The Norwegian web: A black hole of ideas

I have an agenda: I want Norwegians to use English on the internet, so we can have two-way conversations with the rest of the world.  I promote this agenda by setting a good example, (see how easy it is?), and by writing bitter blog posts every couple of years about what we miss out on by huddling together in our linguistic walled garden.

The agenda is a failure.  A colossal failure.  Like everyone else, Norwegian web users started out globally oriented, then turned in on ourselves along national lines. We have hardly a link to spare even for Swedes and Danes, who, oh horror, write words in a slightly different way from us. Mirroring the flow of news from American to Norwegian media, and of laws from Brussels, we read and link to English-language sites, but it’s all one way, creating a black hole of ideas.

My agenda goes further than the internet. I want to see English in common use for work, in culture, and in the media – not replacing Norwegian, but side by side with it.  This agenda is even more quixotic, which makes it extra fun to cling to it.  And you know I’m right.  You know our future is – or ought to be – one of close integration with other countries.  A world where we study abroad, and marry abroad, and live abroad, and where foreigners do the same to us.

The language wall will fall, then.  It has to.  But could we please start tearing it down right away?

8 Responses to The Norwegian web: A black hole of ideas

  1. Internasjonaliseringstanken er fin på sin måte. Men er det ikke litt “gammeldags” å tenke at alt skal bli likt? Jeg vil kanskje tro at de automatiske oversettingstjenestene vi har tilgjengelig i dag ikke kommer til å bli dårligere i tiden fremover. Det er vel heller en trend at det er viktigere å beholde, og sterkere kommunisere sine egne kulturelle særegenheter?

  2. Actually, Norway does have some cultural exchange with the rest of the world. Our universities participate in numerous international projects. And there’s always Funcom. It is not like the world cares much about the thoughts of ordinary Brits or Yanks either.

  3. Jarand Ullestand: “Jeg vil kanskje tro at de automatiske oversettingstjenestene vi har tilgjengelig i dag ikke kommer til å bli dårligere i tiden fremover.”

    De må isåfall bli mye bedre. I dag fungerer de ganske greit hvis du på forhånd vet at du har lyst til å lese en tekst på et fremmed språk. Det blir ikke helt bra, men du forstår innholdet. Men du må vite at teksten finnes og er verdt å lese før du tar deg bryet med å oversette den. La oss si at noen søker på google etter hva europeere mener om EU’s direktiv om fornybar energi. Ingen søk med engelske ord vil finne ditt blogginlegg “Fornybardirektivet – for ambisiøst for Norge?” Kanskje ville dette innlegget vært veldig interessant for den som søker, men de kommer ikke til å finne det.

    Så det er helt klart mulig å oversette, men det øker kostnaden ved å kommunisere akkurat nok til at vi ikke får utnyttet den frie flyten av ideer og meninger som er styrken ved nettet.

    Magnus Itland: “Actually, Norway does have some cultural exchange with the rest of the world.”

    Sure. So ‘black hole’ is an exaggeration. More like a deep gravity well. A couple of our authors are popular abroad, but foreigners can’t just stumble across some random Norwegian author, as I can with authors from English-speaking countries. They have to wait for a translation.

    “It is not like the world cares much about the thoughts of ordinary Brits or Yanks either.”

    The previous decade is full of “ordinary” people who found an international audience on the web. And in any case we should aim higher than being ordinary. At least, it’s okay to do that.

  4. abre says:

    Two-way conversations and exchange of ideas, sure. Close integration? Well, I know it’s a lost cause, but anyways:

    Since we cannot know for certain what’s The Best Way of doing things, they should be done in several different ways, in parallel. Hence we can compare, learn from mistakes and from each other, and also: fit our ways to different conditions and needs. Rapid globalization undermines all that. Sure, there are certain principles we all should agree upon, such as basic human rights and democracy. Otherwise diversity (political, cultural, philosophical, biological) promotes innovation, and it may serve as a safeguard against stagnation and vulnerability to crises.

    Of course such diversity exists within small regions as well, but without barriers of some sort they tend to even out too quickly. Ideas, cultures and systems should be given a chance to develop over time and on it’s own terms, for following generations to learn from or – equally important – safely reject. This requires partitioning, or – at least – some kind of delay mechanism. Physical distances used to be such a mechanism. Religion and mistrust, too. Now we’re left with language barriers.

    What should flow freely, is people. Nobody should need to live within as system of which they strongly disapprove.

    A lost cause. The barriers won’t hold. So I might turn bilingual myself. To promote my unique ideas, that is. 🙂

  5. Abre: “Otherwise diversity (political, cultural, philosophical, biological) promotes innovation, and it may serve as a safeguard against stagnation and vulnerability to crises.”

    That’s a good idea, but you’re applying it too strictly, too theoretically. That kind of world just cannot exist any more – except by undoing pretty much all the technological innovations of the 20th century. Cultural diversity is already disappearing, but in our case it’s one-way. So we get all the good ideas from abroad, but only a few lucky ideas escape our own language borders. Countries with large populations are less affected by this. (Look at Japan.) But _nobody_ can choose to live and evolve in isolation.

    What we can do is be different as individuals and subcultures. And we can ensure political diversity by decentralizing power, (much more than today: Why shouldn’t a city like Oslo or Bergen be able to choose its own welfare approach, taxation level, etc.) And we can build redundancy and other risk-reducing features into our economic systems more explicitly. The ideal you have in mind was a side effect of technological limitations. Maybe we can recreate it in other ways. All of this is pretty difficult too, but at least it isn’t _impossible_.

  6. abre says:

    “That kind of world just cannot exist any more”

    It still does, to some extent. Different countries do still have different politics (e.g. with respect to planning (education, infrastructure, energy, etc), welfare, market vs. public service, how to handle economical crises (from keynesanian interference to laissez-faire), and so forth. This allows us to compare and learn. What is the best approach given certain objectives and conditions? Who share our values and priorities? Which differences are important?

    But I know this also is disappearing. Politics become increasingly similar across borders, especially when locked into formalized systemes such as the EU. And sure, we’re all bound by trade and mutual dependencies anyway, but none of this should not be regarded as destiny. Politics are, after all, also a matter of choice within each democracy.

    “Why shouldn’t a city like Oslo or Bergen be able to choose its own welfare approach,
    taxation level, etc.”

    By all means. But as I said: Without some sort of barriers or delay I doubt such varieties will endure long enough to serve as reliable lessons for the future.

  7. Virrvarr says:

    I’m planning a blog in English, but the reason I started my blog in Norwegian in the first place, was because I was more concerned with the quality of my writing than sharing my ideas with the world. My English isn’ẗ adwanced enough for what I’d like to express. Then again, I’m practicing. I’m married to this Englishman anyhow.

  8. That’s always the problem, for everyone. It’s easier if you start young, before you have too much of a self-image as a writer to protect. Or maybe you can find a safe place to practice, but the longer you wait before writing English publicly, the scarier it becomes.

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