Iceland Europe European Union editorials

  No language is an island, but Icelandic tries. To keep alive its rich culture it has built linguistic defences to prevent erosion from outside influence. Yet the technological revolution of recent years has seen Iceland submerged by a rising tide of English. As one researcher told our reporter: “Now on phones, tablets, computers, TVs, there are countless games, films, series, videos, songs. You converse with Google Home or Alexa. All in English.”

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  At least a score more European languages, repositories of history and culture, face the same problem. Technology ought to be able to accommodate – even encourage – the rich variety of global communication. But this raises a wider question about modern-day nation states: can they encompass a multiplicity of languages and still appear coherent?

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  In the European context a single dominant language was historically seen as the indispensable glue that keeps citizens together. It would be wrong to think that languages do not have political purposes. They do. Obviously the dominant narratives that emerge from a people, and the language used to express them, influence the way a society views itself and forms its priorities. It is how we accommodate the languages within borders that is important. Europeans fear being scattered by a babel of tongues, yet the EU, where nations cooperate, has defied historical experience. The heterogeneity of the EU’s geographic community is a lesson worth learning. Instead of thinking that a nation is only unified by one language, a modern-day nationalism would represent its semantic diversity.

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  Iceland Europe European Union editorials

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