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Fighting for the Icelandic Language

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

Written by Elin de Ruyter

Icelandic is a unique language with about 350,000 people worldwide being able to speak it. It is believed to be a dialect of Old Norse and is said to be virtually unchanged since medieval times.

So, how have Icelanders been able to hold onto the purity of their language for so long?

It's easy to believe that because of its status as an island in the far North Atlantic, it was isolation alone that must have preserved the Icelandic language. The truth is that Iceland has been accessible to other nations for hundreds of years, from countries fishing off their shores like England, France and Portugal, to the impact of the Norwegian and Danish governing their country for hundreds of years.

Yes, isolation did play a part, but it was also thanks to passionate men like Eggert Ólafsson, an 18th Century Icelander who fought to preserve the Icelandic language and culture through his writings. He was an influential man whose words spoke to the people beyond the grave, making him a father figure for later generations of patriotic Icelanders.

Copper engraving depicting Eggert Ólafsson's death made by I. Haas in 1768

Eggert Ólafsson was born in Svefneyjar in Austur-Barðastrandarsýsla in Iceland on the 1st of December, 1726. He studied first at Skálholtsskóla in 1741 at the age of 15 and then in 1746 travelled to Copenhagen to undertake further studies at Hafnarhásskóli- the University of Copenhagen, completing a degree in Philosophy on the 1st of July, 1748.

Eggert returned to Iceland and went on to became famous as an explorer, writer and conservator of Icelandic language and culture.

Much like our own Icelandic Roots president, Sunna Furstenau, and the volunteers at Icelandic Roots, Eggert had a burning passion for Icelandic language, country and culture.

He was well read in Old Icelandic literature and wrote many poems and texts as well as the first orthographic dictionary for Icelandic. One of Eggert's major interests lay in natural history and in 1772 he published Reise igiennem Island, also known as Travels in Iceland, a work encompassing the scientific and cultural survey he conducted in Iceland between 1752 and 1757.

In 1767 at the age of 41 year old, Eggert married Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir. Their marriage was, sadly, short lived. Both Eggert and his wife drowned on the 30th of May, 1768 when their boat capsized in Breiðafjörður, off the northwest coast of Iceland, on their way back home from Sauðlauksdalur where they had been residing over the winter.

Check the relationship calculator in our Icelandic Roots Database to see if you are related to the famous Eggert Olafsson IR# 46587.

To see how Icelanders today are fighting for the Icelandic language today in our technology driven world, watch this interesting video below:



Icelandic Roots Database Árbók Landsbókasafns Íslands - Nýr flokkur - Megintexti (01.01.1989)

Finnbogi Guðmundsson Eggert Ólafsson Á 200 Ártið 30, Maí 1968 pg 45.

Photo Source:

National Library of Iceland (Landsbókasafn Íslands).Public Domain,


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