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Icelandic language at risk due to voice command tech

24 Apr 2017

The Icelandic language is at risk of dying out, due to the widespread use of English in mass tourism and especially in voice-controlled artificial intelligence devices becoming a part of every day life (damn you, Siri).

Icelandic is derived from Old Norse language, and is fascinatingly unique. For example, "Solarfri" is a very normal phrase which translates to "when staff get an unexpected afternoon off to enjoy good weather."

Another example of the interesting Icelandic language: Hundslappadrifa means "heavy snowfall with large flakes occurring in calm wind."

Unfortunately the rise of voice control and activation in almost every new piece of technology means that the Icelandic language is suffering due to lack of optimisation and the widespread use of English in such technology.

Fewer than 400,000 people speak Icelandic, and linguists are hypothesising that this is how the language dies.

According to The Associated Press, Former President Vigdis Finnbogadottir is adamant that Iceland must take preventative measures now in order to preserve their language. Her primary concern is that programs should be developed so that Icelandic can easily be used and translated in everyday digital technology.

"Otherwise, Icelandic will end in the Latin bin," Finnbogadottir says.

The change is affecting schools as well. Anna Jonsdottir, a teaching consultant, says teenagers speaking English amongst themselves at schools in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavík.

Jonsdottin says high school aged students are no longer assigned compulsory reading from the Sagas of Icelanders, medieval piece of literature which documents the tales of  early settlers of Iceland. It has long been a thing to be proud of for Icelanders, to be able to fluently read the tales of their ancestors.

"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,  language professor at the University of Iceland.

Icelandic is ranked high on the list of languages with the least support across digital technology, along with Irish Gaelic, Latvian, Maltese and Lithuanian.

It would be a legitimate tragedy, in my opinion, to see such a unique and treasured language die because of lack of integration across digital technology platforms. 

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