Marc Pierce

title.none: Arnason, ed., Utnordur (Marc Pierce)

identifier.other: baj9928.0602.026 06.02.26

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Marc Pierce, Uniersity of Texas,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Arnason, Kristjan, ed. Utnordur: West Nordic Standardisation and Variation: Papers from a Symposium in Stockholm October 7th 2001. Reykjavik: University of Iceland Press, 2003. Pp. 218. ISBN: $25.00 9979-54-546-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.02.26

Arnason, Kristjan, ed. Utnordur: West Nordic Standardisation and Variation: Papers from a Symposium in Stockholm October 7th 2001. Reykjavik: University of Iceland Press, 2003. Pp. 218. ISBN: $25.00 9979-54-546-1.

Reviewed by:

Marc Pierce
Uniersity of Texas

The study of language standardization has taken on increased importance in the past several years, and a number of such studies focusing on the Germanic languages have recently appeared. [1] This book, the result of a symposium held in Stockholm in October 2001, is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the topic. It contains ten thematic papers, written in English, Danish, and Norwegian, as well as a foreword by the editor. As an exhaustive discussion of each paper is precluded by the limitations of this forum, I shall first outline the contents of the volume and then comment in more detail on some of the papers I found most stimulating.

The book contains the following papers: "Describing Language Standardisation--Models and Methods", by Ana Deumert; "Linguistic Purism in the Shadow of Satellites. The Cases of Post-Standardisation Finnish, Hebrew, and Icelandic", by Yair Sapir; "Standardisation and Variation in Migration- and Viking-Age Scandinavian", by Michael Barnes; "Standardisering og variasjon i nynorsk, jamført med færøysk og islandsk" ["Standardization and variation in Nynorsk, compared to Faroese and Icelandic"], by Lars S. Vikør; "Språkendringar med eller utan kontakt i Vest-Norden?" ["Language change with or without contact in the West Nordic region?"], by Helge Sandøy; "Heimenorsk innverknad på islandsk språk i mellomalderen, særleg i morfologien" ["Norwegian Influence on Icelandic in the Middle Ages, especially in morphology"], by Kjartan Ottosson; "Faroese Orthography", by Zakaris Svabo Hansen; "Om hansesprogets påvirkning på islandsk administrativt sprog i senmiddelalderen. Overvejelser belyst med nogle eksempler fra en undersøgelse af islandske diplomer fra perioden 1200-1500" ["On the influence of the Language of the Hanseatic League on Icelandic administrative language in the Late Middle Ages. Illustrated with some examples from an examination of Icelandic documents from the period 1200-1500"], by Veturliði Óskarsson; "Mediespråk og standardiseringsspørsmål" ["Media Language and the Standardization Question"], by Ari Páll Kristinsson; and "Language Planning and the Structure of Icelandic", by Kristján árnason.

I turn now to some of the individual papers, beginning with the contribution by Michael Barnes. This article focuses on possible variation in Scandinavian as spoken during the Viking Age (roughly defined here as 750-1050). Barnes argues that (a) the line between East and West Scandinavian is not as definitive as is sometimes believed and (b) there is more variation in West Scandinavian than the handbooks would indicate, suggesting that there is at least some reason to examine variation in Viking-Age Scandinavian. Barnes then briefly looks at some of the variation found in the runic inscriptions before discussing some earlier theories about possible standardizing forces at work during the Viking Age (e.g. the role played by seafarers), although he suggests that there are serious drawbacks to some of these hypotheses. The article concludes with a brief survey of features indicating linguistic variation in the runic inscriptions and in the Viking Age, including reduplicative verbs and the relative particle. The paper has a "suitably untidy conclusion" (61), reminiscent of the messiness so often found in language itself, yet offers a valuable survey of the relevant data and serves as a reminder that even the best handbooks sometimes gloss over important issues and evidence.

