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Language Change and Linguistic Variation in 19th-Century Icelandic and the Emergence of a National Standard

At a glance

Fundamental changes took place in Icelandic society in the 19th and 20th centuries, and they affected the language in various ways. During this period the status of Icelandic changed from that of a remote minority language in the Danish kingdom, to a national language in a sovereign state, used in all spheres of society. In assuming the role of an official language, a common linguistic norm had to be defined and developed. In the project we focus on the beginnings of the standardization of modern Icelandic in the 19th century, and study its linguistic, sociolinguistic and ideological foundations. The dominant model for the emerging standard was the medieval language, and the attitudes tended towards purification of the language, both wrt. variants deriving from post-medieval language change and from language contact. The questions we ask concern the nature and the spread of internal and external linguistic changes; the distribution of linguistic variants and their correlation with sociolinguistic and stylistic factors; and the influence of expressed opinions on linguistic features and of organized intervention on the linguistic development. A central and fundamental question, with general theoretical relevance, is the following: Is it possible to reverse a linguistic change? We apply two corpora of written texts from the 19th century as the main basis for our analysis, one of private letters and other personal writings, and the other of newspapers and journals, as well as a diachronic treebank for syntactic investigations. The results of the project will greatly improve our knowledge of 19th-century Icelandic, and contribute to our understanding of how and to what extent linguistic changes can be affected by language standardization.

Research team

Principal investigator
Ásta Svavarsdóttir, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies

Steering group
Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, University of Iceland
Guðrún Þórhallsdóttir, University of Iceland
Haraldur Bernharðsson, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies
Jóhannes Bjarni Sigtryggsson, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies
Veturliði Óskarsson, Univeristy of Uppsala
Wim Vandenbussche, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

PhD student
Heimir Freyr Viðarsson, University of Iceland

MA-students
Atli Jóhannsson
Kristján Friðbjörn Sigurðsson

Others
Alda Möller
Einar Freyr Sigurðsson
Elías Ingi Björgvinsson
Elísabet Rún Þorsteinsdóttir
Guðrún Línberg Guðjónsdóttir
Halldóra Kristinsdóttir
Helga Jónsdóttir
Jóhann Turchi
Jón Friðrik Daðason
Steinunn Valbjörnsdóttir
Steinþór Steingrímsson
Þórgunnur Anna Örnólfsdóttir

Consultants
Ernst Håkon Jahr, University in Agder
Tore Kristiansen, Lanchart / University of Copenhagen
Mats Thelander, University of Uppsala

Sources

Letter corpus

A collection of private letters, written by 19th-century Icelandic men and women of various backgrounds to friends and relatives. The corpus consists of digital photographs of close to 2000 letters accompanied by an exact transcription of the text of each letter, together with various information on the letters and the letter writers (place and date of the letters, age, gender and origin of the writers, etc.). All the writers are born in the 19th century, and the letters are written in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Newspaper corpus

A sub-corpus of a larger corpus consisting, among other material, of scanned pages of all Icelandic newspapers and periodicals published in the 19th century, as well as the OCR-read text (cf. Tímarit.is). The texts that have been extracted from the main corpus for the purposes of the project have been automatically - and to some extent also manually - corrected, and prepared in such a way that they are useful for linguistic analysis. The corpus currently includes approximately 900 issues of newspapers and periodicals from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Icelandic Parsed Historical Corpus (IcePaHC)

IcePaHC is a historical treebank, consisting of Icelandic texts from the 12th to 20th century, prepared mainly for syntactic analysis. Further information is to be found here.

Other sources

  • Tímarit.is. A digital library of newspapers and periodicals. The National and University Library of Iceland
  • Published collections of 19th century personal letters
  • Published grammars and textsbooks from the 19th century
  • Student assignments from the Reykjavík Grammar School (Lærði skólinn) 1846–1900 (kept at the National Archives of Iceland)

Publications

Papers and presentations

2018

  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Sprogbrug og sprogudvikling i forhold til social og geografisk mobilitet - Island i 1800-tallet. The workshop "Samfundsændringer og sprogforandring". The 11th Nordic Dialectologists Conference, Reykjavík, August, 20th–22nd.

