A Hurricane Called “English” Is Sweeping Across Iceland – Bubbi

Bubbi Morthens

In an op-ed in Morgunblaðið yesterday, musician Bubbi Morthens criticised the government, the tourism industry, and restaurateurs for pandering to English speakers. It was one thing for the tourism industry to make a profit, Bubbi observed, but another to wage war against the Icelandic language.

A hurricane called “English”

“A hurricane called English is sweeping across the country and uprooting our language,” musician Bubbi Morthens wrote in an article published in Morgunblaðið yesterday.

In the article – which is entitled The War on Language, in reference to an article authored by Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness, the War on Nature (wherein the latter criticised the government’s plans for the construction of power plants) – Bubbi criticised the growing influence of the English language within Icelandic society.

Reykjavík, he noted, was filled with English signage, restaurants opted for English as their first language, and local interest groups had begun to write letters to the government in the English language.

Roll up your sleeves

While encouraging the tourism industry to “grab a hold of itself,” Bubbi also urged the government, members of parliament, and artists to roll up their sleeves: “We’ve come to a point where all of us who live here have to ask ourselves: Do we want to speak Icelandic? Do we want to read Icelandic? Do we want to sing our Icelandic songs with all the words that we understand with our heart and soul?”

According to Bubbi, if the answer is “yes,” people could no longer sit idly by; the time had come to fight for the mother tongue. “Government of Iceland, parliamentarians of our country, artists, all citizens, wherever we may find ourselves: let’s get a hold of ourselves.”

Bubbi also noted that the tourism industry had to take action. Making a profit was one thing, but waging a war against the Icelandic language was quite another: “Without our language, we are nothing but a fine-natured rock in the North Atlantic. As opposed to an independent nation residing in its own country.”

Everyone welcome

As noted by Vísir, Bubbi concluded his op-ed by clarifying that “everyone was welcome” in Iceland. “The people who want to live in Iceland enrich our country and our culture, but it is important to help them by teaching them to speak our language.”

“Icelandic is the glue that binds us all together, our mother, our father, in fact, our higher power. In Icelandic ‘you can always find an answer,’ the poet observed – and we must, now later than now, find an answer to this war against our mother tongue. Our lifeline. We must all as one, put our foot down and take a stand in defence of our language.”

New English Translation Inspires ‘Rediscovery’ of Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s Nobel Laureate

Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s virtuosic Nobel Laureate in Literature, is having something of a renaissance in the United States, reports The New Yorker. The revival has been a long one, with the novelist’s early success in America stymied by those opposed to his outspoken political beliefs—not least nefarious FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Slowly but surely, however, Halldór is starting to get his due in the US. The revival started in the late 90s, when authors such as Brad Leithauser, Jane Smiley, and Susan Sontag voiced their unfettered enthusiasm for novels such as Independent People. But most recently, this much-delayed appreciation is thanks to the publication of Salka Valka in Philip Roughton’s translation, which Salvatore Scibona hails as “a gripping wonder, and [Halldór’s] most sustained piece of narrative drama.”

The wide-ranging profile traces Halldór’s remarkable life, which could easily be the stuff of fiction itself. He was raised on a farm called Laxnes in 1902 and died in a Reykjavík nursing home in 1998. In between, he contracted and recovered from polio; spent as many as ten hours a day writing as a child; finished his first novel, some 600 pages long, at 16; travelled extensively; was a voracious polyglot (besides his native Icelandic, Halldór spoke Danish, English, and German, and spent time studying Russian, Latin, and French); almost took orders as a Benedictine monk; tried to make it as a Hollywood screenwriter; became disillusioned with America and capitalism after the start of the Great Depression in 1929; became an outspoken socialist, advocate for Icelandic independence from Denmark, and anti-NATO activist; was probably blacklisted in the US for his political beliefs and definitely investigated by J. Edgar Hoover; and, of course, became Iceland’s first—and as yet only—Nobel laureate at the age of 53 for a body of work that the prize committee lauded for “renew[ing] the great narrative art of Iceland.” (And that’s just the short version—The Islander, Halldór Guðmundsson’s biography of Halldór Laxness, also translated by Philip Roughton, is nearly 500 pages long.)

