Talking Norwegian

A conversation I had with cousin Albert before Christmas reminded me that the Norwegian language was used quite often when some of us cousins were children – and later too. I thought it might be fun to think about that again.

I have a copy of the Gale College (school) Pennant or yearbook from about 1930 which hints at how much Norwegian was part of the Borresons’ lives in those years. On a class photo page, “Pasttimes” of silly or light nature were listed for each student. For twins Ednar and Edgar, it was “Talking Norse to (each other).”

Albert said he remmembers his mother in her advanced years speaking Norwegian very flunetly with a nursing home resident. He also recalls times when the Borreson brothers were together when the Norwegian flowed from their lips. Yet when he asked his mother to teach him Norwegian, she would have no part of it.

My own experience is similar. My father Garven and my mother would speak Norwegian to each other at least when when the oldest of the six of us were in grade school. I think it usually took place when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about. I remember Mom saying she had trouble understanding Grandma Borreson (Gina) because she spoke so quickly and – I think this is what I heard – because she was from Biri. Mom’s relatives were from Hardanger and spoke a different dialect, I’m sure. Actually, Mom and Dad would tease each other over these differences.

Later I had high school friends who would pick up every Norwegian phrase they could, but by these years, Mom and Dad were hardly speaking Norse, much less teaching it to us kids. In fact, when I went off to Luther College, my mother’s advice was to “study any language but Norwegian.” I think she worried that any Norwegian accent I had would become “worse” and I’d be handicapped for life.

So what’s your experience with the Norwegian language growing in the Borreson family? Why not take a chance and add it in a comment.

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5 Responses to Talking Norwegian

  1. judy borreson caruso says:

    Glenn and all – As the youngest, I think Sid spoke Norwegian less but certainly understood it! Irene and Sid used to, when we were young, speak a little Norwegian to each other when they didn’t want us children to know what they were talking about. Many times it was that we were going to Odell and Nan’s on Sunday – always a treat and something we looked forward to.

    Re. Norwegian language. When I was in Norway in 2009, the locals were fascinated by the fact there were people in the US who spoke Norwegian dialects from the 1850-1879s. I talked with folks at the UW-Madison in the languages and those involved in folk stories, etc. There is a longer story here but last winter, several researchers from the UW came to Irene and Sid’s house and recorded about 6 folks talking Norwegian. Irene gathered a group together who still spoke Norwegian. I recorded the conversation as well. It was very fascinating. These same researchers also visited folks in Minnesota and have recently published their study results.

    Every valley in Norway had its own dialect in the mid-1800s when our ancestors emigrated to Amerika. It is not surprising that they had trouble talking to each other when they arrived here.
    Snakker du Norsk?
    Jeg snakker litt Norsk.

    • Glenn says:

      Thanks for sharing, Judy. I think that’s pretty nifty that your parents got in on that language/dialect study. It might be fun to see the results of it, assuming they’re accessible to the non-specialist. Over 20 years ago, I worked for four months with a pastor from Bergen, Norway. When Mary and I were waiting with him in the Minneapolis airport for his return flight, he heard other folks speaking Norwegian nearby in the terminal. And he could identify where in Norway they were from. The dialects – or maybe accents – continue today, though perhaps in a less pronounced form.

  2. Glenn says:

    Cousin Gertrude gave me permission to add her e-mail reply as follows: “Mom, Mabel, told me she had to learn English when she started school. School was across the road then and she had to finish her chores before she could go. Also, my Dad, Carl, was from Sweden so Mom and Dad spoke a little of each. Conrad and I got the hang of it once in awhile. They talked it when they didn’t want us to know what they said. I wish I had learned Norwegian, but then, today I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to that knew the language, so…” Thanks, Gertrude. Your school “across the road” was Fitch Coulee, of course, and we’ll have to do a post or two on that later. – Glenn

  3. Marcia Engebretson says:

    My parents also spoke Norwegian when we children were not to know something. My mother had a terrible time understanding Gina and Gina would laugh after she had spoken to my Mom and say, ” You didn’t understand, did you!” My mother would not let my Dad teach us Norwegian for fear we would have an accent, nor were we given Norwegian names. My generation used the Norwegian names – Erik, Kari, Maren.

    • Glenn says:

      I find it interesting how appreciation of heritage seems to go in phases, omit some generations, and fascinate others. For some of an older generation I think part of the concern was becoming good and successful Americans. Thanks for sharing, Marcia. It appears the experience of children of the older Borreson siblings and of the younger ones may have been quite similar in regard to the Norwegian language. I have wondered about this.

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