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Learning Norwegian as an English Speaker: Learn, Teach, Why, Live, Nearby

Learning Norwegian as an English Speaker: Learn, Teach, Why, Live, Nearby

I love language, both language in general and specific languages. From my early encounters with grammar in elementary school to the depths of linguistic study during high school and throughout my undergraduate years, I have continually nurtured this fascination. Spanish served as my primary focus, complemented by semester-long studies in German and Old English. Embracing the digital age of language learning, I embarked on a journey with French via the Duolingo platform nearly two years ago, driven by an insatiable thirst for linguistic exploration. Last week marked the beginning of my venture into Norwegian, yet another language awaiting discovery through Duolingo.

As I traverse the landscape of the Norwegian language, I find myself increasingly captivated by the relationship between Norwegian and English. My study of cognates has evolved into a captivating intellectual pursuit. Delving into the realm of cognates has become a delightful treasure hunt, revealing fascinating links between seemingly disparate tongues. As I continue my journey into the Norwegian language through Duolingo, I find myself increasingly enamored with its intricate connections to English and other languages.

With each new word, I find myself drawn into a linguistic detective game, tracing its roots and unraveling its significance. In the past week, one word that I learned was lære, which means “teach.” I, of course, investigated the etymology, which lead me to English learn. Consider the phrase I’ll learn you something. Teach and learn share semantics and history, intertwining not just in meaning but also in their etymological journey through time.

Reflecting on my linguistic pursuits, I often embrace the Germanic essence of words, opting for the Germanic speechlorist over the Latinate linguist in describing myself. The word lore is another cognate of learn and lære. (Another that I know off the top of my head is the German lehren.) Lore is knowledge, or learning, about a subject. Lore is a term steeped in the essence of knowledge and learning, which resonates deeply with my quest for understanding.

lære ~ learn ~ lore

Curiosity propelled me further when I decided to look up the most common words in Norwegian, recognizing their pivotal role in everyday communication. I know that the 100 most common words in any language tend to account for 50% of use in speech and writing. I saw that hvorfor means “why.” I immediately made the connection to English wherefore, which also means “why,” illuminating the shared heritage of these linguistic cousins. (Wherefore means “why,” not “where” as many incorrectly assume. When Juliet asks, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” she is asking why Romeo is a Montague, not where he is.)

hvorfor ~ wherefore

I also noticed the <hv> in many Norwegian question words. Notice the <wh> in many English question words. In Old English, question words began with <hw>. The change from <hw> to <wh> occurred between Old English and Middle English. The subtle similarities between Norwegian and English question words, signaled by the <hv> and <wh>, offer a glimpse into the evolutionary paths these languages have traversed from their shared ancestor Proto-Germanic.

I also learned Norwegian bor means “live(s), inhabit(s), occupy(es)” and had to perform an etymological dive, which led me to Old Norse búa and Old English buan. In Modern English we have bound as in housebound and snowbound, bower “a dwelling,” and the <bor> in neighbor. A neighbor is literally a “nigh bor” or “near dweller,” someone who lives nearby. The verb be is also likely related even farther back in Proto-Indo-Eureopean. Other relatives include build (etymological marker <u>), Bauhaus (from German), and husband (literally “house dweller”). With each revelation, I embark on yet another etymological adventure, tracing its lineage back to Old Norse and Old English roots. The interconnectedness of related words paints a vivid tapestry of semantic evolution, where meanings intertwine across time and space.

bor ~ bound ~ bower ~ neighbor ~ build ~ Bauhaus ~ husband

The discovery of the Norwegian phrase i nærheten, meaning “nearby, close by, near proximity,” adds another layer of understanding to my linguistic repertoire. Unraveling its components unveils a tapestry of meaning that transcends language barriers, reinforcing the intrinsic bond between Norwegian and English. I immediately recognized the nær as related to the English near, which itself was influenced by Old Norse naer. Nærheten is a form of nærhet. The -het, as I have learned, is a Norwegian suffix akin to the English -hood. Both -het and -hood are nominal suffixes. Nærheten literally translates to “nearhood” or “nearness.”

The i in the phrase i nærheten is a preposition that means “in” and is akin to the English in. Both come i and in from the same Proto-Germanic, which makes sense because Norwegian and English are Germanic cousins. Other Germanic languages have a similar preposition, e.g., Scots in, Frisian yn, Dutch in, German in, Swedish i, and Danish i. So i nærheten literally means “in nearness” or nearby.

In the intricate dance of language, each word becomes a thread weaving together past and present, forging connections that span continents and centuries. As an English speaker delving into the intricacies of Norwegian, the discovery of cognates and linguistic parallels serves not only to enrich my understanding but also to deepen my appreciation for the shared heritage of languages.

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