Salka Valka, published by Archipelago Books, began its life as Halldór’s doomed Hollywood screenplay. At the time, it carried at the time the subtitle “A Woman in Pants.” Halldór envisioned Greta Garbo for the lead role. However, the studio wanted to move the setting from Iceland to Kentucky, and that was an adjustment that Halldór could not accept. So he returned to Iceland and turned his screenplay into a novel, which was published in two parts in 1931 and 1932. The eponymous main character is a heroine ahead of her time, a trouser-wearing, deep-voiced, stridently independent, politically passionate woman of “unruly vitality” who will not be dominated or subjugated by men, society, or even love.

Notably, Philip Roughton’s translation is the first English version of the novel to be translated directly from Icelandic. A previous English version of the novel, published in 1936, was translated not from Icelandic but from Danish, yielding a final product that Halldór did not like at all, complaining that “fifty per cent of my style has disappeared.” Roughton’s new version, on the other hand, “moves along with calm assurance,” writes Scibona, “tossing off Laxness’s inventive and always spot-on descriptions as though they were commonplace” and “captur[ing] Laxness’s singular dour-droll tone with uncanny grace.”

Read the full profile of Halldór Laxness and more about Salka Valka (in English) here.

58% of Icelandic Children Internet Users Before Age of Two

Iceland flag national team
58% percent of Icelandic children have begun to use the internet before the age of two, a report from an Icelandic professor reveals. The ratio was 2% only six years ago. There are clues that the English language is beginning to affect the Icelandic language proficiency of children with Icelandic as their native tongue, RÚV reports.
This extensive study examined the effects of technological changes on the Icelandic language and its future, as well as focusing especially on how English is affecting Icelandic.
“Substantial changes are taking place in our linguistic surroundings, our attitude and language use, especially for young people. The prevalence of English in the language has increased significantly for children and teenagers,” said Sigríður Sigurjónsdóttir, a professor in the Icelandic at the University of Iceland.

The difference in a 6 year time span is astounding, as 2% of children had begun to use the internet before the age of two in 2013. This number has now gone up to 58% in 2019. “Eight percent of children today started to use smart devices before the age of one,” Sigríður stated.

The Icelandic accent, while speaking English, was also studied. It was revealed that young children who have not begun formal English studies in schools spoke English flawlessly. That is, they did not have an Icelandic accent while speaking English.

Children have also increasingly started to speak English with each other, rather than Icelandic. 29% of six to seven years sometimes speak English with their Icelandic speaking friends, and the same is true of 47% of eight to nine-year-olds.

Sigríður notes that individuals’ language proficiency is shaped in infancy and that English is now very prevalent in children’s surroundings.

“There are clues that these changes which are happening, and happen incredibly quickly, are potentially affecting our Icelandic competence. We need to place an emphasis on children and teenagers and somehow try to increase the prevalence of Icelandic in their language surroundings by creating exciting material in Icelandic. We need to have proficiency in a native language for the natural development of the brain, and if we don’t achieve that it could have serious consequences,” Sigríður stated.

„Það eru svona vísbendingar um að þessar breytingar sem eru að verða og eru gífurlega örar séu jafnvel að hafa áhrif á málkunnáttu okkar í íslensku. Við þurfum að leggja megináherslu á börn og unglinga og einhvern veginn að auka íslenskuna í málumhverfi þeirra með spennandi efni á íslensku. Fyrir eðlilegan heilaþroska þarf maður að hafa móðurmálsfærni í einu máli og ef það næst ekki þá getur það haft alvarlegar afleiðingar,“ segir Sigríður.

Road to Látrabjarg in Poor Condition

The gravel road which leads to the popular travel destination Látrabjarg is in poor condition after the winter, Bæjarins Besta reports. The 440 metre high Látrabjarg is the westernmost point of Iceland. Home to millions of birds, it is a popular bird watching destination and receives high visitor numbers in the summertime. The cliff was chosen as one of the top 10 ocean viewing spots in the world by National Geographic.

