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Iceland Mag


Icelandic is in danger of being "steamrolled" by English, cutting link to 1,000 year literary tradition

By Staff

  • Icelandic books Despite the fact that Icelanders are one of the most literate nations in the world, many fear the link provided by Icelandic to the 1000 years of written tradition could be lost. Photo/GVA.

The growing use of smartphones and growing importance of social media has raised fears that Icelandic could slowly be replaced by English. Many fear that the younger generations have only a limited grasp of Icelandic, using English concepts and idioms where there are perfectly good, or even better Icelandic alternatives.

Read more: The Icelandic language is in danger of disappearing

Is Icelandic already dead?
Kristján Hreinsson, poet and teacher, recently wrote an article for the local newspaper Stundin where he predicted that Icelandic was under imminent threat, as it was being steamrolled by English. The article, which was simply titled "Icelandic is dead", has sparked a debate about the future of Icelandic.

Kristján Hreinsson

Kristján Hreinsson Author, poet and teacher Photo/Vísir

Kristján points out that all languages eventually die out or disappear. "It is inevitable. In five hundred million years not a single soul will remember the existence of Icelandic." The real issue, Kristján argues, is not to preserve languages unchanged as some museum pieces. As communications tools languages will evolve as the social, technological, cultural and economic realities change.

Losing the connection to the cultural heritage
People need new concepts and new ways of speaking to talk about new realities. This kind of evolution, Kristján argues, is normal. At the same time, however, it was crucial that the language continues to provide a bridge to the cultural and historical heritage of the nation. Native Icelandic speakers are still able to read the Sagas, written in the High Middle Ages. Knowing modern Icelandic permits readers full and immediate access to all Icelandic culture.

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

Kristján warns that the government has under-invested in the preservation of Icelandic culture, and calls for a dramatic increase in funding for primary and secondary education, but also for grants to writers and Icelandic film makers. 

Scientists believe there are ca 7 thousand languages spoken world wide, 35% of which are in danger of dying out in the next century. Some believe the number could be even larger.

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