2017

  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Importord i islandsk før og nu: Ideologi, standardisering, sprogbrug. Honorary seminar for Helge Sandøy, University of Bergen, August 24th.
  • Haraldur Bernharðsson: Instituting the Linguistic Norm: The Social Aspects of the Nineteenth-Century Standardization of the Icelandic Language. "Instruments of Codification: Grammars, Dictionaries, and Literature", HiSoN-conference (Historical Sociolinguistics Network), New York, April 6th- 7th.
  • Gendering Historical Literacy. Vernacular Writing in the Nordic Countries, 18–20th Century. Seminar. The Institute of History and Center for Medieval Studies, University of Iceland, March 31st.
    • Haraldur Bernharðsson: 19th-century language standardization: Bringing a new linguistic standard to life with boys and girls alike.
    • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Language use and language attitudes in 19th century Iceland: Gendered borrowings?
    • Guðrún Þórhallsdóttir: Gender differences in gender use? Generics, agreement and general thoughts on 19th-century Icelandic.
  • Íslenskt mál á 19. öld og fyrr. Workshop at the Humanities Conference, University of Iceland, March 10th.-11th.
    • Haraldur Bernharðsson: Í aðdraganda nítjándu aldar málstöðlunar: Málbreytingin frá „hefir“ til „hefur“
    • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Tilbrigði og málstöðlun ― bræður og systur
    • Guðrún Þórhallsdóttir: „en krakkarnir voru frískir og kát“: Um sögu og notkun orðsins „krakki“

2016

  • Guðrún Þórhallsdóttir: Munur á máli íslenskra karla og kvenna á 19. öldFrændafundur 9, University of Iceland, August 28th.
  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Icelandic as a national language. The sociolinguistic and ideological foundations of 19th century standardization. "Standardization in Diversity (19th century Europe)", University of Luxembourg, July 7th- 8th.
  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: The homogeneity of Icelandic: Stability or standardization? "Historical sociolinguistics: Dispelling myths about the past", Sociolinguistics Symposium 21, University of Murcia, June 15th- 18th.
  • Veturliði Óskarsson: Det rena språket och lånorden. Om främmande, särskilt dansk, påverkan på isländskan. Kungl. Humanistiska Vetenskaps-Samfundet, Uppsala, April 26th.
  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Islandsk sprog og sprogsamfund i det 19. århundrede: Dansk indflydelse på sprogudviklingen. Den Sociolingvistisk studiekreds, LANCHART/Nordisk forskningsinstitut, University of Copenhagen, April 26th.
  • Heimir Freyr van der Feest Viðarsson: A peek inside the norm factory: Reykjavik grammar school student essays (1846-1904).HiSoN-conference (Historical Sociolinguistics Network), University of Helsinki, March 10th-11th.
  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Same language – different surroundings: The development of Icelandic in Iceland and in North America. HiSoN-conference (Historical Sociolinguistics Network), University of Helsinki, March 10th-11th.
  • Heimir Freyr van der Feest Viðarsson: Re-challenging the RAH: Problematisation of structural and social aspects in 19th-century IcelandicMorphological effects on word order from a typological and a diachronic perspective, DGfS: 38th annual conference of the German Linguistic Society, University of Konstanz, February 24th-26th.
  • Heimir Freyr van der Feest Viðarsson: „Fjarskaleg óheppni að hann ekki fjekk meir í íslensku“: Félagsmálfræðilegar hliðar á stöðu persónubeygðrar sagnar á 19. öld. The 30th Rask-conference, Reykjavík, January 29th.
  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Standardization and the dissemination of the standard: Variation in 19th century Icelandic family lettersEffects of Prescriptivism in Language History, University of Leiden, January 21st-22nd.
  • Heimir Freyr van der Feest Viðarsson: Issues in language prescriptivism in 19th-century Iceland: A constructional multi-genre approachEffects of Prescriptivism in Language History, University of Leiden, January 21st-22nd.

