Fyrirgefðu, ég er bara ád læra…

If you want to know what it’s like when you’re learning Icelandic, let me give you a peek into the e-mail I just desperately sent the only person I know who has studied Icelandic grammar. “Why is the nominative plural of ‘önd’ not ‘andir’ but ‘endar’? Have I misunderstood the U-umlaut-shift, am I using the nominal paradigm wrong, or is it just one of those bloody strong nouns?” ‘Önd’ means duck, by the way.

I had to ask him because native-speaking Icelanders are relatively unaware of how their language is formed – fair enough. I bet most English-speakers wouldn’t know what I meant when I asked for the 3rd person masculine singular pronoun in the accusative. It’s ‘him’. I think.

Anyway, regardless of the countless irregular verbs, nouns and adjectives in this language I’m going at an alright pace, considering this is only my third week of study. I am still only working in the present tense, but that can develop later. I can already write things like ‘Ég er að fara gegnum skógann til að gefa henni bréfin hennar.’, which means ‘I am going through the forest to give her her letters.’, but I can say only little things like ‘Mjólk?’, which means ‘milk’. It’s because I lack the confidence to pronounce words correctly, and I lack confidence in that because it’s the one thing I don’t get a chance to practice, because I never get the opportunity, and I’m not self-confident enough just to start talking Icelandic. If someone said to me “Answer in Icelandic!” I would, but that push is coming neither from me nor from the people I see. I will have to make it happen eventually!

Another reason I’m so hesitant about speaking is that the few times I’ve tried they’ve just stared blankly, and I know my accent isn’t that bad. At least, it’s no worse than a beginner at French’s accent would be in French. It’s just that where the French are used to foreigners mispronouncing their language, it is so rare for people to learn Icelandic that think they find it harder to cope with the way I mangle the sounds of this ancient and noble speech.

Well, I’ll keep you updated!

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