To translate or not to translate: Attitudes to English loanwords in Norwegian

Annjo K. Greenall


The ‘fast forward’ button for the influx of English loanwords1 into the Scandinavian languages has long since been pressed. The views on this phenomenon, both in academic and non-academic circles, can generally be divided into two categories. On the one hand, there are those who are more or less strongly concerned about the ‘pollution’ and possible future eradication of their language (these possibly constitute a majority, at least among Norwegian academics), and on the other there are those who do not seem to mind so much that English seems to be claiming some territory within their language. In this paper, I look at some material which illustrates the nature of this divide particularly well. The material stems from a Norwegian discussion list on the web (Ordlabben/‘The Word Lab’)2, where people are invited to contribute suitable Norwegian translations for a set of recent English loanwords. I focus especially on a subset of these contributions, where the contributors, rather than straightforwardly accepting the task they are invited to perform, show fierce opposition to this proposed strategy of Norwegianization, thereby showing a positive attitude towards the influx of English loanwords into the Norwegian language. After presenting the material I discuss, mainly from the perspective of Bakhtinian dialogism, whether or not there exists a defence for this kind of attitude, and whether indeed such a defence ought to be considered at all, in light of the fact that the prevailing opinion within academic and policy-making circles seems to be that people representing this kind of attitude need to be ‘protected from themselves’.

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