Will Icelandic survive the invasion of English?

Some Icelanders are becoming unsettled by this existential question: Will their language still be spoken in the future? Comedian and former Reykjavik mayor Jón Gnarr is convinced that this uniquely archaic-yet-modern language will one day die out. He says his children express themselves beautifully in English but speak limited Icelandic. Give it a couple more generations, and who knows? For Gnarr and many others, speaking Icelandic is an essential part of being Icelandic. Without the language, Iceland’s patriotic anthem “Land, Nation and Tongue” would lose its meaning. Among Iceland’s multitude of avid book-readers though, the language is showing few signs of disappearing. For now at least, Icelandic authors are committed to writing in their mother tongue.

This is part two of our reporting on Icelandic. Listen to the first part, Icelandic, the language that recycles everything.

In addition to Jón Gnarr, we hear from novelists Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Sverrir Norland, as well as literary translator Larissa Kyzer, linguist Ari Páll Kristinsson, and Ethiopian-born restaurant owner Azeb Kahssay.

Music in this episode by Luella Gren, Hysics, Medité, Farrell Wooten, J.S. Bach/Eric Jacobsen, Jon Björk, and Trabant 33. The photo is of a poster in Reykjavik celebrating the Icelandic language.

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