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Icelandic language battles threat of 'digital extinction' (theguardian.com)
137 points by bertzzie on March 2, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 167 comments

This has been discussed for as long as I remember myself (am 30 now). First it was the influence of english in TV (we only dub childrens shows and movies). I came unscattered from my youth and really doubt that my children won't be as good or better at icelandic than me.

Everyone has learned icelandic, basic danish and advanced english at age 16. From the age 16-20 majority of kids add a fourth language which is either french, german or spanish. I'm now extra grateful for all the languages that I was exposed too in school even though I didn't find them interesting at the time. It's easy to communicating and understanding the basics when travelling.

And I really love my language and I'm sure that it'll hold up just fine for the next decades. I know few examples of families with children that have grown up abroad and yes, their grammar often is strange but they speak quite well and they feel a connection back "home" through the language.

My problem is that, as time goes by, English use will become more common, and Icelandic less. The spread of the English language (e.g. the children in the article who '“know what the word is” for something they are being shown on the flashcard, but not in Icelandic.') is accompanied by the spread of US culture (TV, film, music). While US culture isn't neccessarily better or worse than any other, I get a lot of enjoyment from visiting places where English isn't spoken, and where one can see different traditions, greetings etc. I see the spread of the English language a step in the Americanization of the world, which is a shame.

I find the debate over English superseding other languages to be somewhat comical. On the one hand, sure, there are parts of different cultures being lost. But they're being replaced by possibly the best example there is of a language evolving over time due to power dynamics.

The accusation is often leveled against American cultural imperialism. But the language being imposed isn't a Native American language...it isn't Navajo that's being spread across the globe, it's the language that replaced so many Native American languages when the American continent was conquered. And while American English has undergone some cosmetic changes, it's largely the same language that was brought over by the colonists/invaders. So if it's an English language, it must have originated in England, right? But no, it's derived from the Germanic and Norman conquests with a smattering of classical Greek and the original Anglo-Saxon language. And its Latin origins even come by way of the Roman conquest of Gaul. Even the alphabet used comes from the subset of English characters used in German printing presses.

This notion that languages are something that need to be preserved is antithetical to the purpose of language and the history of the development of languages. We have many languages because, historically, we had many groups that didn't have regular contact with each other. And whenever there were groups that had regular contact with each other, language adapted to that fact and evolved. And now with globalization and the internet, we're beginning a phase where everyone has regular contact with everyone else. It's silly to think that language won't do what it's done every time you mix people who speak different languages throughout history. It isn't a process that happens overnight, but over the course of generations, languages that cannot impose a power dynamic will be lost to history or rendered irrelevant in the way that, say, Welsh is today.

We can be sad about it or try to fight it, but it's an inevitability and fighting that is ultimately futile.

But the language being imposed isn't a Native American language..

If a Frenchman shoots someone with a bullet made in Germany, would you say the victim was killed by a German?

The origins of the language don't matter to the point being made, which is that having one's native language adopted by everyone else provides massive benefits in spreading one's culture and values, while weakening and even killing off others.

This notion that languages are something that need to be preserved is antithetical to the purpose of language and the history of the development of languages. We have many languages because, historically, we had many groups that didn't have regular contact with each other.

This is not the whole story, languages were and are created for the purpose of demarcating and separating a subculture from the majority. See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cant_(language)

> The origins of the language don't matter to the point being made, which is that having one's native language adopted by everyone else provides massive benefits in spreading one's culture and values, while weakening and even killing off others.

And that point is irrelevant. Now that everyone is communicating with everyone else, a common language is an inevitability. And that language isn't going to be chosen democratically or designed, it's going to flow from a power dynamic. That's what's going to happen because that's what's always happened. Arguing that it shouldn't happen or is wrong is like arguing against gravity, evolution or any other fact of life.

That doesn't mean that other languages will just go away (just look at how many other languages are alive in some form in the UK, despite English having been dominant there for centuries), it just means that they won't be as ubiquitous as they once were because people will have the option not to learn them.

> Now that everyone is communicating with everyone else

Where did you get this idea? Only 47% of the world is using the Internet [0]. Only 20% speaks English [1]. Hell, even the "most commonly spoken language" Mandarin consists of dialects that vary between mutually intelligible to total unintelligible.

If AI allows us to convincingly translate among languages when speaking to each other, it would remove any need for people to learn a common language. Given how much research is going into that problem, we might see that problem solved faster than the time when "everyone is communicating with everyone else."

[0]https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/11/22... [1]https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/how-many-people-speak-eng...

>This is not the whole story, languages were and are created for the purpose of demarcating and separating a subculture from the majority.

This is also why the most hardcore language persevering fanatics tend to also be hardcore xenophobes.

> Germanic and Norman conquests

Whether there was an Anglo–Saxon “conquest” per se is a controversial and fairly interesting historical question. Wikipedia has a summary:


>But they're being replaced by possibly the best example there is of a language evolving over time due to power dynamics.

Why does the power dynamic of the language speakers (and therefore their linguistic dominance) provide a counterbalance to the loss of culture? That is, why do you specifically value one over the other, and in what sense is this comical?

It's not that I value one over the other. It's that I observe a dynamic that has persisted throughout human history and see people trying to fight it. Why is right now the time that we should "freeze" language adaptation to save culture? If that's the perspective, why aren't we also trying resurrect Ancient Egyptian language to preserve that culture as well?

Growing up in an area with rip tides, it was always drilled into my head that if I got caught in one and started getting dragged out to sea, I shouldn't fight it. Instead, I should swim parallel to shore until I'm out of the current and can more easily swim back to shore. Just like a rip current, language adaptation due to power dynamics is a reality. You can either accept that and try to make the best of that situation or you can put up a futile resistance.

There's no value system at play just like there's no value system in gravity or rip currents. They're just facts that you accept and integrate into whatever plan you're making.

First of all I fully agree with your sentiment and have similar views (re comical and more)


I don't think it is wrong to want to preserve culture and or language. I actually have really strong views that we MUST preserve language and everything that stems from it.

Not necessarily in the sense that we must all be able to speak it - English is going to dominate no matter what you do - but from a purely academic stand point it gives us an incredible insight into how humans have developed historically and may even help explain some of our misgivings in the future. Recording language is something we should be doing in the same way we are creating seed vaults in the arctic.

Language is what I believe truly defines us as humans. People who speak multiple languages often have completely different personalities [1] when speaking each language.

The language you speak can also alter many things including the way you view and reason about:

- Time [2]

- Color [3]

- Direction / left and right / forward and back [3]

- And even whether you know your own gender [3]

The list probably doesn't stop there but it shows you that losing these languages means we lose a completely different way of viewing the world - I think that would be kind of sad, I'm just glad we at least learned this before they're all lost.

> It's that I observe a dynamic that has persisted throughout human history and see people trying to fight it. Why is right now the time that we should "freeze" language adaptation to save culture?

I don't think "right now" is the time - I suspect all lost languages have struggled with losing their place and would have had people attempt to fight it and preserve the language.

Remember, our history likely doesn't cover the languages that have been lost and the struggle to preserve them specifically because they have been lost.

> If that's the perspective, why aren't we also trying resurrect Ancient Egyptian language to preserve that culture as well?

