Do you think you can good English?

Broren til ei venninne av meg, Ali Akhtar, skrev en artikkel om masteroppgaven min i Stavanger Aftenblad. Den ligger ute tilgjengelig kun for deg med abonnement, så her er altså en gratisversjon :)

Image

Foto: Syed Ali Shahbaz Akhtar

Do you think you can good English?

Disse engelskfeilene gjør norske elever.

Syed Ali Shahbaz Akhtar

Publisert: 26 juli 2013 14:51 Oppdatert: 26 juli 2013 14:55

Sier du «train at the gym» istedenfor «work out at the gym», eller «plane accident» istedenfor «plane crash»? Norsk-amerikanske Karina Rose Mahan prøvde i mastergradsoppgaven sin å kartlegge de vanligste ordfeilene norske ungdomskoleelever og studenter gjør når de skriver engelsk. Med ordfeil menes det at et ord blir brukt feil i kontekst, og ikke at det er stavet feil eller grammatisk feil.

– Omtrent hvert 25. ordvalg var feil, eller man kan si at det var 16 feil per side. Av de 25.000 ordene jeg gikk igjennom var over 1000 feil, sier Mahan.

Ungdomskole vs universitet

24 år gamle Karina Rose Mahan fullførte nylig mastergraden sin i engelsk språk ved Universitetet i Oslo. I mastergradsoppgaven sin ville hun undersøke hvor mange og hvilke ordfeil som går igjen blant norske elever og studenter.

– Det har blitt gjort veldig lite forskning på dette feltet tidligere, sier hun. Materialet hun brukte til sin analyse bestod av en heldagsprøve i engelsk som ble gjennomført blant tiendeklassinger på en ungdomsskole i Oslo. Totalt gikk hun igjennom drøyt 25.000 ord. Dette sammenlignet hun med 25.000 ord som ble skrevet av studenter ved Universitetet i Oslo.

– Grammatiske ord slik som preposisjoner og pronomen telles ikke som «ordfeil», så jeg vil si at omtrent 25.000 ord var relevante i denne sammenheng. Av disse var over 1000 ord brukt feil. Jeg så at universitetsstudentene hadde omtrent halvparten så mange feil som ungdomsskoleelevene, men det interessante var at selv om antall feil ble redusert, hadde de nøyaktig de samme typene feil. Selv om antall ord som blir misforstått ble forminsket med 50 prosent utgjorde de likevel 15 prosent av alle ordfeil i begge gruppene, sier Mahan. 62 prosent av alle feilene var stilistiske feil.

– Med stilistiske feil menes det at det er blitt brukt ord som har riktig betydning, men blir feil i forhold til sjanger. I engelsk språk er det et strengere krav til bruk av uformelle og formelle ord. Både skoleelevene og studentene brukte generelle ord som «take», «get», «very», «have» og «big» altfor mye, noe som sees på som veldig uformelt, forklarer Mahan. 16 prosent av feilene var semantiske feil.

– Det betyr at man har misforstått ordets betydning, sier Mahan.

Overføring fra norsk til engelsk

Et gjennomgående problem i tekstene var at studentene og elevene brukte engelske ord på norsk vis.

– Halvparten av ordfeilene kunne forklares av dette, og antyder at vi liker å tro at norsk og engelsk er mye likere enn det de i virkeligheten faktisk er. Dette var faktisk et større problem blant studentene enn blant skoleelevene. Studentene prøvde oftere å lage kompliserte setninger, og når de stod fast tydde de til et norsklignende ord som for eksempel «take» eller «can». Man sier ikke «take on clothes», eller «make a party». Man sier «put on clothes» og «throw a party», sier Mahan. Hun forteller at det også var noen ekstreme eksempler der man hadde prøvd å gjenskape norske ord som ikke eksisterer på engelsk.

– Det var noen som skrev «life lie» når de skulle skrive om livsløgnen i Ibsens «Vildanden», og det var faktisk en som skrev «office rat», altså en såkalt kontorrotte på norsk, sier Mahan.

Må lære seg å sette ord i kontekst

Mahan mener det er vanskelig å peke på hva som kan gjøres for å bedre språksituasjonen blant nordmenn.

