What Language Does Iceland Speak: A Quick Guide For Visitors

If you want to visit Iceland, it would be handy to know at least the basics of the language spoken in the country. Most Icelanders speak multiple languages in addition to their official tongue, and the literacy rate in this country reaches a hundred percent. Around 97 percent of Icelanders speak their mother language, Icelandic.

In this article, we will bring you closer to the language spoken in Iceland. Discover the most important facts about its structure and history.

What Language Is Spoken In Iceland?

The Iceland official language is Icelandic, an Indo-European language from the sub-group of North Germanic languages. Icelandic is closely related to Faroese and Norwegian, with slight traces of Celtic influence that dates back to ancient Icelandic literature.

The Iceland native language hasn’t been influenced much by other cultures and languages. As a result of keeping its origins, the language has changed very little from the time the country was settled in the ninth century. It used to be very similar to Norwegian until the 14th century when the Norwegian language started to change under the influence of its surrounding countries and their languages, Swedish and Danish.

Iceland has refused to change its language, which is why Icelandic school children today can easily understand any text from the 12th century. Language purism is very important in Iceland, and they rarely adopt foreign words for modern terms. Instead, they invent new words, combine the words they already have to come up with new terms, or give old words new meanings. 

Keeping their mother tongue free of foreign influence is a well-preserved tradition in this country.

The History Of Iceland’s Language

For anyone wondering what is spoken in Iceland and why there aren’t several languages in the country, it will be interesting to learn about the linguistic homogeneity in this unique land.

The official Iceland language, Icelandic, is an insular one, which means foreign influences haven’t changed its structure. The language had hardly changed at all since the 9th and 10th centuries when the land’s first settlers arrived.

During the 18th century, a strong Danish influence threatened the integrity of the Icelandic language and Danish became a minority language in Iceland under the Danish rule. However, Icelanders continued to use Icelandic for literary purposes and managed to find a way past the influence. They kept the origins of their mother tongue, and as a result, today’s Icelandic speakers understand old scripts that date back from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Other Languages Spoken In Iceland

Many visitors wonder what other languages are spoken in Iceland, aside from their native language, and if there is more than one version of Icelandic. While there are some minor regional differences, there aren’t distinct dialects. Iceland is a small country and nearly all Icelanders speak their mother language in the same form.

However, all those who wonder if people in Iceland speak English will be happy to know that a majority of Icelanders are multilingual. Most residents can speak fluent English, but other languages as well, such as German, Danish, French and Spanish. In Icelandic schools, all students must learn English and another Scandinavian language in addition to their mother tongue.

Other languages spoken in Iceland include Polish, Lithuanian, Thai, Filipino, and Portuguese.

Fun Facts About Iceland Language

Icelandic Became The Official National Language In 2011

Although Icelanders have used their native language throughout the entire history of the country, Icelandic didn’t become the official language of Iceland until 2011. The same year, Icelandic Sign Language became the official language of Iceland’s deaf community.

Speaking Icelandic Is Like Travelling Through Time

The Icelandic language has changed astonishingly little over time, and Icelanders have made great efforts to keep the same dialect spoken for centuries. It remains the closest relative to ancient Faroese. Speaking Icelandic is the closest to time travel you can get as a tourist anywhere in the world.

A Computer Is Called A Witch Of Numbers In Iceland

Icelandic linguists aim to maintain the original structure of their mother language when developing a modern vocabulary. As times change and centuries go by, topics of conversation change drastically and the need for new words and terms emerge. 

Icelanders have been facing two options when it comes to new, modern terms – to adopt foreign words, or to create their own. They’ve decided to get creative and develop new terms.

The word “computer” didn’t exist in the Iceland language in the Middle Ages, so linguists created a new term – tölva.

The new word consists of two words: tala (number) and völva (a witch or a fortune-teller)- which makes the literal translation of the word computer in Icelandic as the witch of numbers!

Now that you’ve learned about the language of Iceland, getting ready for a unique time-traveling adventure is all that’s left for you to do. 

Contact us for more information about getting around this beautiful island, and browse our collection of Iceland camper rentals today! We also recommend exploring our comprehensive Iceland travel guide.

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