I'm glad you bought that up - it is a perfect example because we know how to read and write the language but we can only begin[4] to imagine how it actually sounds - and what ways it may have altered our views.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/life-bilingual/201111/c...

[2] http://theconversation.com/language-alters-our-experience-of...

[3] https://ideas.ted.com/5-examples-of-how-the-languages-we-spe...

[4] https://www.connectsavannah.com/savannah/how-do-we-know-how-...

You know that the English language doesn't originate in America, right? Equating the spread of English as a step in the Americanization of the world (to me) is a bit silly.

I can reword your statement to use Spanish and Peru. It sounds just as weird:

    I see the spread of the Spanish language a step in the Peruvianization of the world, which is a shame.
In America, we speak all kinds of languages, of which English is the most common.

America is influenced by the Spanish language, but that is because it imports Mexican culture, not Peruvian.

Iceland (I assume) imports far more American culture than British. They simply dominate many forms of art (TV, movies, games). So while you are right that America is not the birthplace of English, English is the medium in which American culture spreads.

> You know that the English language doesn't originate in America, right?

Of course, but it's not relevent.

> I see the spread of the Spanish language a step in the Peruvianization of the world, which is a shame.

Peru isn't driver of Spanish-speaking culture the way the US is the driver of English-speaking culture.

TV shows, music, film, technology news and discussion websites, …. Most are US-made, and go hand in hand with the spread of the English language. An English lerner in ${X} will watch Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Spiderman, … (all in English, maybe with suptitles), will listen to Rhianna, Eminem, …, and will talk about "Performance", "Data Center" or use other English loanwords (if working with technology at least). It's obvious to me enough exposure to US culture does lead to a US way of thinking.

They'll also probably listen to Ed Sheeran, One Direction, Adele, watch Top Gear, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, Bake Off, read Harry Potter. The US might be dominant, but it's the English language that's the global hegemon.

This so much! This was literally my point! The English language != America, and I say this as a born and bred (slightly unhappy with our buffoon in chief) American.

There are an awful lot of English-native and English-speaking Commonwealth countries (including the UK itself) which have non-negligible influence, including on the US.

Hell, us Brits even get to apologise to the US for selling them the TV-show format that got their president elected ;-)

American cultural projection and economic success in the 20th century is overwhelmingly responsible for spreading the English language to so many corners of the globe. The British Empire collapsed and retracted back to the UK. Britain's global cultural projection is a small fraction of the US today. If eg Britain were the primary driver of English since WW2, as the first major sponsors of the language, you'd more likely see a contraction in English in line with the contraction of the British Empire and their cultural + economic reach. Instead English has continued to spread.

People in China haven't been aggressively learning English the last ~30 years primarily so they can do business with New Zealand. English become the global language of commerce because the US took over nearly half of the global economy, and over half of its manufacturing, immediately after WW2.

It's pretty simple: the British started that fire, then their empire declined. The US picked up their torch and made the fire a lot bigger with the wide-spread globalization we see today coinciding with the US becoming the sole superpower post WW2 (ie produced a perfect storm for English spreading globally).

I'm not sure English would have "retracted back to the UK" even if the US spoke Navajo as its preferred language. It's not realistic expectations of doing business with the US or watching Hollywood instead of Bollywood that explains why English became the alternative to Hindu dominance of language in Indian education, commerce and civil service. The much earlier decline of Spanish colonial influence didn't diminish the pervasiveness of its language in certain parts of the world (most where English is seldom spoken) in any meaningful way, and there really aren't any obvious corners of the globe English hadn't already spread to some extent before American cultural influence kicked in.

There's a reason why people haven't been aggressively learning Chinese despite it being the language of the world's #2 economic power, and that's because all the boots on the ground work to set up civil services, education systems and trade networks and associate their language with prestige and power had already been done by colonialists speaking other languages.

The United States is the biggest exporter of English-language media. In other English speaking countries American terms and idioms are increasingly common.

I'm in the Philippines now, and the irony for me, as an American, is that English is not an official language in the USA, yet in the Philippines it is (along with Filipino).

> I get a lot of enjoyment from visiting places where English isn't spoken

Sure, but people decide what language to speak based on what is most practical for them. Not on what gives you the most exotic vacation.

Personally, I see a future world where all people on earth can talk to each other as an enormous benefit. I'm really confused by the priorities of anyone who honestly thinks otherwise.

> I get a lot of enjoyment from visiting places where English isn't spoken

Very interestingly though, Americans tend to visit places and usually contain themselves to the very small pockets of countries where people can speak English to them. I can definitely see that in my country (France), where American tourists only go to the-place-where-all-americans-go, and then come back amazed that people spoke English to them.

This tends to be very disconnected from the actual English-speaking skills of the population (which, for my country, is pretty abysmal).

This is a topic that's really interesting to me because it has a lot of angles. At its most basic, there's people like me who are largely divested from our heritage and don't value it's preservation particularly. That's not to say I want it gone, I just don't have strong feelings about it either way.

On the other hand you have a lot of peoples who draw a lot of pride or just a sense of identity from exploring their culture and its heritage.

And finally you have the arguable need and definite convenience of a lingua franca in the face of increasing globalization.

What about the opportunity cost of learning all those languages. Time spent learning languages is time that is not used for other things. Age 16-20 was a crucial time in my learning computer programming at a deep level. I wonder what the marginal utility of a fourth language learned over 4 years as opposed to 4 years of say learning programming or math or finance or history or art more deeply?

> Age 16-20 was a crucial time in my learning computer programming at a deep level.

And even greater opportunity cost is the lack of in-depth knowledge of your own language.

Language isn't just grammar rules. It also has cultural/regional/historical/etc.

You can learn a few languages and be somewhat proficient at all of them or you can have expert level grasp of the language - where you can discuss philosophical, historical, economic, cultural, etc topics.

Not to mention, jokes, puns along with culture-specific references.

Personally, I wish the education system ( in the US ) focused on english, latin and ancient greek for K-12. I don't think you can fully understand english without understanding a bit of latin and even ancient greek.

Some public schools, such as Ridgeview Classical Schools in Colorado, teach English and Latin from Kindergarten through 12th grade. A Greek program starts in 3rd grade. They add modern languages (French, Spanish, German) in high school.


As an American foreigner who visited Iceland a couple of years ago, I cannot describe to you how awesome everyone was (and educated, and fluent English-speaking), how beautiful the country was, how fun the nightlife (at least in Reykjavik) was, how delicious the dining was, the geekiness of visiting the EVE Online monument (I'm a gamer), and just... we had such a damn nice time, and the english fluency of everyone really helped, and I appreciate that you all learn it. I would recommend Iceland to anyone as an unusual and extremely interesting place to visit. Skál!

Hákarl FTW

Similar experience, but with Faroese. You'll be hard-pressed to find people who don't speak Faroese, Danish and English. Fourth language, not so much, but yeah.

However, I do think we Faroese are too bad at Faroese grammar.

Side-note, because we were occupied by the British during WW2, a _lot_ of British slang has been incorporated and turned Faroese, and a lot of regular English words turned into Faroese slang.

You speak Viking. I'll be eternally jealous!