– Nordmenn lærer muntlig engelsk ved hjelp av tv og internett, og dette bidrar ofte til at språket deres blir uformelt i jobb- og skolesammenheng. Vi bør derfor fokusere på hvordan vi kan fungere på engelsk i en profesjonell sammenheng. Ved å lære ord i kontekst, altså hvilke sjangre og kombinasjoner et ord vanligvis tilhører, kan man unngå upassende ordvalg, sier hun.

– Lærerne kan kanskje først og fremst gjøre elevene mer bevisst på kategoriene i engelsk språk. De må forstå forskjellen på formelt og uformelt språk, og formelle og uformelle fraser, sier hun. Mahan sier at det først og fremst må forskes mer på feltet, og hun vil gjerne fortsette hvis hun blir doktorgradsstipendiat. Hennes studium er det andre på dette feltet i Norge, noe som betyr at det faktisk er en fordobling. Kanskje passer Nils Arne Eggens legendariske ord i denne sammenheng «it’s hope in a hanging snore» for engelsktalende nordmenn?

 

Hvis du har abonnement, kan du se artikkelen her:

http://www.aftenbladet.no/karriere/Do-you-think-you-icani-good-English-3220021.html?pid=1K&dur=1D#.UfKl2xa9yjJ

 

The Fluency Fear

Let me start by telling you a story.

You probably already know this about me, but my family is very multicultural. We come from a lot of different countries. When I was a little girl living in America, I had this dream of learning about all the countries I descended from. Perhaps it was for me to feel closer to my ancestry and heritage — or maybe just so I could understand the lives my grandparents had lived (they’re all spread across three continents, and three of them have English as a second language).  For me, Norwegian was always the most important language and culture for me to learn about, because I’m more Norwegian than anything else. And I’m quite proud to say that I’ve pretty much mastered it. I feel like I know the language, history and culture. I feel like they’re my people. I feel Norwegian.

At some stage, I guess I felt it was time to explore my other heritages. My father’s mother is Japanese, born and raised in Fukushima, until she fell in love with an American soldier and moved to America for him. So when I was around fifteen, I began the never-ending quest of learning Japanese. It’s always been a very turbulent relationship — I love it and study it furiously for a month; I throw the books in the corner and hate it intensely for half year. Then I forget everything and repeat the process. It’s a vicious cycle that has been going on for about eight years with no end in sight.

My dream was, ever since I can remember, to be able to write a letter to my grandmother in Japanese. I can’t tell you why; I’ve just always imagined how wonderfully surprised she would be reading a piece of paper that proved one of her grandchildren had taken the time to learn about HER heritage. When I was fifteen, I borrowed a Japanese-English English-Japanese dictionary from the library and decided I would finally write her a letter. I sat by the table at the library and carefully transcribed the kanjis for «dear,» «grandmother,» then the words for «this» «is.» It goes on. Needless to say, I didn’t know much about languages at the time, and why it would be incomprehensible in a million ways.

Last August, I got tired of being so passive in my Japanese learning, and finally found some Japanese friends who were more than willing to help me. They were truly wonderful — for about ten months they patiently sat by me with my books several times a week, corrected me during every conversation (daily), and never lost their temper. They explained everything I ever wondered about Japanese culture, and answered all of my hundreds of questions. I am tempted to say that by May, although my Japanese was far from perfect and I hadn’t really learned the kanjis, I could have an everyday conversation in Japanese, thanks to some of my best friends. But even though my Japanese-learning had been so successful (relatively speaking), I had this nagging fear at the back of my mind. There was a voice inside of me constantly saying stuff like: «you’re not good enough yet.» «You’re not fluent.» «You’re not perfect.» (Yeah, I italicized that. Sue me).

I couldn’t understand Japanese television. I couldn’t read books. I couldn’t understand everything my friends told me. Ergo I wasn’t ready. I could have easily written a simple letter to my grandmother, a la «Dear Grandmother, how are you? This is Karina. I now speak Japanese!» But something was stopping me from picking up that pen and doing it. And that is what I call the fluency fear. It was the fear that I wasn’t good enough. It was that voice inside that kept telling me that there were still things to learn; that if I couldn’t tell her EXACTLY what I wanted to say in a eloquent manner, I wasn’t ready. It was the conviction that I wasn’t fluent.

My Japanese friends moved back to Japan. Time passed by, and I still hadn’t written the letter. Sometime that summer, we got the news: my grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her short term memory had nearly completely vanished. She was mentally stuck in the past.