Látrabjarg is situated on the southern part of the Icelandic Westfjords, and the road (road 612 – Örlygshafnarvegur) towards the cliff is plagued by deep holes which can damage vehicles passing through. The photographer Marino Thorlacius shed light on the issue with photos and videos of the road’s condition. “The The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration and Vesturbyggð don’t seem to understand that Látrabjarg and Rauðisandur are the places that attract people to the southern part of the Westfjords. The road access tarnishes the image of the area and is completely unacceptable.”, Marino commented. “Everyone knows that these are rural roads and their condition isn’t a 100% percent, but it’s not acceptable that they’re at 20% condition in the high season when the traffic is at its highest point”, Marino continued. He criticized the The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration for its part in it, and the fact that they have focused on other roads and areas.

Travellers are advised to show caution while driving the road, which is still deemed passable. Further information can be reached by phone (1777) and at www.road.is.

Locals Flock to Tanning Beds to Escape Rain

“It’s just because of the weather. I’ve never been to a tanning salon before,” said Guðni Kjærbo to a reporter who met him on his way out of Smart tanning salon in Reykjavík yesterday afternoon.

Ólöf Valborg Marý Viðarsdóttir, an employee at Smart, says that rainy weather has led to a very busy summer, with many customers tanning for longer than usual. Many tanners come just before a trip abroad, she says, afraid of looking pasty when they reach their sunny destinations.

“There are very many people going in for maybe 20 minutes or 30 minutes, also to feel the heat – it’s the heat that’s so comforting,” says Ólöf.

When asked whether she hoped the rainy weather would continue, Ólöf answered laughing “Uhh… not me personally, but maybe my boss!”

Sheep Farmers at the Mercy of the Market

Chairperson of the Icelandic Sheep Farmers Association Oddný Steina Valsdóttir says sheep farmers need better tools to respond when market conditions change. Oddný said in a radio interview that the industry still faces operational problems, but the government could take measures to resolve the situation faster.

Overproduction of lamb last year led to lower prices and a surplus of meat at the end of summer. One government proposal suggested decreasing the number of sheep in the country by as much as 20%, potentially leading to even heavier losses for farmers.

Oddný says farmers want to have tools to regulate production themselves, in order to better manage market fluctuations. “The situation today is that the production, sale, and pricing of sheep products is free at all levels. We believe it is important that contracts include some sort of tools so it is possible to respond and the industry can itself respond by creating incentives to reduce production if the situation is such,” Oddný says.

The association met with the Minister of Agriculture to review farming contracts last week. Oddný expressed disappointment that the government does not plan to amend the contract in the near future “but there is a willingness to sit at the negotiating table and hopefully something comes out of that.”

Midwives and Government Reach Agreement

A ten-month-long wage dispute between the Icelandic Association of Midwives and the government may be over, RÚV reports. An agreement was reached between the two parties thanks to the National University Hospital of Iceland. “What happened was that the National University Hospital has agreed to reassess the job description and responsibilities of midwives at the institution and apply that to its payroll,” stated Katrín Sif Sigurgeirsdóttir, chairperson of the Association of Midwives. Since the hospital is the largest single employer of midwives in Iceland, the decision is significant.

Voting on the contract begins today and is scheduled to be completed by Wednesday.

The ten-month-long dispute has led to two strikes and over 20 midwife resignations. Midwives argue that their wages and working conditions do not reflect their level of education and the responsibility inherent in their profession.

A work-to-rule strike at the hospital which had begun last week has been called off due to the development. Katrín expressed hope that the agreement would encourage midwives who had resigned from their positions to return to work.

Too Wet to Return Mermaid to Pond

As sharp-eyed sculpture enthusiasts may have noticed, the bronze mermaid statue that has long perched in the pond alongside Hljómskálagarður park in downtown Reykjavík has been missing for months. Mbl.is reports that the statue toppled into the pond during stormy weather last November. It has since been restored, but wet weather conditions have prevented it from being returned to the pond.

“There was more damage to her than we thought[…]We’ve repaired her and she’s been ready since February,” explained Sig­urður Trausti Trausta­son, the department head at the Reykjavík Art Museum, which oversees the sculpture garden.

Hafmeyan, (The Mermaid) by Icelandic sculptor Nína Sæmundsson, was a gift to the City of Reykjavík in 2014 from Smáralind shopping center in the neighbouring town of Kópavogur. It was introduced as part of the new statue garden in the park, which celebrates the foremothers of Icelandic sculpture.

An identical statue by the sculptor stood in the pond from August 1959 until New Year’s Day 1960, when it was blown up. The current mermaid was cast in bronze using the artist’s original mould from 1948.

Sigurður Trausti says that the mermaid’s foundation has been reinforced so that hopefully, she’ll be less likely to topple into the pond again in the future. However, the recent months of rain have prevented the museum from returning the mermaid to her post. “…It’s been raining for many months and so it isn’t possible to drive a crane into the garden and hoist her up on the pedestal without damaging the grass.” However, it’s hoped that conditions will soon be dry enough to return the mermaid to her home.

Remote Eastern Fjord for Sale

A plot of land in the remote fjord of Hellisfjörður in East Iceland is for sale, Austur Frétt reports. The plot, which is not accessible by road, is 1,900 hectares [4,695 acres] and therefore covers almost the entire fjord.

The fjord is currently in the ownership of Hollywood film producer Sigurjón Sighvatsson, who has owned it since 2018. According to Ævar Dungal, the real estate agent overseeing this sale, there’s already been a fair amount of interest from potential buyers in both Iceland and abroad. He notes, unsurprisingly, that it’s rare for whole fjords to be put up for sale in Iceland, but that in addition to that fact, this particular fjord has a lot of natural resources and interesting history to further recommend it.

A Norwegian whaling station was operated on the north side of the fjord from 1901 – 1913, and remnants of the operation are still visible there. There also used to be a village of the same name at the base of the fjord, although the whole area has been uninhabited since 1952. A summer house was built in the fjord in 1970, however, and is being sold along with the land. The house, which has solar panels installed on the roof, has two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen (with gas stove), and a living room. The fjord also boasts rich bird life, reindeer, and great trout fishing.

As there is no road into the fjord, the property must be reached by boat, horse, or on foot. This is unlikely to discourage potential buyers, however. “Many of the people who have shown an interest think it’s actually an advantage that there’s no road,” explained Ævar.

See photos of the property here.

Stock Exchange to Discontinue Publishing List of Largest Shareholders

The Iceland Stock Exchange (ICEX) has decided to discontinue publishing and distributing a list of the 20 largest shareholders in the companies that are listed on the exchange, Vísir reports.

The decision is motivated by a new privacy act which just took effect, as ICEX considers that the publication and distribution of the list as it is currently done does not meet requirements imposed by the legislation. Registered companies were informed of ICEX’s decision by email and were refunded half of their annual fees due to the changes.

Páll Harðarson, CEO of ICEX, said in a conversation with Fréttablaðið that the companies themselves may continue to publish the lists on their websites, but the approval of the relevant shareholders is required. “They can take the initiative themselves if demand from investors and the willingness of shareholders is at hand,” Páll stated.

Óli Björn Kárason, chairman of the Parliamentary Economic Affairs and Trade Committee, wrote if the new privacy act reduces transparency in the stock market, it works against healthy business practices. “It took decades to fight for the country’s largest companies to publish their shareholders list. Hörður Sigurgestsson, then-CEO of Eimskip, broke the ice,” Óli wrote in a Facebook post. “A healthy and strong stock market is important and a prerequisite of that is the rule of trust. And trust is not obtained unless transparency is guaranteed.”

Páll stated that information about transactions will otherwise be circulated in a similar manner to foreign stock markets. Financially-invested parties will continue to receive notice when company shares exceed certain limits. The information is published in accordance with the Securities Transactions Act. “This kind of information is published in order for the market to be informed of the movements and transactions of entities that have the greatest impact on the management of the companies. I believe that such disclosure is sufficient,” replied Paul when asked what ICEX’s stance was on the changes.

One corporation listed on the Iceland Stock Exchange, real estate company Reginn, has taken the list of twenty largest shareholders down from its website. It remains visible on other corporations’ websites at the time of publishing.