There is real danger of the Icelandic language having disappeared in a 100 years time, because we can’t use it in some of the most important areas of our everyday life.
Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, professor of Icelandic grammar, made this claim in TV show Orðbragð, on RÚV.
He points out that our everyday lives are becoming more and more dependent on devices operated by computer technology, devices that more frequently are operated with voice command.
“The more our everyday lives become a field where we can’t use our mother tongue – which is not something happening to an isolated group of people, but all Icelanders – the more danger it is that people give up on the language, thinking: ‘Why bother learning this language, why don’t we just switch over and start using English so we can be competitive in a modern world?’”
According to a research that Eiríkur participated in, the danger of this is real.
A 2012 report on the status of 30 European languages showed whether software exists to enable those speaking the languages to use only their mother tongue when using IT.
The Icelandic language was classified as a language in danger of digital death, ranking 29th, with only Maltese being in more danger of becoming digitally extinct.
“It’s very understandable that Icelandic is in such a bad place because it’s just as expensive to translate software and databases for 300,000 people as it is for a group of 300 million. And it’s obvious we’ll never be able to adjust all the databases or software that exist in the more spread out languages. But I do believe that unless we make an effort, or at least try to catch up with this trend, there’s real danger of the Icelandic language being extinct in 100 years,” Eiríkur told RÚV.
This evolution has been likened to the overturn following the printing technology, noting that the languages that didn’t adapt to the print culture are more or less extinct today.
Since the report was published however, the Icelandic Organization of the Visually Impaired has had an Icelandic speech synthesizer made, that reads Icelandic texts out loud.
And Google has made effort in providing Icelandic voice command for computers and some types of mobile phones.
“But we don’t have any control over this; it is Google that own this technology and we can’t use it for just any devices we have here. Google can decide at any point to stop offering this service or start charging us for it or whatever. We need to create our own software, that we have ownership of and can use however we like,” Eiríkur said.
Very little has moved in that direction since the report was published. It was discussed briefly in Parliament but no funding followed.