I suppose I could have written a letter still. But somehow I felt there was no point; she wouldn’t remember it or appreciate it in the same way as she would have a year ago. I still haven’t written it. But all wasn’t lost — after she was diagnosed, I picked up the phone and had a wonderful conversation with her in Japanese.

Through my years of teaching, I began recognizing this fear of fluency in a lot of my students learning Norwegian as well. Students who speak perfectly good Norwegian and could have easily had a conversation with me in Norwegian. I always catch myself thinking — you’re being so silly! Why won’t you speak to your coworkers in Norwegian? So what if your grammar isn’t perfect, you can still write a perfectly comprehensible email! What are you afraid of? But of course, I’ve been bearing the same sort of fear myself. We all do in language learning. The reason is that language learning is a dynamic and never-ending process with no true finish line holding a sign stating: LEVEL COMPLETE. When is anyone ever perfect in a language? It doesn’t happen. God knows I make enough mistakes in English and Norwegian, let alone French, Spanish and Japanese. I believe that in language learning, you’re qualified to speak the language from day one — you just have to sacrifice the pretty little nuances and phrases and play on words that us adults are so used to using in our mother tongues. I may not be able to say «the other day I was so happy, I was floating on clouds» in Japanese, but I CAN say «kinouha, ureshikatta deshita.» (yesterday I was happy). My advice: work with what you can. If you don’t, at some point you may find that it’s too late. Life is too short to listen to that nagging fluency fear.

Scared-turtle

Språk = Intelligens?

«Jeg vet hva du kommer til å synes om meg om jeg sier dette til deg,» sa han nølende. «Du kommer til å synes at jeg er veldig arrogant. Og du har helt rett — men jeg sier det likevel. Du kjenner ikke meg så godt, men jeg har alltid vært best i alt. Jeg fikk toppkarakter i hvert fag på skolen. Da jeg fortsatte utdanningen min, gikk jeg på et av verdens beste universiteter og fikk doktorgrad i realfag. Da jeg endelig ble ferdig med utdanningen, ble jeg ansatt hos et firma og endte opp som den yngste avdelingslederen. Jeg er en ekstrem intelligent mann. Jeg har aldri hatt problemer med å lære noe. Jeg har aldri ikke forstått noe. Jeg har aldri slitt med noe — før jeg prøvde å lære norsk. Det har gått mange år, og jeg har ennå ikke mestret det. Som det er nå, vet jeg ikke om jeg noensinne vil.»

Dette sa en oppgitt elev til meg her om dagen. Denne sterke talen fikk meg til å innse noe: språk har umåtelig makt over en selv og ens selvbide. Språk er evnen til å kommunisere tankene dine med andre. Å bli fratatt en kommunikasjonsevne som vi så ofte tar for gitt kan oppleves som ganske traumatiserende for noen. For min elev var det klart og tydelig at hans manglende språkkunnskaper var et tegn på noe negativt ved han selv; et kunnskapsområde som han aldri kom til å mestre. Selv om han føler kanskje det, må vi som forsker og underviser i språk stille oss selv dette spørsmålet:  er det å tilegne seg språk fort et tegn på intelligens? Eller vi kan vende om på spørsmålet og spørre: om man er intelligent, vil man da lære språk fortere?

Dette er faktisk en stor gjenganger i språktilegnelselitteraturen og et spørsmål jeg har slitt mye med. Det er tydeligst å se hvor flink et menneske er i språk om de lærer et nytt språk som voksen. Jeg sier ikke at det ikke går an å måle språkevne i morsmål, men å være flink i norskundervisningen betyr ikke nødvendigvis at en elev vil være sterk i engelsk eller tredjespråket. Når vi snakker om å være «flink i språk» eller «å ha et språkøre,» mener vi som oftest fremmedspråk. Problemet er hva som definerer «flink». I de fleste tilfellene vil en elev være begavet i noen områder, men ikke andre. Eleven jeg nevnte nylig hadde veldig god hukommelse og lærte nye ord relativt fort. Andre vil være flink i grammatiske strukturer. Noen vil være forferdelig i grammatikk, men ha fantastisk uttale. Andre der igjen vil kunne plukke opp småord og fraser og bruke dem i riktig sammenheng, uten å ha blitt instruert i dette. En lærer må kunne ta alle disse forskjellige aspektene i betraktning i vurderingssituasjoner og legge dem sammen for å dømme om språktilegnelsen er vellykket.