I think being from a small nation with such an odd history is awesome. I think Icelandic will preserve itself because the Icelandic people seem stubbornly determined while also pragmatic.

Being fluent in English and Viking is all upside, no downside.

What's the story behind everyone learning basic Danish still? Are there actual use cases for it?

Iceland and Denmark have closed ties.

Not really though. Not more than to Norway or Sweden. It's an old historical thing from when the danes ruled over Iceland.

Just got back from Iceland! (I'm Canadian) Outside of the touristy parts of Reykjavik, everybody will assume you speak Icelandic until you respond in English. Then they'll switch to almost perfect English, with remarkably few exceptions. It was pretty amazing.

In small towns like Akureryi, there's a lot of local pressure to keep signs mostly in Icelandic. I was actually surprised by this since there were a lot of English-speaking tourists in the area, but I respect it thoroughly. It's their country, I should learn how to get around.

Oh, as an aside - as someone who is single and still uses the various datings apps, I was also impressed by how idiomatically correct their english was even down to slang and figures of speech. There's clearly a large influence from American media.

If you're travelling to Iceland, take the time to learn a few basic Icelandic phrases - the locals have a lot of pride in their culture and will love you for it.

Akureyri isn't really a "small town" by Icelandic standards though. Once you get into the actual small towns over on the eastern side of the country for example, English proficiency is much, much lower.

But yeah, certainly the more populated areas are extremely English-friendly. My folks in Arkansas probably see more non-English speakers in the average month than I did in Reykjavik.

That was not my experience. I spent 3 weeks in Iceland, and only met one person who was not fluent in English (even they were plenty conversational).

You're right that Akureyri is not a small town for Iceland, though.

Mind you as a tourist you’re going to be bumping into far more fluent locals than you might in day to day life otherwise. I’ve lived here for seven years and whilst I work in English and live in downtown Reykjavík I still meet a not unsubstantial number of Icelanders who are not comfortable with English. Mostly those 50+ but still some a generation younger. English speaking is definitely nearly ubiquitous in younger generations though.

On the flip side, trying to learn the language of the country you’re in when everyone speaks fluent English kind of sucks exactly because everyone will just switch to English instead of let you practice. I suppose that’s the rub: to a local, when they notice you speaking (or, rather, trying to speak) a foreign language in a their country, are you struggling or trying to practice?

I’ve often heard this, it’s never been my practical experience. If after the other party switches to English you either persist in their language, or ask politely if you can continue in their language, everyone I’ve ever encountered has been happy to help me stumble on

There are countries where either persisting in the local language or asking nicely, will meet with a negative response. Take the Netherlands, for example, where 90% of the population is said to speak English now. A foreign novice–intermediate learner trying to practice Dutch in everyday situations is likely to be told “Let’s just speak English and not waste time.” Your attempting to persist with your less-than-fluent command of the local language is interpreted by your interlocutor as disrespect for his time. If you want to learn the local language, you are expected to place the burden on your language teacher, not random shopkeepers etc.

Agreed, it’s definitely context dependent. There’s a world of difference between holding up a line in a store and having a conversation, however limited, with a taxi driver.

The shop could be completely empty, no queue, and the shopkeeper might be free and even bored, but chances are he still won't want to listen to a novice-intermediate foreigner practicing Dutch. Listening to halting speech can feel like a waste of your time even if you have nothing better to do.

I'll admit that I've had very few opportunities to travel abroad thus far, but, for what it's worth, my experience has been the same. In fact, most people seem to be a bit gladdened to find that a foreigner (perhaps especially an English-speaking tourist) is making an effort to learn their native tongue. And also, likely, a bit amused by my shortcomings—but that's no big deal: it's how you learn.

In that aspect it is slightly annoying, still, there's a lot of written information that you don't have people translating for you, and you then can use it when referencing something written

(But then again Google Translate now has World Lens built in - so that helps)

I went to Iceland 2 years ago, and visited both Reykjavik as well as the entire country. As an Asian person, no one assumed I speak any Icelandic and spoke perfect English to me. :) But I did learn to pronounce Icelandic names; by the end of the trip, words like Eyjafjallajokull was not an issue.

> Outside of the touristy parts of Reykjavik, everybody will assume you speak Icelandic until you respond in English.

I am curious, does this apply to everyone or only European-looking people?

What do you think?

This isn't very obvious, and I certainly wouldn't expect it to be obvious to those who haven't traveled internationally as much.

To the point, I'm neither European nor white and was almost always spoken to in Spanish when in Spain. That may be because of the lower level of English proficiency in Spain, however.

I imagine it would be latter, but I am not sure, hence my question. I have little knowledge about Iceland. I know for example in Quebec outside of Montreal, everyone assumes you speak French, regardless of your ethnicity.

I think most Icelanders, including myself, would start off conversing in English as a matter of courtesy; it would be rude to assume that a person of an ethnic minority isn't Icelandic based on their looks. A lot of times they are indeed Icelanders of ethnic minorities, and you avoid a situation embarrassing for both parties, and perhaps make them feel more welcome in the country they were born in.

When I went to Iceland, I was expecting to see close to zero immigrants and their descendants among the Icelandic population. I was surprised to see quite a few people of African and Asian descent working in Icelandic stores and speaking fluent Icelandic with the customers.

I found that the children in Iceland know English surprisingly well. My children were playing with an 8-year-old Icelandic girl who spoke nearly flawless English. I was impressed.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, yes, it's a pity to see a cultural artifact like a language fade away. I get that. But on the other hand, having the world Balkanized into thousands of mutually incomprehensible linguistic ghettoes is a bad thing, because it makes it harder to get things done on large scales. Things would just be easier if we spoke a manageable handful of languages.

It'd also be easier if everyone painted all their houses the same color, ate the same foods all the time, and lived in a universally cookie cutter world, but that'd be terribly boring.

Culture is embedded into language, and suggesting that we should standardize on a handful of languages for the sake of convenience places very low (or maybe no) value on cultural preservation.

As someone who's been working very hard for the last two years to become bi-lingual, I had no idea how much I'd learn about my own native language from studying a different language, and incidentally, I've learned a ton about the underlying culture of the target language I'm learning. Every time a language dies, we lose a another piece of our global cultural tapestry, and I think that's a loss that's hard to quantify.

>It'd also be easier if everyone painted all their houses the same color, ate the same foods all the time, and lived in a universally cookie cutter world, but that'd be terribly boring.

not a fair comparison. learning a second language takes much more resources (time and money) than having different paint colors or food choices.

Putting energy into cultural preservation of languages (learned at birth in the case of the article), is a different proposition than asking someone to learn them from scratch later in life. The question boils down to what is worth saving and investing in, and why we place value on those things.

> places very low (or maybe no) value on cultural preservation.

All the cultures that exist today will die, no matter what actions we take today. People see cultural continuation, but if we hopped in a time machine and went back 100 years, none of us would fit in.

I understand the urge to preserve things we appreciate, but it's not possible to preserve living things.

You can't experience much of that said culture without learning the language and something tells me you don't speak more than 3 languages so you end up with houses painted in 3 different colours while the rest are hidden in a dark wood.

There's a middle road, you know: being bilingual. To run with the Icelandic example, you'll be hard pressed to find someone who speaks it but not English.

