The graffiti in Reykjavík is subtly different from elsewhere.

November 1st, 2013, 2pm

Part of the difference is due to the difference in alphabet — there are characters used in the Icelandic language that slip off the Americanized tongue at first, but quickly become familiar the more you use them.

Đ or đ, for example, is a very similar sound to the American ‘th.’ Therefore, an excellent viking rapper catchphrase would be ‘Đug Lyfe.’

There are numerous accented words, which, like in many cultures, indicate where the emphasis should be placed on the word. My good friend Jóna’s name, for instance, is pronounced ‘YO-nuh,’ with the emphasis on the ‘o.’

In a fascinating twist (well, fascinating to me, because I’m accustomed to the Argentine Spanish ‘ll’ sound), Iceland’s ‘ll’ sound is a strange bit of tongue acrobatics, where you will sometimes pronounce it like a ‘tl’ (as in the street name ‘Blómvallagata,’ pronounced ‘BLOME-vat-la-gat-tuh’), and sometimes as a puff of air shot out the side of the mouth (like in the word ‘Gull,’ which is a popular beer brand here, and is pronounced something like ‘Gul-th,’ but with the ‘th’ shot out the side of the mouth, over a half-stiffened tongue).

This is just a short intro to the language, of course, and it is rich with interesting pronunciations and even more interesting words that we don’t have in English. But understanding these characters helps understand the street art here; their shapes are different, and often work vertically far better than the standard American English language. As such, you end up with something that works in three-dimensions, rather than just two, and the calligraphy (usually my least favorite genre of street art) ends up being far more rich with content and meaning.

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Colin Wright

Author, entrepreneur, and full-time traveler / I move to a new country every four months based on the votes of my readers / My work ( / My blog ( / My publishing company (

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