English is Icelandic that went on a 1200-year journey around the world, and has now come home again. More and more often, to the chagrin of the elderly and the intellectual, English words slip out of the mouths and pens of not only internationally savvy youth, but of those who are deemed fit to lead this country in business, politics and the arts. [Note, 2016: I had an informative set of lecture slides on the use of English at the tertiary, or university, level of education in Iceland by one of my favorite professors at the University of Iceland, Hafdís Ingvarsdóttir, but the link's gone dead.]
Even more frustrating to many is when journalists and reporters, held to very high standards here especially because they are disseminating info on events in the Big City to families on isolated farms way out on the edges of our island, slack off on their use of language. If we keep on at this rate, many fear, we'll end up like the Danish with their especially-incomprehensible Copenhagenese (very funny video!) a true horror for a country who's independence was gained in large part because Icelanders were able to claim a distinct cultural identity from their Danish overlords (the Danes had to capitulate: I've been told they had used the same argument against outside rulers in earlier times, but Danish history is a complicated series of land grabs and relinquishments, so I'm having a hard time backing that fact up.)
But if we consider that Old Norse - Icelandic for all intents and purposes - was an adventurous, seafaring language that eventually grew restless confined as it was to the cold North Atlantic, and longed for some sunshine, and maybe a little romance, it all starts to make sense. Heading south, borne on the lips of the most ævintýralegt folk, it mingled with and married the tongues of the Mediterranean and lands beyond to eventually become the world lingua franca in all its varied dress.
I respect the absolute dedication to our cultural and linguistic heritage and believe it to be crucial to our people to preserve it forever. I also, however, agree with Mr. Jay Walker that English is not a thing to fear, but the world's second language to be embraced along with any country's mother tongue. He calls it the universal language of problem solving, so that peoples and nations can engage in conversations about the state of the world we live in and our global hopes for the future. In addition, I like that languages are flexible and ever-evolving (for example, as recently as 1973 Icelandic academics removed the letter Z from the language) and very personal as well. How we tjá okkur (express ourselves) may be guided by the society we live in, but ultimately cannot be absolutely regulated, nor should it be. Inflection, pronunciation, word choice, rhythm, and even grammar use are like the features on a playground, which we can use to our best and most enjoyable and creative expression.
So when my daughter blurts out something like, "sjáðu score-ið mitt" ("look at my score") instead of "sjáðu stígin mín" or when I say something like, "we need to see what the staðan is" (in stead of situation) it just comes naturally, and doesn't somehow feel rangt, or wrong. And when my five year old son (who has taught himself to read and do simple multiplication already) refuses to say "sjötta" for "sixth" but says "sexta" instead because it makes more sense (in Icelandic, six is sex and seven is sjö ) he's actually right.
In formal and academic settings we use our best grammar and most excellent vocabulary, but we're playing with the creative aspects of language within our home and in our personal lives. Óðinn will realize soon enough that he can either always be "punished" for his variation on "sixth," or just do as everybody else is doing to appease the formal educational system. It will be his choice.
The first photo is from the Settlement Exhibition in downtown Reykjavik.