Háskóli Íslands

Eyjafjallajökull is not a difficult word

by Páll Einarsson

Contrary to common beliefs I like to maintain the opinion that Eyjafjallajökull is not a hard name for a volcano, no more than e.g. Popocatépetl, Llullaillaco, Piton de la Fournaise etc. And since this volcano is likely to be a conversation piece for quite some time we better clear up a few things.

There are mainly three things that seem to contribute to the misconception: the frequent appearance of the letter j, the sound of double l, and the sheer length of the word. Let us tackle these.
1. The Icelandic letter j is pronounced very similar to the German or Danish j, not like the English or French j. So the sound is that of y in yes.

2. The sound of double l in Icelandic is often like ddl in English, e.g. puddle, paddle, saddle. For practice, look at Dr Seuss (1965), Fox in Socks:
"When a fox is in the bottle where the tweetle beetles battle with their paddles in a puddle on a noodle-eating poodle, THIS is what they call...
...a tweetle beetle noodle poodle bottled paddled muddled duddled fuddled wuddled fox in socks, sir!"

3. Long words are common in Icelandic because of the habit of joining or concatenating short words into longer words. Each word usually has a meaning of its own. Eyjafjallajökull is thus composed of three words: Eyja-fjalla-jökull.

Eyja- is the plural genitive of the word ey, which means island. It is pronounced like a long a in English (A, B, C, D, ...). Many volcano enthusiasts recogize this word as the end of the names of Surtsey and Heimaey (Island of Surtur, Home-island), the volcanic islands off shore. In fact, Eyjafjallajökull is quite close and its name refers to these islands, the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. This word also appears at the end of old English names of islands like Orkney, Jersey, Guernsey etc.

The middle word, -fjalla-, is the plural genitive form of fjall, which means mountain. The name Eyjafjöll is used for the mountains on the southern flank and the inhabited district west and south of the volcano.

The last word, -jökull, simply means glacier. The largest volcanoes are often capped by glaciers and the volcano usually takes the name of the glacier. This is common practice, both in Iceland and South America.

And just to make it clear; There is no way of shortening this name. Nobody will understand you if you ask where Eyja is. Some time ago we tried to take up the name Eyjafjöll for the volcano, but this attempt failed miserably. It did not work.

So the name Eyjafjallajökull is there to stay and means:

“The glacier on the mountains next to the islands”

and it is pronounced something like this:



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