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Description

Icelandic

Icelandic is spoken by more than 230.000 people. The vast majority of the speakers live in iceland.

Icelandic belongs to the western subbranch of the North Germanic languages. The Germanic languages form a top-level constituent of the Indo-European language family.

Icelandic is the national language of Iceland.

Iceland has been colonized in the ninth and early tenth century. The settlers spoke Old Norse.

The history of the Icelandic language is subclassified into two historical stages: a) Old Icelandic before 1540 and b) Modern Icelandic after 1540. The first Icelandic translation of the Bible was published in 1540. Old Icleandic is virtually the same as Old Norse, and the Modern Icelandic language still is very archaic and resembles Old Icelandic in many respects.

Icelandic has very marginal dialectal variation.

The Old Icelandic vowel system features distinctive vowel length, which has been lost in Modern Icelandic. The vowel system has changed drastically on its way from Old Icelandic to Modern Icelandic in all other respects, as well.

Characteritics of the Icelandic consonant system are the distinction between voiced nasals, laterals and vibrants and their voiceless counterparts, the distinction between aspirated and plain stops, the presence of palatal stops and the absence of voiced stops. Icelandic has the pre-aspirated stops /hp, hk, ht/ where one would expect the geminates /pp, kk, tt/ for diachronic reasons.

There are several morphophonological processes affecting vowels and consonants.

Primary lexical stress is found on the first syllable of the word. There is a tendency to put a secondary stress on every second syllable after primary stress. Stressed vowels are long if no more than one consonant follows.

Nouns are inflected for number (singular and plural), case (nominative, accusative, genitive and dative), and gender (male, female, neuter). Nouns are sub-classified into various declension classes.

Adjectives have two major inflectional paradigms: strong vs. weak inflection. Weak adjectives modify definite nouns and strong adjectives modify indefinite nouns. Comparison is performed by synthetic and analytic means.

The definite article follows the head noun agreeing at least in gender. The declension of the definite article resembles the pronominal declension and the declension of the strong adjective. There is no indefinite article.

First and second person pronouns are inflected for number (singular and plural) and case (nominative, accusative, genitive and dative), but do not have a gender distinction, whereas third person pronouns are inflected for number, case and gender (male, female and neuter). The inflection of personal pronouns is quite irregular, which is typical for Indo-European and Germanic languages.

The first four cardinal numbers are inflected for gender and case. The number "one" is also inflected for number, the plural form meaning "a pair of".

Icelandic has a morphologically rich verbal system. The verb is inflected for tense (present, past, perfect and future), person (1, 2, 3), number (singular and plural) and mood (indicative, subjunctive and imperative). The verb is subclassified into four conjugation classes.

The Icelandic verb has two synthetic tenses: the present and the simple past tense. In the past tense there is a distinction between weak and strong verbs: weak verbs form the past tense stem by adding a dental suffix to the root, strong verbs use vowel alternation to form the past tense stem. The weak form are mostly regular and productive, whereas the strong forms are irregular and not productive any more.

The verb has four infinite forms: infinitive, present participle, past participle and supine. Various tense/aspect/mood forms are formed with an auxiliary verb and an infinite form of the verb, such as perfect ("have"+ supine), future ("will" + infinitive"), progressive ("be" + infinitive + particle), inchoative ("go" + infinitive + particle) and passive ("be" + past participle).

Analogous to other Germanic languages 'preterite-present verbs' occur in Icelandic. The present tense of these verbs is form-identical with the past tense of the strong verbs, and the past tense is indentical with the past tense of the weak verbs. Examples of the preterite-present verbs are "know" and the modal verbs.

The so-called 'middle voice' is expressed by a suffix attached to the inflectional endings of the active voice. It comprises passive and several other meanings.

New words can be formed by derivational means and compounding. Derivational suffixes from new nouns, adjectives and verbs, derivational prefixes form new adjectives and verbs. There are three types of compounds: a) stem compounds: the first component is a stem, b) genitive compounds: the first component is a genitive, c) connective compounds: a connective element (vowel) connects two items.

Indefinite pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, numerals and adjectives precede the head noun agreeing in gender, number and case with the head noun. Demonstratives and the definite article trigger weak inflection of adjectives.

Genitives usually follow the head nouns, but can also precede it in some cases.

The verb generally occpies the second position in a clause.

Unassimilated loan words occur rather scarcely in the vocabulary of Icelandic.

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