The Language in the Settlement
Thursday November 6, 2014, at 16.30
This talk will address questions concerning the language of the people who settled Iceland and the roots of Icelandic language culture from a sociolinguistic perspective. Which language(s) or dialects were spoken in Iceland in the first decades following the settlement?
Icelandic is a Norwegian immigrant language and the common opinion is that it arose as a mixture of the different varieties of Norwegian spoken by settlers from different areas in Norway. Moreover, the view is frequently expressed that in the settlement era Iceland was a multicultural society with a substantial Irish population and this gave rise to a flourishing literary production.
Yet there are no signs of linguistic pidginization which frequently takes place where different languages and cultures come in contact. At the beginning of the literary era there are no indications of any debate about which linguistic variety should be employed for committing the laws for writing or the saga literature or for translations of Latin texts.
The creation of a written norm is inherently a complicated process where different norms tend to compete (as, for instance, in the history of English and German in the late Middle Ages or Norwegian in the 19th and 20th centuries). Such competition of different norms appears not to have taken place in Iceland or Norway at the beginning of the literary period in the 12th century. The stability of the Norse written language, in particular the Icelandic one, in the late Middle Ages does not suggest a linguistic “chaos” of any sort; on the contrary, it indicates that there was a relatively clear linguistic norm right from the beginning. The oral transmission of poetry and the law undoubtedly contributed to this stability. In the late Middle Ages, this Norse language, later referred to as Icelandic, was the language of the Norwegian kingdom and its colonies.
Kristján Árnason is a professor of Icelandic linguistics at the University of Iceland. In his research, Kristján has worked on the phonology of Icelandic and Faroese from a historical and sociolinguistic perspective. He has also done research on metrics and poetics of Old Icelandic as well as language planning and language cultivation.
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Investigating the Icelandic Landnám deforestation through agent-based modelling
Fimmtudaginn 6. nóvember 2014 kl. 16.30
The process of settlement in Iceland in the late 9th and early 10th centuries was followed by an enormous rate of deforestation caused by the needs of the settler population for new arable land, pastures, fuel and building material. The clearance of woodlands, frequently unavoidable, resulted in significant and long-term consequences for the island’s fragile environment. Various research results have confirmed the drastic loss of woodlands and serious degradation of the environment in the period shortly after the settlement, and it is well known that lowlands in some parts of the country were completely deforested already by AD 920. More than a century of academic studies on the subject so far has produced a variety of descriptions of this environmental impact. However, the existing research has failed to offer a detailed account of the deforestation process in terms of its quantification, timing, complexity and dynamics.
The use of agent-based simulation models can amend this unfortunate situation and can improve our understanding of how and why the deforestation started, what the rate, timing and spatial distribution of the deforestation was, but also how the needs and concerns of individual settlers overlapped and affected the state of the forests during this period.
This paper dissertates the structure and outcomes of the series of spatially explicit agent-based models of the Icelandic Landnám deforestation and offers a closer description of what is today recognized as one of the most significant changes that the natural environment of Iceland underwent during the Holocene.
Nikola Trbojević is an archaeologist and a PhD student at the University of Iceland. He is currently completing a project which investigates, by means of spatially-explicit agent-based modelling, the Icelandic Landnám deforestation. His main research interests are human-environment interactions of the past, agent-based modelling and system dynamics.