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The Islandian Language


Unlike J.R.R. Tolkien, Austin Tappan Wright (1883–1931), the author of Islandia (1942) and inventor of its language and culture, was not a linguist but a legal scholar, and he was more interested in economics and politics than in language. In his unpublished Islandia: History and Description, apart from a list of words at the very end of the appendices, there is only a single paragraph about the Islandian language, which is worth to be quoted in full:

‘What of the Islandian language? Extremely difficult at first because of its total difference from any familiar tongue, it becomes a delightful medium for conversation and intercourse once the first barriers are passed. In structure it shows no sign of ever having declensions or conjugations. Save for the plural r prefixed to all words beginning with vowels, added to others, and for a tendency to combine a few adjectives with nouns, a word never varies in form. Tenses are expressed adverbially, and one adverb will serve for many sentences. Instead of saying “I will go,” the Islandian says “Futurely I go.” The greatest puzzle is the pronouns – not alone is there “he” for man and “she” for woman, but trees, family, different animals, each have or has its form. In a work of this sort there is no place for further consideration, except to observe that there is a large vocabulary, rich not only in concrete words but in abstract ideas as well, and that except for a few words of Latin origin and a few others tantalizingly like those in other tongues there is no apparent connection with any other known language.’

[Austin Tappan Wright, Islandia: History and Description ... TS.(carbon); 1909. MS Am 1605.2. Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. P. 289.]

The following wordlist is based on “Appendix X” of An Introduction to Islandia: its history, laws, language, and geography as prepared by Basil Davenport from Islandia: History and Description by Jean Perrier, first Consul to Islandia, and translated by John Lang, first American Consul. With maps drawn by John Lang (pp. 59–61), supplemented and corrected by Wright's own glossary and text. It has been re-ordered alphabetically.

Glossary of certain Islandian words and usages

A

-a
or -na, suff., feminine ending
ain, n., folk, people
al, adj., swim
alan, n., run, track, way
Alban, n. (province), white (monkish word)
alia, n., love for family and place, a continuing unit
amia, n., liking, or even love in non-sexual implications
ania, n., desire to marry
anna, adj. pleasant
antal, n. mental reaction, emotion, used only with reference to some object or circumstance. It cannot be said that a person’s antalar are strong, but it may be said that his antal to music is strong. An Islandian would usually be more specific and characterize the reaction thus caused as pleasurable (anna), or unpleasant (appa), etc.
apia, n., carnal desire, lust
appa, adj., unpleasant
aspara, sea gull
az, adv., signifying past time: e.g., az brandekma – the intensely first in the past; azekma – the first in the past

B

ban, n., army
belt, adj., ruddy
bod-, pref., full
bos, n., small cattle
bosalan, grazing farm
brand, adv., large, or, combined with a noun/adjective, intensive, e.g., brandekma the intensely first
bro-, pref., heavy
Brome, n., (province), heavy soil (?)
Bostia, n., (province), cattle land (?)

C

cal-, pref., sharp
cam, n., arable field
Camis, n., (province), agricultural land (?)
can, n., heir
car-, pref., cara, adj., sometimes car-, kara, adj. black
Carran, n. (province), corruption of karain, black folk (?)
-clorn, suff., mountain; used only of snowy mountains

D

dasel, n., oak tree
darso, n., a flower growing from a bulb, about two feet above ground, with long rushlike leaves. A variety of the narcissus with a white imbricated perianth, and a trumpet flaring at the mouth as widely as the perianth (3" to 4"), more commonly orange, rarely a pure crimson. Stamens black; pistil yellow. White at base of trumpet, with blue markings.
dee, adj., green
Deen, n. (province), dee-ain (?), folk in green regions (?)
dineri, or dinneri, n., a dependent
der, n., arm of body
Dole, n. (province), meaning unknown, if any
doon, n., custom
Doring, n. (province), said to be a corruption of Dorn-ain, Dorn's folk (?)

E

el-, pref., elan, adj., many
Elainry, n. "many folk place", i.e. The City
err, n., orchard

F

falda, n., moor, uplands
far-, pref., tall
Farrant, n. (province), far-ain-t tall folk (?)
ferrin, n., iron
frays, n., ledge

G

gen-, pref., subordinate to or of
grane, n., green meadow; Spring

H

hale, or hail, adj., high
hama, n., peace
her, adj., swift
Hern, n. (province), corruption of her-ain, swift folk (?), or her-win swift water (?)
hyth, n., high pastures

I

-ia, suff., land
il-, pref., signifying literally: pale, in the sense that pink is pale red, but often used figuratively as indicating ‘in small degree,’ ‘mildly,’ etc.
isla, adj./n., ennobled, lord; e.g. Isla Dorn, noble Dorn, or Lord Dorn
islata, adj./n., ennobled in lesser degree, ‘honorable’
Islandia, n. (province, nation), perhaps isla-ain-ia ‘land of the noble folk’ (?). The ‘s’ is silent. Another derivation is from monkish sources, ‘island region,’ but questionable.

L

lang, v., to dig, or to till
langome, n., tillage farm
lin, adj./adv., strong
loban, n., printing cylinder
lolas, adj., viciously lazy
lor, adj., low
Loria, n. (province), low land.
losh, n., heavy breed of cattle

M

mar, adj., great
mat, adj, broad
maso, n., blue fish
milt, adj., gentle or soft
Miltain n. (province), gentle folk

N

niv, snow
Niven, n. (province), snowy water (?)
Nar, n., rights

O

ome, n., soil

R

-r, or ar, plural
rob, adj., bright, or intelligent
-ry (suffix), region

S

Ssarka
, n., plum, also plum wine
sea, n., cape, headland
si-, pref., light
sol-, pref., dark, or intense, in the sense that scarlet or crimson are dark or intense as compared to pink, but often used figuratively as indicating in high degree, ‘strongly,’ etc.
sorn, n., summer
stell, n., leap
ston, adj., lazy
stor, n., gale

T

-ta, suff., diminutive
tan, n., ground
tana, n., proprietor of a farm
-tock, suff., hills
torn, n., terror. Is Dorn a form of torn?

U

usta
, n., cause

V

vant, adj., far
Vantry, n. (province), far region

W

-win, suff., inland waters
winal, n., ship
Winder, n. (province), water arms, fiords
windorn, n. winter

Y

y, of

(Editor’s note: The words ania, alia and, to a lesser degree, apia, are extremely important. They relate to the two fundamental and connected Islandian concepts – marriage, and the continuing relationship between a person or a family and a particular place, house, or piece of land. They are the philosophic and social rocks on which the national structure of Islandia is based. A full discussion of the scope and ramifications of these concepts is to be found in John Lang’s narrative, Islandia. —Basil Davenport.)

Numerals


(The Islandians use a duodecimal system which is not described in detail here.)

1 ek
2
atta
3
etteri
4
nek
5
natta
6
netteri
7
pek
8
patta
9
petteri
10
sek
11
satta
12
setteri, or atek
13
atek ek, or setteri ek
20
atek patta
23
atek satta
24
atatta
25
atatta ek
36
atetteri
48
anek
60
anatta
72
anetteri
100
apatta nek
101
apatta natta
144
bek, or a setteri setteri
288
atta bek
1728
dek