2015

  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Rætur og upphaf vesturíslensku / The Roots and Origins of North American Icelandic. A paper presented at the symposium Vesturíslenskt mál og menning / Icelandic and Other Nordic Languages and Cultures in the Americas, University of Iceland, December 2nd.
  • Heimir van der Feest Viðarsson: Sögn í þriðja og nítjándu aldar íslenska. [V3 and 19th century Icelandic.] A paper in the workshop "Málvísindakaffi", The Icelandic Linguistics Society and the University of Iceland Institute of Linguistics, November 20th.
  • Heimir van der Feest Viðarsson. Taalverandering ongedaan gemaakt? Het geval van het IJslands in de 19de eeuw [A reversal of language change? Icelandic in the 19th century.] A lecture at the University of Leiden, October 15th.
  • Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson: Frá liðum til setninga: Breytingar á fylliliðum álits- og talsagna í þolmynd. A paper presented in the panel session "Upplýst setningafræði",  at the Humanities symposium 2015, University of Iceland, March 13th.
  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Language ideologies in 19th century Iceland: Perspectives, data and research methods. Paper presented at the workshop "Tracking down ideologies – workshop on the methodologies of language ideological research", Helsinki University, February 27th.
  • Haraldur Bernharðsson: Writing 19th-century Icelandic. On linguistic variation and language standardization. Paper presented at the symposium  "Local identities – Global Literacy Practices. Vernacular Writing in a Textually Mediated Social World", Umeå University, February 16th–17th.
  • Heimir Freyr van der Feest Viðarsson: Skólastílar Lærða skólans í Reykjavík sem vitnisburður um tilurð nýs málstaðals á 19. öld. A lecture at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies seminar, February 13th.
  • Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson: Að á undanhaldi. A paper presented at the 29th Rask-conference on Icelandic language and general linguistics, The Icelandic Linguistics Society and The Instutute of Linguistics, University of Iceland, January 31st.
  • Heimir van der Feest Viðarsson: (Ó)stöðugleiki íslensku í aldanna rás. A paper presented at the 29th Rask-conference on Icelandic language and general linguistics, The Icelandic Linguistics Society and The Instutute of Linguistics, University of Iceland, January 31st.

2014

2013

  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Lexical Interference in Different Contact Situations. A Comparison of Icelandic Across the North Atlantic Ocean. Paper at the 4th Annual Workshop on Immigrant Languages in the Americas. University of Iceland, September 19–21.
  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Af erlendri rót. [On lexical borrowings.] Talk in the Society for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavík, Sept. 4th.
  • Guðrún Þórhallsdóttir: Notkun málfræðilegra kynja í íslensku og færeysku. [The use of grammatical gender in Icelandic and Faroese.] Talk at Frændafundur 8, the Biannual Meeting of Icelandic-Faroese collaboration. Torshavn, Faroe Islands, August 24th–25th.
  • Heimir Freyr Viðarsson: Subject-initial embedded V2/V3 in 19th-century Icelandic. A presentation at the 7th Summer School in Historical Sociolinguistics, Lesbos, August 3rd–10th.
  • Guðrún Þórhallsdóttir o.fl.: Is it possible to reverse a linguistic change? Language change and standardization in 19th-century Icelandic. Talk at ICHL 21:The 21st International Conference on Historical Linguistics. Oslo University, August 5th–9th.
  • Veturliði Óskarsson: Loanwords with the prefix be- in Icelandic: An investigation of 19th century private letters.Talk at ICHL 21:The 21st International Conference on Historical Linguistics. Oslo University, August 5th–9th.
  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Retrospective language purism vs. social modernisation  Foreign lexical influence in late 19th century Iceland. Talk at
    ICLaVE 7: 7th International Conference on Language Variation in Europe. University of Trondheim, June 26th–28th.
  • Heimir Freyr Viðarsson: The rise of standard Icelandic syntax in the 19th century: rewriting history. Talk at the Prescriptivism Conference 2013. University of Leiden, June 12th–14th.
  • Veturliði Óskarsson: Heilög þrenning. Hugleiðing um orðræðu. ["Holy Trinity. Reflections on discourse."] Talk at a symposium on Icelandic Language and Literature abroad. Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, Caen, May 31st.
  • Foundations of Language Standardization. Workshop at the 25th Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics (25-SCL), University of Iceland, May13th–15th.
  • Að lesa í fyrri tíð. [To read into older times.] A panel session at the Humanities symposium 2013, University of Iceland, March 16th.
    • Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Samtíð og (mál)saga. Hugleiðingar um rannsóknir á máli og málsamfélagi 19. aldar
    • Jóhannes Bjarni Sigtryggsson: Heimildir um málstöðlun á fyrri hluta 19. aldar
    • Heimir Freyr Viðarsson: Sagnfærsla á tímum tilfærslu í viðmiðum og málnotkun á 19. öld
    • Halldóra Kristinsdóttir: „Við hittustum og sjáumst“: Um endurreisn miðmyndarendingar á 19. öld
  • Heimir Freyr Viðarsson. Mál í skorðum (eður sprok í spelkum): stöðlun íslenskrar setningafræði á 19. öld. Talk at the Linguistics Coffee Meeting, The Icelandic Linguistics Society and The Instutute of Linguistics, University of Iceland, February 21st.