Where I live, there's also a local language (Frisian) spoken beside the 'bigger' language (Dutch). And here too, lots of people speak English. Or if not, you might get lucky with German.

A generation ago, Dutch minority dialects & languages were really discouraged and some were nearly killed. Kids were disciplined in school for using them. A generation before that, British accents/dialects^ actively suppressed to give way to standard (King's) English.

I think there were almost no advantages to this dialect killing.

Small minority dialects are at a danger of dying out, not crowding out the bigger languages. This is how all of europe worked for hundreds of years. My Grandfather grew up speaking yiddish (german dialect) in school, czech in town & Hungarian at school. These are completely unrelated and individually difficult languages. He later went to college in German & Latin, later on English. He spoke 10 languages in total, most fluently. I knew him in a language that he learned in his 40s. This was normal in his day. They weren't afraid of languages then.

Anyway... if your "home" language is a tiny, local one. There is no danger that you will be monolingual in a commercially useless language. You will speak a big language too. Speaking 2 makes the 3rd one easier to learn.

^more on the dialect end of the spectrum than most people realize.

Jersey Dutch died out completely in the US, without any suppression by the government. Cajun French is on its last legs despite government support.

And it was purely the result of broadcast radio.

The US culture/society also tends to kill off non-English languages. Spanish is large enough and with a 'renewable' resource of Spanish speakers from other parts of the Americas that it manages to survive, but other languages do not fare as well.

I don't think that's quite right. Chinese is a notable counterexample in a lot of places, as well as Vietnamese and Tagalog and some others. But Spanish definitely has a more universal geographic distribution in the U.S. than any other non-English language.

This article and map were pretty interesting:


There's enough immigration that other languages can get 'renewed' too, but the general pattern is for languages to die off by the second generation. This is in stark contrast to what happens, say, in India where speakers maintain ancestral languages much better even when they have been resident in area which employs a different language for many generations. It seems to come down to cultural handling of mono- vs multi-lingualism.

But is it a sustainable road? French-Canadians have been complaining for many years that Montreal's "bilingual" neighborhoods become English-speaking in a decade or so, and "French-speaking" neighborhoods become bilingual. And this is despite extensive government efforts to encourage or even enforce the use of French. You can see the same trends in Catalonia, Wales, Ireland, etc.

Where the government intervenes in the opposite direction, the transition can be much more rapid. Visiting Strasbourg (in Alsace, France), people's surnames, street and place names, and the local cuisine are all German, but nobody speaks a word of it. It was amazing (and slightly depressing) to see how in 2-3 generations a city could forget the language it spoke for nigh-on 1,500 years.

The way things are going, I wouldn't be surprised if Dutch were considered a dying language 50 years from now.

Strasbourg was French from 1681, then German in 1871, then French in 1918. Then only briefly German in WWII.

So it wasn't German very long, only 50 years.

As for Montreal, it will be interesting to see how the city evolves. I notice more English in my neighbourhood than when I moved in (8 years ago). But, there is also more French in the old anglo neighbourhoods of the west.

One factor is that a lot of "allophones" are perfectly fluent in both English and French. When you add in the francophone tendency to switch to English when dealing with anyone who shows even a whiff of not being a native francophone, a lot of francophone majority neighbourhoods may see English conversation.

(I'm perfectly fluent and speak French in public. But for the life of me I can't francophone friends to speak French. I think they all want to practice their English. Also, the Quebecois that care about Anglicization probably don't move to urban montreal)

“Germany” hasn’t been a country very long, only since 1871, but an identifiable German culture has existed since Roman times. German (or precursors) was spoken in Alsace for well over a millennium before declining and dying out in the 19th and 20th centuries.

>Visiting Strasbourg (in Alsace, France), people's surnames, street and place names, and the local cuisine are all German, but nobody speaks a word of it.

Maybe they don't speak it normally, but I'm pretty sure a lot of people there can speak German. You can literally take a city bus (or walk) over the border into a German town Kiel. And everyone speaks German there. There are people who work in Strasbourg and live in Kiel, or vice versa.

The Alsatian dialect was always more of a rural thing. Both French and the Nazis suppressed it so unfortunately it's pretty rare these days. Still, according to Wikipedia, 43% of adults in Alsace could speak it in 1999. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alsatian_dialect

In Wales the Welsh language has had a massive revival. It's taught in schools, and a basic understanding is very common amongst younger generations.

Sure, there's more interest in Welsh in recent decades, but I strongly suspect it will resume declining if it hasn't already.

I used Welsh, Irish, Catalan and French-in-Quebec as examples because they're all languages that declined (to varying degrees) over several centuries under (varying degrees of) government suppression, experienced a partial rebound in interest and popularity in the 20th century after government policy was changed to encourage their use, but ultimately returned to the same trend of declining usage, something like

     |  \_
     |    \_          ____
     |      \_      _/    \_
     |        \____/        \
    0|suppressed   encouraged

Speaking of declining usage, ASCII art is on the same trajectory.

That's the first half of a language dying. If everyone speaks Dutch and it's on signs and menus etc then learning Frisian has limited value.

I don't think so, or the language would have died out already. I'd argue it's more about whether children learn it as their primary language.

Also, because of concerns of linguistic extinction, similar to the ones mentioned for Icelandic in the article, you see somewhat of a counter-movement as well. This caused e.g. a special status of the language by law (see e.g. [1]), and also:

* it's a mandatory school subject

* you are entitled to using it in government interactions, e.g. in court

* a small part of the public television is in Frisian, and there's also a regional tv/radio channel using it exclusively

* place name signs are often at least bilingual, and sometimes Frisian-only.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Charter_for_Regional_...

I'd argue it's more about whether children learn it as their primary language.

I'd say even that can't accomplish much by itself, which is why the other things you listed are so important. A lot of Mexican-American kids in my hometown spoke exclusively Spanish at home, and now as adults if you ask them if they can speak Spanish most of them say "not really." They're embarrassed if they have to speak Spanish with someone from Mexico who has an adult vocabulary and a sophisticated grasp of the language. When your education, media, and social life is entirely in English, you end up so much more capable in English that that's all you want to speak. Even with their friends who also spoke Spanish at home, if the context of the conversation was their English-language schoolwork or an American band or an American TV show, it was more natural to talk about it in English; if there was somebody present they didn't know, it was safe to assume they spoke English; et cetera.

This stuff is not that fast. Give it 3-5+ generations.

The tipping point is IMO what language people start conversations with. That shifts language skills and feeds off it's self.

The local language is likely to have a lot of associations and nuance. Common languages can lead to cultural collapse; the world becomes less rich. "Chinglish" (bad translations) are one extreme outcome of this, but it's not always funny or trivial.

It's not like people resentfully segregate from each other just because they speak different languages.

Languages evolve, change, innovate and sometimes they go extinct. Latin disappeared with the downfall of the Roman Empire (although it is still used in the Vatican, including ATMs), but paved the way for many romance languages. Even Navajo saved lives during WWII.

Like species, we know they're condemned to eventual extinction. But who likes seeing something disappear forever?

Many translations are impossible to make because different languages allow for different meanings, metaphors and concepts. Their coexistence is actually beneficial and adds something to human culture.

