Latvians fight about Iceland

iceland-coat-of-arms3There is a debate underway in Latvia about whether Iceland should be spelled Islande or ?slande. The difference may look subtle to non-Latvians; but the dash over the ‘I’ elongates the sound and makes it more in line with the rules of modern Latvian.

The trouble is that Latvians have used the ‘incorrect’ spelling (Islande) for years and are unwilling to change just because the country’s language commission tells them to.

It does not help that ‘?ss’ means ‘short’ – making Latvian the only language to call Iceland ‘Shortland’.

The rules of modern Latvian were roughly explained by Sintija Rupj? of the Latvian embassy in Norway, which also deals with Iceland. “In Latvian all the proper nouns (including place-names) from other languages are transcribed following their phonetic transcription (following the sound of the word in original language) and the proper ending in Latvian,” she explained. “Thus, for example, the Norwegian surname ‘Larsen’ in Latvian is transcribed as ‘L?šens’, ‘Hansen’ in Norwegian – ‘Hansens’ in Latvian.”

“There are, of course, exceptions,” she continues. “The tradition of use of some words is difficult to change; for example, the word ‘Oslo’: it should be transcribed as ‘Ušlu’ regarding the rule, but we are used to using ‘Oslo’ in Latvian and therefore this “incorrect” form is still in use.”

Will the traditionalists or the reformists win out? Will ‘Islande’ go the way of ‘le weekend’ or will Latvians take ‘?slande’ to their hearts like the French never quite did with ‘la fin de semaine’?

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