Icelandic Language Day Celebrated Today

November 16 marks Icelandic Language Day, celebrated annually in Iceland since 1996. With immigration on the rise and enthusiasm for Icelandic culture growing abroad, there have never been more people interested in the Icelandic language. To mark the occasion, Iceland Review spoke with Sigurður Hermansson, an Icelandic teacher who recently launched the website Icelandic Made Easi(er).

Language Celebrated in Harpa

This year, Icelandic Language Day will be celebrated with an event at 4.00pm at Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík, streamed live on the official website of the Government of Iceland. The event will include an address from the Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir and the presentation of the Jónas Hallgrímsson Prize, granted to individuals for their contributions to the advancement of the Icelandic language.

November 16 was chosen for Icelandic Language Day as it coincides with the birthday of beloved Icelandic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807-1845). Jónas was also translator, and many of the words he came up with to translate new concepts into Icelandic are still in use in the language today. One example is the Icelandic word for planet: reikistjarna (literally wandering star).

Interest in Icelandic Language Grows

Though there have never been more people learning Icelandic as a second language, Icelandic teacher Sigurður noticed that resources for independent learners were sorely lacking. “When I learned French and Spanish, I did it by living in the countries and making friends, I didn’t study formally. It was never hard to find a good free dictionary online or google a grammar question and find a clear answer right away,” Sigurður says. “But for people learning Icelandic, that’s not available.”

Sigurður Hermansson teaches Icelandic as a second language at the Tin Can Factory language school. When the school closed this spring during the first wave of COVID-19, he used the time to develop more resources for independent Icelandic learners.

“So many of my students at the Tin Can Factory were always asking the same questions. I thought it would be good to have a little collection of articles that would be a sort of FAQ of the Icelandic language. I got a bunch of beta readers for the articles and I got so many comments asking if I was going to put them online, so I decided to do that.”

More Online Resources for Icelandic Learners

The website, called Icelandic Made Easi(er), has had between 400-1,200 visitors per week since its launch. Sigurður says the feedback has been very positive. “The week I published the site, a student at the school came up to me – not one of my students – and said ‘thanks for the website, it’s fantastic.’ I realised then for the first time that it would help people beyond my immediate circle.”

In addition to his website, Sigurður is now working with wordreference.com to add an Icelandic-English dictionary to their website. “The first step in the process is to translate a huge bank of words from English to Icelandic.” He encourages any Icelandic speakers interested in helping out to get in touch with him. “Even ten minutes a day can help a lot!”

COVID-19 in Iceland: Chief Epidemiologist Preaches Patience as Case Numbers Drop

COVID-19 test tubes

As case numbers drop in Iceland, the country’s Chief Epidemiologist celebrated its success in containing the current wave of COVID-19, while cautioning against relaxing restrictions too quickly. In a briefing in Reykjavík today, Þórólfur Guðnason stated that Icelanders must remain vigilant and continue to practice distancing and personal preventative measures to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Iceland will relax restrictions minimally on Wednesday, November 18.

Iceland reported nine new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, six of which were already in quarantine. Its total number of active cases is currently 340, and has been dropping steadily since late October. When restrictions are relaxed on Wednesday, massage parlours and hair salons will be permitted to reopen, while swimming pools and bars will remain closed across the country. Restaurants are permitted to operate, but must close no later than 9.00pm in the evening.

The modified restrictions will remain in effect until at least December 2. Þórólfur expressed his concern that the Christmas season would bring increased group gatherings, which pose an increased risk of virus transmission. He urged the public to be patient and continue practicing personal preventative measures such as distancing and hand washing.

Border Testing Vital, Says Chief Epidemiologist

Þórólfur stated today that there are two group infections that have been caused by two new strains of the virus, previously undetected in Iceland. While the majority of active cases are due to previously-detected strains, these two strains have somehow made it into the country despite border testing. One of the strains was detected by a test at the border, but the other has not shown up in sequencing of border test samples.

Despite this, Þórólfur emphasised that border testing had stopped a majority of infections from entering the country and spreading, but it was simply not possible to evade them completely. Border testing was a vital factor in preventing the spread of the pandemic, the Chief Epidemiologist underlined. The Ministry of Health is currently assessing whether to change border testing regulations, including whether it is possible to make testing mandatory for arriving travellers. Current regulation allows those arriving in Iceland to choose between double testing with five-day quarantine and 14-day quarantine.

Þórólfur expressed optimism that an effective vaccine against COVID-19 would be available early next year. It would, however, be a shame to experience another wave of the pandemic in Iceland just as the vaccine was becoming available, he added. Until then, Icelanders can expect at least some restrictions to remain in place.

“Oslo” Christmas Tree Felled in Heiðmörk Forest

Mayor fells the city's Christmas tree

Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson felled the Oslo Christmas tree in Heiðmörk this Saturday. This year, the tree is a 12,40 m (40 ft) Sitka spruce, about 60 years old, and will be the city’s official Christmas tree on Austurvöllur square in the city centre.

The city of Oslo has given the people of Reykjavík a Christmas tree for decades. A few years ago, the environmental impact of transporting the tree was considered superfluous and since then, the “Oslo tree” has come from Heiðmörk forest on the outskirts of the city. Instead of the Christmas tree, Oslo sends books to Reykjavík elementary schools.

Christmas comes early in Reykjavík this year.

This year’s tree was likely planted on the Reykjavík Forestry Society’s 10th anniversary, but this year, the Society is nearing its 70th year. The tree will take its usual place at Austurvöllur and be decorated to delight passersby. The lighting ceremony, on the first Sunday of the Advent, Nov, 29, usually a fun family event that marks the start to the official Christmas season, might be different than usual due to the pandemic.

Another Christmas tree was felled in Heiðmörk this Saturday, to be sent to the Faroe Islands and decorated outside Tórshavn Tinghús. Reykjavík sends the tree as a mark of gratitude for the friendship of the Faroese, a fairly recent tradition as the first tree was sent in 2013. This year’s Tórshavn tree is an 11m (36 feet) Sitka spruce and Eimskip will transport the tree to the Faroe Islands.

Oslo Christmas Tree 2020
Reykjavík

Icelanders Reading More During Pandemic

Books by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir on a shelf.

Icelanders are reading more books and listening to more audiobooks this year than last year. A survey commissioned by the Icelandic Literature Centre shows that Icelanders are now reading 2.5 books per month, up from 2.3 around the same time last year. The survey found that women read more than men, and families with two or more children read more than others in Iceland.

More Reading in Icelandic

More than one third of respondents who listen to audiobooks (36%) said they consume more of them now than they did last year and 18% of those who read traditional books said they read more now than before the pandemic. Audiobook consumption increased overall from last year.

More respondents this year reported reading exclusively or most often in Icelandic than in last year’s survey (61%). Those 18-35 read more in languages other than Icelandic than any other age group. Around 80% of respondents stated they felt it was important that new foreign books were translated into Icelandic. The majority of respondents, or 73%, considered it important for Icelandic literature to have public funding (this figure was similar to last year).

Women and Families With Children Read Most

Families with three or more children read more than households with no children and also reported using libraries most. Around half of the survey’s respondents reported that they use library services.

Women read more than men, according to the survey’s findings. While women in Iceland read on average 3.1 books per month, men read just 1.9. Men’s reading has increased more between years, however, while women’s reading has stayed largely the same. Around 78% of the survey’s female respondents had read a book in the past 30 days while 65% of male respondents had.

Spending the Same on Books

While the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have encouraged reading among Icelanders, it does not appear to have affected book purchasing much. Around 78% of respondents said they buy a similar number of books now as they did last year, while 16% say they buy fewer and 6% that they buy more.

The survey was commissioned by the Icelandic Literature Centre in collaboration with six other organisations in the literature industry and carried out by Zenter. The sample size was 2,200, of which 1,101 responded.