What’s in a name?

Last month, and more recently the past few days, the volcano beneath the Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland has been erupting, causing disruption in air travel and huge economic losses. Being passionate about languages, I can’t help but grin from ear to ear when I think about the whole ordeal.

First and foremost, Eyjafjallajökull is the name of the glacier that covers the volcanic caldera, therefore saying that Eyjafjallajökull is a volcano is semantically wrong. However, given that the volcano itself is nameless, I suppose that it’s not a big deal. Saying that, though, is a big problem.

While foreign journalists have attempted to pronounce the name, failed miserably and caused much amusement among people from Iceland (see the Language Log for more about it), Italian journalists — being Italians — fixed the problem right from the root: they just say and write “il vulcano islandese”, that is: the Icelandic volcano. That works, I suppose, but I can’t help being a bit bothered by the fact that Iceland is literally covered with volcanoes, and I smugly grin at the thought of another one erupting. Are they going to assign letters to them? Icelandic volcano A, Icelandic volcano B, and so on?

One thing I noticed during the current, smaller eruption, is that more and more sources – news websites and general contents – are simplifying the name into Eyjafjallajokull. Where did the umlaut diacritic go? And is this the result of savage cut and paste, or have people started typing it out, and shrugged at the exotic mark?

Why people think that diacritics can be easily dismissed is beyond me. If it is there, there must be a reason. Why disrespect a foreign word like that? Then again, I take the matter so seriously that my eyes hurt when I see people use the wrong accent mark, and you have no idea how often that happens in Italian.

I shrugged and sighed this morning, when I saw that the local newspaper had spelled it Eyjafjallajokul: first the umlaut, then the last letter. At this pace, it’s going to be called Ey before we know it.

Anyway, for those interested, Wikipedia has a section about the etymology of Eyjafjallajökull. Gotta love agglutinative languages, right?