Deep North Episode 18: A Diamond in the Rough Skip to content
icelandic language rasmus rask
Photo: Den Kongelige Fotografisamling, H. M. Dronningens Håndbibliotek, Kongernes Samling Louis Rousseau.

Deep North Episode 18: A Diamond in the Rough

In the fall of 1813, a young, shy Danish man disembarked from a cargo sailing ship in Reykjavík harbour. His name was Rasmus Kristian Rask (1787-1832), but he was no merchant, nor was he a tourist. Short in stature and modestly dressed, his face was thin and fine-featured, long-nosed with round, clear eyes that burned with enthusiasm and intellect. Rask had been offered free passage to Iceland by appreciative Icelanders fascinated by the diminutive young Dane who so loved their language. He had come to the remote Danish colony for a two-year stay to master the language and test a theory he had devised; that Icelandic was the closest thing to an ancestor of all the other Germanic languages.

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