Extent of Borrowing and Foreign Influence on the Lexicon

The greater part of present-day Norwegian vocabulary can be traced back to Old Norse origins, and from there to Common Germanic lexical sources. Still, the cultural contacts with western Europe since the Iron Age have left their indelible imprint on the modern language. With respect to the acceptance and assimilation of linguistic borrowings of a grammatical or lexical nature, the standardized versions of Bokmdl (and Riksmdl), on one hand, and New Norwegian, on the other, exhibit obvious differences. In keeping with its supranational origin as Dano-Norwegian, the vocabulary of modern Bokmdl/ Riksmdl bears abundant testimony to the manifold cultural and linguistic influences to which Norway and the Norwegian language have been exposed in the course of the long political union with Denmark.

In spite of the various spelling reforms of this century, traditional Bokmdl/ Riksmdl still has a large number of word forms whose graphematic and phonological shape betray their Danish origin, for example, lav (NN Idg) 'low', lov (also NN) 'law', and, in particular, words with monophthongs where most Norwegian dialects have diphthongs such as l0v (NN/BM lauv) 'leaves', ren (also rein) 'clean', h0re (NN h0yra) 'hear', and words with Danish voiced vs Norwegian unvoiced consonants like begredelig 'mournful' (cf. gr&te 'weep'), skudd (NN skot) 'shot'. A number of words have a Danish stem vowel, cf. hull (NN/BM hoi) 'hole', RM hugge (BM/NN hogge) 'cut, carve'.

Part of the Bokmdl inflectional endings also reflect Danish influence. Although East and South Norwegian have also undergone a process of vowel weakening in unstressed syllables, the predominance of the unstressed vowel -e(-) in modern Bokmdl inflectional morphology clearly has to be seen in the context of Danish influence.

A conspicuous trait of traditional New Norwegian is the wholesale rejection of entire classes of Bokmdl words which by virtue of specific affixes can be traced back to Danish or German origins. New Norwegian was created in the culturally highly formative and self-conscious period of Norwegian national romanticism which developed in the aftermath of the political restoration of 1814. The general New Norwegian attitude became one of selective purism. According to this view, New Norwegian should incorporate such lexical items as bear witness to cultural developments of a truly international nature, above all loanwords of Greek and Roman, but to a certain extent even French, English or Dutch origin. On the other hand, words and word forms which reflected dependence on former political and economical masters were felt to be nationally disgraceful and hence to be shunned. (By contrast, proponents of Dano-Norwegian and later on Riksmdl have emphasized the value of a shared cultural heritage.) In addition, there was a declared intention to restore to literary usage old Norwegian words and word forms which had survived in the dialects. In practice this amounted to the programmatic exclusion from New Norwegian of a large number of lexical elements that were recognizably Danish or German. These derive from three main historical sources:

1 During the late Middle Ages, the activities of the Hanseatic League had a tremendous impact on Norwegian trade and economy, and the linguistic influence of Middle Low German on the Norwegian vocabulary was to acquire equal proportions;

2 After the protestant reformation of 1536, High German became, through Danish, an important source of lexical innovation;

3 As early as about 1500, Norwegian was virtually extinct as a written language. For all administrative and literary purposes it had been replaced by Danish.

The selective purism resulting from a desire to combat the consequences of this rather massive lexical influence has, in practice, had more a structural than a strictly etymological bent. Loanwords which conform to indigenous Norwegian phonotactic and derivational patterns which are naturally heir to Old Norse formations are accepted quite easily. To these belong such common words as BM/NN rykte 'rumour, reputation', BM middel, NN medel 'means', BM/NN xre 'honour', BM/NN alvor 'earnest', BM fremmed, NN framand 'foreign', BM/NN krig 'war', BM/NN bruke 'use', BM/NN reise 'travel', BM/NN selskap 'party, company', etc. On the other hand, New Norwegian has to some extent pursued the policy of creating translation loans to replace Riksmdl/Bokmdl formations of actual or alleged foreign provenance: compare NN sj0lvstende (BM selvstendighet) 'independence', NN takksemd (BM takknemlighet) 'gratitude', NN/BM tiltak 'initiative', NN/BM ordskifte 'discussion', NN/BM samrd seg med 'confer, discuss with'. However, present-day New Norwegian usage seems to indicate a certain weakening of former puristic positions. In particular, a large number of common Bokmâl words with the originally German prefixes be- and for- are now being admitted into New Norwegian.

