Icelandic: extremely long compound nouns

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by AatM, May 6, 2013.

  1. AatM Senior Member

    Hello fellow forum-users,

    On reading through the section on television in my Icelandic book, I came across the veritable mouthful "uppáhaldssjónvarpsþátturinn minn" (I include the minn so that it makes more sense). Now this got me wondering about compound nouns in Icelandic and whether native speakers will in the spoken language use such lengthy words as this, or will instead break parts of them up into their constituent parts simply to ease fluidity of speech? (I personally struggle to get it all out in one breath!) I do understand that Icelandic does make use of compound nouns in everyday life with a much greater regularity than English, but is there a point at which one would say that enough is enough in terms of length? Or will the rhythm of speech break it up naturally? I'd be delighted to be enlightened as to the matter's finer points.

  2. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Hey AatM,

    I think a word around that length would be fine and said by most people. You do get to a point when people would just naturally choose something else but I think that's just a complete matter of personal taste.
    Here are some that have been thrown around a lot in the last week: stjórnarmyndunarviðræðurnar (e.g.), utankjörfundaratkvæðagreiðsla (e.g.). Once you know what the words are that make up the compound, you pronounce it as a compound, but based on the inner patterns of the words. So, in your example, uppáhalds- is a very common way to indicative 'favourite', so you would put that with its own stress, then a little break (but not enough as if it was its own word) and then you have the same situation with sjónvarps-þátturinn. Don't be worried about getting it all out in one breath, the only thing is that you don't give it individual-word stress. You keep it bland and at the same level to indicate it's part of a compound.

    A popular long word in Icelandic is: vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur. I'm not sure how many people can say that easily.

    Most of us English speakers can roll off supercalifragilisticexpialidocious without a second thought because we're used to it, but that's longer then all the other words we've mentioned so far (except the one in bold) and foreigners just (in my experience) can't do it without a lot of effort. The word doesn't even split up into meaningful parts like Icelandic words do. It's all about perspective really. You shouldn't let it worry you. Just imagine being a non-native speaker trying to say that word. Usually, words of a 'worrying' length only come up now and then. It's just part of the quirky beauty of the language.

    I remember looking at these kinds of words without being able to break them apart, but once you can it takes a lot of the 'WHA?' factor out of it. Taking your example:

    halda upp á = to celebrate
    .... -> uppáhalds-

    Sjónvarp ('vision/sight cast') = TV
    Þáttur (related to 'part' in English) = episode

    Once you break them down, it all makes a (little) bit more sense. :cool:
    On a sidenote, about the word TV (television), it comes from 'vision', so that links up to sjón quite nicely, and 'tele' means 'far / at a distance' so it's like vision at a distance. So with 'cast' being 'throw' (cf. Icelandic: 'kasta-throw') it's like 'throwing vision' a little bit, with it being vision from afar (tele+vision). There's a lot of stories to tell in the etymology we're all used to. It adds a new level of transparency with words and when there is logic, you remember it better and it becomes more natural.
    Last edited: May 6, 2013
  3. AatM Senior Member

    Thank you very much Alx for your explanation there. I guess that the only thing is getting yourself accustomed to the length and the stress then.

    I remember earlier on coming across the word viðskiptafræðingur and being absolutely stunned at how impossible it seemed to recall. But once I'd learnt about how fræði is essentially equivalent to the English "study" or "-ology" it all seemed a lot easier.

    And often the Icelandic compound nouns can be quite vivid as well as logical when their constituent parts are translated - for example I do love the Icelandic eldhús, which has such a lovely image when you consider it. Although that example is nowhere near as long as some of the other words mentioned before, it does show how thinking about what it would be were it transliterated to English definitely makes these words more memorable.
  4. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
  5. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    It is related in that it links up in many ways with 'part' in English (taka þátt - take part / þátttaka - partake/participate).
    In that sense it's useful to link up when learning translations, but not historically cognate, no.
  6. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    OK, but this is a linguistics forum. In linguistics "related" means "cognate".
  7. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    This is not a linguistics forum. It is a language learning forum and this is a useful way to describe connections between languages.
    Last edited: May 7, 2013
  8. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    But still most readers will interpret "related" here as "cognate".

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