Technology, Tourism Is Making Icelandic Language Obsolete

The Icelandic language, which many in the country hold as a source of identity and pride, is being undermined by the widespread use of English by tourists and artificial intelligence devices that are gaining in popularity in the country, reported the Associated Press.

In a report, the AP cited linguistic experts as worrying that this could be the beginning of the end for the Icelandic language. Former President Vigdis Finnbogadottir told the AP in an interview that Iceland has to take steps to ensure the language doesn’t disappear forever. She said she is particularly concerned about programs being developed so the language can be easily used in digital technology.

“Otherwise, Icelandic will end in the Latin bin,” she warned in the report.

But it’s not only language experts that are concerned. The AP reported teachers are sensing the change among their students with Anna Jonsdottir, a teaching consultant, saying she often hears teenagers speak English among themselves when she visits schools in the capital of Iceland. What’s more, she said 15-year-old students are no longer assigned a volume from The Sagas of Icelanders, the medieval literature chronicling the early settlers of Iceland. Many high schools in the country are also waiting until students reach their senior year to read author Halldor Laxness, the 1955 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, who rests in a cemetery in West Iceland.

Behind the potential demise of the Icelandic language is tourism, which has boomed in recent years and brought with it a lot of English-speaking visitors.

“The less useful Icelandic becomes in people’s daily life, the closer we as a nation get to the threshold of giving up its use,” said Eirikur Rognvaldsson, a language professor at the University of Iceland, in the report. “Preliminary studies suggest children at their first-language acquisition are increasingly not exposed to enough Icelandic to foster a strong base for later years.”

Also compounding the problem: A lot of new computer devices are developed to understand English not Icelandic.


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