If one would apply that reasoning to programming languages, the programming landscape would suffer terribly.

E só para enriquecer um pouco este comentário, aqui fica uma linha na minha língua materna!

Latin emphatically did not disappear with the fall of the Roman Empire. Classical Latin was preserved not only by the Roman Catholic Church, but also as the lingua franca of all educated discourse in the West into the 18th century (at least!). Initially, this was probably because education was typically provided by the Church, yet its use persisted after the Protestant Reformation and through the Age of Enlightenment before learned folk began to variously adopt French, German, and eventually English.

Classical Latin aside, sermo vulgaris ("the common speech"—"Vulgar Latin") never died so much as it evolved over time into our modern family of Romance languages: French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Occitan, Catalan, Romanian, Dalmatian, Sardinian, …; the list goes on, but I'm sure you get the idea.

I think that, in the context of what I'm seeing throughout this thread, (and to be clear, this isn't directed at you specifically) before we worry that English will establish some sort of linguistic hegemony over the globe, we should first consider the processes by which some language or another comes to dominate international communication in such a way, and likewise the processes by which such an "auxiliary language" comes to be replaced eventually by another. I contend that the main reason English now serves the role once served by Latin is because the Anglosphere currently has much influence on the sociopoliticoeconomicocultural stage, yet it is not currently without rival on this stage. A century from now, it could happen that everyone will be learning Mandarin Chinese or Arabic or something else altogether. Perhaps Esperanto will finally take off.

Returning to Latin for a final thought: throughout medieval Europe this side of Macedonia, all educated people could read, write, and speak Latin, and no doubt they found that these abilities came in handy from time to time. Notwithstanding, it remained in place as a second language, reserved for specific situations and purposes, and they continued to employ their native language in their day-to-day activities—after all, we still have English, Irish, Gaelic, Scots, French, Dutch, German, Polish, Spanish, &c., &c. in the present. These are not the same languages that were spoken in the Middle Ages, nor are they the same languages that were spoken 100 years ago, but, as you pointed out, languages evolve and change.

Thanks for your correction. It is quite complete.

I didn't mean it disappeared overnight but, as far as I know, formal education in Latin declined with the fall of the Empire, thus giving preponderance to Vulgar Latin. As a consequence, correct pronunciation diverged from the canon. At the same time, Germanic peoples travelled south bringing with them new dialects.

Anyway, I am not as worried about an eventual hegemony of English as I am about the disregard for the value of other languages.

Portuguese language, for example, was made the official language for matters of law by King Denis in 1290. But Castillian was still the lingua franca of the court for centuries. The then recent creation of the University of Coimbra helped build the formal Portuguese we know today.

I believe that it is always by creating something new, alongside the old, that good things happen. Hoping progress to come by following utopian notions of simplicity, making tabula rasa (oh, Latin, you...) of former culture is a recipe for disaster.

Regarding what you said about English, Mandarin, Arabic (or Hindi might I add), it is curious to note that, in some more modern erudite circles, English and French played roles I find similar to Classical Latin and Classical Greek in the erudite circles of Renaissance Europe: to speak the first was good, to speak both was great.

In my line of work I encounter many emigrants looking for temporary jobs in agriculture. No one here speaks English very well, let alone their languages.

I was very impressed by a worker from Nepal that, besides his mother tongue, spoke Hindi, Russian and English. In Portugal, his boss didn't speak but Portuguese.

Now I see a lot of emigrants from Eastern Europe and Nigeria.

The Spanish don't speak Portuguese. We chat in Portunhol, mainly.

Esperanto would be quite handy, but I suspect it won't take off anytime soon...

Do we really want billions of people who all talk the same, think the same, and have the same values? I don't see how that could possibly be a good thing. The world is already bleeding ridiculous amounts of accumulated knowledge and wisdom. It may be true that the average person today knows and understands more about the world than the average person in the past, but we all know the same things today.

Just because people share the same language, it doesn't mean they think the same, or share the same values.

Many people around the world speak English, but they don't become culturally American or British because of it.

> Just because people share the same language, it doesn't mean they think the same

Actually it kind of does of does;





At the very least having multiple languages ensures a diversity of thinking.

I used to think that.

Then an Englishman asked for my John Hancock.

And an American went missing.

Toute l’expérience d’un individu est construit sur le plan de son langage.

[An individual’s experience is built entirely in terms of his language.]

This is Sapir-Whorf thinking. My understanding as a non-linguist is that this has never been proven. I know there is a strong/weak form of the hypothesis, but can't remember what the distinction is.

> but can't remember what the distinction is.

The strong hypothesis says that language determines and bounds your thinking, the weak hypothesis is that it influences and conditions your thinking.

Thanks...weak sounds a lot more plausible than fully binding.

Is it?

Could your language affect your ability to save?


Perhaps, but y=x+1 and u=v+1 are the same, even if they use different terms. Likewise, y=x+1 !== y=x-1, even though they use the same terms.

It's really unclear to me that much harm will be done if everyone speaks the same language, and it's clear to me that there will be great benefits. That's an easy position for me to take as a primary speaker of the world's dominant language. It's also no skin off my back if other language groups wish to continue maintaining their own languages. But I guess that those which aren't strong enough will fade over the centuries, as many already did in the past.

Not all knowledge is logic or maths.

It's an analogy.

That's just not how language works. Gödel, Escher, Bach really hammered this home for me. Many ideas are easier to express in one language or another, to the point that they are practically inexpressible in another language.

This is even true in math. Based on the set of axioms you allow, you can prove certain facts. A math with different axioms may have completely different theorems, and some observable real world behavior can be better modeled under one set of axioms than another.

Language could be described as a math for personal expression and everyday life, and each language has its own axioms and theorems.

> That's just not how language works. Gödel, Escher, Bach really hammered this home for me. Many ideas are easier to express in one language or another, to the point that they are practically inexpressible in another language.

I am very skeptical that this happens commonly, or that the necessary terms couldn't be ported over to the common language if needed.

How would you translate this?

> Why can a man never starve in the Great Desert? Because he can eat the sand which is there. But what brought the sandwiches there? Why, Noah sent Ham, and his descendants mustered and bred.

It would not be a big loss if this sentence were never expressed. I allowed for edge cases in my previous comment, and this is such a one.

Yes they do. Look at popular music around the world. It's all slight variations of American popular music. I don't think this is only because of the dominance of English, but the two phenomena are definitely symptoms of the same disease.

Well yeah, looking at popular music will do that. There's a massive amount of advertising money to make it popular.

Look at the less forced genres of music. Rap in the USA, Grime in the UK, similar but different. The UK has a very different type of indie (named from coming from an independent label) music. And Country is only popular in the USA.

If you have a quick look on the surface it can be similar, but if you look deeper, where it matters, then the variation is there.

That said, I do think having more languages is better, a more diversified ecosystem is more likely to survive. And from my point of view, it's more interesting to live in.

Also, styles of music aren't equivalent to the culture that produced them.

American rock has its roots in Jazz and Bluegrass, which has its roots in the African slave diaspora. Japanese Visual Kei was influenced heavily by American glam rock bands. Does that mean Visual Kei merely an imitation of American culture, or that it expresses the same things that American rock does? Of course not. You can borrow the sound and the style but still make something culturally unique.

