 

kaka "cake" About this sound listen 

before ng or nk
[äu̯]
svangur "hungry"
á [äu̯] fár "damage" About this sound listen 
au [œy̯] þau "they" About this sound listen 
b In most cases:
[p⁼] unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop
bær "town" About this sound listen 
Between m and d, t, s, or g:
Ø
kembt [cʰɛm̥tʰ] "combed [past participle]"
d In most cases:
[t⁼] unaspirated voiceless alveolar stop
dalur "valley" About this sound listen 
Between l or n and g, n, l, k, or s:
Ø
lands [lans] "land [genitive case]"
ð between vowels, between a vowel and a voiced consonant, or at end of word:
[ð̠] voiced alveolar non-sibilant fricative
eða "or" About this sound listen 

bað "bath" About this sound listen 

before a voiceless consonant:
[θ̠] voiceless alveolar non-sibilant fricative
maðkur "maggot" About this sound listen 
Between r and n, and between g and s:
Ø
harðna [ˈhartna] "harden"

bragðs [braxs] "trick [genitive case]"

e long: [eɛ̯]

short: [ɛ]

skera "to cut"

drekka "to drink" About this sound listen 

before ng or nk
[ɛi̯]
drengur "boy"
é [jɛ] ég [jɛːɣ] "I" About this sound listen 
ei, ey [ɛi̯] skeið "spoon" About this sound listen 
f At the beginning of a word or before a voiceless consonant, and when doubled:
[f]
fundur "meeting"

haft [haftʰ] "had [past participle]"

Between vowels, between a vowel and a voiced consonant, or at the end of a word:
[v]
lofa "promise" About this sound listen 

horfa [ˈhɔrva] "look"

between ó and a vowel:
Ø
prófa [prou̯ɐ] "test" About this sound listen 

gulrófa [ˈkʏltˌrou̯.ɐ] "rutabaga" About this sound listen 

before l or n:
[p⁼]
Keflavík About this sound listen 
fnd [mt] hefnd [hɛmt] About this sound listen 
fnt [m̥t] (voiceless) nefnt [nɛm̥t] About this sound listen 
g beginning of word, before a consonant or a, á, é, o, ó, u, ú and ö; or between vowel and l or n:
[k⁼] unaspirated voiceless velar stop
glápa "have a look" About this sound listen 

logn "calm (weather)" About this sound listen 

beginning of word, before e, i, í, j, y, ý, æ, ei or ey:
[c⁼] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
geta "can" About this sound listen 
between a vowel and a, u, ð, l or r; or at end of word:
[ɣ] voiced velar fricative
fluga "fly" About this sound listen 

lag "song" About this sound listen 

before t or s
[x] voiceless velar fricative
dragt "suit"
between a vowel and j or i
[j] palatal approximant
segja "to say"
between á, ó, ú, and a or u
Ø
fljúga "to fly"
gj [c⁼] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop gjalda "to pay"
hj [ç] voiceless palatal fricative hjá "next to, with"
hl [l̥] voiceless alveolar lateral approximant hlýr "warm"
hr [r̥] voiceless alveolar trill hratt "fast"
hv [kʰv] ([xv] among some older speakers in southern Iceland) hvað "what" About this sound listen 
i, y [ɪ] sin "sinew" About this sound listen 
í, ý [i] íslenska "Icelandic" About this sound listen 
j [j] "yes"
k [kʰ] kynskiptingur "transsexual" About this sound listen 
beginning of word, before e, i, í, y, ý, æ, ei or ey:
[cʰ] aspirated voiceless palatal stop
keyra "drive"
before t
[x] voiceless velar fricative
október "October"
kj beginning of word:
[cʰ] aspirated voiceless palatal stop
kjöt "meat"
all other contexts:
[c⁼] unaspirated voiceless palatal stop
þykja "to be regarded"
kk [ʰk] þakka "thank" About this sound listen 
l in most cases:
[l]
lás "lock" About this sound listen 
at end of word, or next to a voiceless consonant:
[l̥] voiceless alveolar lateral approximant
sól "sun" About this sound listen , stúlka
ll in most cases:
[tl]
bolli "cup" About this sound listen 

milli "between" About this sound listen 

in loan words and pet names:
[lː]
bolla About this sound listen 

mylla "mill" About this sound listen 

m in most cases:
[m]
mamma "mum"
after and before voiceless consonants
[m̥]
lampi "lamp"
n in most cases:
[n]
nafn "name"
after and before voiceless consonants
[n̥]
planta "plant"

hnifur "knife"

nn after accented vowels or diphthongs:
[tn̥]
steinn "rock"

fínn "elegant"

all other contexts
[nː]
finna "to find"
o long: [oɔ̯]

short: [ɔ]

lofa "promise" About this sound listen 

dolla "pot"

ó [ou̯] rós "rose" About this sound listen 
p beginning of word:
[pʰ] aspirated voiceless bilabial stop
par "pair" About this sound listen 
after a voiceless sound:
[p⁼] unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop
spara "save" About this sound listen 
before s, k or t:
[f] voiceless labiodental fricative
September "September"

skips "ship's"

pp [ʰp] stoppa "stop" About this sound listen 
r at the beginning of words and between vowels:
[r] (voiced alveolar trill)
rigna "to rain"

læra "to learn"

before and after voiceless consonants and before a pause
[r̥] (voiceless alveolar trill)
svartur "black"
rl [rtl̥] karlmaður "man"
rn [rtn̥] þorn "the name of the letter þ"
s [s] sósa sauce
sl [stl̥] rusl
sn [stn̥] bysna
t beginning of word:
[tʰ] aspirated voiceless alveolar stop
taka "take" About this sound listen 
after voiceless sound:
[t⁼] unaspirated voiceless alveolar stop
stela "steal" About this sound listen 
tt [ʰt] detta "to fall"
u [ʏ] hundur "dog" About this sound listen 
before ng or nk
[u]
munkur "monk"
ú [u] þú "you" About this sound listen 
v [v] vera "to be"
x [xs] lax "salmon"
þ [θ̠] see Ð above þú "you"

Aþena "Athens" About this sound listen 

æ [äi̯] læsa "lock" About this sound listen 
ö [œ] ör "scar" About this sound listen 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thráinsson, Höskuldur. Icelandic in The Germanic Languages, 2002, eds. König, Ekkehard; van der Auwera, Johan. pgs 142-52. Routledge Language Family Descriptions
  2. ^ Einarsson, Stefán (1949). Icelandic: Grammar, Texts, Glossary. Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press. pp. 1–25.