2012

 

Articles

2018

  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir. 2018. Að flytja mál milli landa. Breytilegar málaðstæður heima og heiman. In: Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, Höskuldur Þráinsson & Úlfar Bragason (eds.), Sigurtunga, pp. 257-277. Reykjavík: Háskólaútgáfan.
  • Haraldur Bernharðsson. 2018. Spreading the standard:The nineteenth-century standardization of Icelandic and the first Icelandic novel. Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics 4(2):149-176.
  • Veturliði Óskarsson. 2018. Det rena språket och lånorden. Om främmande, särskilt dansk, påverkan på isländskan. Årsbok 2016-2017, pp. 39-54. Uppsala: Kungl. Humanistiska Vetenskaps-Samfundet i Uppsala.

2017

  • Alda B. Möller. 2017. Íslenskukennsla í Bessastaðaskóla 1806–1846 og á fyrstu árum Reykjavíkurskóla. Orð og tunga 19:1–40.
  • Ásta Svavarsdóttir. 2017. "annaðhvort með dönskum hala eða höfði, enn að öðru leiti íslenskt". Um tengsl íslensku og dönsku á 19. öld og áhrif þeirra. Orð og tunga 19:41–76.
  • Haraldur Bernharðsson. 2017. Jón Thoroddsen og málstöðlun nítjándu aldar. Nokkur málfarsatriði í skáldsögunni Pilti og stúlku 1850 og 1867. Orð og tunga 19:77–127.
  • Heimir van der Feest Viðarsson. 2017. Málnotkun sem mælikvarði á áhrif málstöðlunar: Skólaritgerðir úr Lærða skólanum í Reykjavík (1846–1904). Orð og tunga 19:129–153.
  • Jóhannes B. Sigtryggsson. 2017. Samræmdur úrvalsritháttur fornbóka – réttritun Jóns Þorkelssonar. Orð og tunga 19:155–171.

2016

  • Jóhannes Bjarni Sigtryggsson. 2016. Um íslensku í bréfum til Landsnefndarinnar fyrri 1770–1771. Í: Landsnefndin fyrri 1770–1771 II. Bréf frá prestum. Ritstj. Hrefna Róbertsdóttir og Jóhanna Þ. Guðmundsdóttir, bls. 59–84. Reykjavík: Sögufélag. [Dönsk þýðing greinar: Det islandske sprog i Landkommissionens breve 1770–1771, s. 85–111.]

2015

  • Guðrún Þórhallsdóttir. Gender agreement in 19th- and 20th-century Icelandic. Í: Fleischer, Jürg, Elisabeth Rieken & Paul Widmer (ritstj.), Agreement from á Diachronic Perspective, pp. 267–286. (Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs, Vol. 287). Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.
  • Veturliði G. Óskarsson. 2015. Loanwords with the prefix be- in Modern Icelandic: An example of halted borrowing. Orð og tunga 17:1–26.

2014

2013

  • Veturliði G. Óskarsson. 2013. Heilög þrenning: Land, þjóð og tunga. Hugleiðing um orðræðu. Tímarit Máls og menningar 2/74:37–45.

 

Theses

2015

2014

2012