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A. is the first letter in all the alphabets of Phenician extraction. The
Runic alphabet, being confused and arbitrary, makes the sole exception
to this rule.
A. PRONUNCIATION: it is either simple (a) or diphthongal (á). The
simple a is pronounced long or short; when long it is sounded like the
long Italian a as in padre, or as in Engl. father; when short, like the short
Italian a as in cambio, or as in Engl. marry. The á -- though in grammars
commonly called a long vowel -- is phonetically diphthongal (a + u), and
sounds like Engl. ou or ow: Engl. thou and Icel. þá, now and ná, have
almost the same sound. Again a and á have, like all other vowels, diph-
thongs or simple, a deep, full chest-sound if followed by a single consonant,
or by more than one weak consonant (a liquid followed by a media).
They sound short if followed by two or more strong consonants (a double
mute or liquid): thus the a and á sound long in tál, sermo; sát, sedebat;
mán, mancipium; tál, dolus; ár, remits; sát, sessio, hátr, odium; hárðr,
durus; káldr, frigidus; vándr, difficilis; támdr, domitus, etc. But short
in hátt, pileum; hátt, modum; mánn, bominem; bánn, interdictum; háll,
lubricus; kált, frigidum; rámt, acidum; hárt, durum; vánt, assuetum,
etc.; the consonants shortening the sound of the preceding vowel. The
a is also short in all endings, verbal or nominal, tala, talar, talaða, dixi;
talast, dicitur; vaka, vigilia; fagran, pulchrum, etc. Etymologically a
distinction must be made between the primitive á, as in sátu (sedebant),
átu (edebant), gátu (poterant), and the á produced by suppressing
consonants; either nasals, as in á, ást, áss, báss, gás, = an, anst,
ans, bans, gans; or gutturals, h, g, k, as in á (aqua), sá (videbat), lá
(jacebat), má (debet), nátt (nox), dráttr (tractus), and a great many
others; or labials, v, f, as in á = af, áir = afr, hár but háfan; or dentals,
as in nál (acus) [Goth. nepla, Engl. needle], vál (ambitus, mendicitas)
[A. S. vädl], etc. In very early times there was no doubt an audible
distinction between these two kinds of á, which however is not observed
even by the earliest poets, those of the 10th century. The marking of
the diphthongal vowels with an acute accent is due to the Icelandic
philologist Thorodd (circa 1080-1140), and was probably an imitation
of Anglo-Saxon. The circumflex, applied by Jacob Grimm, is unknown
to Icel. authors of whatever age. Thorodd, in his treatise on the vowels
(Skálda, pp. 160 sqq.), distinguishes between three kinds of vowels, viz.
short, long (i. e. diphthongal), and nasal. The long ones he proposes
to mark with an acute (&aolig-acute;); the nasals by a dot above the line (•). The
vowels of his alphabet are thirty-six in number. According to his rule we
should have to write, af (ex), át (esus), ä (in). No doubt the a was also
nasal in the verbs and the weak nouns, komå (= koman), augä (gen.);
and also when followed by an n, e. g. vänr (assuefactus). The distinctive
marking of the nasals never came into practice, and their proper sound
also disappeared; neither is this distinction observed by the poets in their
rhymes. The marking of the diphthongal vowels -- either the primitive
vowels or those formed by agglutination -- by an acute accent, according
to the rule of Thorodd, is indeed used in a very few old Icel. parchment
fragments of the 12th century. The only MS. of any considerable length
which strictly observes this distinction is the Ann. Reg. Ísl. 2087. 4b.
Royal Libr. Copenhagen, written in Icel. at the end of the 13th century.
In the great bulk of MSS. both kinds of vowels are treated alike, as
in Latin. About the middle of the 14th century the doubling of vowels,
especially that of aa (&aolig-acute;) = á, came into use, and was employed through
more than three centuries, until about 1770 the Icelanders resumed the
spelling of Thorodd, marking diphthongal vowels by an acute accent,
but following the rules of modern pronunciation. The diphthong au --
in Norse freq. spelt ou -- has at present in Icel. a peculiar sound, answering
to äu or eu in German, and nearly to Engl. oi. The Norse pronunciation
is different and perhaps more genuine.
B. CHANGES. I. a changes into æ, á into Æ: this change --
a part of a more general transformation, by Grimm termed umlaut,
'vowel-change' -- is common to all the Teutonic idioms, except the
Gothic (v. letter E and Æ). II. a changes into ö (&aolig-acute;), á into &aolig-acute;:
this transformation is peculiar to the Scandinavian branch, esp. the
Icelandic idiom, where it is carried on to the fullest extent -- in old
Swedish and Danish its use was scanty and limited. It takes
place, 1. in monosyllabic nouns with a for their radical vowel,
α. feminines, öld, periodus; önd, anima; örk, arca; för, iter; höll, aula;
hönd, manus; sök, causa, etc. β. adjectives in fem. sing, and in neut.
pl., öll, tota; fögr, pulchra; hörð, dura; hölt, clauda; sönn, vera; from
allr, etc. γ. in plur. neut., bönd, vincula; börn, GREEK; lönd, terrae;
from band, etc. δ. in singular masculines with a suppressed u in
the root, hjörtr, cervus; fjörðr, sinus; björn, ursus; örn, aquila,
etc. 2. in dissyllables a radical a, when followed by a final u (-u,
-ur, -um, etc.), in Icel. constantly changes into ö, -- öllum, cunctis;
mönnum, hominibus; köllum, vocamus; vökum, vigiliis and vigilamus;
vökur, vigiliae, etc. Danes and Swedes here retained the a; so did a
great part of Norway. The change only prevailed in the west of
Norway and the whole of Iceland. Some Norse MSS. therefore con-
stantly keep a in those cases, e. g. Cd. Ups. De la Gard. 8 (Ed. C. R.
