Siri Threatens The Icelandic Language - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Siri Threatens The Icelandic Language

Photos by
Julia Staples

As the Icelandic language faces tough competition from English influences, Icelandic authorities focus efforts on what needs to be done.

Ozy.com reports that while the Icelandic language is not currently in decline, its future relevance to younger generations poses a growing concern. Recent studies show that 30% of 13- to 15-year-olds speak English with their friends and with exposure to technologies such as Siri and Alexa, younger generations are increasingly learning to value the English language over Icelandic.

Ári Páll Kristinsson, head of the Language Planning Department at the Árni Magnússon Institute of Icelandic Studies, refuses to watch the decline of the Icelandic language from the sidelines. Last year, he received funding from the Icelandic government to develop language technologies in Icelandic. With Icelandic versions of Siri, Alexa, GPS, and other talking robots, Kristinsson hopes to protect Icelandic from English.

The project is still in its development stages. Creating speech synthesis and speech recognition for the Icelandic language is a long undertaking, due to a shortage of linguistic research databases known as corpora. Compared to the French language, Icelandic simply has fewer texts to work from.

“For languages like ours, there has to be a constant effort to try to find ways to make this work,” explains Steinþór Steingrímsson, a project manager at the institute who’s focused on language technology. “But technology-wise, we don’t have to be as pessimistic as we were two or three years ago.”

Steingrímsson predicts that five years of funding will not be sufficient to create all the technology the institute needs. However, he believes that it will be enough to ascertain proof-of-concept that something can be done.


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