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Norwegian Grammar: Bokmål by Per Moen, Per-Bjørn Pedersen (review)

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 85, Number 4, Winter 2013
pp. 532-535 | 10.1353/scd.2013.0032

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This compact grammar book has the aim to help “those who want to learn to speak Norwegian” (p. 8). It presents all the major aspects of Norwegian grammar that learners will need to understand and has a few useful additions to boot. The major sections of this book include (1) pronunciation, (2) phrase structure, (3) questions and negation, (4) focus, (5) clauses, and (6) word classes. The index (pp. 149–51) points the user to some, but not very many, topics of potential interest. This book, in contrast to many other grammar books, includes a set of exercises (pp. 118–42) and answers to the exercises (pp. 143–7).

While other grammar books do not give a useful account of interjections, this one provides a very short list (e.g., æsj [ugh]; huttetu [brr, oo]; helledussen [oh dear me]; and nam nam [yum-yum]) (p. 111). Of perhaps greater interest to many learners is the list of taboo and swear words. These words are grouped by “words connected with religion” (herregud [my God]; jævla [damned]) (p. 111), “words connected with sex” (pikk, kukk [prick]) (p. 112), and “words connected with certain bodily functions” (skitt, dritt [shit]) (p. 112). None of the lists are particularly long, ranging from nineteen listed in the religion collection, to nine in the other two sections. Each listed word includes a rough English translation. The authors wisely warn users that they “must expect strong disapproval if [they] are not careful. . . . Our advice is: Steer clear of them!” (p. 111).

This grammar book provides exercises for students to test themselves. My general sense is that the purpose of a grammar book is to explain how a language functions for the intended audience. The purpose is not to give users a chance to check their knowledge or skills. But if the authors feel that a grammar book has the dual goals of explaining and testing, the exercises need to be done well. Here, the Norwegian Grammar fails. The exercises are dull, and rely too much on English, making many exercises into translation work. For instance, the exercise section on creating questions using interrogatives asks the user to supply the correct pronoun or adverb. The item (A) . . . skal du gjøre i kveld? gives the English hint “What are you doing?” Less useful in terms of testing real-life abilities in using Norwegian are the exercises that ask the learner to unscramble words and make a question. Here is one example of this unscramble exercise: “dere, mye, å gjøre, har, i dag (Do you have a lot to do today?).” This type seems to be a favorite, also used in asking students to “[m]ake negative sentences using the following words.” “Du, stjele, ikke, skal.” “You shall not steal” (p. 124). The translation hint makes these particularly unhelpful.

The grammar would be vastly improved with a clearer vision of its potential audience. For example, are the authors aiming at complete beginners or advanced learners? On the back cover, they say that they want to provide extra practice to anyone “studying Norwegian on his/her own.” Further, they suggest that instructors can get useful ideas and suggestions. Many of the explanations suggest a contrastive approach—often using Old Norse and Modern Norwegian. For example: “Prepositions are more important in Modern Norwegian than in Old Norse” (p. 100).

I find that while some historical explanations are sensible to people who know the development already, an absolute beginner would puzzle at a statement that the third person pronoun “De/Dem is used to address a person in a polite, rather formal way” (p. 71).

Additionally, the authors’ explanation of how to master the use of prepositions is not very helpful: “It is only by using the language in a Norwegian-speaking environment and/or reading Norwegian texts extensively that one can get a good command of the use of prepositions” (p. 100).

While I can imagine the authors smiling when they provide this example of the preposition i (in), I dag er i går i morgen (today is yesterday tomorrow) (p. 103), no learner of the language would find this confusion or cuteness helpful.

The section on pronunciation is basically...



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