22 July 2008

Svo Mörg Orð (So many words)

There were so many Icelandic words that missionaries had to learn quickly upon arrival in Iceland if they wanted to be able to carry on the most simple of conversations. We had to know the difference between sæll and sæl when greeting people. You didn’t say “sæll” as a greeting to a woman your first time in church trying to make a good impression for example (I never did that, of course).

As we went along, we learned lots of new words from our companions and from the people we met with. We frequently would go to our dictionaries in the mornings during companion study and write down 10 new words that we thought would be useful to learn and try to use them during the day. Every missionary new the following Icelandic words or phrases in a very short time and how to inflect them:

Ég skil ekki = I don’t understand
Aftur = again
Áfram = onward
Áætlun = plan
Að þekkja = to know
Bók = book
Drukkinn = drunk
Erfiður = hard
Að gefa = to give

I was having a hard time focusing in a meeting one day at work about a year ago and I decided to write down all the Icelandic verbs I could think of. I don’t remember how many I wrote down that day, but I remember it being a lot. Every missionary hits a plateau though, being able to communicate well in almost every conversation without feeling stupid, but never being able to get close to a native’s ability because we usually spent most of our time talking about spiritual topics.

I loved certain words or names like:

Sáluhjálparáætlun = plan of salvation
Frón = Iceland (the way poets said it)
Hlakka til = look forward to
Hallgrímur = (a man’s name)
Ævintýri = adventure

On my 2004 trip to Iceland, I was walking through a churchyard early one morning and saw a number of names on the gravestones that I really liked but that were not so common in Iceland any more. One was Guðfinna (one who finds God) and Friðfinna (one who finds peace). They sound really nice in Icelandic, but say them with an American accent and they sound stupid. So needless to say, only one of my children got an Icelandic name and it is her middle name. She still says it is hard to say, but I am letting her grow from the experience. Kristjana.


Grandpa and Grandma B said...

You should try learning Icelandic as a senior couple over the phone with no language ability. Thanks for a great blog we sure enjoy it.

Dale T. said...

OK....I never used Ævintýri. You must have learned that from one of your "smart" companions..;-)


Darron said...

I learned that one from the cover of a book somewhere. I'll bet I could have learned it from you though if I had been with you longer than 3 weeks!

MiriamR said...

Hey I didn't know you named your daught Kristjana (even its in the middle). I just had a daughter and her name is Eva Sunna. Do you have any suggestions on explaining how to pronounce Sunna to an American. I find that when I write things phonetically they have an easier time but I don't know how to write Sunna so that they can say it. Any suggestions?
Miriam K. Toutai Reeves

Darron said...

Miriam, the closest sound I can think of for an American is like the "u" in tuna, though that doesn't quite capture it since the "u" in tuna is more of a long-u sound. That might be as close as the average American can come though. Do you have a family picture or two with Eva Sunna that you can email me?

Hera said...

Aevintyri is also fairytale. I have weird names in my family tree. One is Lofthaena=air hen. Don't even ask. There was one named Ljotur. His mother did not like the father much. I don't know if he was ugly.
I have a ancestor named Gandalf. Hehe in my Icelandic line.

Darron said...

Bergljot always struck me as funny as well....