The Icelandic Language “digital extinction” ?


Iceland’s ancient language is under threat. From the Internet. – In maybe 20 years, nobody will speak Icelandic anymore. The Icelandic government is spending millions of dollars to keep its language alive. Icelandic citizens are updating their vocabulary with new words. – The Icelandic version of mansplaining is hrútskýring. Mr. Explanation: “I know everything.” And the government wants technology to speak Icelandic, too. – You have to be able to speak to your refrigerator. As we live more and more of our lives online, Icelandic, like thousands of other languages, is at risk of digital extinction. Most digital devices only work in a handful of languages. So Iceland’s government is trying to Big Tech to speak Icelandic. I’m Caitlin Hu. This is Quartz. This is Iceland’s language planning department. A small group of scholars who create the words that Icelanders will need to navigate the future. – This is really the battlefield, because if we lose important fields, people start to look at the language as not complete, and it starts to become just a hobby or something then. English loanwords dominate conversations around the world, especially when it comes to fields like finance and technology. To stop Icelanders from depending on English, the language planning department works with dozens of specialized committees to invent terms for everything from medical conditions to foreign foods. – So the words that you should not use these are derived from outside words? Like canvas, capers! Okay. – Not pure enough. Contemporary Icelandic is nearly identical to the language of the Icelandic sagas written more than a thousand years ago. And one way committees create new words is by combining ancient Viking words, such as “völva” meaning prophetess and “tala,” which means number. – From these two words you make the word “tölva” for computer. The campaign to keep Icelandic pure is working. Icelanders do use tölva for computer, along with the Icelandic words for emoji and artificial intelligence. But for a language to thrive in the digital age, machines need to speak it too. Few tech companies are willing to invest in a language spoken by only 320,000 people. So Siri and Alexa, for example, don’t offer an Icelandic option. – The problem here is that it’s nearly as expensive to make it for Icelandic language as for English, so it costs a lot. Iceland’s Ministry of Education has budgeted more than 20 million dollars to create an Icelandic language database. Their goal is to make it free for any company to incorporate Icelandic into their products, anywhere in the world. – The government really made a five year plan, I think, and put rather large funds into this to make this possible for Iceland. So hopefully we are not too late. Icelanders worry that the youngest generation has less and less use for their native language. – So how old are you guys? – Twelve. – You guys speak English? – Yes. – How did you learn English? – School and the Internet. – Watching YouTube. – What are you watching on YouTube? – Minecraft. – I Don’t actually watch YouTube. – I just watch like Netflix, “Friends.” – You watch “Friends” on Netflix? – Yeah. – And it’s all in English? – Yeah. – You can’t watch it in Icelandic? – No. – There’s nothing that exists that’s called “Friends” in Icelandic. – The impact of technology in digital tools sort of cuts both ways. This is Ross Perlin, co-director of the Endangered Language Alliance, a New York City non-profit that documents and describes languages, some so endangered they’re spoken by fewer than a thousand people. – Larger languages are further strengthened by all digital tools that stand behind them. But at the same time, there are spaces online for smaller languages. Almost half of the world’s 7000 languages are at risk of extinction, losing them means losing more than just words. – From a scientific point of view, from a linguistic point of view, just undeniably there is an incredible amount of knowledge about history, the world, ecology, plants, animals, life-saving, critical information that is encoded and is in these languages and can’t, and shouldn’t, be just extracted surgically. Icelandic benefits from a long literary history, and a wealthy national government that considers the construction and maintenance of Icelandic words as important as the construction and maintenance of Icelandic roads. But Icelanders have realized that if they want their language to survive, they have to reach beyond their borders and make sure they’re part of the digital conversation, too.

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95 thoughts on “The Icelandic Language “digital extinction” ?

  1. Damn, Icelanders sound like Scandinavian welsh people, I thought their accents would be more Scandinavian

  2. We have the same problem here in France with Breton language (a celtic one) which tends to disappear, but absolute 0 effort is made by french gouvernment

  3. Should implement something like what japan did I guess. Making their language the first language and giving a second place to English and enforce some strict rules. But maybe it’s too late now.

  4. .
    LANGUAGES in Stateless nations like Wales are MUCH MORE likely to go extinct than languages like Icelandic ….. because Iceland has total control over policy and funding…………..many languages without the backing of the state are in the real problem …. Icelandic will cling on much longer than Breton or many indigeneous languages

  5. Nice video. Maybe both the pros and cons of conserving these tiny pockets of languages should be considered. For example: there are benefits to having very large segments of the human population of the planet be able to verbally communicate without having to rely on translating technology or hand gestures. Another example (one pointed out in the video): there is a great amount of resources (time, money, brainpower) spent of propping up these smaller languages when those resources could be better spent on other things. When a interviewee says that the says that "knowledge should not just be surgically extracted" the obvious question should be asked: Why not?
    I don't necessarily agree with those points, but those are just some rather obvious examples of counterpoints from a devil's advocate.

