Icelandic/Alphabet and Pronunciation

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Stafróf og framburður

Alphabet and pronunciation


The Icelandic alphabet consists of 32 letters. There are also 3 letters used for foreign words, and 1 obsolete letter. Icelandic uses the latin alphabet, which is the same as the English alphabet and most Western European languages. There are some letters that are not found in English, and even some letters that only Icelandic uses.

Íslenska stafrófið

The Icelandic keyboard layout.


Upper case Lower case Name
А а a
Á á á
B b
D d
Ð ð
E e e
É é é
F f eff
G g
H h
I i i
Í í í
J j joð
K k
L l ell
M m emm
N n enn
O o o
Ó ó ó
P p
R r err
S s ess
T t
U u u
Ú ú ú
V v vaff
X x ex
Y y ypsilon y
Ý ý ypsilon ý
Þ þ þorn
Æ æ æ
Ö ö ö


Letters which are not part of the Icelandic alphabet, but are used in foreign words are:

Upper case Lower case Name
C c se
Q q
W w tvöfalt vaff



The final letter, Z, is no longer used in Icelandic. The only place you might find this letter is in historic names of structures, organisations, and the like, such as Verzló (a school in Reykjavík), or in the Icelandic newspaper, Morgunblaðið.

Upper case Lower case Name
Z z seta

How the letters are pronounced[edit]

Letter Explanation
A is like "a" in "bar", "tar" and "car"
Á is like "ou" in "house", "about" and "shout"
B same as English P, but without the puff of air, as in "spit"
D same as English T, but without the puff of air, as if "stick"
Ð is like "th" in "feather", "father" and "that", but as the last letter of a word it represents Þ/þ.
E same as in English except that it's always short, like in "bed" and "end"
É is like "ye" in "yet" (used to be spelled in Icelandic "je" and is pronounced the same, see "j" and "e" in Icelandic)
F same as in English (From)
G like "k" in "wick" at the beginning of a word, between a vowel and -l, -n; /ɣ/ after vowels, before a, u, ð, r, and when it's the last character of a word; like "ch" in Scottish "loch" after vowels and before t, s; like "y" in "young" between vowel and -i, -j; dropped between a, á, ó, u, ú
H same as in English "hello"
I is like the first "i" in "inside" and "impossible"
Í like an English "ee" and the "i" in "Maria" and the "y" in "diary"
J is like "y" in "yes", "Yahweh", "Yoda" and "yikes"
K same as in English "king"
L same as in English "love"
M same as in English "mom"
N same as in English "never"
O like "a" in British English "all" and "o" in "bolt"
Ó is like "o" in "sole" and like "oa" in "goat" and "soap"
P generally same as in English "Peter", but can be softer
R non-existent in English except Scottish English, virtually identical to a Spanish rolled R, from the very front of the mouth
S same as in English "soup"
T same as in English "time"
U virtually identical to a French "u" (as in "cul"), or a German "ü" (as in "über")
Ú like English "oo" as in "zoo"
V somewhere between English V and W
X same as in English "six"
Y exactly like Icelandic "i", it's only a matter of spelling
Ý exactly like Icelandic "í", it's only a matter of spelling
Þ like "th" in "thunder", "theatre" and "thong"
Æ is like the name of the letter "i" in English or in "icy" (hi/hæ & bye/bæ are the same in English and Icelandic)
Ö like German "ö" and English "u" in "urgent" or "fur"

Notes:

  • Ð and Þ are pronounced similarly. Also, Icelandic words never begin with \Ð, and no words end with Þ.
  • I and Y share the same pronunciation, as do Í and Ý also.
  • HV is pronounced as KV.
  • Double LL is pronounced something like tl, with a flattened tongue and a click.
  • In Icelandic, the R is trilled, though not as much as Spanish or Italian. It is never pronounced like a French r or a Scottish loch.
  • U is said like the English u except with rounded lips
  • There are no guttural sounds in Icelandic
  • There are no silent letters in Icelandic. There are a few exceptions in spoken language where a letter might produce a different sound than usual. Otherwise, Icelandic is a very phonetic language
  • When there are double letters in a sentence, there is a slight glottal stop with a breath of air. Try saying the word, bottle but like baht-tle
  • If a K is followed by a t, then the sound changes and becomes a soft k, virtually the same as a spanish j/g, gente (e.g. lukt - lantern)
  • Likewise, a P followed by a t changes into an f sound (e.g. Að skipta - to shift)
  • F in the middle of a word is often pronounced as a v (e.g. Að skafa - to shave)
  • F followed by an l will change to a b-sound (afl is pronounced as abl
  • If you are not able to type in Icelandic letters, you can substitute Ð with D, Þ with TH, Æ with AE, and Á, É, Í, Ó, Ö, Ú, Ý with A, E, I, O, U, Y

Diphthongs[edit]

A diphthong is not a type of clothing. Instead, it is a combination of two vowel sounds to make one single sound. We have them in English too. In Icelandic, we have two essential diphthongs to be aware of. Let's take a look:

Diphthong Sound
au
Pronounced as öi
ei, ey
like the ay in stay

Stress[edit]

Stress in Icelandic always falls on the first syllable. The only exception is in the word "halló," which usually has stress on the second syllable.

Dialects of Icelandic[edit]

One may read in some books and websites that there are no significant Icelandic dialects – actually, there are a few. People from Reykjavík tend to speak a little differently from people from Akureyri, Egilstaðir, Ísafjörður and other countryside towns and villages. For example, the word for hot dog in Icelandic is pylsa; in Akureyri, they would say pil-sah but in Reykjavík you will hear pulsa. Another example is the word for to want, langar: in Ísafjörður (the northwestern part of Iceland), you will hear lahng-ar but in Reykjavík you will hear lángar.

The reason why some books might say that there are no dialects of Icelandic is because they are not so different where someone from Reykjavík might not be able to understand someone from Akureyri. This book describes Icelandic from a neutral linguistic point and provides dialectal explanation where words like pylsa are referenced.