“Behemoth, bully, thief: how the English language is taking over the planet”:
“The Hidden Bias of Science’s Universal Language”
If you haven’t already, listen to the 8-minute lecture “Influence of Americanization on Icelandic Language”.
A couple of things to add to the audio lecture that I perhaps didn’t execute on… While Americans and Brits forced the occupation of Iceland during the second World War, a number of Icelanders appreciated what came with the eventual establishment of the American NATO base. For example, Keflavík, the neighboring fishing town, got the nickname of “Little America” since it was especially impacted by the Americans, and the fact that everything American was considered “cool” at that time. English is also considered an easy language to learn, making its use all the more appealing. Not surprisingly, those in Keflavík had, for years, the reputation for speaking better English than the rest of the island (of which they were very proud).
While Icelanders were and still are required to learn Danish in schools, and have mingled occasionally with sailors from other countries, the language has been largely considered “pure” until recently, e.g., words like ókei, bjútý, and kúl don‘t need translation (though these are used in conversations and social media posts, not written texts). In fact, if Vikings were to come back, Icelanders are the only Nordic people they could still understand (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish languages have evolved much more over time; Icelandic didn’t evolve as greatly given the nation’s isolation as an island in the North Atlantic).
Despite the presence of the NATO base, Icelanders still sought to preserve their language, e.g., all TV programs were, and still are, televised with Icelandic translation text (children’s TV shows, like “Paw Patrol,” and movies, like “Rapunzel” and “Cars”, use Icelandic voice-over). And they were quite successful in the language’s preservation up until the age of the Internet, with Iceland avoiding the international spotlight, as far as tourism and immigration, until the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. But the need to use more English in every day conversations, given tourism and foreign workers, and the onslaught of digital communication being hard to keep up with, have made it difficult to keep Icelandic front and center. The Icelandic government is investing a good chunk of change in digital initiatives that will feature Icelandic as the dominant language, and has an “Icelandic Language Day” which seeks to highlight its value.
Answer the following:
- With the Guardian article, what did the writer cite as benefits of learning the English language and it being the “international” language?
- What were concerns the writer expressed about the dominance of the English language?
- What concerns did the writer for theatlantic voice about the majority of scientific papers being published in English?
- Given the influence of Americanization and the digital world on Icelanders, do you think that Icelandic, and other languages under similar influence, have a chance of surviving in this day and age? Support your stance.
- What are your thoughts on this domination of the English language, in general?