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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Appendix 2. Non-English Dialects in America

6. Dano-Norwegian

HERE are some characteristic specimens of the Dano-Norwegian spoken by Norwegian settlers in Minnesota, as given by Dr. Nils Flaten, of Northfield, Minn.:

  • Mrs. Olsen va aafel bisi idag; hun maatte béke kék. (Mrs. Olsen was awfully busy today; she had to bake cake.)
  • Den spattute stiren braekka sig ut av pastre aa rőnna langt ind i fila aa je va ikke aebel te aa kaetsche’n; men saa sigga je doggen min paa’n. (The spotted steer broke out of the pasture and ran far into the field before I was able to catch him; but then I sicked my dog at him.)
  • Reileaaden ha muva schappa sine. (The railroad has moved its shops.)
  • Je kunde ikke faa resa saa mye kaes at je fik betalt morgesen i farmen min. (I couldn’t raise enough cash to pay the mortgage on my farm.)
  • Det meka ingen difrens. (That makes no difference.)
  • Det kőtta ingen figger. (That cuts no figure.)
  • Hos’n fila du? puddi gud. (How do you feel? Pretty good.)
  • The words in italics would be unintelligible to a recent arrival from Norway; they are all American loan-words. “Such words,” says Dr. Flaten, “are often mutilated beyond recognition by an American.… In the case of many words the younger generation cannot tell whether they are English or Norse. I was ten years old before I found that such words as paatikkel (=particular), staebel (=stable), fens (=fence) were not Norse, but mutilated English. I had often wondered that poleit, trubbel, sodpperéter were so much like the English words polite, trouble, separator. So common is this practise of borrowing that no English word is refused admittance into this vocabulary provided it can stand the treatment it is apt to get. Some words, indeed, are used without any appreciable difference in pronunciation, but more generally the root, or stem, is taken and Norse inflections are added as required by the rules of the language.” Sometimes the English loan-word and a corresponding Norwegian word exist side by side, but in such cases, according to Dr. George T. Flom, “there is a prevalent and growing tendency” to drop the latter, save in the event that it acquires a special meaning. “Very often in such cases,” continues Dr. Flom, “the English word is shorter and easier to pronounce or the Norse equivalent is a purely literary word—that is, does not actually exist in the dialect of the settlers.… In the considerable number of cases where the loan-word has an exact equivalent in the Norse dialect it is often very difficult to determine the reason for the loan, though it would be safe to say that it is frequently due simply to a desire on the part of the speaker to use English words, a thing that becomes very pronounced in the jargon that is sometimes heard.”

    Dr. Flaten exhibits the following declension of a typical loanword, swindler. In Dano-Norwegian there is no letter w, and the suffix of agency is not -er but -ar; so the word becomes svindlar. It is regarded as masculine and declined thus:

    Nom.ein svindlarsvindlarn
    Gen.aat svindlaraat svindlaré
    Dat.(te) ein svindlar(te) svindlaré
    Acc.ein svindlarsvindlarn
    Nom.noko svindlarasvindlaradn
    Gen.aat noko svindlaraaat svindlaro
    Dat.(te) noko svindlara(te) svindlaro
    Acc.noko svindlarasvindlaradn

    The vocabularies of Drs. Flaten and Flom show a large number of such substitutions of English (including some thoroughly American) words. The Dano-Norwegian φl is abandoned for the English beer, which becomes bir. Tonde succumbs to baerel, barel or baril (=barrel), frokost to brekkfaest (=breakfast), forsikring to inschurings (=insurance,) stald to staebel (=stable), skat to taex (=tax,) and so on. The verbs yield in the same way: vaeljuéte (=valuate), titsche (teach), Katte (cut), Klém (claim), savére (survey), refjuse (refuse.) And the adjectives: plén (plain), jelős (jealous), kjokfuldt (chock-full), Krésé (crazy), aebel (able), Klir (clear), pjur (pure), pur (poor). And the adverbs and adverbial phrases: isé (easy), reit evé (right away), aept to (apt to), allreit (all right). Dr. Flaten lists some extremely grotesque compound words, e. g., nekk-tői (necktie), Kjaens-bogg (chinch-bug), hospaar (horse-power), gitte long (get along), hardvaer-staar (hardware-store), staets-praessen (state’s-prison), traevling-maen (traveling-man), uxe-jogg (yoke of oxen), stim-baat (steamboat). Pure Americanisms are not infrequent, e. g., bősta (busted), bés-baal (baseball), boggé (buggy), dipo (depot), fraimhus (frame-house), jukre (to euchre), kaemp-mid’n (camp-meeting), kjors (chores), magis (moccasin), malasi (molasses), munke-rins (monkey-wrench), raad-bas (road-boss), sjante (shanty), sőrpreisparti (surprise-party), strit-kar (street-car), tru trin (through train). The decayed American adverb is boldly absorbed, as in han file baed (=he feels bad). “That this lingo,” says Dr. Flaten, “will ever become a dialect of like importance with the Pennsylvania Dutch is hardly possible.… The Norwegians are among those of our foreign-born citizens most willing to part with their mother tongue.” But meanwhile it is spoken by probably half a million of them, and it will linger in isolated farming regions for years.