An Icelandic Primer by Henry Sweet

Available here are the scanned pages of Henry Sweet's An Icelandic Primer (1895). This is a basic grammar, reader, and glossary of Old Icelandic.


I scanned these images in Oct 2001.

Text version by an anoymous contributor:

Text version by Ben Crowder (Project Gutenberg version):

The two text versions are independent. The version by the anonymous contributor was posted in June, 2002. Ben Crowder wasn't aware of this text version and did a separate OCR-ing on the text; he corrected the text, typeset it using TeX, and submitted the results to Project Gutenberg in August, 2002. The Gutenberg files are mirrored here.

The anonymous contributor made the following remarks:

I have transformed the TIFF files to at text document because I found them interesting. It is not a large document. I send it as an attachment in Word Windows 97. I have not bothered to transform the dictionary because the book of Zoëga is much, much better. The grammar is old, however, so I have modified it slightly. The author has not followed the traditional notation. He has introduced an «e cedille» for short æ (open, short e), and he has also introduced an «ö cedille» for an open ø. I have never seen these letters in texts, and I find them unnecessary. The Icelanders could not even distinguish between ø and æ, and only the æ has survived in the modern Icelandic (pronounced like «lie» in English or "Stein" in German). The «o cedille» is much used in old manuscripts, but it was quite early replaced by «ö» on Iceland. It disappeared in the other nordic countries. As the «o cedille» is unavailable in any font, I have replaced it by «ö». The Icelanders pronounce it like the French «peu» today but in the old language it was an open, short «o».

Sweet has also replaced the old «ø» with «ö». I do not know why and I have redone that. Thus, the orthography is in accordance with Zoëga's dictionary.

Sweet did not like the use of accent aigu for a long wovel. He means that this accent should be reserved for other things, ignoring a many hundred years old tradition in that way. (He has also changed the succession of the letters in the alphabet of the dictionary) This is a typical British arrogant attitude. Moreover, the accented letters exist in the font sets - not the bars.

A third change is to remove the statement that k and g were palatalized before e, i, y, æ and ø. To day the opinion is that this was a later fenomenon which developed on the continent. It is common in Swedish and Norwegian, but does not occur in modern Islandic. Thus the word «kemr» (comes) should be pronounced with a k and not like the modern Norwegian «kjem» (kj as the ch in German "ich").

It is probably neither correct that f in «gefa» was pronounced v. Why didn't they write «geva» then, like the modern Norwegian «gjeva»? The name of the Icelandic airport is still pronounced «Keflavík» exactly as they write it. In Norwegian it should be written «Kjevlavik».

The sequence of genders and casi is also unusual in Sweet's grammar. He uses MNF for the genders and NADG for the casi while the traditional is MFN and NGDA (See Zoëga). I have not changed that.

I have included a Tiff file with the «cedille» letters as a demonstration.

If you should want to use the file, I would rather that you do not mention my name.

The fonts do not show in the HTML versions. Therefore, the file should be presented in your home page as a download Word file to avoid all the qeustion marks. The correct font, Times OE Roman, can be found on: or

The anonymous contributor claims that intervocalic /f/ was pronounced [f] not [v] on the grounds that the authors of the old texts could have simply written [v] if the segment were voiced. I'd have to hit the books to find out more about the situation in Old Icelandic (of the four major older Germanic languages, it's the one I know least well). However, it is a common enough situation for voiceless obstruents to have voiced allophones in an intervocalic environment; this kind of thing is not always represented in the orthography (for example, as a speaker of American English, my /t/ in water is voiced, but I don't write wader).

A great many thanks to the anonymous contributor and to Ben Crowder for performing this valuable service for us all!

Scanned images

Introductory pages

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Main text

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