John Carroll var kanskje den første til å forsøke å kartlegge den magiske oppskriften for et godt språkøre. Han utviklet the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT), som testet tre forskjellige evner. Om man fikk høy skår på disse tre evnene, var man da språkflink. De tre evnene var:

1. grammatisk følsomhet (evnen til å differensiere mellom grammatiske strukturer)

2. fonetisk koding (evnen til å identifisere lyder og forbinde dem med skriftlige ord)

3. Hukommelseskapasitet (evnen til å huske og pugge ord uten kontekst)

MLAT-testen er en lang og innviklet prøve som tester alle disse egenskapene basert på et oppdiktet språk, for å se hvor fort deltakeren vil kunne se sammenhenger og strukturer i språk. MLAT-testen har vist seg å være veldig forutsigbar når det gjelder hvor fort deltakeren vil oppta et nytt språk (morsmål vil selvfølgelig også spille inn en stor rolle — om en nordmann skal lære tysk er en helt annen sak enn om samme nordmann skal lære kinesisk) og brukes mye i USA og internasjonalt. Men MLAT svarer bare på en brøkdel av språk/intelligensdilemmaet.

Majorie Wesche sammenliknet noen MLAT resultater sammen med andre intelligensresultater og oppdaget at om man hadde høy MLAT skår betydde det at man også hadde betydelig høyere intelligensskår. Imidlertid påpekte en annen språkforsker, Skehan, at dette stemte kun for grammatisk følsomhet og andre analytiske aspekter ved språkinnlæring. Fonetisk koding, uttale og alt annet var ikke anvendelig. Så kanskje kan man konkludere ved å si at intelligens vil gi en fordel i grammatikk? Hva med alt det andre?

Problemet i denne diskusjonen er at språkvitere ennå ikke er enig om hva slags kunnskap språk representerer. Formell lingvistikk vil forklare språk som domenespesifikk, altså at menneskehjernen har en egen modul for språk, og at alle mennesker har et medfødt grammatikksystem. Andre, mer moderne kognitive tilnærminger, som for eksempel emergens, mener at språk er akkurat som alle andre former for kunnskap — vi behandler altså informasjon om språk på samme måte som all annen informasjon. Språkkunnskaper tilhører faktisk flere deler av hjernen, og derfor blir det vanskelig å bedømme hva som betegner «språkintelligens.»

Som du sikkert har vært borti selv, er det nesten umulig å si hvem kommer til å briljere i nye språk. Det finnes mindre intelligente mennesker som kan plukke opp dialekter og nye språk som ingenting. Jeg kjenner genier som har slitt med å lære de letteste grammatiske strukturene. Er det noen mønster i dette? Og kommer vi noengang til å kunne fastslå hva språkintelligens er, og hvorfor noen lærer fortere enn andre?

brain2

Why bilinguals aren’t born translators

I can’t count the number of times people have told me: «oh, you’re bilingual in Norwegian and English? That means you must be really good at translating! You should become a translator!»

But the truth is that I suck at translating. Whenever someone asks me: «Karina, what is the word for <insert random Norwegian word> in English again??» I can never think of the word on the spot. I believe that the actual process of translating or interpreting words precisely from one language to another isn’t a «gift» bilinguals are born with just because they can speak two languages well. And here’s why I think so.

Now, any psycholinguist will tell you this isn’t exactly true, but for simplicity’s sake, the brain of a bilingual separates two languages distinctly. For instance, the two languages in my head would look something like this:

English Norwegian 1

Both languages are equal in size and are not interconnected with each other. Switching from one language to another depends on context. I’ll give you an example.

If you speak Norwegian and English fluently, read these two sentences:

1. Vi skulle gå der to ganger                 

2. In order to help her, I climbed the ladder

When you read the two sentences, did you think at all that the word «to» occurs in both sentences? Did you have any interferene, such as tripping over that word, or mixing English and Norwegian? The answer is probably no. This is because context automatically compartmentalizes the same word in two different languages. If you’re a true native speaker of more than one language, you probably don’t even think about that some words are the same in the languages you know. However, if you learned French in high school, did you giggle when you found out that the French word for bread is «pain»? Every time you stumbled over a new word that was similar to another word in your native language, didn’t you automatically think of your own language? My students who are learning Norwegian as adults frequently have trouble with the word «appelsin,» because it has «appel» in it, which is so close to English «apple.» So they always think «appelsin» means apple. My point? For some reason, we tend to relate to languages we know, the older we get. I don’t think anybody knows exactly WHY people do these automatic transferences, but it just happens. A reason could be because second language teaching at this stage stresses the use of native language, both in teachers and students.

