Babel 101

Today I started official language classes. In my group there are people Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Eritrea and me.

At first glance for an English speaker, Norwegian doesn’t seem too hard. The English have inherited many words for the Nordic languages and the grammar is similar. Reading things aloud with an English accent, I can sometimes figure out the meaning, even if the spelling looks different. Not bad – on paper. However, hearing and speaking is a different matter.

I am reminded of the account of the Tower of Babel in the Bible (Genesis 11). The Babel incident happened over 4000 years ago, but the Viking invasions of the British Isles were much more recent. I think the Babel confusion must be on-going. It’s almost like someone came along and deliberately switched sounds, especially the vowels. So:

  • A  sounds like  R
  • E  sounds like Air
  • I  sounds like  E
  • O  sounds like  Oo (as in spoon)
  • U  sounds like  ?
  • Y  sounds like  E
  • Æ  sounds like  Are
  • Ø  sounds like  Err
  • Å  sounds like  Or

To hear it for yourself, go here.

I’m certain it must be just as confusing for Norwegians learning English. But it makes me wonder how it happens. Did the Vikings arrive, teach the Britons some news words using deliberately wrong pronunciation and then laugh all the way back home at how stupid the English will sound in 1000 years? Or once the Vikings had gone, did the Britons decide to keep the words but change the sound as an early way of sticking two fingers up (flipping the bird) at the departing invaders? Maybe it’s both. It’s quite amusing to think of the conversations either way!

One practical outworking, is deciding how I will be known. Should I remain ‘anglicised’ knowing that many people reading my name will probably mispronounce it, should I say Jon with Norwegian pronunciation  (Yune), or use my full name in Norwegian (Yune-are-ton)? Yune seems best, although I need to remember to answer to it!

Me thinks that language learning doth make my brain hurt.

On a lighter note, it was lovely to meet more of the staff today, especially Ivar Jarle Eliassen, the other Kantor, who is on secondment to the Dioscese but took time to pop in to say hello.

Finally, here are some photos from my walk to work this morning:

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2 responses to “Babel 101

  1. Jon, I am truly enjoying your travel log. Please continue to keep us posted as most of us won’t ever get to see it in person. Be well. Jackie Harris

  2. Pingback: Little Is Big « Play My Tune

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