Icelanders tolerant of foreign accents | University of Iceland Skip to main content

Icelanders tolerant of foreign accents

Stefanie Bade, doctoral student at the Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies

Immigration has increased significantly in recent years. Immigrants usually speak Icelandic with an accent and a new kind of Icelandic language usage has developed. This language usage deviates from the standard and so we can potentially expect social consequences for immigrants who speak like this. The value of Icelandic is very strong in Icelandic society and Icelandic language policy has played its part in that. For this reason I want to explore ideas about good Icelandic in light of Icelandic language policy and attitudes to foreign accents in language usage." So says Stefanie Bade, student in Icelandic grammar, of her doctoral research project.

Stefanie studied Nordic studies in her home country Germany, where she explored Icelandic language policy in particular. "I gained such a deep insight into Icelandic society and the Icelandic way of thinking when I moved here to pursue a postgraduate programme in translation studies in 2011," says Stefanie – her own experience has also influenced her choice of project. "I am a foreigner in Iceland and it's interesting to me to find out how people react when they hear me speaking with an accent and the reasons for that. I was born and raised in Berlin in Germany and often observed how people reacted to immigrants and the impact their language usage had on how they were treated."

Stefanie Bade

"The initial results of my research suggest that native Icelandic speakers do not generally feel that it is important that Icelandic is spoken with a native accent and perfect grammar." 

Stefanie Bade, doctoral student at the Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies

Stefanie points out that foreign research shows that different factors affect how an immigrant's language usage is evaluated, e.g. the speaker's personal characteristics and social status, stereotypes for their nationality and attitudes towards accents. "The initial results of my research suggest that native Icelandic speakers do not generally feel that it is important that Icelandic is spoken with a native accent and perfect grammar. People appear to be very tolerant of immigrants and their language proficiency, but nevertheless there are various indications that the language proficiency of immigrants and their accents are connected to stereotypes for certain nationalities and areas of origin," says Stefanie.

She says that research like this is particularly interesting because the attitudes of the public and their evaluation of language can give us clues about the sociolinguistic environment. "With the emergence of a new multicultural society in Iceland, some people feel that established attitudes and standards are threatened. This new language usage or language variant can therefore give rise to new values and so have a radical effect on what is sometimes called the linguistic climate, not to mention the multifaceted impact that a foreign accent can have on an immigrant's circumstances, e.g. socially."

Supervisor: Kristján Árnason, professor at the Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies.