OUTLINES OF GRAMMAR.
1 HE Icelandic alphabet (stafrof) in popular use as taught to children
consists of the following letters (stafir):—
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, k, 1, m, n, o, p, q, r, s,
t, u (v), x, y, z, b, æ, ö,
the names of which may be learnt from two stanzas by Gunnar
Pálsson in the Barna-gull:—
.. 1, be, cc, dc, e, ejf, gc,
eptir kemur há, í, kd,
ell, emm, enn, o, einnig pc,
aetla eg qú par standi hjá.
Err, ess, té, ú eru þar næst,
ex, ý, zefa, pant, œ, 'ô,—
allt stafrofið er svo best
í erendin þessi lítil tvö.
The vowels are pronounced long. This alphabet was, with some
additions, adopted from the Latin, and the p was added at the
end; and so late ?.s the 17th century (in the Glossary of Magnus
Ólafsson, who died 1636, and in the Ice!. Grammar of Runolf
Jonsspn, who died 1654), the alphabet ends with p, cc and 'ô being
attached to a and o; Runolf calls the ö 'o brevûsinintn.' At a later
tinie Æ and ö were detached from a o, and put at the end ; but
not both of them at the same time, as Biörn Halldorsson ends his
Dictionary with œ. Gunnar Pálsson, who wrote the first popular nbc,
seems to be the man who, by his memorial stanzas, settled the alpha-
bet as it is now taught. The division into mutes, liquids, etc. is too
well known to be repeated. Neither arc we here concerned with the
Runic alphabet: there can be little doubt that this too was rudely
imitated from the Greek or Latin, perhaps from coins : Roman coins
of the 2nd and 3rd centuries of our era have been dug up in Scandi-
navian cairns and fens : foreign coined money was centuries in advance
of books, and in barbarous countries shewed the way to the art of
The vowels (hljóð-stafir or less properly raddar-stafir) are, 1.
simple (short)—a, e, i, o, u,y, ii. 2. diphthongal, either marked
with the acute ('), d, c, í, ó, ú, ý, or double letters, are, ei, ey, cc (œ).
Thus in written Icel. all the vowels together are, a á, e c, i i, n ó, n ú,
y ý, œ, o, the diphthongs an, ei, ey being included under a and e
respectively. In this Dictionary the simple and acute vowels are
treated under one head, but separately one after another; e.g. A in
pp. 2-36, A in pp. 36-48; these letters are widely different from
one another both as to sound and etymology; a and a, o and o,
i and i, for instance, being no more akin than a and ei, o and au, etc.;
and therefore great confusion would arise from mixing them together.
The long vowels are chiefly due to contraction or absorption of con-
sonants, which in Icel. has been carried farther than in any other
Teutonic language, e.g. ar, atom, and ;ir, year; vin, friend, and vin,
wine; dyr, door, and dyr, dter; f\i\\r,fiill, and fú\\,fojíl; gob, god,
and góðr, good, etc.
To the consonants (samhljóðendr) were added in olden times the ô
(eð), p (porn); and in modern times j, about the end of the last
century; so that in Icel. writing all the consonants are, b, c, do,f,
g, b,j, k, I, m, n, p, q, r, s, i, v, x, z, p, ( = twenty-one); and this
brings the whole alphabet to thirty-six loiters :—
a á, b, c, d ð, e é, f, g, h, i i, j, k, 1, m, n, o o,
p, q, r, s, t, u ú, v, x, y ý, z, b, æ (œ), o,
from which number we may subtract c, q as little in use, x, z as com-
pound letters, ô as subordinate to d, æ and Æ are treated as one letter,
and thirty remain ; au, ei, ey go along with a and e, each in its due
place, as å\soja,já,j'i,jö,jú.
There is a curious division of the alphabet by an old Icel. gram-
marian of the latter part of the I 2th century (Skálda 169-173). He
draws five concentric circles: in the centre he places what he calls 'he
höfuð-stafir ('bead-slaves,' initial letters), viz. h, q, v,p, which in Icel.
can only stand at the beginning of a syllabic : in the next ring the
mál-stafir ('speech-staves' or common consonants), twelve in number,
which can stand both as final and initial: in the third ring the
hljóð-staíir (' voice-staves,'' vowels, still so called in Icel.), twelve in
number, among which he distinguishes between six simple and six
long vowels, the latter marked as at present with '; with them also he
counts the limingar (' clusters,' double vowels), cc, co, w, and lausa-klofar
(split letters'), ei, ey, as well as ia, to, hi; the vowel i he calls skiptingr
(a changeling) from its being sometimes a vowel, sometimes a conso-
nant : in the fourth ring are the capitals, which in MSS. are made to
serve for double consonants (e. g. kroS —kross): lastly, in the fifth
ring, the undir-stafir (' under-staves,' sub-letters), 0, x, z, which in Icel.
can only be used as final.