Aspects of Lexicalization

The specific lexicalization patterns of a language are, at least from a heuristic point of view, presumably best established by comparison with other languages. From this perspective, it seems reasonable to assume that Norwegian does not possess the wealth of, in particular, abstract words found in English. Hence, certain semantic distinctions are less prone to be lexicalized in Norwegian than in English: BM mulighet vs English possibility, opportunity, option. Norwegian is also able to dispense with certain 'logical' distinctions which are lexicalized in, for example, English. Thus, the some-any distinction is only vestigially present in NN nokre vs nokon, and with regard to the each-every distinction, Norwegian conflates 'each' and 'every' as BM hver, NN kvar. On the other hand, Norwegian has definitely more modal particles than English, but less than German and Russian. For example, the highly frequent sentence-final particle BM da, NN d& does service as the equivalent of the three clause-internal German particles schon, denn, mal in the following different sentence types: German nun seid ihr schon verlobt -BM nä er dere forlovet, da 'now you are engaged, then' vs German wie sah denn der Wagen aus? - NN korleis säg bilen ut, dä? 'what did the car look like?' vs German laß mal hören! - BM fä h0re, da! 'let's hear then!'

When comparing Norwegian and German, it is evident that the latter language has a far richer system than Norwegian in the domain of prefixal formations. In particular, Norwegian counterparts to the important subsystem of verbs with a deictic prefix consisting of hin-, her- and a preposition are lacking entirely. Furthermore, Norwegian often has one lexical verb where German has two or more syntactically and semantically distinct verbs with different prefixes, cf. BM true, NN truga 'threaten' vs German drohen, bedrohen, androhen; BM h0re, NN h0yra 'hear, listen' vs German hören, (sich) anhören, zuhören; BM sp0rre, NN sp0rja 'ask' vs German fragen, befragen, erfragen, anfragen.

By contrast, phrasal-verb constructions constitute a productive lexical pattern in Modern Norwegian. They appear to be syntactically characteristic in two important respects. First, they display the kind of operand-operator ((S)VO) serialization which is typical of other constituent domains also, above all the (v-)V-N-A(-Sentence-final Particle) patterns of the verbal part (VP) of sentences and clauses, the post-adjectival part of noun phrases, and the positioning of prepositions and complementizers before the remainder of the prepositional phrases and clauses they introduce. Second, phrasal verbs appear to be another instance of a pervasive tendency to give separate lexical expression to semantic units and relations, so that semantic complexity of content is iconically reflected as syntagmatic complexity of expression. The following verbatim quote from a radio interview with an important Norwegian government official would seem to be a rather extreme, but not altogether untypical example of a more general semantic strategy of this kind: BM vif&r nok se til ä legge litt mer jobb i ä fä orden pä dette. The following is a literal translation into English (with some grammatical comments added): 'we get (aux. with modal obligational meaning) enough (modal particle roughly corresponding to English then) look to (phrasal verb with particle of prepositional origin) to (inf. particle) lay a little (quantifier) more (comparative quantifier) job (i.e. 'work, effort') in (prep, dependent on the preceding phrasal-verb expression) to (inf. particle) get order on (prep, dependent on phrasal-verb expression) this here (deictic adverb specifying the preceding demonstrative)'. A more appropriate English translation in official style would rather seem to be something like: 'we must increase our efforts to rectify this'. It appears to be a not too controversial suggestion that this analytic tendency constitutes a semantic analogue to the morphosyntactic analyticity which manifests itself in the categorial paucity and the comparatively regular affixal character of the Norwegian, in particular Bokm&l, inflectional-marking system.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment