Talk like a Viking

Evan stared intensely at his mother across the kitchen table. “Eye-juh-fuh-JALL-uh-juhhh—”

“AY as in ‘say,’ Audrey said. She glanced at her open laptop. “AY-yuh. Yuh, not juh.“

“Yuh. YUH-juh-fuh-JALL…juh. Yug. Ugh.” Evan looked at the Icelandic word in the headline: Eyjafjallajökull fills European airspace with ash. “How do you get yuh out of a J?”

“Don’t look at the word; it’ll yust confuse you. AY-yuh.”


Mount St. Helens ©2002






“Ain’t-a ‘fraid tuh YO-del,” Joe said behind them. He scuffed into the kitchen, still in his sweats and flip-flops. “What’s all the pressure, Ev? You going to Iceland or something?”

“No, I’m not going to Iceland,” Evan said. “I’m going to school.” He went down the hall, mumbling, “Ay-yuh. Fuhd-luh. No, AY-yuh-fall-uh—”

Audrey said it as fast as she could: “AY-yuh-FYAHD-lah-YOH-koodtl.”

“Mom, am I mistaken or are you showing off?” Joe was getting out some ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, buttermilk, eggs.

“Yo’ mama is remembering when we were at the mercy of whatever yokel we watched on TV. Now I can sit here and listen to a native Icelandic speaker on my little computer. I can even tell you what it means.”

“Because I’m at the mercy of whatever—”

Eyja means island,” Audrey said. “Fjalla means mountain. Jökull means glacier. Eyjafjallajökull.”

“Island… mountain… glacier. Islandmountainglacier. Volcano. Huh. It’s called exactly what it is. Mount St. Helens could be—”

“Forestrumbledome,” Audrey said, then shook her head. “No, I can do without the compound words.”

Joe pulled a skillet off the pot rack. “You want some pancakes?”

“Love some. This says there’s a whole national effort to keep the Icelandic language pure, so they adapt their own words to stay current without bringing in foreign words.”

“Like “global warming”?

“Yeah, they hate that. They make up a lot of words, too, by merging them—oh, listen to this! They banned the letter Z in 1974.”

“Banned it? Why?”

“I don’t know,” Audrey said. “I can look it up. There’s a lot going on here under the surface.”

Evan burst into the kitchen and halted.

“Ho, it’s Brotherrunswithwheeliegirl,” Joe said.

Evan fought to avoid Joe’s eyes. He spoke slowly to Audrey: “Ay. Yuh. FYAD. La. YOH-koodlt.” He got a thumb’s up from his mom and rushed outside. “Ay-yuh-fyad—” The door banged shut.

“What was that all about?” Audrey asked.

“It’s about language, mom.” Joe adjusted the flame on the big stove and flicked butter into the skillet. “Turns out I speak Viking.”

©2010 Pam Wells

You can listen to Icelandic phrases at


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