Now that we’ve seen how two languages are represented in a bilingual from an early age, let’s see how a bilingual with English as a native tongue who learned Norwegian at a later stage in life would compartmentalize their two languages:

English Norwegian 4

English is the base language. All thoughts and dreams naturally occur in English. Whenever the person tries to speak in Norwegian, they will often automatically translate their words from English to Norwegian — because English words are the first to come to mind. You’ll notice that the native tongue English is much larger than Norwegian, representing that the speaker (most likely) has a much larger vocabulary in English. Think of the Norwegian words as having automatic «tags,» or equivalent words in English:

Untitled

As you can see, «fugl,» «vanskelig» and «håp» all have English equivalents readily available in the mind. However, there are some «gaps» in Norwegian vocabulary that the speaker has in their English vocabulary. In other words, the speaker will know what the concepts «consternation» and «vitality» mean, but only in their mother tongue. This is why it is so much easier for people to translate from the language they know the least to the language they know the best. Often a speaker will be able to recognize words in their second language (a passive vocabulary), but not be able to produce it (active vocabulary). This means that although the speaker can recognize «forskrekkelse» as meaning roughly «consternation,» they don’t have a mental picture of the word in the same way as they do in English. A trained bilingual translator will not have this problem, as ideally both of their vocabularies should be equal (although this is often not the case). Because of this, trained bilinguals are more qualified to translate between Norwegian –> English and English —> Norwegian, because there are less gaps in both languages.

But I digress. Back to why bilinguals are at a disadvantage when it comes to translating. As I pointed out earlier, when an adult speaker learns a new language, they often adapt automatic tags from their second to their first language. This means that from the very start, there is a close connection between Norwegian –> English. Here I must stress that it doesn’t necessarily go the other way. For instance, if you’re an English-speaker who learned Norwegian later in life, you’ll notice that you constantly throw in English words in your Norwegian conversations. But how often do you think of Norwegian when you speak English? To put it shortly: the tagging only goes one way, because when you learned your second language, you automatically used your mother tongue as a reference point. So when you learned «je» in French, you knew from day one that it meant «I.»  The problem with bilinguals is that we have no tags. When I think in English, I rarely need to use Norwegian words (the only exception is small «gaps» or passive vocabulary — for instance, I know that the English word for «eksamensvakt» is «invigilator,» but I hear it so infrequently that I can’t help myself from saying «eksamensvakt,» even when I speak English), and vice versa. Both languages are so strong and learned at such an early age that I never used the other language as a reference point. So when I’m supposed to translate a text, I have to think extra long and hard about what the exact word for «beleilig» is in English, or what the hell «attrition» is again in Norwegian! Because I don’t have an active Norwegian –> English or English —> Norwegian connection, if I were to become a translator or interpreter, I would need to build one. Building a connection between the two languages is almost like learning a new language in itself, because as a bilingual, you never have to think about what the one word means in the other language. It involves building another vocabulary where you have to train yourself into automatically thinking «report –> anmelde,» so you can have some sort of association between the two languages. Whereas adult learners actively feed this Norwegian –> English connection from the very start (like memorizing word lists and recalling them in their native tongue), us bilinguals who never had to work for either language will not have reflected or been trained in this at all — simply because we’ve never had the need to. That isn’t to say we wouldn’t be GOOD translators — if a bilingual is properly trained and has activated the Norwegian –> English and English —> Norwegian connections, s/he would (probably) be a better translator than someone who learned a language later in life. C’est la vie.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should never pester me about what this or that is in English/Norwegian again.

PS. an interesting thought: I like to think that if someone is not naturally good at translating from language A to language B, it’s a sign that they’re more fluent in language B — the reason being that they can think more independently in language B without referring to language A. Chew on that crackah.

Be the Norwegian you want to see in Norway

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Learning Norwegian is a huge barrier for many foreigners who come to Norway. In fact, it is so huge a barrier that many foreigners fail learning it at all. I know Nato and oil families who have lived for over a decade in Norway and haven’t learned the language. My own father, who has lived in Norway for 15 years, cannot have a fluent conversation. I know an eight year old boy who has lived in Norway for two years and cannot say «hvordan går det?». The list goes on and on. We all have one. And at some point, as Norwegians living in Norway, we grow sick of always having to adjust to foreigners. Believe me, I get it. It’s annoying. It’s disrespectful. We shouldn’t have to in our country. But there’s a big «but» and «if» here.

