The University of California, Berkeley will be offering Modern Icelandic language for the first time as a regular course starting this fall semester. The language course is being offered in conjunction with Berkeley students’ studies on Iceland to facilitate their learning through the Viking’s age-old language.
The beginner language course will be offered in the fall and spring semesters, co-sponsored by the Institute of European Studies (IES) and the Department of Scandinavian of UC Berkeley. Modern Icelandic is also offered at Utah’s Brigham Young University and the University of Minnesota. The latter sends students to the University of Iceland for three weeks of their six-week summer language course.
Although the number of Modern Icelandic speakers is considered small, with only 320,000 speakers who are mostly located in the United States, Canada and Iceland, the IES says that it is a strategic language due to the transatlantic connections between Europe and the United States. Likewise it acts as an intermediary between the Arctic and Europe.
Modern Icelandic is one of the few languages of Western Europe that is not yet offered by UC Berkeley and adding it to the roster of regular courses will raise the profile of the Nordic Studies Program of the university as well as beef up the university’s Department of Scandinavian. According to Jeroen Dewulf, the director of IES, while Iceland is a small nation it is one of the world’s most developed and wealthiest nations.
In the past, students who are not from Iceland have to actually go to the country in order to learn the language, but with Berkeley’s introductory Modern Icelandic course, students could learn the country’s language and culture as well as its literature in the U.S. The course will give them basic communication skills in the language, prepare them to understand Iceland and its people better and will greatly assist them when they arrive in Iceland for an archaeological expedition, for business or other purposes.
Specific Icelandic terms
Iceland is a country that wants to keep its national language as pure as possible, thus it creates its own terms for almost everything, according to Jackson Crawford. The linguist will be teaching Modern Icelandic on campus in Berkeley and via teleconferencing for students from UCLA.
The lecturer-linguist also said that instead of borrowing from other languages including English, Modern Icelandic creates unique words even for modern technology. A computer is called tölva, which came from the word “tala” or number and “völva” that means a female fortune teller or a witch. While Modern Icelandic does not appear to change, being based on the Old Norse language of the Vikings, the two are quite distinct from each other.
Crawford said that learning the language will make more people discover and appreciate contemporary Icelandic literature as well as Old Norse sagas and myths. Likewise, learning Modern Icelandic will help people learning other languages such as Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, which are also offered by the university.