K-Pop is probably more "Americanized" than Japanese pop, but it's still distinctly not American. I don't think anyone would confuse either Japanese or Korean culture for American culture, even though both incorporate Western aesthetics and English into their cultural expressions.

I'm kind of sorry to hear that about country music; some time ago I occasionally caught a country show on, I swear, BBC World Service, featuring singers clearly from the British Isles.

This is a massively flawed conclusions for so many reasons

I'll be that guy that brings up Esperanto. I don't speak it fluently yet, but know it faaar better than Spanish which I have years of formal instruction in and have been exposed to a lot of Latin American culture. The important point is I've gotten very comfortable with Esperanto with only < 50 hours of learning. When around the house I can think of small things in Esperanto without trying. Esperanto was invented to be an easy auxiliary language to easily allow the world to communicate. It is against language imperialism.

> Esperanto was invented to be an easy auxiliary language to easily allow the world to communicate. It is against language imperialism.

It is only a rather recent development, since roughly the 1960s, that the Esperanto movement has advertised itself as a force against language imperialism and as purely an international second language for everyone, one that supposedly “protects” their native languages. Some Esperantists have criticized this change in marketing as simply trying to jump on the anti-imperialism and anti-globalization bandwagon just to get more attention for Esperanto.

L. L. Zamenhof himself hoped that Esperanto – or at least something like it – would eventually replace all world languages, because he saw those differences between peoples as purely a negative thing. (Just like his Homaranismo was an attempt to level out religious differences with a single spirituality that hopefully would be taken up by all.) Zamenhof’s own writings and his lifelong efforts show that he did not really care for cultural diversity as many people today would understand it and hope for.

I appreciated our discussion on this point in a thread a few months ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15521817

Considering how many Icelanders speak English at quite a high level, they seem perfectly capable of contributing to large scale projects around the world. Conversely, diversifying languages, cultures, and geographic locations seems like a more stable strategy for ensuring long-term human survival, compared to a fragile monoculture.

Icelanders pretty much all speak english. Having a common language does not mean having a single unique language.

> having the world Balkanized

That makes it sound like such a division is something that is happening now, being _done to_ the world, even. Rather, of course, the world _is_ already diverse like that, and what is happening, if anything, is a homogenisation.

Same thing with Swedish. :( I feel kind of guilty myself because as a developer, I write almost exclusively in English. Most software related terms simply don't exist in Swedish and with everyone using English no new words are being invented.

It's even worse with the younger generation. They can't even use Swedish idioms so they switch to English. For example, they might know and use "You're on thin ice" but don't know what "Ute på hal is" eller "Ute på tunn is" means. If I say "det ligger en hund begraven här" they will look at me funnily and not understand what I mean. However, if I say "Something smells fishy" they will know.

People older than me used even funnier idioms that no one uses anymore. For example "Du ler förnöjt som en katt som nyss svalt en kanariefågel."

I don't know what to do about it, if anything. :/ Undoubtedly, it is easier if everyone speaks the same language. But it is also much less interesting and much less diverse.

This is also my experience as a foreigner living in Iceland. Tech companies that I’ve worked at work in English and the language even in Icelandic is peppered with English technical terms and idioms. The terms generally exist in Icelandic but are just ignored since their invention tends to follow the English term becoming commonly used. Even socially English idioms pop up relatively frequently. I’ve only got young kids but have witnessed kids outside of that chatting away to one another in English for extended periods then switching back to Icelandic. It’s definitely an accelerating and new trend. My partner is Icelandic and most people of her generation are at least able to speak English if not comfortable with it. A generation older and I’ve met many people who can’t.

There are other interesting trends as well. The relatively good economic situation and contributing tourist boom mean you very often will be served in downtown Reykjavík by someone who doesn’t speak Icelandic. Icelanders are simply off doing other jobs. In the scheme of things it’s a small change but very noticeably different from when I moved here.

When I studied computer science in Uppsala ~ 25 years ago I remember a number of textbooks (in particular, from Pagina) that used Swedish words for absolutely everything ("betjänt" (server) comes to mind, I can't think of others at the moment). but a lot of those terms sounded odd to us and I don't remember anyone using them except perhaps to be funny.

But many words have more natural sounding translations that we did (and do) use, things like kompilator (compiler), kö (queue), träd (tree) etc. I left Sweden many years ago but still often use gurka as a metasyntactic variable.

BTW your "even funnier idiom" is well known in english as well (although I don't remember the last time I heard anyone say it):


This is actually quite odd. I'm learning Swedish myself as a second foreign language with English being the first one. I'd say my Swedish level is B1-B2, i.e. intermediate, so I'm very far from being fluent. But I understand the idioms you mentioned perfectly. I'm having a hard time imagining native speaker not getting them. Maybe they just think those idioms are old-fashioned?

Also, it sounds weird indeed when you use English phrases in your casual speech when direct translation exists. Like I was watching some old movie and a teen girl there said something like "Du, jag ska ha födelsedagskalas på fredag. I want you to come.". I even didn't catch it first.

And the worst part is that with the removal of the language barrier, people also all start to consume the same media.

And that means US culture starts to affect more and more people.

Already today people that primarily watch english media have significantly different views on driving children to school, or social safety than those who watch primarily media in the local language, even correcting for age, gender, education, etc.

It’s scary to see because it’s means more and more of the broken parts of US culture end up here in Europe as well.

What is preventing Europe from creating media that reflect their culture and exporting it to the world? If Europe could create music, movies, etc. that are more popular than the offerings from the US then... problem solved?

Simply said, economics. This is a winner-takes-all problem, nothing short of banning US media and forcing creation of a local media industry will be able to do that.

I don't really see it as a winner-takes-all situation. Here in the US my wife and I both enjoy many of the BBC productions, the 'Brit-com' comedy shows, and have noticed that a significant percentage to the actors even in US produced shows are from the UK or Australia.

It seems that there's plenty of room for good programs no matter what their country of origin.

How many German productions have you seen? How many French?

Germany and France each produce just as much or even more content than the UK.

Yet, none of this content ever leaves the country. British content can directly be sold on the US market, which means they can get much more money from those licensing deals to finance more productions.

The only situation where German or French productions show up internationally are nature documentaries (many of the documentaries the BBC or PBS show are produced by Germans, or as cooperation).

The English-speaking market is so large that English productions always have an advantage, and US productions even more. A US production reaches 300 million people in its home market, and a billion globally. A German production reaches 80 million in the home market, and 130 million globally.

And that's without the venefits hollywood has from having all the actors, staff and technology in one place.

This battle has been decided long ago.

>Yet, none of this content ever leaves the country.

And whose fault is this? People enjoy Japanese media all over the world despite the language barrier. French media used to be very popular in my country, like for example Louis de Funès movies? Even Iceland produces media that's popular worldwide, like Lazy Town or Bjork.

Is there any pair of countries (A, B) so that A != USA, B != USA, and A consumes more movies from B than from USA?

I’d argue that no such pair of countries exists, except potentially ones with restricted media import rules, e.g. the pair of (North Korea, China).