As a Norwegian, I have met a lot of foreigners who aren’t very interested in Norway or learning the language. However, as a Norwegian teacher, I have met many more foreigners who would give anything to learn the language. Students who come up to me after class and have a list of words that their co-workers keep repeating. Students who ask me what kind of movies and songs in Norwegian I recommend, just so they can hear the language a little more. Students who come home from work at 17 and spend an hour on their grammar every day before going to bed. But why aren’t these students learning the language successfully? How can they practice for years and still struggle with every-day language tasks? Interestingly, nearly all of them have reached the same conclusion: «My coworkers will only speak English to me! I go to the store, and once they hear my accent, they switch to English!» Norwegians are simply too good at English. And as any language acquisition teacher will tell you: motivation is one of the key factors in learning a language.

I used to be the worst sinner when it came to this. English is my preferred language and frankly much less of a headache to speak to any foreigner (it takes the rare foreigner to become more fluent in Norwegian than English, no matter how many years they’ve lived here, since they learned English at a much earlier age). But after a while, particularly after moving back to my hometown where a lot of well-to-do Americans and Brits live in what I would call English-town, I started thinking to myself: why? Why should I let individuals from monolingual super-powers piggy-back on the benefits of post-colonialism? I can’t help that they only speak English in America, but I can damn well help what language they speak here. My reasoning and attitude were perhaps a little spiteful, but I got the biggest surprise of all when these monolingual English-speakers, whom I was so quick to judge, welcomed the idea of speaking Norwegian. I would say «hvordan går det?» and they would gladly respond, «bare bra!,» eager to use the phrases they knew. To reiterate: English-speakers wanted me to speak Norwegian to them. They appreciated it. They even thanked me occassionally for what they would call «free lessons,» for something as simple as me asking what they did last weekend. Because the simple fact was that no other Norwegian ever bothered.

I know a lot of Norwegians who complain about foreigners and that they have to use English all the time. To these people, I ask: how many times have you brushed off a co-worker who tried to have a conversation with you in Norwegian? How many times have you been approached by a foreigner who asked you something in Norwegian, and you switched to English because it was easier? How many international friends do you have who have taken Norwegian classes, and whom you’ve never tried to speak Norwegian to? As Norwegians, it’s our responsibility to see to it that our language is used. How can foreigners be expected to speak Norwegian if they never hear it? Or if they’re never given the chance? Personally I find it much more fruitful to encourage people who want to learn, rather than condemn those who don’t.

Do you want foreigners to learn more Norwegian? Then help those who can. Be the Norwegian you want to see in Norway.

Å stole på språk, å stole på menneskesystemet

Hiraganaskjema

Hiraganaskjema

Dette var noe av det første jeg kikka på da jeg skulle lære meg japansk. Det første som traff meg var: er dette VIRKELIG et språk?

Det er slett ikke ment som en fornærmelse mot japansk. Det jeg vil fram til i denne bloggen er at dette er den første reaksjonen alle får når vi lærer et nytt språk. En slags: «srsly, kommuniserer millioner av mennesker sånn?» Det sjokket du fikk i fransktimen da læreren din fortalte deg at «ni» var «neuf,» og alle guttene i klassen lot som om de var griser hele perioden de lærte tall. Eller sjokket JEG fikk da jeg lærte at «six» var faktisk «seks» på norsk, og hvisket det til alle ungene på andretrinnet på min amerikanske skole, helt til jeg fikk kjeft fra læreren som sa jeg ikke måtte si sånne ord. «MEN DET ER NORSK!» prøvde jeg å forklare.

Det er merkelig for meg å tenke at millioner av mennesker har pugget 2000 tegn. Det er merkelig å tenke at i andre land sier de «hon» og ikke «bok»; «tomodachi» og ikke «venn.» For når man tenker seg om er egentlig ordene vi lærer helt tilfeldige. Et eller annet menneske har på et eller annet tidspunkt bestemt seg for at «venn» høres ut som en person man liker og henger mye med. Etterhvert som språket utvikler seg, streker grenene av ordet seg til nye ord der igjen. For eksempel det engelske «friend» strekker seg til både «acquaintance,» «buddy,» «chum,» «compatriot,» «comrade,» crony,» «homie,» «mate,» «pal,» etc. Et konsept får flere og flere nyanser med tiden. Noen av nyansene forsvinner også, såklart.

