21 Mar Sigur Ros – A Band With Its Own Language
Iceland is a land of the few. Only 320,000 people are claimed as citizens yet the country has its own language. When deciding to learn a new language, it is often beneficial to choose a language that is spoken by many people around the world. With the language of Icelandic, it is seldom a language learned by outsiders because of the small population that speak it natively.
Sigur Ros, a band from Reykjavik, Iceland, has decided to tackle the problem of “broad appeal” in a unique way. Jonsi, the lead singer, has decided to create his own language called “hopelandic.” Sigur Ros’ decision to sing in a constructed language has helped them grow their audience over the last ten years. Once listeners understand that nobody other than Jonsi can decipher the lyrics, it often allows them to focus on the entire wall of sound and not feel like they are missing out on an important message that are hidden in the words.
Vonlenska is a term used to describe the unintelligible lyrics sung by the band, in particular by Jónsi. It is also commonly known by the English translation of its name, Hopelandic. It takes its name from “Von”, a song on Sigur Rós’s debut album Von where it was first used.
Vonlenska is a non-literal language, without fixed syntax, and differs from constructed languages that can be used for communication. It focuses entirely on the sounds of language; lacking grammar, meaning, and even distinct words. Instead, it consists of emotive non-lexical vocablesand phonemes; in effect, Vonlenska uses the melodic and rhythmic elements of singing without the conceptual content of language. In this way, it is similar to the use of scat singing in vocal jazz. The band’s website describes it as “a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music”; it is similar in concept to the ‘nonsense’ language often used by the Cocteau Twins singer Elizabeth Fraser in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of the syllable strings sung by Jónsi are repeated many times throughout each song, and in the case of ( ), throughout the whole album.
To listen to a sample of “hopelandic”, click on the video below. Lyrics begin at 1:45 –