Thorodd (bóroddr Gamlason, called Rúnameistari or Rune-master)
is the oldest Icel. grammarian, and lived in the beginning of the T 2th
century; for a curious account of this remarkable man, a builder by
profession, see Bs. i. 235. He makes thirty-six vowels, nine of which
seem to be nasal, caused by the frequent dropping and agglutination
of n (in the infinitives, the weak nouns, etc.) These letters were
lost before writing began, but left a nasal sound so late as the begin-
ning of the 12th century. To the five Latin vowel characters he adds
co, &, 0, y. These nine vowels as well as the nasals he then doubles
by marking the long with an acute ('), and so they make thirty-six.
In writing and printing, ao, M, ø arc out of use, but occur frequently
Icel. prose literature extends over nearly eight centuries, and in the
course of that time the language lost some of its rich vowel system ;
besides the nasals we are able to trace seven distinct vowels as lost.
Four of them were lost at a very early time, perhaps in the 12th
century, viz. á the umlaut of n (sec p. i, B. 5); o or ce, a vowel change
of ó; and the double e and ö sound (see introduction to letter E) ; all
these four letters were lost about the same time, and so early that few
MSS. use them ; they are not noticed in this Dictionary, except now
and then for etymological purposes. Some three or four centuries
later, three other vowels vanished, viz. the y sound in all the three
letters y,y, ey, which became respectively — /, i, ei; but the former
are still preserved in writing and printing. The MSS. down to the
Reformation make in most cases a sharp distinction between the i
and y sound, as also the poets ; yet one very ancient MS. of the I 2th
century (Arna-Magn. 623, see Frump, pp. 42-48) is remarkable for
its confounding both letters. The same confusion is observable in
Anglo-Saxon; whereas in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, the dis-
tinction of i and y is still strictly kept up. As for Icel. we suspect
that the change began in some remote district at an early time, until
many centuries later it was suddenly adopted throughout the whole
1'he Icel. is not, in its pronunciation, a strongly accented language,
(the acutes, as stated above, are marks of diphthongs, not of accent,)
and is in this respect nearest in sound to the French. In modulation
the Icel. is in the main trochaic (- w | - o), and arsis and thesis follow
alternately one after another : secondly, all root syllables are accentu-
ated, but inflcxive syllables have no accent, e. g. biinxä, hândä, böðä,
hârðán, fâgrä; in bisyllabic compounds both the root syllables are
accentuated, but jhe second .with only a half accent, which we mark
by ", e.g. sâm-bând, hûg-böð, as also in strong inflexions like -andi,
-astr, c. g. eîgändi, hârðíistán : if one of the words which form a com-
pound falls in the third syllable it is accentuated, e. g. bârnä-gnll, bfirnä-
gíillï, luindfi-verk (but hfmd-vf'rk), because in this case the arsis falls
on tile third syllable which is a root : in trisyllabic words with bisyllabic
inflexion the third syllable is sounded -, e. g. lausnfmnn, hûgg-
iinar, sýngiiðïst, sfumleikfinn, hentfigast, truur-innar (fidei), nâðar-
ïnnár, höfðïng-jílnnä, and that even jhough the second syllable is a
root syllable, e. g. ûppvfiknîiðr, nfsôkún : words like bk"ssûnär|nmär,
mïskûnArjínniír, dröttnïngár ínnär, etc. are dactylic. Root and in-
flexion on the one hand and the trochaic flow on the other are felt
all along, mutually resisting or aiding one another as to the measure
of a syllable ; accordingly, whenever the arsis falls on u it becomes
~, if on '_: it becomes —. In the best Icel. poets half-accentuated syl-
lables may form full rhyme, by a poetical licence ; thus, in the I'assiu-
Sahnar more than eight score, and in Húnaðar-balkr more than two
score of such rhymes are found, e. g.
Mig hefir liiifur Lausnarinn ] Bænarlaus aldrei byrjuð sé
i leitt inn í náðar grasgarð sinn. . burtíör af þínu heimile.
j Huggun er manni mó'nnum að I Jm veizt ci hvern þú hittir þar
iniskunGuðs hefir svo tilskikkað. J heldur en þessir Gyðingar.
! Iðranin blíðkar aptur Guð ! bví hjartað mitt er heliningað,
j ei verður syndin tilreiknuð. 1 hlakka eg til að finna bað.