Will The New Digital Age Endanger Linguistic Diversity?

recent piece in the New York Times describes Iceland’s transition to a widespread use of English, and outlines steps the government is taking to prevent an erosion of the native tongue.

Why is Icelandic being undermined by English?

[T]he revered Icelandic language, seen by many as a source of identity and pride, is being undermined by the widespread use of English, both in the tourism industry and in the voice-controlled artificial intelligence devices coming into vogue.

Tourism has exploded in recent years, becoming the country’s single biggest employer, and analysts at Arion Bank say that half of new jobs are being filled by foreign workers.

The problem is compounded because many new computer devices are designed to recognize English but not Icelandic.

“Not being able to speak Icelandic to voice-activated fridges, interactive robots and similar devices would be yet another lost field,” [professor at the University of Iceland] Jonsson said.

In other words, tourism, the digital age, and artificial intelligence are endangering the survival of Icelandic, which is spoken by less than 400,000 people.

This trend has the potential to lead many languages to extinction in a matter of a few generations.

“The less useful Icelandic becomes in people’s daily life, the closer we as a nation get to the threshold of giving up its use,” said Eirikur Rognvaldsson, a language professor at the University of Iceland.

Time will show whether languages like Icelandic can be saved, or, like former President Ms. Finnbogadottir commented, “end in the Latin bin”.

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