Unger, 1849), which spells allum, cunctis; hafuð, caput; jafur, rex;
andverðr, adversus; afund, invidia, etc. (v. Pref. viii.) Other Norse MSS.
spell a and ö promiscuously; allum or öllum, kallum or köllum. In Icel.
this change prevailed about the year 1000. Even at the end of the loth
century we still frequently meet with rhymes such as barð -- jarðu, þang --
langu, etc. 3. a in inflexions, in penultimate syllables, if followed by
u, changes into u (or ö); thus keisurum, caesaribus; vitrurum, sapienti-
oribus; hörðurum, durioribus; hörðustum, durissimis: pret. pl., sköpuðu,
creabant; töluðu, dicebant; orrustu, pugnam. In part. pass. fem. sing, and
neut. pl., sköpuð, creata; töluð, dicta; töpuð, perdi/ a. Neut. pl. in words,
as sumur, aestates; heruð, pagi. This change is peculiar to Iceland, and is
altogether strange to Norse MSS., where we constantly find such forms
as ætlaðu, putabant; gnagaðu, mordebant; aukaðu, augebant; skapað,
creata; kallað, dicta; skaparum, tapaðum, ágætastum, harðarum, skín-
andum; kunnastu, artem, etc. This difference, as it frequently oc-
curred at early times, soon gave the Icel. idiom a peculiar and strange
sound, -- amarunt would, in Icelandic, be ömurunt. Norse phrases -- as
með bænum ok fastu (fostu) hafðu (höfðu) með sér vaxljós, ok dýrkaðu
(dýrkuðu) þa hælgu hátíð með fastu (föstu) ok vaktu (vöktu) þar um
nóttina með margum (mörgum) aðrum (öðrum) vanfærum mannum
(monnum), O. H. L. 87 -- sound uncouth and strange to Icel. ears;
and so no doubt did the Icel. vowel transformations to Norse
ears. 4. endings in -an, -all, e. g. feminines in -an, as hugsan,
ætlan, iðran, frequently change into -un, -- hugsun, ætlun, iðrun, and are
now always used so: gamall, vetus, f. gömul; einsamall, solus, f. ein-
sömul. In modern Norse, gomol, eismol (Ivar Aasen); atall, atrox;
ötull, strenuus; svikall, perfidus, and svikull; þrifnaðr, mundities, and
þrifnuðr, etc. 5. in the cases correlative to II. 1, 2, the á in its
turn changes into a vowel, by Thorodd marked &aolig-acute;; this vowel change
seems to have been settled about the beginning of the 11th century, and
prevailed in Iceland during the 12th, being constantly employed in MSS.
of that time; about the end of that century, however, and the beginning
of the next, it fell off, and at last became extinct. Its phonetical value,
therefore, cannot now be precisely stated: it no doubt had an interme-
diate sound between á and ó, such as ö (oo) has between a and o. Thorodd
proposed to mark the short 'umlaut' ö by &aolig-acute;; and the vowel change of á
by &aolig-acute; (in the MSS. however commonly written &aolig-acute;). INSTANCES: fcm.,
&aolig-acute;, amnis; &aolig-acute;st, amor; &aolig-acute;l, funis; &aolig-acute;r, remits; l&aolig-acute;g, lignum; skr&aolig-acute;, libel-
lus; s&aolig-acute;tt, pax; s&aolig-acute;l, anima; n&aolig-acute;l, acus; v&aolig-acute;n, spes: masc., h&aolig-acute;ttr, modus;
þr&aolig-acute;ðr, fîlum; þ&aolig-acute;ttr, funis; m&aolig-acute;ttr, vis; &aolig-acute;ss, deus; &aolig-acute;rr, nuntius: neut.
pl., s&aolig-acute;r, vulnera; t&aolig-acute;r, GREEK; m&aolig-acute;l, dicta; r&aolig-acute;ð, consilia; v&aolig-acute;r, vera:
adj. fem, and neut., koát, læta; f&aolig-acute;, pauca; sm&aolig-acute;, parva; h&aolig-acute;, alta; f&aolig-acute;m,
paucis; h&aolig-acute;m, altis: verbs, s&aolig-acute;, videbant (but sá, videbat); g&aolig-acute;tu, capie-
bant; &aolig-acute;tu, edebant (but at, edebat), etc.: v. Frump. 26-28: e. g. sár
(vulnus) veitti maðr mer eitt (unum), s&aolig-acute;r mörg (multa vulnera) veitta
ek hánum, Skálda (Thorodd), 162; &aolig-acute;l (= öl, cerevisia) er drykkr, &aolig-acute;l er
band (vinculum), id. 163; tungan er málinu v&aolig-acute;n (= vön, assuefacta), en
at tönnunum er bitsins v&aolig-acute;n (morsils exspectatio), id.: frequently in the
Grágás, lýsa sár sitt (vulnus) eðr s&aolig-acute;r (vulnera) ef fleiri eru, Kb. i. 151;
s&aolig-acute;r en minni (vulnera leviora), 170; en meire s&aolig-acute;r (graviora), 174;
síðan es s&aolig-acute;r eða ben voru lýst, 175; engi s&aolig-acute;r (nulla vulnera), s&aolig-acute;r, and
r&aolig-acute;ð, 176, 177; m&aolig-acute;l, ii. 51; v&aolig-acute;r, 158,