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Robots, Computers Can Kill the Icelandic Language

Apr 24, 2017 12:27 PM EDT
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Reykjavik, Iceland
The use of English in both technology and tourism has significantly reduced the number of citizens who speak Icelandic to 400,000.
(Photo : Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Linguistics experts have expressed concern over Iceland's native language dying out. The distinct Icelandic language -- an adaptation of Old Norse that's a big part of local pride and culture -- is slowly being used less and less in the country, and technology plays a big part in its extinction.

According to a report from The Associated Press, the use of English in both technology and tourism has significantly reduced the number of citizens who speak Icelandic to 400,000. Even with the advanced technological propensity of Iceland, most of the new computer devices are programmed to understand English, not Icelandic.

After the 2008 financial crisis, the small Nordic country turned to tourism to keep its economy thriving, according to a report from Gizmodo. Nearly 74 percent of the local economy comes from tourists, which may be good for business but not for the native language as English becomes more useful to the locals.

"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," University of Iceland linguistic expert Eirikur Rognvaldsson explained to The Associated Press, adding that children are not learning their local tongue enough.

Losing their unique language is a significant hit to the native history and culture. One of the consequences of a disappearing native language is brain drain, University of Iceland economics professor Asgeir Jonsson said. There are only 332,529 people in Iceland, but there is a concern that the younger generation may migrate elsewhere in search of better opportunities.

"A British town with a population the size of Iceland has far fewer scientists and artists, for example," Jonsson explained. "They've simply moved to the metropolis. Not being able to speak Icelandic to voice-activated fridges, interactive robots and similar devices would be yet another lost field."

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