Jeg skjønte ikke helt hva frykten min angående japansk var med det første. Hver gang jeg skulle lære et nytt ord, måtte jeg spørre min japanske venninne (slash lærer). «Tomodachi, betyr det «venn»?» Et nikk. «Er du SIKKER? Hva om bare noen sier det?» Hun lo og syntes det var nokså absurd, og det skjønner jeg jo. Det satt allikevel noe igjen, og frykten ville liksom ikke gi seg før jeg hadde sett ordene skriftlig, eller hørt dem på CD o.l. Det var omtrent da jeg skjønte at det var SYSTEMET jeg ikke stolte helt på. At en person hadde bare lagd dette ordet som alle snakker og skriver og bruker til enhver tid. At det var menneskelaget.

Det var i psykolingvistikken at jeg lærte hvor fantastisk tilfeldig ord kan være. Det finnes ingen system for å kategorisere substantiv. De bare liksom ER der i alle språk FORDI. Det samme med kjønn: det varierer jo for hvert språk (som har dette trekket). Vi sier en måne, spansken sier una luna. Hvem vet hva dette kommer av?

Pga at språk er slike uforutsigbare menneskesystemer er det jo utrolig vanskelig å forske på og kategorisere dem. Det holder liksom ikke med JUST BECAUSE, selv om det som oftest er svaret. Jeg har ingen klart svar på hvordan man kan forklare dem, eller i det hele tatt stole på dem når man pugger nye språk. Det beste er vel å tenke at morsmålsbrukere vet best, og håpe på det beste.

PS. Morsom fakta: på mange språk betyr søndag og mandag akkurat det samme. «Sunday» kommer av Old English «Sunnandæg,» som betyr «dagen av sol.» Japansk har kanjien «日» som betyr sol i ordet «日曜日» (nichiyoubi). Så klart er da «søndag» også «soldagen.»

På spansk er mandag «lunes,» som kommer av «luna» (måne). På engelsk kommer ordet «monday» av «monandæg» (Old English), «dagen av måne.» Og på japansk brukes kanjien «月» som betyr måne i ordet mandag, som er da «月曜日» (getsuyoubi). Sist men ikke minst har vi «mandag,» som selvfølgelig kommer av ordet «måne.» Kult, eller hva?

Cambridge and the Manuscript Tradition

«I’d like some fries please,» I said to the cashier at Burger King last night.

«Some chips, yeah?» he said, slightly puzzled.

«Thank you so much for the lovely cookies in the room,» I told my B & B host this morning.

«Cookies? You mean the biscuits?» An equally puzzled look.

«How much is this bag of chips?» I asked the cashier at Boots. «OH NEVER MIND.»

… I’m truly in another country. And speaking the language doesn’t seem to help. But on to more important things!

*

In order to qualify for the Master’s of English language, all students MUST take an older English history course. I was torn between a lot of subjects (not really tempted to take any of them, to be honest), but chose «Chaucer and the Manuscript Tradition,» after toying between that or taking a crash course in Old English. I had no idea who Chaucer was, what manuscript paper is made of or what Middle English looked like. I also thought it would be an extremely boring and irrelevant course. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Chaucer is an old English poet. Really old. He’s from around the 14th century. When I first studied British history and literature, my logic was this: Victorian literature is extremely prim and proper, so the further back you go, the more conservative and boring it gets. Wrong. Before the Victorian period, the English were apparently known for having very … scatological humor. Chaucer writes about men farting in each others’ faces. He writes about women who talk about how great it is having sex with many men. He writes about scholars who device crazy postapocalyptic plots to just get laid. The list goes on. My point is that it was only for a very short time frame that the Brits had (what I would consider), boring, slow-paced literature. Middle English literature is pretty frickin’ awesome.

My second largest shock was finding out how manuscripts were made. England wasn’t very fond of paper in the 1300s. In fact, instead of using it, they would use … ANIMALS. Each sheet of paper (equivalent to ca four pages) is one entire calf. A large manuscript, like old bibles, could easily take hundreds of animals to produce. Scribes would have to transcribe the bibles for endless hours with perfect calligraphy. Just thinking about the amount of work to make one single manuscript is staggering. No wonder there are so few of them.

