The High Icelandic Language movement has its origin in the Icelandic hyperpuristic circles of the nineties. Its members were inspired by the puristic extremities of the nineteenth-century Fjölnismen and the fanatic translation of Goethe’s Faust by Bjarni Jónsson frá Vogi. Towards the end of the millennium the movement was nothing more than a few individuals who were unsatisfied with the ‘in their opinion’ moderately puristic endeavours of the Icelandic word-commissions. These men went further where the Fjölnismen had stopped. Lists of purely Icelandic geographical names, Icelandicized proper names and names of chemicals were collected. All these efforts culminated in the foundation of the ‘Language Laundry’ (Nýyrðasmiðja Málþvottahús), which brought hyperpurism into the spotlight…
Languages free of foreignisms don’t exist. From a linguistic point of view, there is no such thing as a ”pure” language. All languages (even High Icelandic) have borrowings. But there is a difference between purity and originality. A word like ‘sinkbróðir’ for ‘cadmium’ contains a loan-word, but the compound as a whole is unique in the world. In a way, this kind of genuineness could be interpreted as a form of purity. Still the High Icelandics aim at reducing as much as possible the foreign words in Icelandic that were borrowed after the first written texts. The exclusion of many words won’t necessarily lead to language impoverishment. In order to avoid that, a large part of obsolete Old Norse vocabulary will be resurrected. The result will be a hyperpure variant of modern Icelandic…
But you needn’t be Icelandic to be High Icelandic:
The future speakers of hypericelandic won’t necessarily be Icelandic. Every speaker of a Scandinavian language and last but not least every human being on this planet who is interested in Old Scandinavian culture is a potential student of Háfrónska. Geographical dispersion is no obstacle anymore in this era of mass media. It is uncertain whether we will equal the popularity of Nynorsk, but the phenomenon will be noticed.
I can’t quite shake the suspicion that this is a put-on (“Hyperpurists were presented as a bunch of clowns…”; the Language Laundry?), but I guess it’s real, and I guess it’s harmless, though the worship of “purity” gives me the hives—there’s just not a great likelihood of these people taking to the seas in reconstructed Viking ships and pillaging the world in the name of Icelandic purity. And they do have nice images of animals with High Icelandic labels. But a word of warning: “If one doesn’t master the cases, one simply can’t speak High Icelandic.”
Thanks to John Emerson for the link.
Addendum. See the discussion of the kenning factory (and of “the oddly unscientific and antiquated definition of ‘Viking’ in the Oxford English Dictionary“) at Acephalous.