Iceland is not only world famous for its awe-inspiring volcanoes, majestic geysers, and haunting northern lights. Among linguists, it is also well-known for its energetic language preservation policies.
Like the legendary Académie française, which was designed to protect the French language against unwanted foreign influences, the Icelandic Language Council, or the Íslensk Málnefnd (IM), is dedicated to preserving the integrity and ensuring the longevity of the Icelandic spoken, written, and signed language. On the one hand, the work of this IM is credited with making sure that Icelandic remains the first language of the island nation’s ca. 300,000 inhabitants and is not de-throwned by powerful foreign languages like English. On the other hand, some observers worry that the country’s restrictive language policies may impede upon its citizens’ rights to express themselves.
In recent years, for example, the prohibitive language policies concerning the names which parents can select for their newborns has fallen under repeated attack. In a recent case, the Icelandic authorities refused to renew the passport of a 10 year girl named Harriet on the grounds that the English name was not on the official list of the Icelandic Naming Committee. The Committee’s hard line has not only been felt by parents who have tried to give their offspring foreign names. There are also numerous cases in which the Committee has prohibited Icelandic names that they considered contrary to Icelandic onomastic traditions (e.g. Blær ‘gentle, light breeze’).
According to politicians like Óttarr Proppé, MP for the liberal party aptly named Bright Future or Björt framtíð, enough is enough. In an article featured in the Iceland Monitor, Proppé and his supporters have introduced a formal bill calling for the abolition of Iceland’s Naming Committee. If the proposal wins, it will be interesting to see what affect the decision might have for other nations with similarly restrictive naming policies (e.g. Denmark, Germany, and France).