  6. 350.000 as total population only? Many villages in India or even Russian Siberia has more population than Iceland’s total population. Forget about language. The country itself needs an urgent baby boom if it wants to survive for next decade. It is the first time even a micro country like Malta defeats another country with its 450.000 population. 😂
    I can understand and totally agree why no one even bothers to invest for Icelandic in first place.

  7. If everyone in the world could speak one language think about how fast and how far we could move as a society! I'm all for preserving history, but let's translate the old texts, extract any valuable "scientific information", and move full steam ahead! If everyone spoke the same language with the same accent everywhere across the globe economies, science, the arts, overall quality of life and many other things would surge forward!

  8. OK, I understand that there isn't much digital provision for Icelandic, but there are two observations to make about this that are not addressed in the article:

    Firstly, Icelandic must be far from alone in this. What about languages such as Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Catalan, Basque, Tongan, Samoan, etc?

    Secondly, why would the lack of digital availability of your native tongue mean that you cease to know or speak the language physically with your friends, family, and society? It makes no sense. It has been documented that Welsh-speaking youths tend to text in English and use English on social media, but it doesn't stop them using Welsh in the ‘real’ world with those around them.

    If Icelandic is falling out of everyday use by its native speakers, then surely there must be a deeper problem than technological advancement. I can't hazard a guess at what that might be, but it must exist because without it, the concern that Icelandic is becoming endangered would be ill-founded.

  9. Tried to learn Icelandic when I was younger because I like the way it sounds….I couldn't. 🤣 It was easier to learn some Japanese and Mandarin.

  10. I think it's people's choice to be very good at the strongest language that is available than to learn any language that would ultimately loose it's relevance one day, I would be very surprised if there would be more than 1000 spoken languages up to the end of this century.

  11. Please!!Quartz do "balocchi" language it's on the same page, thank u. Per favore!!Quartz voi fate la lingua "balocci"perché abbiamo lo stesso problema , grazie .

  12. Wow, Quarz, you gave a voice to your videos! Good for you 😊 I really like your news site and wish you all the success 😊

  13. IT IS NOT FACING DIGITAL EXTENSION this is very silly. Iceland just needs to improve their ways of TEACHING the language to both natural and foreign speakers of the language and stop putting those who can speak the language at the top of the social and economic hierarchy in the country. it's v xenophobic. they just don't like that kids keep using English slang…

  14. Great video guys!
    I'd love to see a video on the Irish language as well! I know only a small amount of prople in the Gaeltacht speak Irish all the time and are fluent in it while the rest of the country only learns it for exams and forgets it after school. The government tries to promote learning it but the best they do is put Irish alongside English on signs.

  15. While it is a loss to lose languages, it's going to happen no matter what we do, it's just more efficient to have one wold language, and I think we will get there eventually. I think it is equally important to translate all documents in these failing languages to a major language as fast as possible as it is to try and protect these languages from extinction. If extinction is coming you can't stop it only stall it, so you might aswell have a good backup of everything before it comes.

  16. Icelandic will survive the digital age. It is the national language of a people with a proud culture and history.
    Also as noted, the icelandic government has invested funds to make their language accessible and reliavant.

    However lots of languages with are not national ones will fade. Those that don't have educated speakers are disappearing.
    Those of isolated groups living in a dominate culture that speaks another language especially are vulerable.
    Endangered languages are minor languages that don't have a champion or prestige.
    And language wars exist in many countries and there will always be loosers.

    This happens in european countries too. France is an example. French is the only official in that country.
    Minority languages and peoples are ignored. The national policy is only to promote french culture and language.
    Bretton, Provencial, Languedocien and alike are seem as relics of the past. And tongues only old people speak.

  17. No it’s not? Icelandic is not going extinct, children are still speaking it and it’s being taught in schools. It might become endangered later on, but it’s really simplifying the problem to say Icelandic is at risk at the moment.

  18. Many of the people in the video think young Icelanders, such as myself, just stop talking Icelandic. But I speak Icelandic in real life and English when needed., mostly online. In my opinion the problem is more that English is being used in stores and other services instead of Icelandic. People like my grandfather speak only Icelandic and he goes to stores and people there only speak english and he doesn´t understand it. In my opinion people who have jobs that include talking to Icelandic civilians, should speak the language.

