LINGUIST List 9.264

Sun Feb 22 1998

Sum: Icelandic Phonolgy

Editor for this issue: Anita Huang <>


  1. Antony Dubach Green, Icelandic Phonology

Message 1: Icelandic Phonology

Date: Fri, 20 Feb 1998 03:22:46 -0500
From: Antony Dubach Green <>
Subject: Icelandic Phonology

I would like to thank everyone who responded to my question on Icelandic
phonology, and post a summary of the responses I got.

The following people provided me with answers to my questions:
 Birna Arnbjornsdottir <>
 Istvan Bernath <>
 Haraldur Bernhardsson <>
 Jakob Dempsey <>
 Lance Eccles <>
 Thorsteinn G. Indridason <>
 Nicholas Jones <>
 Wolfgang Kehrein <>
 Magnus Petursson via Janina Schuldt <>

The questions and their summarized answers are these:
>(1) Am I correct in assuming that the orthographic <d~t> contrastis
>word-initially one of aspiration rather than voicing? I.e. <d> in <dag> 'day'
>represents a voiceless unaspirated stop; while <t> in <tala> 'to speak' a
>voiceless aspirated stop.

Everyone agrees this is true.

>(2) Am I correct in assuming that intervocalic <t> is actually UNaspirated?
>E.g. in a word like <gata> 'street', the <t> represents the same sound as is
>found at the beginning of <dag>, NOT the same as is found at the beginning of

This is true for the southern dialect. In the northern dialect, the <t> of
<gata> is aspirated.

>(3) Are there any words in Icelandic with intervocalic orthographic <d> (not
>counting morpheme-initial d after a prefix or in a compound)? A quick glance
>through an Icelandic dictionary reveals lots of <d-> (edh) in this position,
>but I couldn't find any <d>. If <d> does occur in this position, how is it
>pronounced? Does it merge with the <t> of <gata>?

Single intervocalic <d> in Icelandic seems to be found only in loanwords,
e.g. Lada (a Russian make of car), py/rami/di 'pyramid' [/ indicates acute
accent over preceding vowel], radar 'radar', radi/us 'radius', etc. It is
pronounced as an unaspirated voiceless stop, and thus merges with the <t> of
<gata> in the southern dialect.

>(4) I have found a word-internal orthographic <d~t> contrast in the context
>l_r: <heldri> 'notable' vs. <haltra> 'to hang'. Is there still a phonetic
>difference between the d and the t? If so, what is it?

In the southern dialect, there is no phonetic difference between the d and
the t in these words; however the l in <heldri> is voiced while the l in
<haltra> is devoiced. I also need to correct a gloss: <haltra> means 'to
limp', not 'to hang'. The book I got this from is written in German and
glosses <haltra> as 'hinken', which means 'to limp'. But I wasn't paying
close enough attention, and thought it said 'henken', which means 'to hang'.
In the northern dialect again, the <d> is unaspirated and the <t> aspirated.

>(5) Are there any other relevant examples, e.g. -Vdr- vs. -Vtr-?

No, but there are interesting contrasts between -Vddr- and -Vtr-: <saddra>
'satisfied' (gen. pl.) is pronounced [satra] with a short vowel, indicating
that the initial syllable is closed, although the consonant is not
pronounced as a geminate. Meanwhile, <titra> 'to tremble' is pronounced
[tI:tra] with a long vowel, indicating that the initial syllable is open. A
parallel contrast is found between -Vggv- and -Vkv-: <ho"ggva> [o" =
o-umlaut] 'to hew' is [h#kva] [# = lower-mid front rounded vowel] with a
short vowel, while <vo"kva> 'to water' is [v#:kva] with a long vowel.

Finally, I would like to mention the following resources mentioned by

Einarsson, Stefan (1945). _Icelandic: Grammar, Texts, Glossary_. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins Press.

Fridjonsson (1984). _Phonetics of Modern Icelandic_.

Haugen, E. (1982). _Scandinavian Language Structures_.

Kress, Bruno (1982). _Islaendische Grammatik_. Leipzig: Enzyklopaedie.

Petursson, Magnus (1978). _Islaendisch: Eine Uebersicht ueber die moderne
islaendische Sprache mit einem kurzen Abriss der Geschichte und Literatur
Islands._ Hamburg: Buske.

Many thanks for your help!

Antony D. Green
- --------------------------------------------------------------------
Antony Dubach Green
Zentrum fuer Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft
Jaegerstr. 10/11 Tel (+49 30) 20 192 574
10117 Berlin
Deutschland Fax (+49 30) 20 192 402

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