Svartur. (Icelandic: black) The color of much of Iceland.
As I understand, the a and u are both long in the German manner. In English vowels: SFAAAHR-toor. And the little t is not aspirated: just a cold click on the top of the mouth, no spittle, like switching off a light.
Very fun to say. I hear the word behind me, in a deep yet female voice, and imagine turning to see a black-haired, white skinned young woman in iridescent dark green standing on a black volcanic plain that rushes away toward black mountains. (No, not a goth, dudes! She was there before goths were invented, though the Goths had been ...) In the distance, a horde of men in black armor on black horses flow over the black plain, only the spears and buckles glittering silver under the moon. Racing toward us perhaps, but not closing the gap; there is time to say SVAR-tur, SVAR-tur, SVAR-tur many times before they arrive.
The pleasure of starting into any new language is the discovery of sounds. And as always, you start with approximations, quick hits on how to use your mouth, however trained, to get to a sound that is fun to say. (Whether it's accurate can wait for another day.) In the case of Icelandic, what I hear is what German would sound like if Germany were bigger, emptier, less forested -- more like Iceland, in other words. Icelandic seems designed to bounce off of far, sheer walls of granite, and return sounding like the voice of a Norse god -- oceanic vowels, sibilants, and trills rolling over each other like clashing armies or lava flows, each phoneme annihilating the last as though it had never been.
(Except for all the little syllables that just vanish in spoken text, but are still there, confusing me, on the page.)
I've just closed the deal for a visit to Reykjavik, Iceland, around the autumnal equinox. I will be in rooms talking with people about transit planning, while Zach combs the famously austere countryside for photos. Obviously I will never speak Icelandic better than the least educated Icelander speaks English by the age of five. The professional use of learning a bit is mainly to be able to pronounce placenames reasonably well -- an important skill in my biz, where I talk about local geography a lot. And of course I'll try to learn to say thank you (Takk fyrir!) and a few similar things correctly, the minor lubricants of otherwise English conversations that tell the locals I know where I am.
The linguist John McWhorter pointed out, as I'm sure many others have, that the languages of conquerors and centralized administrators tend to get stripped of complexity. This is because people having to learn the language as adults (the conquered, in one sense or another) will outnumber its native speakers, so their simplifications will gradually penetrate the language. We can all see this happening to English now, but the same thing has happened to all conquering tongues -- Latin, Spanish, Persian, Mandarin, Arabic -- at least in their standard forms. By contrast, non-conquering languages, especially those with relatively few speakers, can be infinitely complex, opaque and counterintuitive, because almost nobody learns them as adults. Practically everyone who speaks them learned them as children, and children can learn anything without needing it to make sense.
I can already feel that about Icelandic as compared, say, to standard German. I've only been studying it for two hours and the phonics are clearly far more mysterious and subtle. There's some weird thing going with double-L; in Icelandic it sounds like t. There's also a terminal nn that sounds a lot like t. There are places where r sounds like s. In fact, a lot of Icelandic consonants seem to seize up, turn into dusty clicks and gasps of Beckettian austerity, especially at the ends of words. Yet I know that each of them is subtly different to the native, and I will have to do my best to get them all straight.
But I'll also say fun words for fun. And if some tall guy with a deep voice is walking around Reykjavik at night intoning SVAR-tur! SVAR-tur! (black! black!) they'll probably just identify him as another existentialist tourist in search of the true platonic form of darkness. They must get people like that all the time.