  19. Since everyone speaks Icelandic in Iceland and the government has control over what languages are taught in school. I have absolutely no worries that Icelandic will go extinct. And I am Icelandic btw

  20. This is quite interesting to watch as im an icelandic. Its true that icelandic is dying. But thats due to popular media like youtube netflix, youtube and basicly any cartoons. I started to learn english when i was a 4 years old due to watching cartoon network. I have seen it many times that kids and teenagers use english words when they dont remember the word on icelandic. We call it "sletta". I really dont know how to translate it but it means when people use other languages to talk when talking other languages. Fx i be talking to my friend in icelandic and i just use the word randomly in english and its becoming a bit to much of a normal thing.

  21. It is a shame that they do not offer more platforms to learn icelandic – they do have a few amazing courses, but they do not have for example a package in duolingo. Or newer, more popular ways to learn. There are plenty of people intrigued by their music and culture.

  22. The modern English language is itself a hybrid language and bears little resemblance to the original Englisc spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. It doesn't bother to find an English equivalent of a foreign word but simply adopts it and sometimes Anglicizes it for reasons of pronunciation. Most words classed as English are not English at all and the majority of English speakers don't give it a thought and have no understanding of preserving the language because this evolution of the language has been a process going on for centuries. New terms are coined every day out of popularity and not because of some academy or specialist team of linguistic experts.

  23. Mansplaining? You had to choose a sexist word in your video?

    You somehow knew that racial slurs would be unacceptable, but sexism escaped your judgment.

  24. Icelandic is quite a difficult language, but still not as difficult as Chinese (Mandarin). I'm currently learning it and mis-pronouncing even one letter can lead to a completely different word. In the end, it pays off, as does learning any language.

  25. let me tell you a story because I´m bored. I work in a pool in the summer in Iceland and most of the people there are tourists. they are most often very nice. It has happened a few times that people have tried to ask me something in russian or polish or something and I try to talk to them in english. but they don´t speak english………how do these people travel here without speaking english?

  26. This is happening with Indian languages too, except theres hundreds of millions of speakers, and nobody has a spine enough to try and preserve it.

  27. As-salāmu ʿalaykum 🙏🏻
    • English: Peace be upon you
    • Arabic: السلام عليكم
    • Bahasa Indonesian: Salam sejahtera bagimu
    • Japanese:平和はあなたにあります

  28. in a world full of discussion of the diversity of gender, nutrition end else…

    We are losing our most fundamental diversity, cultural.

    Some languages are going to disappear, and others are going in a transformation to mainstream languages.

  29. i'm Icelandic, and i do agree that the younger generation is using less and less Icelandic, its most likely just me but i am sooooo lost in my native language that i cant really read a book without having to translate some words into English every 2 min

  30. I am from Hongkong and we use Cantonese over there, and there are no where our language is used in any digital stuff, cuz the writing system is not yet standardized. and people rather using Mandarin writing system instead of hoping to have our own language's one

  31. We should be making an effort across the world for everyone to be fluent in English. A culture is not defined by it's language, it's only a small part of it. Living in such an interconnected world and being able to communicate with anyone would be a huge benefit to humanity.

  32. How about letting native Americans teach their languages at school?

    Or you can just IGNORE US and help people OVER SEAS instead, yeah sounds about white

  33. We have the same problem here in Sweden, especially for those who speak old dialects. There is a lot of useful words from my home region that describes nature, places and situations waaaay better then Riksvenska do. But sadly I only know a handfull of people who still use them. Me and my brothers will trie to teach the younger coming generations as we get older but it feels like a loosing battle 🙁

  34. My mother tongue is Chinese which is the most spoken language in the world by population. From my personal experience, even Chinese is deemed inferior to English by many people. Many Chinese speaker don’t care about learning Chinese at all. Therefore, it’s no surprise language like Icelandic would be in huge trouble.

  35. “obscure words” my black and indigenous ass. Words are culture. It’s not freakin obscure

  36. So they doing exactly what tried our national revivalists from 19th century, but after their death we turned back to germanisms or russianisms 😀

  37. Yanta is one of my favorite words. It's Spanish for tire. I just think it's the perfect sounds for it's definition. And funny if using in an insulting manner

  38. Another problem: Hollywood doesn’t like to make movies in foreign languages and subtitle them. Leaving to an anglophonic monopoly in the worlds biggest media producer.

  39. I want to add arabic subtitle to this video. How can I add the subtitle while the CC button is off? Is there a platform (like amara.org) that Quartz use to add subtitles??

    Greeting!

  40. 🖐🏼Hi 5 to that kiddo watches friends on Netflix. Hopefully this beautiful language will never extinct, and hopefully in the near future there would be Icelandic subtitles for Friends!!!

  41. 01:45 no, they were written in the 12-13th centuries. however, some of the events written about took place over a 1000 years ago

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