Kendra Willson, Researcher at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Turku in Finland
Friday 30 October 2015
2:00pm Room 208, Gordon Greenwood Building (#32) 


The idea that the Icelandic language is so nearly unchanged since the Middle Ages that modern Icelanders can read the 13th century sagas without difficulty has historically been central to Icelandic national identity. The language is conservative in morphology and vocabulary, likely due to such factors as the absence of towns until the 19th c. (so that young people spent more time talking with older adults than with their age-mates). However, the impression of unchangedness is due especially to standardized orthographies for both Old and Modern Icelandic that were developed in tandem in the 19th c. Manuscript orthographies are highly irregular and abbreviated and require practice and training to read. The modern Icelandic orthography in turn is largely based on the phonological system of the 13th century. Puristic efforts connected with the independence movement of the 19th and 20th centuries also managed to reverse some changes, although earlier reports on the success of these efforts may have been somewhat exaggerated. In recent decades, however, purism has been less popular and regarded as out of step with the times.

Speaker Profile:

Kendra Willson is a researcher at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Turku in Finland. She has previously held positions at the University of Helsinki, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Manitoba. She holds a Ph.D. in Scandinavian languages and literatures from the University of California, Berkeley. Willson has written on Old and Modern Icelandic personal names, discourse structures and genre in Old Icelandic sagas, metrical aspects of poetic translation, and grammaticalization and word order change in Icelandic and Finnish.