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Jeg, eg, ej, e, i, æ...

Jeg kom over denne artikkelen på BBC news i dag morges, og den overrasket meg i grunnen litt.

Det den forteller er at forskere ved Reading University har funnet de eldste ordene i det engelske språket. Enkelte vil kanskje se dette som et skrekkeksempel på hva som skjer når du gir en humanist en supercomputer, men det var ikke det jeg reagerte på. Det de fant var nemlig at de eldste ordene var "I", "we", "two" og "three". Greit nok, tenkte jeg. Vi har jo rimelig lett gjenkjennelig de tre siste i alle fall, også i norsk, og jeg kan ikke nok sanskrit til å si noe om beslektede ord annenstedshen.

Og det hele høres jo kjempespennende ut. Artikkelen nevner for eksempel hvilke ord man ville kunne bruke for å snakke med Vilhelm Erobreren (jeg trodde han snakket normannerfransk, jeg):

There's lots of words he wouldn't have understood - like 'big', 'bird', 'heavy', and 'here'. The words he would've used would've derived from a different common ancestral word to the English words that we're using today.

Det som imidlertid overrasket meg var dette:

What the researchers found was that the frequency with which a word is used relates to how slowly it changes through time, so that the most common words tend to be the oldest ones.

Derav tittelen på artikkelen. Jeg har alltid vært litt fascinert over hvor mange måter man kan si "jeg" på på norsk, og i hodet mitt har det alltid gitt mening at dette ordet varierer i så stor grad nettopp fordi det er et vi bruker så ofte. Denne artikkelen slår altså bena under mine populær-lingvistiske antagelser. Det jeg lurer på nå er hvorfor vi har så stor variasjon på dette ordet på norsk. Dét sier ikke BBC noe om.

Comments

Lingvistikk-spørsmål på Calcuttagutta
©amilla - 2/26/2009 4:25:15 AM

Kanskje du kan hjelpe?


OK, first up, it's a rubbish article. The BBC's description probably doesn't come close to what the people at Reading were actually trying to research. I'm sure you've read enough LanguageLog posts to know that the BBC science section nearly always gets it wrong, and is especially bad with linguistics.

I think your question comes from a confusion over what "old" means when applied to a word. No linguist is seriously going to claim that the word "I" has survived since caveman days in its current pronunciation. I mean, we even have written records of when English-speakers said "ich" like Germans. What they presumably mean is that the word "I" is traceably descended from an ancient word. This, of course, hasn't been news for about 200 years. People weren't saying /ai/ for the first person singular pronoun in 5000 BC; they were (probably) saying something like */egoh/. But English "I" is (believe to be) a direct "descendent" of *egoh – as are French je, Latin and Greek egō Hittite ūk, and all the Norwegian variants you mentioned. What the article is trying (very ineptly) to say is that *egoh/I hasn't been supplanted by, for example, yours truly at any time in the last few millennia. Of course it could happen, and our great^20-grandchildren could all be going round saying "struy" instead of "I", but the point is that it's not very likely with a word like that.

Paradoxically, frequent use of a word means it's less likely to drop out of use or be replaced, but more likely to undergo changes in pronunciation. Words like "antidisestablishmentarianism" just aren't used often enough to suffer erosion of the sort that turned a perambulator into a pram (or the Universe into the 'verse in Firefly – one of my favourite small touches in that show).

So, to answer your question about why Norwegian has so many ways to say "I", it's because it has lots of mountains making it hard to travel between human settlements, which invariably means dialectal fragmentation. Any by the way, you left out "æg", which is one of my favourites.

Yours, Tim :).

Kjellove,  26.02.09 15:46

The mountain excuse simply won't do.

Camilla,  26.02.09 15:55

Thank you, Tim. That was exactly what I was after. I did actually check Language Log, hoping someone would have commented on it, but there was nothing. Perhaps something will show up in the next couple of days. Where do people say æg? I am sure someone does, I just cannot think of any.

Kjelling: why not? Combined with a lack of a sentralising language policy, that seems to work fine.

Kjellove,  26.02.09 16:40

They say "æg" in Rørvik, for instance – on the border between Nord-Trøndelag and Nordland.

I simply think it's unlikely that major variations in the Norwegian language are put down to lots of mountains. There are radical differences between areas with much historical interaction. It's a myth that people never travelled in the olden days.

Camilla,  26.02.09 16:43

Then how do you explain it?

Kjellove,  27.02.09 10:57

The only scientific explanation is that God was pissed at Norwegians, as in the Tower of Babel scandal.

Matteus,  27.02.09 11:44

Actually, he was only slightly miffed due to the whole monastery raiding thing the vikings did. That's why some Norwegians can still understand each other.

Karoline,  27.02.09 12:57

Camilla, kan du væære så snill å prioritere søstera di fremfor Calcuttagutta for once? og hjelp me med problemstillinga om Astrid Lindgren..? *glis* Da skal i love å lese en av dem bøkern du har kjøpt til me gjennom åra... Med redsel for å høres litt ut som pappa vil i si at d e ikke ofte man høre fra d uten at det e gjennom calcuttagugutta... Haha.

Skybert,  27.02.09 13:12

Blogg er gøy!

Øyvind Jo,  27.02.09 13:58

Hei, Karoline!

Camilla,  27.02.09 14:02

Ja, hei, Karoline!
Det er bare å si ifra når du vil snakke med meg, vet du. Jeg har en sånn magisk ting de engelsktalende kaller "e-mail" som nærmest øyeblikkelig formidler alle beskjeder.

Karoline,  27.02.09 15:16

Hei, Øyvind Jo! :D haha..

Kjellove,  27.02.09 17:51

Matthew: Yes, indeed; thank God for English, the new lingua franca.

Tim,  01.03.09 14:32

I noen sanger av Gåte sier de "æg". For eksempel "Sjå attende".
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