The Icelandic language is an Indo-European language, of the North Germanic language branch. It is the westernmost Indo-European language, if you discount the U.S. The oldest texts that feature Icelandic have been dated to around a thousand years ago. The Icelandic Sagas, written in the 12th century, are the written versions of many epic poems and folk stories. Many laws and creative expressions up until this point were almost entirely preserved through the oral tradition.
Iceland was ruled by Denmark from 1380 to 1918, but surprisingly the Danish language had very little impact on the Icelandic language. Danish was preferred as a spoken language by Icelandic people for around a hundred years for a period in the middle of this rule, but the language itself did not change as much as one might think.
The Icelandic language has not changed much since the 13th century, which means that modern speakers of the Icelandic language can also read and understand the epic sagas that were written over eight hundred years ago. This has been, in part, to the movement in the 18th century to purify the Icelandic language, and get rid of words that were borrowed from other languages. Old words were brought back to use in daily life, and the struggle to maintain the language as a defining aspect of Icelandic culture has been a worthwhile one, as the Icelandic language does not need to rely on neologisms. Words like computer and electricity have their own words in Icelandic.
These days, the language is surprisingly not mentioned in any official documents as having the official language status that it does. The country of Iceland is a member of the Nordic Council, but the Council too have not yet decided to use Icelandic as an official language, instead only using Danish, Swedish and Norwegian for the spoken languages at meetings and events.
The speakers of the Icelandic language primarily live in Iceland, though there are small pockets of the Icelandic language also in the U.S., Canada, and Denmark. There are around 3000 Icelandic people each year who become students in places of higher education in Denmark.
There are also around 5000 speakers who live in the USA, and around 2000 that live in Canada. The town of Gimli, Manitoba in Canada is the place that has the highest concentration of Icelandic speakers outside of the country of Iceland.
English is spoken by many Icelandic people these days, with the Icelandic language sometimes being a secondary language even within households in Iceland. To preserve the language, the state-funded institute of the Arni Magnusson Institute for Icelandic Studies not only keeps medieval Icelandic manuscripts, but studies the language and literature of Icelandic itself.
Icelandic Language Day is celebrated on November 16th, though this is a relatively new festival, having only been occurring since 1995. It was decided to fall on the birthday of 19th century poet Jonas Hallgrimsson.
Ordinarily, Western European languages have a reduced inflection level but the Icelandic language has resisted this phonological change. Because of this, Icelandic has kept its inflectional grammar, and is most similar to the Latin language. Nouns, adverbs, adjectives and pronouns are grammatically similar in both these languages, although there is some difference in the verb inflection.
The Icelandic alphabet was developed in the 19th century. It is based on a Latin alphabet, although there are 32 letters in the Icelandic alphabet to accommodate for the extra vowels. There are very few differences phonetically speaking, and only minor differences in dialect, meaning that whichever accent you learn Icelandic in, all other speakers will be able to understand you.
Why Learn The Icelandic Language?
The country of Iceland is one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world. If you wish to relocate yourself globally, to a technologically advanced country with universal health care, then Iceland could very well be the country for you. Iceland amended its marriage laws in 2010, making it legal for same-sex couples to marry, making it a very sexually progressive country.
Incidentally, due to the fact that the Icelandic language shares its ancestry with English, many words have a similar root, making the Icelandic language one that could potentially be easier to learn if one already knows English. Also, in regards to literature, learning the Icelandic language will introduce you to centuries of poetry and sagas.