The article by Lars Vikør offers a comparative perspective on linguistic variation. The emphasis here is on Nynorsk, although evidence from Faroese and Icelandic is also considered. After outlining some of the similarities and differences between Nynorsk on the one hand and Faroese and Icelandic on the other, Vikør discusses the codification efforts of Ivar Aasen and then looks at twentieth-century developments in this area (e.g. the spelling reform of 1959). The balancing act between standardization and variation in Nynorsk is also reviewed, as are issues relating to vocabulary and colloquial language. The article concludes with a brief summary and look at similarities between Nynorsk and Faroese and Icelandic. This paper provides much food for thought, especially by pointing to areas where additional research may prove exceptionally fruitful, and packs a good deal of interesting material into a fairly limited space.

Zakaris Svabo Hansen's paper provides "an overview of the history of Faroese orthography" (153). In 1846 V.U. Hammershaimb proposed a norm for Faroese orthography, one which often looked to Old Norse as a model, as well as local dialects and the spelling conventions of related languages, especially Danish and Icelandic. Hammershaimb's proposals were later modified several times. Later, however, Jakob Jakobsen put forth an alternative system which eventually gained sufficient support that a committee (with both Hammershaimb and Jakobsen among its members) was established to consider a spelling reform. In 1895 this reform, called the Broyting ("Change") was enacted, although it was neither universally accepted nor fully carried out, and Hammershaimb's system instead became the norm. A later reform in 1954 seems to have had relatively little impact, and the system today is "quite difficult to learn and use correctly and fully, even for the Faroese themselves". (160) However, one should also keep in mind that Faroese as currently written (with an etymologizing orthography, rather than a phonetically-based one) is easier for other Scandinavians (especially Icelanders) to decipher and also gives equal weight to all the dialects. Like the Vikør essay, this paper contains much valuable information in a limited space, and should hopefully spur further discussion of these matters. I do wish, however, that Hansen had referred to Christer Lindqvist's growing body of work on Scandinavian spelling systems. [2]

The final paper to be discussed here is by Kristján árnason, and concentrates on Icelandic. árnason begins by defining the concept of "language planning" and then describes some of the structural tendencies in Icelandic. The historical background is provided, and árnason then turns to "the effect that conscious language planning may have had on the structure and later historical development of Icelandic". (200) Examples from morphology and syntax (e.g. "dative sickness," where dative case is used instead of the prescribed nominative or accusative cases) are discussed, and then phonological examples (including "hard" vs. "soft" speech, i.e. "the presence or absence of aspiration on voiceless stops as onsets in non-initial position" (204); this particular phenomenon appears to be a north/south issue) are discussed at much greater length. The evidence for this discussion is drawn from two dialect surveys, one from the 1940s and the other from the 1980s. This paper is, in my view, the best in the volume: well-organized, clearly written, and engaging.

Like all conference proceedings, this book is a mixed bag. Some of the papers are very well-done, interesting and carefully-crafted, while others are unfortunately poorly-organized and never rise above mediocrity. Fortunately, there are very few papers in the latter group. My most serious reservation about the volume concerns the choice of language of the various papers. That is, it is an unfortunate fact of life that very few people outside of Scandinavia know a Scandinavian language, and the decision to include papers in Danish and Norwegian will therefore severely limit the potential audience. As the editor observes in the foreword, "[i]t is my hope, and that of the University of Iceland Press, that the volume will be of some international as well as domestic (West Nordic) interest, hence the English title." (8) I agree whole-heartedly with this view, and therefore would have liked to have seen English summaries of the Scandinavian-language papers, as well as Scandinavian-language summaries of the English papers.

In sum, this book will certainly be of interest for those interested in language standardization and linguistic variation, and it is to be hoped that it will find the wide and appreciative audience it merits.


[1] Relevant recent work includes Ana Deumert and Wim Vandenbussche, eds., Germanic Standardizations Past to Present (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2003), Ana Deumert, Language Standardization and Language Change. The Dynamics of Cape Dutch (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004), and Andrew R. Linn and Nicola McLelland, eds., Standardization: Studies from the Germanic Languages (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2002). On a procedural note, although British spelling is used throughout the book, I use American spelling in this review.

[2] Christer Lindqvist's publications in this area include Skandinavische Schriftsysteme im Vergleich (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 2001) and "Sprachideologische Einflüsse auf die färöische Orthographie(forschung)," NOWELE 43 (2003): 77-144.