Is Icelandic a Dying Language?

Icelandic, the native language of Iceland, has been around since the 13th century and holds a rich history and cultural significance. However, in recent years, it has been observed that the language is slowly declining with the increasing use of English, especially in sectors like tourism and digital technologies. Linguistic experts have begun to express concern about the potential extinction of the Icelandic language in the coming years, as digital tools further encroach upon its usage.

Several factors contribute to the decline of the Icelandic language, including the dominance of English on social media and the high costs of translating software and databases for a smaller population. Currently, Icelandic is considered to be on the verge of extinction due to these factors, and interventions may be required to preserve this linguistically and culturally unique language for future generations.

Scientists warn that 42% of modern languages are endangered today, and Icelandic is not an exception. The potential loss of these languages will dilute the world’s linguistic diversity and harm cultural identity. As such, the discussion around the Icelandic language and its decline is not just limited to Iceland but encompasses a global conversation on language preservation and protection in the face of an increasingly connected and digitally-driven world.

Icelandic Language Overview

Historical Background

The Icelandic language, spoken by the entire population of Iceland, developed from the Norse speech brought by settlers from western Norway in the 9th and 10th centuries. It belongs to the West Scandinavian group of North Germanic languages, along with Norwegian and Faroese .

Unique Characteristics

Icelandic retains many grammatical features of other ancient Germanic languages and is similar to Old Norwegian before much of its fusional inflection was lost. It is a heavily inflected language with four cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive. This makes Icelandic stand out as a unique and historically significant language.

Current Situation

Number of Speakers

Icelandic is not considered a dying language despite the influence of English in the country. The language has survived for over 1,000 years and remains the official language of Iceland. Although there has been an increase in English usage, Icelandic is still widely spoken by the majority of the population. Icelandic is not listed as an endangered language by UNESCO, which is a testament to its continued strength and relevance in the country.

Language Policies

The Icelandic government has implemented various language policies to preserve and promote the Icelandic language. These policies aim to maintain the cultural heritage and national identity associated with the language. One example is the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, which works to preserve Icelandic literature and research on the language. Furthermore, the Icelandic Language Council advises the government on language issues and develops strategies for language promotion and preservation.

In addition to these policies, the Icelandic government has also taken steps to combat the impact of digital technology on the language. Efforts have been made, for example, to develop digital tools that support Icelandic, such as language recognition software and virtual assistants, in order to counter the influence of English in the digital sphere.

Overall, the Icelandic language remains robust due to supportive language policies and an engaged population. While there are challenges posed by the prevalence of English and digital technology, concerted efforts are being made to ensure the continued vitality of Icelandic.

Factors Affecting Icelandic Language

The Icelandic language, while not listed as an endangered language by UNESCO, is facing several challenges that could impact its future use and preservation. This section of the article will explore crucial factors contributing to its current state, including the influence of the English language, tourism, and migration.

Influence of English

The widespread use of English in Iceland is a significant factor affecting the Icelandic language. As English becomes increasingly dominant in various aspects of society, the Icelandic language may struggle to maintain its presence. In particular, in the realm of technology and communication, English often takes precedence, leading to a possible decline in the use of Icelandic in these areas.


Tourism has had a massive impact on Iceland in recent years and has become the country’s single biggest employer. This boom in tourism has led to a surge in English-speaking visitors and service providers who cater to them. As a result, the Icelandic language may be sidelined in favor of English for practical and economic reasons. This could lead to a dwindling number of young Icelanders who learn and speak the language fluently.


Another factor contributing to the current state of the Icelandic language is migration. As more people move to Iceland for work or study, they often bring their native languages with them. At the same time, many Icelanders are venturing abroad for opportunities, exposing themselves to other languages and cultures. This exchange of language and culture could lead to the gradual dilution of Icelandic, particularly if younger generations choose to adopt more globally dominant languages in place of their native tongue.

Preservation and Revitalization Efforts

This section will discuss the cultural significance of the Icelandic language, as well as initiatives and programs designed to support its preservation and growth.

Cultural Significance

The Icelandic language holds great importance on preservation and promotion of Iceland’s unique cultural heritage. The language is a key element in maintaining the connection to Iceland’s rich history and literary tradition, including the Sagas and Eddas, which are considered priceless works of world literature. Preserving Icelandic not only safeguards this cultural treasure but also ensures the continued transmission of traditional knowledge, art, and expression to future generations.

Initiatives and Programs

Recognizing the importance of the Icelandic language, there are multiple efforts in place to protect it and revitalize its use. Some of these initiatives and programs include:

  • Government support: The Icelandic government plays an active role in promoting and supporting the use of the language, including investing in native language corpus production and providing educational programs to foster Icelandic language use.
  • Language preservation projects: Various organizations and institutions work on preserving and documenting the Icelandic language, helping to ensure its survival and continued vitality in the face of globalizing forces.

These efforts, along with the dedication of Iceland’s people and the support of the international community, offer hope for the Icelandic language to remain a proud and integral part of the nation’s identity as it navigates the changing landscape of the modern world.


While Icelandic is not currently listed as an endangered language by UNESCO, concerns about its future persist. The influence of digital technology and the widespread use of English have raised questions about the long-term survival of the Icelandic language.

Although the Icelandic language survives as the majority, official language of a nation state, it faces the threat of “digital extinction.” This is due to factors such as the high cost of translating software and databases for a small population. As a result, Icelandic ranks 29th among languages in danger of digital death.

Despite these challenges, it is important to note that Icelandic has endured for well over 1,000 years. Preservation and revitalization efforts may be essential in ensuring its continued survival. By promoting awareness and supporting initiatives aimed at preserving the language, the Icelandic community can work together to maintain its linguistic heritage for future generations.