Relative to the global population, Icelandic is spoken by only a handful of people. As English continues to prop up its status as the lingua franca of the West, we at the Grapevine were wondering what the future of Icelandic looks like. We sought an answer to this question from Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, professor emeritus in Icelandic Language and Linguistics.
Eiríkur told us that since Icelandic is used in all the domains of society (for example in government and administration, education, media and cultural life), it’s on firm footing in Iceland and should therefore be safe. However, during the last decade, Iceland has gone through dramatic societal and technological changes that have led to a massive increase in the use of the English language in the community, which has in turn increased the external pressure on the Icelandic language.
According to Eiríkur, the survival of Icelandic depends entirely on its users. The language community needs to value Icelandic by raising awareness of its cultural importance. It is also vital to put more effort into teaching Icelandic to immigrants.
If the language community doesn’t continue using Icelandic in all domains of society and teaching it to foreigners, the language might lose its position and become endangered.
However, Eiríkur points out that English is not the enemy, and that Icelanders should respect people’s right to speak it if they haven’t learned Icelandic. If the community continues valuing Icelandic, it can have a prosperous future.
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