The Wife of Bath. Made out of animal skin. Can you tell the difference?

I was really uncomfortable at the thought of that holding one book is equal to hundreds of lives. When I read about how manuscript paper is made (IN DETAIL), I had vividly imagined the thick skin and fur. Yet when I finally touched a manuscript this morning, I could barely tell the difference between it and a normal piece of paper.

But what does all of this have to do with Cambridge?

During our course, our professor told us that we had to take a trip to Cambridge to see some real manuscripts before we could complete the course. She told us that some scholars of manuscripts haven’t even seen a real manuscript, so if a student was lucky enough to get the chance, they should take it. After reading about manuscripts for 3 weeks, I realized that feeling a manuscript would put all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, and was ok about sacrificing my weekend (well ok, only my Sunday) to go on a two-day trip to see real manuscripts. Our professor arranged everything so that we could see some of the most valuable manuscripts in the world.

A version of The Canterbury Tales. Located at Cambridge University Library.

How do I see a real English manuscript?

First of all, you don’t. Unless you have a kind professor and are REALLY lucky. We’ll take it from there. In order to get into a library that has such a manuscript, you need a card, even for just ten minutes. It has your full ID on it, birth date and everything. Then, you need a plastic bag, so everyone will know your contents (giggle) at all times. When walking into the manuscript part of the library (which is separate) you need to tell them your name and address and are only allowed to bring certain things into the room. Pens aren’t allowed, for one. But hey, they sell pencils. You ask for a certain manuscript and the librarian will bring it to you personally. There are special pillows for the books, since you can’t open them directly on the table. There are also special heavy cords that you put on either side of books, so you don’t touch the page when you’re looking at a particular page. It’s a very serious business. When we were at the library, there were about 4 – 9 people in the room examining manuscripts, typing furiously notes on their laptops and looking dead serious. Pretty cool, huh?

A very VERY brief history of the English Manuscript

This paragraph is for those of you who think English is a really old and powerful language. Or maybe it’s for those of you who hate the thought of English as a really old and powerful language.

The first English manuscript appeared in ca 800 A.D. Up until about the time of the Norman Conquest (1066), Norwegians and Englishmen pretty much spoke the same language. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that we frequently visited our neighbor to gas up and mooch off of (read: pillage and rape). Then the French came and ruined the gig.

With the arrival of the French, the arrival of Latin was inevitable. Everything was written in Latin, and it quickly established itself as the language of the Church, the noblemen and scholars. Nobody was interested in writing in English. It was considered to be the language of peasants, and anyone worth their salt knew how to communicate in Latin or French. Chaucer was very rare in this sense. He was a nobleman who wrote poems, and for reasons unknown decided to write all of his poetry in Middle English.

Then a man named John Wycliffe came along and decided that English should be for everyone. He made a very controversial copy of the bible (ca 1382), translating the entire bible to English for the first time ever. It was banned by the church, probably because they were afraid that peasants would start learning Christianity without the help of the Catholic Church, find a grain of autonomy in their own lives and thus create anarchy. But with this manuscript came hope and pride in the English language. And as Latin began dwindling and the print came to England, Latin slowly was replaced by English.

On the whole, the English manuscript tradition isn’t that great compared to other languages. We have no tradition for illustrations, there was no norm for spelling, and a lot of manuscripts were composite books (lots of unrelated manuscripts slapped together in one bind).

 Enough boring history, A bit about Cambridge:

I’m extremely tired, but I’ll try to write a bit about Cambridge. Today we were at Corpus Christi College:

Would you see this at the University of Oslo? HAHAHA.

We also went shopping today … at the pharmacy. For some reason they’ve turned the concept «pharmacy» here to a weird mall for sick people. They even have a food section.

There are lots of Asian restaurants and food stores in Cambridge. It’s an odd combination of «ooo quaint building,» «oo sushi bar,» «oo quaint building,» «ooo Indian restaurant.»

Also I couldn’t resist taking a bizarre picture of these swans swimming in a line in an extremely dirty pond:

Too cute!

Ok, I really have to go to bed now. Tomorrow we are going to St. John’s College, and then taking a plane home! Tata for now.

PS. I miss Norwegian breakfast. And I seriously miss Norwegian water. Sparkling cream soda just isn’t the same.