Ásta Svavarsdóttir

Lexical interference in different contact situations:
A comparison of Icelandic across the North-Atlantic ocean

Two types of lexical interference in the language of Icelandic immigrants in North America are interesting in comparison to the language and language development in Iceland. The first point of interest are loanwords, especially from Danish, that were borrowed prior to the emigration and could therefore have been a part of the language that the immigrants had already acquired in their home country. The second point of interest are lexical borrowings and other lexical interference from English that emerge in the language of the immigrants and their descendants, and are either unknown in Iceland or only appear at a much later date (and often in a different form).

It has been maintained that in the early 19th century, Icelandic was heavily influenced by Danish, especially in its lexicon. It is, however, unclear how lexical borrowings were distributed sociolinguistically and stylistically, i.e. if all speaker groups and all domains of the language were equally influenced. One indication of this should be found in the language of the emigrants to North America, who moved to Canada and the USA in the late 19th and early 20th century. If lexical borrowings had to a great extent penetrated the daily language of common people, these can be expected to show up in the language of the immigrants, which was not affected by the late 19th and early 20th century language purism and standardization in the home country.

The Icelandic immigrants obviously had to adjust themselves and their language to new geographical surroundings and a new society. At the same time, a slow progress of modernization was beginning in Iceland, with the introduction of new industries and technology, increasing urbanization, etc., and there too, the language had to be adjusted to a changing society. Both language communities thus faced much the same challenges at a similar time, but in very different sociolinguistic and contact situations, making a comparison of their development interesting.

The studies presented in the paper will primarily be based on data from personal letters, supplemented by texts from newspapers and periodicals published in Iceland and the Icelandic settlements in North America.