Deep North Episode 18: A Diamond in the Rough

icelandic language rasmus rask

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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A Diamond In the Rough

There are three things that make Iceland distinct. Firstly, the relatively small land itself is full of glaciers, volcanoes, and its stark beauty. Secondly, the remarkable people who populate the land and whose ancestors only survived countless catastrophes with a combination of tenacity, hope, and stubborn love of their petulant land. And finally, the peculiar Icelandic language which is spoken by fewer than 350,000 people worldwide and is notoriously difficult to learn. This last aspect of Iceland, the Icelandic language, is perhaps one of the most difficult to appreciate for foreigners.

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