ICELANDIC LANGUAGE. With the Nor wegian popular dialects and Faroese, Icelandic forms the West Norse subdivision of the Scandi navian languages, as opposed to the East Norse, made up of Swedish and Danish. The his tory of Icelandic begins with the settlement of Iceland by Norwegians, principally from Western Norway, at the end of the ninth century. After this time there was gradually developed in Iceland a particular West Norwegian dialect, which, how ever, at the oat,et differed but slightly from the parent Norwegian. Only after the introduction of Christianity, about the year 1000, is it pos sible to speak of languages instead of dialects in the whole Scandinavian north, and at this time Icelandic, too. ranged itself by the side of Nor wegian, Swedish, and Danish as a separate lan guage, with characteristic differences in sounds, inflection, and vocabulary.
In the history of Icelandic it is customary to distinguish two main periods—Old Icelandic. from the settlement of the island. in the ninth century. to the Reformation. at the middle of the sixteenth century, and New Icelandic, down to the present day. Old Icelandic is further sub divided into three periods, the first of which extends from S74 until about 1200; the second, the so-called classical period, during which the principal literary works were produced. from 1200 to about 1350: and the third, or transi tional period, from 1350 to 1540. The language of the first period, at the beginning identical with that of Norway, at the end is distin guishable from it by but comparatively few differences. One of the most plainly discern ible and characteristic distinctions between the two is the retention in Icelandic of initial hl, hm, hr, whose h early disappears in Nor wegian, as it clues in Swedish and Danish, but which has remained in Icelandic, alone of all the Germanic languages. to this very day. The lan guage of the second period. on the other hand, exhibits many important changes along broad lines, in phonetic conditions and in inflectional forms, that from this time on sharply differen tiate feelandie and Norwegian. This forms an intermediary period which witnesses the gradual growth of those changes in the language whose consummation marks the beginning of the new period of Icelandie. During this whole time the language remained practically homogeneous throughout the island. and no sharply defined dialectic differences were developed. :Manuscripts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries from the west of Iceland show, it is true, characteristic phonetic conditions in certain instanees, and it is likely that others existed as between the north, west. and southeast, but none of them are im portant. From 9S3 to about 1400 Icelandic was also spoken in the settlements of Greenland, but to what extent this language deviated from that of Iceland cannot be determined from the few runic inscriptions which have come down to us.
Old Icelandic, both from the standpoint of the language itself and of the literature written in it. is by far the most important of the ancient Scandinavian languages. The sources of our knowledge of it are an almost unparalleled litera ture in prose and verse, written after the early part of the twelfth century, but often of far more ancient ultimate origin. The alphabet used is the usual Latin script of the end of the Middle Ages, introduced by way of England and modified to fit the special conditions of the language. The few runic inscriptions that exist in Iceland are unimportant from a linguistic point of view, in that they are all more recent than the oldest manuscripts written in Latin letters. The oldest conditions, however, are in many cases not to be found in the oldest manuscripts. but in poems contained in manuscripts of the thirteenth cen tury, which, as a consequence of their metrical construction. have kept forms as old. in some in stances, as the ninth century, from which early time they had been transmitted orally from gen eration to generation. The oldest manuscript that has been preserved is an inventory of the church at Reykjaholt, in Iceland, the most an cient part of which was probably written between 117S and 1193. The principal manuscript of the Elder Edda. the so-called Codex Regius. dates from the end of the thirteenth century; the prin cipal manuscript of the Snorri Edda. the so-called Codex Upsaliensis. is of the same period. The best manuscripts are all written before the mid dle of the fourteenth century. Icelandic manu scripts are both parchment and paper. The for mer medium was used from the beginning of writing, at the end of the twelfth century, down into the sixteenth century; the latter from the fifteenth century almost to the present day. Old leelandie manuscripts are preserved principally in four large collections—viz. the Arnamagmean collection, so called from the Ice lander Arni :Magnusson. who collected and gave it to the University Library in Copenhagen; the collection in the Royal Library in Copenhagen; the so-called Delagardic collection, in the Uni versity Library in Upsala. Sweden; and the col lection in the Royal Library in Stockholm. Be sides these, there are a few manuscripts in the University Library in Christiania. Norway: in the British :Museum, in London ; the Bodleian Library, in Oxford: the Advocates' Library, in Edinburgh: in Gcrmany. in Wolfenbiittel. Tithimam: in Utrecht. Holland : in Vienna and Paris. No manuscripts of importance whatever have been left in Iceland, with the exception of the Reykjaholt inventory. which is a single quarto leaf of parchment preserved in the public archives in Reykjavik.