A couple of years ago I posted about the problems faced by the Icelandic language; now Egill Bjarnason writes about it for the NY Times with a focus on streaming TV:

Iceland, like much of the world, has embraced Disney’s popular streaming service, Disney+, since it arrived there late last year, with characters from Mickey Mouse to Mulan now available to watch on demand in homes across the country. But there is a problem, the government says: None of the movies or shows are dubbed or subtitled in Icelandic. […]

The Disney+ service offers subtitles and audio dubs in up to 16 languages, according to its website, although the availability varies by title. The company also says it plans to add more languages as the service becomes available in more countries. […] And Icelanders have long adored Disney characters, many of whom are given names in Icelandic: Donald Duck is Andrés Önd, and Winnie the Pooh is Bangsímon. Many of Disney’s classic films were also dubbed into Icelandic when they were first released. But those versions are absent from Disney+, and people in the country want to know why. […]

Among the nation’s children, English is being embraced at a rate that few people could imagine even a decade ago. Schools have had to rethink their curriculum because many students can no longer fluently read volumes from the Sagas of Icelanders, the medieval literature that chronicles Iceland’s early settlers and is considered the bedrock of the language. And many Icelanders have made the point that without the preservation of ancient Icelandic scripts and people’s ability to read them, some of the best-known tales of Norse mythology would have been lost. (That would mean no foundation for the lucrative Marvel Thor series, which is streamed on Disney+ and based on the Norse god of thunder.)

Now, some of the country’s youngest children speak English without an Icelandic accent, and when communicating in Icelandic their syntax is influenced by that of English. Evidence also suggests that young Icelanders’ vocabulary is shrinking and blending with English, particularly regarding technical terms. Some people, for instance, will know the English word civilization but not necessarily the Icelandic equivalent (it’s “siðmenning”).

But there’s hope:

“We are already experimenting with automatic subtitle captioning,” said Johanna Gudmundsdottir, who leads the research center Almannaromur, with a team of 60 experts working to save the language from “a digital death.” The government has allocated $23 million for the project, which is being open-sourced so that tech companies can add Icelandic as a language option without much groundwork. Ms. Gudmundsdottir said the technology still needed to advance to a level of translating English audio in real time. She added, “We will get there.”

And if you’re curious, siðmenning is siður ‘custom, tradition’ +‎ menning ‘development.’ Thanks, Kobi!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    Welsh gwareiddiad “civilisation” derives from gwâr “civilised, tame, kind”, which according to GPC is from *gʷʰer- “warm”, which is (of course) also the source of the Latin furnus “oven” – very Lévi-Strauss:

  2. Wiktionary says Old Norse siðr is cognate to Ancient Greek ἦθος, which certainly isn’t obvious on the face of it.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    Looks a bit iffy: what’s with the loss of -w- in the Germanic forms?

  4. Exwactly.

  5. PlasticPaddy says

    dwds has for Sitte

    Die übliche Herleitung vergleicht aind. svadhā́ ‘Eigenheit, Eigenkraft, Charakter, gewohnte Art, Gewohnheit’, griech. éthos (ἔθος, aus *ϝέθος, ie. *su̯édhos) …und geht von ie. *su̯ē̌dh- aus, in dem eine Bildung zum Pronominalstamm ie. *seu̯e- (s. ↗sich) gesehen wird. Dagegen erklärt Wissmann in: Münchener Studien zur Sprachwiss. 6 (1955) 129 das stammhafte i in aengl. sidu und anord. siðr für alt (also nicht aus e hervorgegangen). Aus dem gleichen Grunde lehnt Trier Lehm (1951) 41 die oben vorgetragene Etymologie (also auch die Verbindung mit griech. éthos) ab und schließt die germ. Formen von Sitte an die unter ↗Saite und ↗Seil (s. d.) behandelten Substantive an, so daß Sitte (im Ablaut zu Saite stehend) als ‘Verbindendes, Bindung’ gedeutet werden kann.

    It seems from that that the problem for Wissmann and Lehm is not the w, but the i.

  6. Stu Clayton says

    so daß Sitte (im Ablaut zu Saite stehend) als ‘Verbindendes, Bindung’ gedeutet werden kann.

    Thus moral standards would fall within the province of string theory. Makes as much sense as anything else. Kant just didn’t have a suitable notational system.

    Sneaky, those ablauts ! They allow old conceptual associations to wither away, freeing the mind for new speculation.

  7. January First-of-May says


    Ð is a very interesting letter, because it can have three lowercase forms depending on the context: Ðð in Icelandic (eth), Đđ in FYLOSC and Vietnamese (D with stroke), Ɖɖ in some African languages (retroflex D). Since Unicode is aiming for a one-to-one correspondence, all three of the uppercase letters technically have different Unicode encodings (00D0, 0110, 0189).

    The dogecoin symbol is traditionally associated with the first of those three, though as a symbol it could probably really be either. (Someone should start a doggocoin or something with a D-with-stroke symbol. Make sure to make it proof-of-stake, though, proof-of-work cryptocoins are ludicrously polluting.)

  8. Among the nation’s children, English is being embraced at a rate that few people could imagine even a decade ago.

    True in Austria as well, although not to the same extent of course. Kids still watch Netflix or Disney+ in German dub but YouTubers and TikTok do a lot of damage. I still find the amount of English thrown into casual conversation by young German speaking adults („let‘s see“,“actually“, „exciting“, and of course the ever popular “fucking” and “bullshit”) grating, and the trend is getting worse.

  9. David Marjanović says

    Exciting actually fills a lexical gap – the connotations of aufregend aren’t positive enough.

  10. Stu Clayton says

    So far I have been spared “exciting” from young German speaking adults. It’s a little bit true that the connotations of aufregend aren’t positive enough – but even if they were, it must be aufregender to display trendiness by saying “exciting”. Or (*shudder*) “sexy”, which I hear a lot when in the dog park with Sparky. Dog owners are the pits in many respects.

  11. Yes, that’s why I can’t agree with those who complain at the state of English education in Russia.

    First, to have the right to complain they must be children themselves, or else it is solving a (percieved!) problem at the expence of someone’s forced labour.
    Second, I love our habit to translate everything. It works perfectly.

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