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Reading at Rótarskot

Last Sunday, I attended Rótarskot, an event put on as part of the program of Listahátíð í Reykjavík (Reykjavík Arts Festival). The event was held at the Árni Magnússon Institute's new building, Edda – the fortress of Iceland's most precious cultural heritage: its saga manuscripts and, in a way, the very language itself.

According to the event description:

The Icelandic language is entwined with the history of the people who have called this island home through the ages - in poverty and abundance, joy and sorrow, faced with natural and political unrest. Now, with approximately a fifth of the population being first or second generation immigrants, a growing number of individuals are embracing the language in fresh and innovative ways.

Coordinated by the award-winning Icelandic author Pedro Gunnlaugur Garcia, the event included readings from some of Iceland's best migrant authors and poets: Ewa Marcinek, Helen Cova, Mao Alheimsdóttir and Elias Knörr. There were also discussions about the 'Love Language' project by the Borgarbokasafn Menningarhús, the Reykjavík City Library & Culture House. This project invites people to come up with new words and terms that Iceland doesn't yet have, to include them into the Icelandic language. This could be anything from a term or idiom that comes from another country but without a correlate in Icelandic, through to changing pronoun use, or developing terms that are more inclusive. The creation of new words is a sort of game in Iceland, with respect given to new words that both fit well within the Icelandic lexicon, sound appropriately Icelandic, and which convey some new or interesting idea.

Photo credit: Martyna Daniel.

Another part of the program invited audience members to contribute to the discussion. Based on the Icelandic saga book Landnáma (Book of Settlements), in which the names and arrival of thousands of settlers in Iceland were written, audience members were invited to write their own settlement stories for the modern era. Once written, they were invited up to the stage to read out their contributions.

Reflecting on my own experience, I seized the opportunity to share my imperfect and brief piece of writing. Reading a passage in Icelandic in front of a room full of fluent speakers was daunting and yet rewarding, demonstrating the inclusive and supportive atmosphere the event was seeking to create.

Here's what I read (although due to time constraints, I didn't get to write up some of it):

Christopher Marcatili fæddist í Ástralíu og vildi ferðast til fjarlægs staðar. Hann vildi rannsaka fólk og menningu. Staðurinn sem hann fann var eins langt í burtu og hægt var: Ísland. Þegar hann kom var það kaldasti og dimmasti mánuðurinn. En þrátt fyrir að veturinn hafi verið krefjandi, naut Christopher nýrrar reynslu sinnar og vonast til að vera í mörg ár í viðbót. En hér er dregið úr flóknum orðum hans og hugmyndum. Hann segir: Ég kem. Ég bý. Ég læri. Ég les. Ég lifi af.

This roughly translates to:

Born in Australia, Christopher Marcatili wanted to travel to a distant place. He wanted to study people and culture.The place he found was as far away as possible: Iceland. When he arrived, it was the coldest, darkest month. But even though winter was challenging, Christopher enjoyed his new experiences and hopes to stay for many more years. But here, his words and ideas become simple. He says: I arrive. I live. I study. I read. I survive.

Thanks to Pedro and the festival for putting on such a great event!

Edda, Háskóli Íslands



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