Business & Government Products & Services Sep 25, 2015

Berkeley Becomes the Third U.S. College to Teach Icelandic

Halló! Looking to learn Icelandic? Head to Berkeley, California.

Updated 9/25: If California is a little too far for you, the Scandinavia House in New York City will begin its Icelandic language classes starting on September 29. Classes for beginners and more experienced Icelandic speakers are available. For further information, contact the teacher Hildur Loftsdóttir at

Despite the small number of fluent Icelandic speakers (about 320,000), the Institute of European Studies calls modern Icelandic “a strategic language in transatlantic connections between the U.S. and Europe, as well as between Europe and the Arctic.” UC Berkeley must agree – this fall, they’re partnering with IES to bring Modern Icelandic to their Nordic curriculum.

This marks the third university in the United States to bring Icelandic studies to their students. Berkeley will join the ranks of Brigham Young University in Utah, where modern Icelandic is also taught, and the University of Minnesota, which sends students to Iceland for three weeks as part of a six-week study abroad language session.

The Modern Icelandic course will fall under Berkeley’s recently-established Nordic Studies Program and the Department of Scandinavian. Students will have the opportunity to learn from linguist Jackson Crawford, who will Skype in from UCLA, in a back-to-back fall and spring semester course.

One of the aspects that makes modern Icelandic so unique is its “language purism.” According to Crawford, who interestingly was a consultant on the movie Frozen, Icelanders develop their own terms for everything, from ancient dinosaur fossils to modern technology. In contrast, many other languages derive their terms by borrowing from other languages. “A computer is ‘tölva’, a conjunction of tala, which means number, and völva, a witch or female fortune teller,” Crawford says.

The Scandinavian Department previously offered courses in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. Learning Icelandic tends to give students a leg up in learning these other Nordic languages as well.

If you’re not a student at Berkeley, don’t worry; you can learn some Icelandic right now with these simple phrases: