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Anger over "Black Friday" ads: A direct attack on the Icelandic language

By Staff

  • An Invasive Species American Consumerism is now threatening the Icelandic language. Bragi Valdimar, left, a host of popular TV programs on the Icelandic language, is furious that local retailers refused to translate the term "Black Friday" into Icelandic. Photo/Hanna-Visir.is

Many who are concerned over the future of the Icelandic language are "seething with anger" over the refusal of numerous Icelandic retailers to translate the term "Black Friday" into Icelandic, the local news site visir.is reports. 

In recent years a growing number of Icelandic retailers has adopted the American practice of offering a pre-Christmas sale on various popular items on the day after the US holiday Thanksgiving. The Friday papers were full of advertisements for these sales. But while many translated the term into Icelandic, many simply used to English. 

Read more: Free online Icelandic course for absolute beginners

Black Friday

Black Friday or Svartur Föstudagur Icelandic retailers advertise Black Friday in English, rather than Icelandic. Photo/Vísir

"Black Friday" has its origins in the US, where it marks the beginning of the Holiday shopping season on the Friday following the US holiday Thanksgiving. While Icelanders don't celebrate Thanksgiving local retailers have sought to take advantage of the attention given to US Black Friday sales events in the media to draw people to their own sales. What worries scholars and those concerned for the future of the Icelandic language is not the introduction of an American tradition but the unwillingness of retailers to come up with an Icelandic name for this tradition.

Bragi Valdimar Skúlason, who has hosted popular shows on the Icelandic language for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, told the local radio station Bylgjan that he had "steam venting from his ears", he was so angry over the ads. "I'm going about my day, constantly assaulted by advertisements for Black Friday. I can't but curse and cuss constantly over this!".

He added that there were several excellent translations of the English term to Icelandic. "It's not like we lack the words in Icelandic". Bragi told Bylgjan that he believed at the end of the day this was a question of herd behavior by advertisers and retailers who were afraid of doing something different than the competition, and laziness. "They think it is lame or out of touch with the fads of the day to come up with an Icelandic concept."

Some advertisers defended their use of the term "Black Friday" in English by claiming they wanted to appeal to foreign travellers in Iceland. Bragi rejected this defense saying many visitors seemed to appreciate the Icelandic language: "Foreigners come here to see and experience Iceland and they appreciate seeing and hearing Icelandic spoken and written."

Read more: The Icelandic language is in danger of disappearing

The invasion of "Black Friday" into Icelandic culture is only one of many threats facing the language. In recent years experts have grown increasingly concerned over the future of the Icelandic language, some fearing it might disappear completely. A study by Europe's leading language technology experts published in 2012 rated Icelandic in grave danger of facing digital extinction because of a lack of technological support.

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