Language and population of Iceland

  • 1914

Iceland was settled by a mixed stock of Norsemen from Scandinavia and Celts from the British Isles. The ruling class was Nordic, so that both the language and culture of Iceland were purely Scandinavian from the outset, but there are traces of Celtic influence in some of the Eddaic poems, in names and in the appearance of present day Icelanders who have a higher percentage of the dark-haired type than the other Nordic nations.

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The early blending of Nordic and Celtic blood may partly account for the fact that the Icelanders, alone of all the Nordic peoples, produced great literature in the Middle Ages.

Immigration of foreign elements has been minimal since the first settlement, and there are no Inuits (Eskimos) in Iceland, contrary to common belief.

Around the year 1100 the population, then entirely rural, is estimated to have been about 70-80,000. Three times during the eighteenth century it declined below 40,000 but by the year 1900 it had reached 78,000.

In 1925 it had passed the 100,000 mark, in 1967 it reached 200,000 and is now around 285.000.

The average life expectancy for men is 74 years and for women 80 years - one of the world\'s highest averages.

In 1880 there were only three towns in Iceland, where 5% of the population resided. By 1920 about 43% of the population lived in towns and villages with more than 200 inhabitants.

By 1984 there were 23 towns and 42 villages where 89.2% of the population lived, while only 10.8% lived in rural districts.

In the future it is estimated that most Icelanders will live in the greater Reykjavk area.

Icelandic is the national language and is believed to have changed very little from the original tongue spoken by the Norse settlers, but English and Danish are widely spoken.

Icelandic has two letters of its own. / and -/. is pronounced as th in "thing" and - is pronounced as th in "them".

Very few Icelanders have original surnames, so it can often be difficult to decipher out the telephone directory, which lists people by their first names.

This is why Icelanders call each other by their first names - not because they all know one another - though, nevertheless, this often seems to be the case! Most people have a patronymic rather than a family surname. For example, Hrarsson, means the son of Hrar, and Finnbogadttir means the daughter of Finnbogi.