Icelandic language battles threat of ‘digital extinction’

Jon Henley from The Guardian reports that ‘Iceland’s mother tongue and cultural identity is drowning in an online ocean of English‘. Henley notes that Icelandic is spoken only by some 340,000 people, and it doesn’t import words for new phenomena, rather, new words are drawn from the Norse vocabulary, so they look and sound like Icelandic. This retains a pure language that adapts to today’s technology, even if, as he notes, Siri and Alexa don’t understand them. But since the online world which is now a large part of daily life, speaks English, and not much Icelandic, children especially are not building the necessary base in their native tongue. ‘English may not be the enemy – in principle, multilingualism is obviously a good thing – but its sheer weight and variety online are overwhelming, said Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, a professor of Icelandic language and linguistics at the University of Iceland, and member of an ongoing research study on the topic. Icelandic is not alone in this situation: As many as 21 European languages are potentially at risk of ‘digital extinction‘, according to research from the Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance (META).