Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag

Culture

The Icelandic language is in danger of disappearing

By Staff

  • Modern Icelandic Not just a key to Icelandic society but to the Sagas and other medieval sources in Old Norse. Pictured is the 13th century codex Jónsbók. Photo from the webpage of Árnastofnun

Icelandic scholars believe that the Icelandic language is facing a similar threat of becoming extinct as in the 19th century during the Danish reign of the country.

According to a new declaration by The Icelandic Language Committee (Íslensk málnefnd – link in Icelandic) the lack of quality science and scholarly content online in Icelandic is a matter of grave concern, as it creates an environment where it becomes easier for Icelanders to discuss and write about various subjects in another language than Icelandic.

The committee consists of sixteen specialists from different organisations. One of its tasks is to coin new Icelandic words (or give old words a new, modern meaning) rather than borrowing words from English or other languages for things that did not exist previously in the language (examples: phone- “sími”, computer –“tölva“, television – “sjónvarp).

Read more: Free online Icelandic course for absolute beginners

The committee also mentions the lack of a free online dictionary and encourages the government to create an action plan to preserve Icelandic in a digital world.

Language purism has been the linguistic policy in Iceland since early 19th  century when Danish linguist and language virtuoso Rasmus Christian Rask (178 –1832) wrote the first grammar of Icelandic and inspired a fierce local movement of preserving the language.

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.

The study, prepared by more than 200 experts, assessed language technology support for each language in four different areas: automatic translation, speech interaction, text analysis and the availability of language resources.

Several languages, for example Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian and Maltese, received the lowest score in all four areas.

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