Iceland, a land of stunning natural beauty and a unique cultural heritage, is known for its language, Icelandic. But what language do they speak in Iceland beyond its official tongue? In this article, we will explore the primary language of Iceland, delve into its linguistic history, and discover the multilingualism that coexists alongside it.

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Icelandic Language: A Unique Identity

At the heart of Icelandic identity lies the Icelandic language. With a keyword density of 4.48%, it’s evident that Icelandic is a central aspect of the nation’s culture. It is the official language of Iceland, spoken by the majority of its population, which numbers around 336,000 people.

Icelandic boasts a remarkable 100 percent literacy rate among its citizens, and nearly 97 percent of Icelanders consider it their mother tongue. Such high language proficiency is a testament to the importance of Icelandic in the country.

The Roots of Icelandic

Icelandic belongs to the Indo-European language family and shares its origins with languages like Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish. Additionally, it has linguistic ties to Faroese. These connections make Icelandic part of the broader North Germanic branch.

However, Icelandic stands apart from its relatives due to its remarkable preservation over time. While Norwegian, for example, evolved and absorbed characteristics from Swedish and Danish, Icelandic remained remarkably unchanged. Its linguistic purity and resistance to foreign influences are the result of deliberate language purism efforts.

Language Purism

Language purism is a movement that emerged in the 19th century when Iceland was emerging from Danish rule. Achieving home rule in 1874 and full sovereignty in 1918, Iceland made significant efforts to preserve its linguistic independence. Borrowed words from Celtic, Danish, Latin, and Romance languages were systematically replaced with Icelandic alternatives, reinforcing the uniqueness of the language.

Multilingualism in Iceland Beyond Icelandic

While Icelandic is the predominant language in Iceland, the nation’s inhabitants are far from monolingual. The majority of Icelanders are fluent in English, thanks to mandatory language education in schools. Additionally, they often acquire proficiency in another Scandinavian language, such as Danish, German, Spanish, or French.

English is particularly dominant, with a significant percentage of the population fluent in the language. This proficiency in English is not only a result of education but also reflects Iceland’s integration into the global community.

Danish, while spoken by a minority in Iceland, still holds significance due to historical ties between the two nations. Approximately 1,000 “true” Danish speakers reside in Iceland, maintaining a connection to Denmark’s linguistic heritage.

Iceland is home to a diverse population, and as a result, a range of minority languages can be heard in the country. Polish, for instance, is spoken by 2.71 percent of the population, establishing itself as a significant minority language. Additionally, languages like Lithuanian, Portuguese, Filipino, Thai, and Latvian contribute to Iceland’s multicultural tapestry.

While Icelandic is the unifying language of the country, there are subtle regional differences in dialects. For example, in the capital, Reykjavík, you might encounter more soft consonants, while in the northeast, you might find aspirated stops after long vowels.


In answer to the question, “What language do they speak in Iceland?” the primary response is Icelandic, a language deeply rooted in the nation’s history and culture. Its remarkable preservation and purity set it apart from its linguistic relatives. However, Icelanders’ multilingualism, particularly in English, demonstrates their adaptability and connection to the wider world.

Iceland is a land where linguistic traditions meet the demands of the modern globalized world, making it a fascinating place for language enthusiasts and travelers alike. While Icelandic remains the cornerstone of the nation’s identity, the diversity of languages spoken in Iceland reflects the country’s openness to the richness of global cultures.


What is the official language of Iceland?

The official language of Iceland is Icelandic, known as “íslenska” in the native tongue.

How many people in Iceland speak Icelandic?

The majority of people in Iceland, around 97 percent of the population, speak Icelandic as their mother tongue.

Are there any other languages spoken in Iceland?

Yes, in addition to Icelandic, other languages are spoken in Iceland. English is widely spoken and taught in schools. Danish, German, Spanish, and French are also common due to mandatory language education. Minority languages like Polish, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Filipino, Thai, and Latvian are also heard.

Is Icelandic Sign Language recognized in Iceland?

Yes, Icelandic Sign Language (Íslenskt Táknmál) is recognized by law in Iceland and is used by the deaf community alongside the spoken language.

Has Icelandic language evolved over time?

Icelandic has evolved over time, but it has remained remarkably preserved compared to other languages. Language purism efforts in the 19th century and a deliberate focus on maintaining linguistic independence have contributed to its relative stability and resistance to foreign influences.

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