Icelandic Language Blog

Spelling Posted by on Oct 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

Again this is partially taken from the textbook I’m writing, so I’d really appreciate if something is wrong or not understandable. Here are the letters currently in the Icelandic alphabet. The chart is sorted by: letter, both capitalized and lowercase / How the letter is spelled in Icelandic / How to pronounce the letter name in English (approximate) / The sound the letter makes in English (approximate).

Aa A Ah Ah as in father
Áá Á Ow Ow
Bb Byeh B as in bed
Dd Dyeh D as in death
Ðð Eth Th as in brother (1)
Ee E Eh Eh as in bed
Éé É Yeh Yeh like ye in yes
Ff Eff Eff F as in father
Gg Gyeh G as in go
Hh How H as in hat
Ii I Ih I as in it
Íí Í Ee Ee as in glee
Jj Joð Yohth Y as in yes
Kk Cow K as in kitchen
Ll Ell Edl L as in late
Mm Emm Emm M as in May
Nn Enn Enn N as in no
Oo O Oah O as in or, oa as in oar
Óó Ó Oh O as in no
Pp Pyeh P as in pet
Rr Err Ehrr / air Rr (rolled/trilled r)
Ss Ess Ess S as in yes
Tt Tyeh T as in tea
Uu U Uh U as in put, oo in foot
Úú Ú Oo Oo as in moon (2)
Vv Vaff Vaff V as in vest
Xx Ex Ex, egs, or echs X as in fox or “echs/egs” (3)
Yy Ufsilon y Uv-sih-lawn ih I as in it
Ýý Ufsilon ý Uv-sih-lawn ee Ee as in bee
Þþ Þorn Thorn Th as in thanks (1)
Ææ Æ Eye Eye, I as in “I spy”
Öö Ö Uh U as in urn, I in girl (4)

(1) These two th sounds are different. Ð is when your tongue is vibrating and þ is without vibration.
(2) Purse your lips (this is what “with rounded lips” means) as if whistling or kissing, instead of the slacker lips in English.
(3) My teacher described older people as more often saying “echs” whereas younger people usually say it the same as in English. A book about Icelandic for Icelanders from the 1930’s described x being pronounced as “egs”, which seems like the closest-sounding alternative to the English x.
(4) Also the o in worker, u in murder, and “e as in set with rounded lips”. This does not exist in English and varies in sound depending on the word being spoken and the speaker, so sometimes it sounds like a genuine ö and sometimes it sounds much more like e. I was taught that your tongue is in the exact same place as when making the e sound (as in bed, bet, first e in meddle), and the only difference is that your lips are rounded. This is a sound that may be easier for English speakers to mimic than say on its own.

Other letters:

Cc Syeh  *
Qq Coo  *K as in kettle
Ww Tvöfalt vaff Tvuh-fault vahff V as in vest
Zz Seta Set-ah S as in sat

* Since the letters c and q don’t exist in Icelandic, according to one person they’ll be pronounced the same as in the foreign word’s original language (or q at least will be pronounced as k). “Celcius” would have the c pronounced as an s, for example, and people don’t tend to pronounce it in a single way when they don’t know how it is in the original language. However I’ve never heard anyone else say this and so if you know anything, please let me know.

There are some things called “diphthongs / tvíhljóð”  that are two vowels next to each other. These are au (sounds like the Icelandic öi, but since ö can range in sound it may sound similar to ey/ei) and ey/ei (sounds like ey in hey). When spelling something, diphthongs aren’t spelled out, but are just pronounced instead. You wouldn’t spell au as a and u (like “ah, uh”) but as au (“öi”). Au’s name is the same as its pronunciation but ey’s name is ufsilon ey / tvöfalt ey and ei’s name is einfalt ei.

Einar – Ei, enn, ah, err. If you’re spelling an Icelandic word you don’t have to spell out the diphthong, but if spelling a foreign word it’s best to spell it out.
Auður – Öi, eth, uh, err.
Caffeine – Syeh (sé), ah, eff, eff, eh, ih, enn, eh.
When spelling a .is web address, you usually just say “is”as if it were a word instead of “ih ess”.

Other useful things:

# tvíkross, mylla, tölumerki number sign, pound sign
% prósentumerki, hundraðshlutamerki percent sign
& og-merki ampersand
/ eða-merki (if meaning “and/or”), skástrik (if in a web address) Slash, solidus
@ verðmerki, á-merki (if commercial “at”),  vistmerki, að-merki, á-merki, hjá-merki (if otherwise) commercial at / at-sign
( / ) vinistri / hægri svigi left / right parenthesis
_ undirstrik underscore
\ flástrik, öfugt skástrik reverse solidus, backslash
. punktur full stop, period
, komma comma
: tvípunktur colon
; semíkomma, depilhögg, depilkoma semicolon
? spurningarmerki question mark
! upphrópunarmerki, hrópmerki exclamation mark
bandstrik hyphen
. . . úrfellingarpunktar, úrfellingarmerki ellipsis (horizontal)

The book “Íslensk táknaheiti” covers every (or almost every) symbol your keyboard can make and I happen to own it (you can also buy it at the University of Iceland’s bookstore, not sure where else), so if you want to know what other symbols are in Icelandic just let me know.

The “…-merki” might not always be said, in class we just say “hjá” instead of “hjá-merki” when spelling our Email addresses.

I thought there was an Icelandic name for “www” but if so I forgot it. If you know it, can you comment and tell me?

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About the Author: sequoia

I try to write about two-thirds of the blog topics on cultural aspects and one-third on the language, because there's much more out there already on the language compared to daily life information. I try to stay away from touristy things because there's more of that out there than anything else on Iceland, and I feel like talking about that stuff gives you the wrong impression of Iceland.