D.O.I.: The Death of the Icelandic Language

In 2009 Jay Z released D.O.A., otherwise known as Death of Auto-Tune. D.O.A. was an anti Auto-Tune song; it was used to try and stop Auto-Tune from becoming a gimmick. Whilst Jay Z appreciated the use of Auto-Tune by artists with an ear for melody, he found far too many people were using the technology, having had the idea whilst watching an advert from US fast food giant Wendy’s.

Now Talking Heads drops D.O.I., otherwise known as Death of Icelandic - it follows a similar title to D.O.A. but has the reverse purpose. This is a campaign to try and raise awareness of the Icelandic language which is becoming ever closer to extinction.

Recently, news has spread that the Icelandic Language is in trouble. An article published recently by Jake Flanagin for Quartz.com highlighted Iceland’s problem.  Former Mayor of Reykjavik, Jón Gnarr, was recently featured on The World in Words podcast discussing Icelandic’s decline. “Probably in this century we will adopt English as our language. I think it’s unavoidable”.

The article explains that Iceland has always had something of a revolving door policy when it comes to languages due to Danish and Norwegian monarchs, but its language diversity also stems from Norse and Gaelic Dark Age settlers and German, French and Dutch fishermen. Yet it’s English that may prove to be the final straw which consigns Icelandic to the history books. The start of this stems from the Second World War in which British and American troops stationed themselves in Iceland to try and repel a Nazi invasion. 

What the troops didn’t consider was how their use of English would penetrate every part of Iceland; since the turn of the millennium it has become very hard to resist this linguistic temptress. Not only does Iceland follow much of the world where inhabitants learn English from an early age, the sheer amount of imports Iceland receives means that speaking English is a necessity. Packaging could be the biggest culprit of supporting the increasing dominance of English in Iceland. If packaging is the cause, then globalisation is the accelerator; globalisation has affected Iceland so much so that nearly every product within the country is described in English. Examples include pharmaceutical leaflets imported from Canada/US and medical equipment used to deliver babies, the instructions for which are solely in English.

It’s something that Talking Heads has come across quite recently, this Anglicisation of Icelandic. A client recently requested a translation of packaging into Icelandic for their product and I was curious to see how many ‘Icelandic’ enquiries we had received in the last five years. There were two, one of which did not go ahead.

It seems English has penetrated every part of Iceland and its Nordic language is becoming increasingly absent. In the aforementioned podcast, former Mayor Jón Gnarr sums up his worries with reference to his children:

“In the case of my children, they speak much better English than I do and most of their activity, for instance, on Facebook is in English because they have friends in different countries, so they express themselves in English but they don’t speak as good Icelandic as I do”.

Globalisation, television, celebrity, social media and gaming have meant that English is entrenched within all parts of the younger Icelandic generation and they have less and less need to use their native language.

Obviously this would be a tragedy for Iceland, as well as the world; the loss of language is also the loss of a culture. So for the next few weeks Talking Heads are going to promote this via our social media channels to try and raise awareness of this issue. We request that you do too.

If you are a native speaker of Icelandic language and would like work for us, providing translations, register here thlingcontrol.com.

We provide translations into every language, including Icelandic. Email info@talkingheads.gb.com.

LanguageTalking Heads