Language council wants to “norskify” computer terms

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The head of Norway’s state advisory council on language matters is fed up with how English terms like “pop-up window” and “e-mail” have crept into both written and spoken Norwegian in recent years. He’s secured funding to make words used in information technology more Norwegian.

“No, no, no,” Sylfest Lomheim scolds a reporter from newspaper Aftenposten . “It’s not ‘mail,’ it’s called ‘e-post.’ And ‘dot-com! What’s that?”

Lomheim is director of the Norwegian Language Council (Norsk språkråd) , charged with protecting Norway’s cultural heritage in matters pertaining to the country’s language and language planning. He’s known for using the nynorsk form of Norwegian in his own verbal and written communication and is devoted to preserving the Norwegian language(s) in both forms, the more Danish-influenced bokmål as well.

He’s seeking Norwegian alternatives to words now regularly used in both written and spoken Norwegian that have nothing to do with Norwegian — like streaming, chatting or tag cloud .

“If you look around in modern society, you’ll see that it’s to a large degree steered by a technological development that has no national barriers,” Lomfest worries.

That, he thinks, makes it extremely important to establish what he calls “data terminology,” which will “preserve at least a minimum of a national language in that arena.”The terms used in connection with information technology can be extremely important, he thinks, in renewing a country’s own language, not least because “they spread everywhere, to newspapers, other media, the schools.”

Lomfest believes that if Norwegians continue to use English words like “chat” or “dot-com,” they soon won’t be able to speak about information technology and speak Norwegian at the same time.

Many might argue that Lomfest and his council are a bit late in trying to turn the tide. Others think his effort is unnecessary.

“If we’re going to swap the English terms with Norwegian ones, they’ll have to be good,” Magnus Kjemperud, age 24, told Aftenposten while getting some equipment repaired at a local Apple store in Oslo. He has no qualms about the English terms, nor does his companion Lise Hovden, who thinks it’s easier to communicate internationally with “data-English.” She thinks replacing “pop-up window” with “sprettoppvindu,” for example, sounds silly.

Lomfest, undeterred, is keen to launch the project and claims the council simply never had funding for it earlier. The state budget for 2010 allocated enough money that three people will be working on “norskifying” popular computer terms, along with a host of other players from publishing to tech firms.

Lomfest is also keen to instruct Norwegians in how they should refer to their own e-post addresses, using his own as an example:

“sylfest PUNKT (not ‘dot”) lomheim KRØLLALFA (not “at”) sprakradet PUNKT no.”

“Dott,” he says, means something entirely different in Norwegian, he says (“a spineless fool,” according to one dictionary). “Everyone knows that.”