There probably are (something like Sri-Lanka/India or Guatemala/Mexico), but even if there aren't, what is this supposed to indicate? Yes, USA has strong film industry, fueled by its strong economy and large population. American films are distributed worldwide and tend to be popular with people. There's no other country that can match USA in the sheer volume (maybe China and India). But when making a movie you don't need to compete with the entire country. You just need to produce something that's appealing to the audiences. Somebody from Bulgaria doesn't care if the movie is American or German made, it's going to be dubbed in Bulgarian anyway.

But that was exactly my point. The US movie industry is globally dominant, and through that, influencing other countries’ cultures.

But the EU has a greater population than the US. I don't know anything about economics, but surely the EU as a whole is as strong as the US economy. So... why can't the EU create a movie industry that is as dominant as Hollywood?

> How many German productions have you seen? How many French?

Quite a few French, actually.

Also, Spanish, so much so that our cable TV provider offers several 'all Spanish all the time' cable stations.

Spanish is a bit complicated in this context because I think the question was about nation of origin not language (though language is the offered reason for French/German-origin productions being hard to export.) A lot of the Spanish-language content in the US is, I think, US origin. Though a fair amount is of Latin American (particularly Mexican) origin, and some from elsewhere. But, yeah, there is a lot of Spanish-language, foreign produced content consumed in the US, and not all by native Spanish speakers.

Hebrew, like Icelandic, is subject to a conscious effort to maintain its character as it modernises. Icelanders want their new vocabulary to stay Norse, as opposed to the far less picky tendencies of everyone else who uses Germanic languages. With Hebrew, it's keeping things Semitic. New words should be derived from Arabic/Aramaic/Maltese/Ethiopian sources before anything else, and if that fails, first go to Persian, Greek or Latin before getting words from English or French.

Icelanders are going to have a harder time of it, because English can worm its way into Icelandic more easily than it can enter into Hebrew. Plus they have less of a critical mass.

Reverse example: I've only [1] let my child consume Swedish media (mostly the SVT app Barnkanalen, while we live in the US) and their accent is really good, and they often correct me and remind me of how something should be said.

[1] Not 100%. They still watch e.g. Moana in English, or sometimes watch shows in German, French, some English ones, etc.

I think it would be especially difficult with children, since the English version tends to be the 'real' version. As such I would assume songs to just be more natural in english, and that tends to be the part children obsess over. I'm from the US, so I have the same problem from the other perspective, "Why learn a language when everyone speaks English." So you get a bunch of children who don't want to become bilingual since it serves no apparent value in their lives.

It doesn't help that schools basically only push Spanish, which is actively besieged by half the population. I really wish schools would push things like mandarin and german more since it's a much larger part of the world economy.

I would love it if American public schools offered a wider variety of languages (my high school in south florida offered Latin in addition to Spanish, German, French, and Italian). But my children's high school in Oregon only offers Spanish. There is 1 German teacher in the entire school district, but she is in a different high school.

I'm not sure that I understand what you're saying, but for my child they see the Swedish version as the real version, firstly because it's the only version they've seen, and that often most of the shows are actually only available in Swedish.

Isn’t Spanish a globally important language as well?

In number of speakers it is, but parent talked about the economy, and Germany alone has a GDP of almost 70% of all the nations with Spanish as their official language combined.

Learn Icelandic for free online, via the gov-supported course:


Goes up to advanced level. The appeal for me is the ability to understand one of the least changed old European languages, much akin to our Old English. One that is bizarrely and amazingly still spoken.

Admittedly I do speak a fair bit of Swedish, potentially making things easier, but even without that there are many cognates that make learning it easier for English-speakers. Or German-speakers, for that matter.

> The appeal for me is the ability to understand one of the least changed old European languages, much akin to our Old English.

From what I understand, written Icelandic is mutually intelligible with Old Norse, so if you learned Icelandic you could actually read the sagas. The pronunciation has diverged enough that the spoken languages aren't mutually intelligible, but nobody really speaks Old Norse anymore so it doesn't matter.

I guess it's kinda like the relationship between Middle English and Modern English. The written forms are similar enough that Chaucer is usually presented in the original Middle English alongside a gloss for whatever words have disappeared from the language since.

I can't say the opposite is true. I learned a bit of old norse in university reading sagas and looking at modern Icelandic the problem really is the vocabulary, which seems completely different from what you find in the sagas.

I wish I'd found that before I went to Iceland last August! I studied German in college but don't speak it now, but it was fun to see some cognates in Icelandic. I loved Iceland and want to go back some day.

I visited Iceland for 2 weeks in April of 2016 (doing the ring road). Without exception, everyone we met spoke great English. One day we were eating dinner in a small cafe in the north part of the island. Our server's English was so perfect we were convinced he grew up somewhere in the US. He informed us that he had never left his village and had just picked it up from American TV, movies, etc. Amazing.

In a world of agricultural monocultures, it's not really surprising that languages fade while others become increasingly dominant.

Language is really an artifact of isolation and distance. In an incredibly connected world, the pressure changes from divergence to convergence.

Like other commenters, I have mixed feelings about this. Another used the word "balkanized" (which is a great word) to describe a world divided by incomprehensible language.

Others note that a monoculture isn't the only solution. (Bi|multi)lingualism is another alternative. Multilingualism was the historical response to a world becoming increasingly connected. My great-grandfather grew up in an area where he spoke Russian, French, German and Latvian... by necessity. Depending on which way the political winds were blowing his generation could be conscripted into the Russian or German (maybe Prussian at this point) armies.

That works fine when your sphere is your country and neighbouring countries. But now the sphere is increasingly "the world".

Multilingualism seems to be somewhat cultural and, more importantly, is something that's passed down from one generation to the next. Older children and adults can (and do) acquire new languages with varying success (some are adept, others are not). It seems like if you don't have this from birth you're kinda screwed. If there's no pressure for you to use another language, you're also kinda screwed.

This comes up particularly in the English speaking world where those countries that have English as the predominant first language tend to have no pressure to use another language nor the cultural heritage of multilingualism.

It seems inevitable to me that the world is heading towards a future with a handful of remaining languages. Obvious candidates include English, Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi and Russian.

I think that the idea that all languages but English are going to fade away makes sense to people who only speak English.

I've lived in Germany for a couple years, and have noticed that when native English speakers come here, the Germans all speak to them in English, and when the English speakers go away, the Germans immediately revert back to their native tongue. They can usually do the same for French speakers and sometimes Spanish or Italian too. What this means is that Europeans speak several languages, and English speakers speak one, and therefore English speakers only encounter English.

I suspect the same is true in Iceland, but I have never been there so I can't say for sure.

I don't think what's being proposed here is that all other languages will automatically fade away. It's that a language needs a critical mass to actually produce all the cultural artifacts that make speaking it worthwhile. And it's possible that in the modern world the required critical mass is larger, since the expectations are higher.

Literature and music get made even for tiny languages. AAA-video games mostly get made for maybe the top 10 languages; teams from small countries can still make them, but they have to make sure the project has appeal worldwide. Making a Facebook clone with better Icelandic support? Not going to happen.

In the linked article, it is Icelanders too who are complaining about domain loss. It's not just a matter of foreign visitors having a mistaken impression of the local sociolinguistics.

