|Majuscule Forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)|
|Minuscule Forms (also called lowercase or small letters)|
It is a Latin alphabet with diacritics, in addition it includes the letter eth Ðð, transliterated to d, and the runic letter thorn Þþ, transliterated to th, (pictured to the right). They are called séríslenskur (“specifically Icelandic, uniquely Icelandic” although they aren't, at least not the eth). Icelandic words never start with ð, which means the capital version Ð is mainly just used when words are spelled using all capitals. Ææ and Öö are considered letters in their own right and not a ligature or diacritical version of their respective letters.
The modern Icelandic alphabet has developed from a standard established in the 19th century, by the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask primarily. It is ultimately based heavily on an orthographic standard created in the early 12th century by a document referred to as The First Grammatical Treatise, author unknown. The standard was intended for the common North Germanic language, Old Norse. It did not have much influence, however, at the time.
The most defining characteristics of the alphabet were established in the old treatise:
- Use of the acute accent (originally to signify vowel length).
- Use of þ, also used in the Old English alphabet as the letter thorn.
The later Rasmus Rask standard was basically a re-enactment of the old treatise, with some changes to fit concurrent North Germanic conventions, such as the exclusive use of k rather than c. Various old features, like ð, had actually not seen much use in the later centuries, so Rask's standard constituted a major change in practice.
The names of the letters are:
|Letter||Name||IPA||Typical sound value|
|Aa||a||[a]||between English "father" and "cat"|
|Áá||á||[au̯]||the "ow" in "cow"|
|Bb||bé||[pjɛ]||"p" with no puff of air.|
|Dd||dé||[tjɛ]||"t" with no puff of air.|
|Ðð||eð||[ɛð̠]||the "th" in "the" (always medially, not initially).|
|Ee||e||[ɛ]||"eh" like the "e" in "end"|
|Éé||é||[jɛ]||a shorter sounding "yeah"|
|Ff||eff||[ɛfː]||(same as in English sometimes, see notes)|
|Gg||gé||[cɛ]||(same as in English sometimes, see notes)|
|Hh||há||[hau̯]||(same as English)|
|Ii||i||[ɪ]||the "i" in "win"|
|Íí||í||[i]||the "e" in "we"|
|Jj||joð||[jɔð̠]||said as a "y" or an aspirated "y" (see notes)|
|Kk||ká||[kʰau̯]||"k" with a puff of air.|
|Ll||ell||[ɛtl̥]||(same as in English)|
|Mm||emm||[ɛmː]||(same as in English)|
|Nn||enn||[ɛnː]||(same as in English)|
|Oo||o||[ɔ]||the "ou" in "four" (British English)|
|Pp||pé||[pʰjɛ]||"p" with a puff of air.|
|Rr||err||[ɛr]||rolled, as in Spanish, but slightly more delicately|
|Ss||ess||[ɛs]||always an unvoiced "s" never a voiced "z" sound|
|Tt||té||[tʰjɛ]||"t" with a puff of air.|
|Uu||u||[ʏ]||"i" in "in" but rounded.|
|Úú||ú||[u]||like the "ou" in "you"|
|Vv||vaff||[vafː]||similar to English "v"|
|Xx||ex||[ɛxs]||like the hard German "ch" followed by an s|
|Yy||ypsilon y||[ʏfsɪlɔn ɪ]||same as "i"|
|Ýý||ypsilon ý||[ʏfsɪlɔn i]||same as "í"|
|Þþ||þorn||[θ̠ɔrtn̥]||"th" as in "thing" (commonly initially, with some exceptions)|
|Öö||ö||[œ]||"e" in "end" but rounded, from the middle of the mouth|
|Letter||Name||IPA||Typical sound value|
|Zz||seta||[sɛta]||like English s, but never like z|
An Icelandic speaker reciting the alphabet in Icelandic
|Problems playing this file? See media help.|
The letters C (sé, [sjɛ]), Q (kú, [kʰu]) and W (tvöfalt vaff, [ˈtʰvœfal̥t ˌvafː]) are only used in Icelandic in words of foreign origin and some proper names that are also of foreign origin. Otherwise, c, qu, and w are substituted with k/s/ts, hv, and v respectively. (And in fact, hv is a direct cognate of Latin qu and English "wh": Icelandic hvað, Latin quod, English "what".)
The letter Z (seta, [ˈsɛta]) was used until 1973, when it was abolished, as it was only an etymological detail. However, one of the most important newspapers in Iceland, Morgunblaðið, still uses it sometimes (although very rarely), and a secondary school, Verzlunarskóli Íslands has it in its name. It is also found in some proper names of people. Older people, who were educated before the abolition of the z sometimes also use it.
The list below shows the letter frequencies in order of descending frequency.2
- „2. og 3. grein fjalla um bókstafinn z, brottnám hans úr íslensku, og ýmsar afleiðingar þess. z var numin brott úr íslensku ritmáli með auglýsingu menntamálaráðuneytisins í september 1973 (ekki 1974, eins og oft er haldið fram).“ https://notendur.hi.is//~eirikur/av/stafsetn.htm#s2.
- PRACTICAL cryptography – Icelandic Letter Frequencies. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
- http://www.ielanguages.com/icelandic.html used as source for pronunciation descriptions
- (Icelandic) „Íslenska, í senn forn og ný“.