Icelandic names can be real tongue twisters. When we first researched Iceland, the recurring question was, “how do you pronounce that?!” And since some of you have asked the question, I thought I’ll do a post on what we found out (which is really only very little). Fortunately for us, we were assisted greatly by one of our friends traveling with us. She had a genuine interest in the linguistics of the language. So, we all learnt on the first day how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull; that sooty volcano that caused travelers so much heartache. Of course, I still can’t say it properly without feeling like I’ve mangled it. But at least I know how to start.
So, here are some pointers which might help when you are researching your trip to Iceland and are wondering how in the world, you pronounce that place name! (Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive!)
Tip #1 – They Have Extra Letters!
Iceland has three extra letters that do not exist in the English alphabet. I am sure you have noticed some of them.
þ is called ‘Thorn’. It is pronounced as th as in thing
ð is called ‘Eth’. It is pronounced as the as in father
æ is called ‘Aye’. It is pronounced as i like in tide
Hence you will no doubt have noticed when you google þhingvellir that sometimes thingvellir comes up as well. We at first thought that they were different places until we realized that one is spelt in Icelandic whilst the other is spelt as you would pronounce it!
Tip #2 – Watch the pronounciation
Some letters are pronounced differently. Here are just a few examples
j is pronounced like y as in yellow
á is ow as in howl
í is ee as in peel
ú is u as in pool
Tip #3 – Special Combinations have special pronounciations!
Some of the letters when combined together actually forms a different sound. This is where most of us go belly up. So here are just a few which we know about
fn together is a p
fl together is a pl
ll together is a tl
So, once you put all that together, you can gather why the names sounds so different when they are pronounced by an Icelander versus me reading a name out from a travel guide!
Here are a few examples for starters:
Þhingvellir = thing-vetlir (original Icelandic parliament)
Reykjavik = Rake-ya-veek (capital of Iceland)
Keflavik = Kep-la-veek (international airport for Reykjavik)
Snæfell = Snigh-fetl (snow mountain)
And now for some of the heavy hitters;
Eyjafjallajökull = Ay-ya-fyatla-yuhktl
Kirkjubaejarklaustur = Kir-kyu-bye-ya-klois-ter
And one that throws everyone off.
Höhn = H-uhp
So, as you imagine, it was funny at best in Iceland when we tried to speak out some of these names. Luckily for us the Icelanders speak perfect English. Otherwise who knows where we would have ended up asking for directions to Kirkjubaejarklaustur!