Tinna Frímann Jökulsdóttir

PhD Student; MA thesis (2018)

MA thesis:
„I didnʹt understand that — please try again“: Communication between Icelanders and virtual assistants

The ever increasing language contact between Icelandic and English has raised a number of concerns regarding its influence on the viability of the Icelandic language. The arrival of so-called dialogue systems which are largely based on vocal communication has further increased these concerns due to the interactive, and even personal, nature of the communications that they allow.
The main objective of this project is to map the extent and nature of the use of digital assistants by the Icelandic population. Furthermore, we will study how well Icelandic language speakers are doing using these assistants, their attitudes towards their use, whether they would prefer using Icelandic in these communications were it available, and how they foresee their use after 2–3 years. Finally, we will evaluate how well Icelandic language technology is prepared to offer Icelandic voice control.
With this general objective in mind the following report is divided into three parts. In the first part we establish a connection between English influences on the Icelandic linguistic community and predictions of the viability of the Icelandic language. In the second part we present the current state of Icelandic language technology, with special emphasis on dialogue systems. In the third, and main, part, we present the design, execution and results of an on-line survey intended to gather information on the communication of Icelandic language speakers with digital assistants.
Our results show that even though digital assistance are a relatively recent technology 33.9% of participants reported having used one. Younger participants were more likely to report usage which was mostly bound to simple commands, although there were some examples of more extended communications. The reports show a general consensus on the importance of making Icelandic available for digital assistants and other voice-controlled technology. A possible explanation of this consensus is the fact that just under 80% percent of participants reported communication problems with digital assistants which either be traced to difficulties understanding Icelandic pronounciation of English on the part of the assistant or to Icelandic names and toponyms. Our results also indicate that the use of digital assistance will continue to increase in the years to come, but that a considerable amount of work is needed in Icelandic language technology if Icelandic is to be the language of these future