Icelandic Heritage in North America


A celebration of cultural inheritance and the evolution of language

Mapping the language, literature, and history of Icelandic immigrants and their descendants, this collection, translated and expanded for English-speaking audiences, delivers a comprehensive overview of Icelandic linguistic and cultural heritage in North America. Drawn from the findings of a three-year study involving over two hundred participants from Manitoba, North Dakota, Saskatchewan, and the Pacific West Coast, Icelandic Heritage in North America reveals the durability and versatility of the Icelandic language.

Editors Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, Höskuldur Thráinsson, and Úlfar Bragason bring together a range of interdisciplinary scholarship to investigate the endurance of the “Western Icelander.” Chapters delve into the literary works of Icelandic immigrant writers and interpret archival letters, newspapers, and journal entries to provide both qualitative and quantitative linguistic analyses and to mark significant cultural shifts between early settlement and today.

Icelandic Heritage in North America offers an in-depth examination of Icelandic immigrant identity, linguistic evolution, and legacy.


Icelandic Heritage in North America [offers] vivid portrayals of societal changes through the generations—a refreshing new look at what is often presented as a steady, inevitable march of assimilation.”

David Jón Fuller, Winnipeg Free Press

About the Authors

Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir is an Associate Professor in English at the University of Iceland.

Höskuldur Thráinsson is professor emeritus of Modern Icelandic Linguistics at the University of Iceland, former dean of the Faculty of Humanities, chair of the Centre for the Humanities, and director of the Institute of Linguistics.

Úlfar Bragason is professor emeritus at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies and former director of the Sigurður Nordal Institute at the University of Iceland.

Other contributors: Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, Eliza Reid, Birna Bjarnadóttir, Guðrún Björk Guðsteinsdóttir, Kristín M. Jóhannsdóttir, Dagný Kristjánsdóttir, Sigríður Magnúsdóttir, Alda Möller, Laura Moquin, Iris Edda Nowenstein, Katelin Parsons, Gísli Sigurðsson, Ásta Svavarsdóttir, Ólafur Arnar Sveinsson, Vilhelm Vilhelmsson, Matthew Whelpton, Kirsten Wolf

Table of Contents

Foreword by Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Eliza Reid, President and First Lady of Iceland


  1. Moving a language between continents: Icelandic language communities 1870-1914
  2. Icelanders and America: What is it to be Vestur-Íslendingur?
  3. Acculturation on their own terms: The social networks of political radicals among Icelandic immigrants in Canada in the early twentieth century
  4. The Barnason brothers in Nebraska: Two pioneer farmers
  5. Ralph E. Halldorson and the Great War
  6. Icelandic immigrants, modernity, and Winnipeg in Einar Hjörleifsson Kvaran’s “Hopes”
  7. Another emigrant ship crossing the Atlantic: The poetics of migration in the poetry of Undína and Stephan G. Stephansson
  8. The young Icelander grows up: Nationalism and ethnic identity in Jóhann Magnús Bjarnason’s life and work
  9. Icelandic-Canadian oral lore: New life in a new land and how the women's tales may shed light on the classification of the Edda poems
  10. Raven tracks across the Prairies: Icelandic immigration and manuscript culture in the Canadian West
  11. World meanings in North American Icelandic: More North American or more Icelandic?
  12. Understanding complex sentences in a heritage language
  13. "And the dog is sleeping too": The use of the progressive in North American Icelandic
  14. Language and Identity: The case of North American Icelandic
  15. The Heritage Language Project: Impact and implications