Icelanders - Orientation

Identification. Icelanders speak Icelandic and trace their origins to settlers who came from Norway in the ninth century. According to the Icelandic literary-historic tradition, it was an early settler who gave the island its foreboding name when he was forced to return to Norway because he fished and hunted all summer and failed to lay up hay for his livestock. Today Icelanders enjoy a long life expectancy and one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Location. Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, located between Greenland and Norway, just south of the Arctic Circle. It covers 103,000 square kilometers, of which about 1,000 are cultivated, 20,000 pasture, 12,000 covered by glaciers, and 67,000 covered by lava, sands, and other wastelands. Volcanic activity continues. The Gulf Stream moderates the climate. The average annual temperature in Reykjavik, the capital, is 5° C. January averages —0.4° C and July 11.2° C. Average annual precipitation in Reykjavik is 80.5 centimeters.

Demography. The total 1983 population was 237,894, about 2.3 persons per square kilometer. There were 128,221 people living in the area of the capital, and 87,106 in Reykjavik itself. There were 211,716 living in towns and villages of more than 200 people, and 26,178 in rural areas.

Linguistic Affiliation. Icelandic is a Germanic language akin to Norwegian. Some call medieval Icelandic, the language of the Icelandic historic-literary tradition, Old Norse. Icelandic retains the full case structure, and some claim it is virtually unaltered since medieval times, though many modern Icelanders disagree. There are no family names. Everyone has one or two names and is referred to as son or daughter after his or her father. Directories are organized alphabetically by first name.

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