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Icelandic language

The Future of the Icelandic Language 

The Icelandic language is as close as you can get today to the language of the Vikings. Brought to the Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th century, it is the closest living language to Old Norse.  But is the modern digital age threatening to wipe out Icelandic?

It depends on who you ask.

If the latest headlines are to believed, Icelandic is on its last legs. Here’s a sampling:

Icelandic Language At Risk Of Extinction As Robots And Computers Struggle To Understand It – IFLScience.com
Computers don’t even understand it: Icelandic people worrying their language is facing extinction- Associated Press
Low Wages And Digital Death: Icelandic In Crisis

Is the future really all that bleak? Let’s find out.

Is the Icelandic Language in Danger?

At this point, Icelandic is not endangered.  It’s not even classified as vulnerable or threatened. It’s the official language of Iceland. It has 331,000 native speakers. That may not seem like a lot compared to English. But it’s well over the “magic number” of 35,000 that economist David Clingingsmith recently identified as the number of speakers need to keep a language safe (assuming he’s correct).

And most importantly, Icelanders are still teaching the language to their children.

So why all the alarmist headlines?

Icelandic and the Rise of the Machines (That Speak English)

Over the past decade, Icelanders have become increasingly concerned about the cultural presence of the English language.  Knowledge of English is widespread in Iceland.  Because English is so prevalent on the Internet, Icelandic people (especially Millenials) have more reason to use it than ever before.

Then, there’s the rise of the machines: Siri, Google  Now, Alexa, GPS systems . . . it’s now possible to speak to so many of your gadgets and have them talk back . . . in English. Read more