Windows has provided UI language packs for Icelandic since at least the release of Windows 8.0 in 2012, and now offers them for supported versions starting with Windows 7: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/14236/language-pack... (The UI translation/localization is partial; the most read strings are in Icelandic, but the rest are typically in English, and you need to install the English UI language pack to load those strings.)

And if you go to Bing's website https://www.bing.com and set your browser to request webpages in Icelandic (via an "Accept-Language: is" HTTP header), then much of the website changes to Icelandic. However, the search query auto-complete suggestions and the search results will only be in Icelandic if you are in Iceland yourself.

From the article, it seems like the Guardian reporter either didn't know this, or doesn't think Microsoft is important (!):

> Online, however, is the biggest concern. Apart from Google – which, mainly because it has an Icelandic engineer, has added Icelandic speech recognition to its Android mobile operating system – the internet giants have no interest in offering Icelandic options for a population the size of Cardiff’s.

I wonder what will happen to languages and culture when we will eventually be able to transmit direct thoughts to another person using brain implants or other tech. Imagine being able to communicate without any possibility of misunderstanding. The idea you have in mind is the exact idea the other person receives.

I don’t think it works that way. My thoughts are in English. I’ve asked bilingual people about their dreams and thoughts. Most of them say it can be both languages usually depending on where they are.

If you mean transfer a feeling then I’d agree it’s possible. Like happy, sad, angry etc.

I am bilingual. I personally do not dream in a specific language. When I wake up, I'll remember scenes, people, feelings and actions. Sometimes there are dialogues in French, but it's rare.

As for thoughts, I often think in French or English, but for a lot of thoughts, no language is involved. For example, I do not think "I must pay my electricity bill" or "I should do some laundry today".

When people make vector embeddings for words, it's fairly common that the embedding for one language is just a rotation of the embedding for the synonym in another language. So I think the higher level (and lower dimensional) representations of thoughts could be pretty consistent across native languages. Even though you might perceive your thoughts to be formulated in your native language, your brain almost certainly generates that representation from another, which is probably more universal. That means we could exchange these universal representations of thoughts and our own brains would do the "translation" as necessary.

I don't think it works that way, either. When you reach for a door, do you first think "I'm going to reach for that door," in English? Or do you just think it wordlessly? For me, personally, when I inspect how I'm thinking, I really do think wordlessly a lot of the time. It's only in communicating my thoughts to others that my ideas become verbalized, or if I'm in a verbalizing mood, I might be talking to myself. But when I've gone hours without talking to someone, I'm probably not going to verbalize much in my head.

He may be implying a hybrid, which does non-spoken translation but also add emotional queues in order to make things clear.

Not to be trite, but note that Iceland's total population (~300k) is less than half of San Francisco's (~800k).

> “It’s called ‘digital minoritisation’,” said Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, a professor of Icelandic language and linguistics at the University of Iceland. “When a majority language in the real world becomes a minority language in the digital world.”

This makes the phrase "digital minoritisation" seem pretty silly. We should definitely try to protect the heritage of uncommonly spoken languages like Icelandic, Basque, etc. But it's not clear why the plight of Icelandic, a language with its "own country," is particularly deserving of this sort of dramatization.

I am creating a programming language that supports native languages, I would love to release a version in this language. If any of you here is a native Icelandic speaker pls contact me and help me create a proper translation (https://citrine-lang.org/)! I'll send you a dictionary file that contains the translation strings (from everything like IF-ELSE to CREATEHASH and so on...)

Oh no, not another save-the-language story. As with all of them, it takes for granted the assumption that it needs saving but doesn't explain why beyond "cultural heritage". Why do people need to persist the same culture as their parents and grandparents? Whatever good that does should be more than the cost of learning it and using it everywhere. Does anyone know what the good of maintaining a little-used language is?

In my country we have a similar issue except the local language was artificially revived from dead so there's no or almost no unbroken chain of native speakers. There's still debate about how some (English) letters are supposed to be pronounced. They've added useful words, then changed them to sound more authentic. Eg days of the week used to be transliterations from English but now they're references to various native Gods and things. The whole concept of a week didn't exist in the original culture so how can authentic day names exist at all?! It's a big effort with no justification.

It leads to things like this gem of nonsense in an code of practice for electrical work:

"From a Maori perspective, the term “earth” or Papatuanuku translates as Earth Mother – the source of all energy. When aligning this concept to the flow of electricity, a useful parallel can be made to the 3-pin plug."

Language affects our thought process, so therefore the fewer languages there are in the world the more monotone the thought process of the world. I'm not saying there's any chance of saving the languages, we will most definitely end up with only one language somewhere in the next 200 years, I'm just pointing out that there's something we'll lose along the way.

This has come up a lot but do you have any examples where it's significant?

Yes the best everyday example is when you start to think in another language that you have learned, you cant easily translate those thoughts in your native language. Here's an old TED talk related that has some examples and here's one quote from it:

"Two English scientists were doing an experiment to do with genetics, and the forelimbs and hindlimbs of animals but they couldn't get the results they wanted, they really didn't know what to do, until along came a German scientist, who realized they were using 2 words for forelimb and hindlimb, whereas genetics and does not differentiate, and neither does German. So, bingo, problem solved. If you can't think a thought, you are stuck. But if another language can think a thought, you can learn and achieve so much more."


> Why do people need to persist the same culture as their parents and grandparents?

What if they cannot specify a logical reason, but still feel like it? Isn't that enough?

Do you never feel a joy and pride in following in your parents' footsteps, in having the same traditions as older ancestors, or in feeling the same rain, walking in the same forests, and struggling on the same Earth as many others from generations ancient and recent? It's when I do that that I see them, those who I know have lived, appear from the mist, that I may greet them, be in their midst, and know that I am one of them.

That's always available for individuals who just copy what their parents do. You don't need external effort to save a language for that. If kids can't be bothered with their parent's dialect, why not let them ignore it?

There's historical importance to. If you lose the native speakers and writers of language, you lose the ability to read and interpret the written history of a culture. There's ancient Mediterranean civilizations we don't understand because we cannot read Linear A or Cretan.

Very easy, make Duolingo as a CAPTCHA for translating the web into Icelandic.

Well, they could start by making Icelandic accessible to the outside world, good luck learning it outside Iceland.

"Icelandic is spoken today by barely 340,000 people"

The population of Iceland is 334,252.

Seems reasonable that there could be 6000 or so Icelandic speakers outside Iceland.

Many live and work abroad, plus there's several pockets of Icelanders in various countries, like one notable group in Western Canada as you'd see in places like Gimli, Manitoba: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimli,_Manitoba

It's not clear how many still speak Icelandic, but there's heritage.


Plus 5000 or so scholars around the world specializing in the Norse sagas.

There are certainly many more than that ordinary Icelanders living in other countries, and they still know the language. (I'd guess it's tens of thousands).

This is bullshit and you can mostly write the same article for any non-English language.

I'm pretty sure French doesn't think of itself as dying. Or Spanish. Or Portuguese, even if many more people speak it in Brazil than in Portugal. Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Malay, Korean -- English may be the most popular second language for all these populations, but there's lots of new work being produced in all of them, and thriving populations who use them all day long.

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