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24. Mistakes in my Norwegian writing

Michal Ryszard Wojcik (2003 September 24):

About a week ago I wrote some stuff in Norwegian. I wanted to see how fluent and how correct I am when I write in Norwegian without consulting any resources - only based on what I find in my head at the moment of writing.

It should be noted that I haven't really done any serious reading in Norwegian for nine months. I finished reading the Norwegian book Bikubesong about nine months ago - 2002 December 15. In the meantime I have read some articles from the Spraaknytt magazine - not much. (I haven't written about it so far but I have received another issue of the Spraaknytt magazine.)

So nine months of very little contact with written Norwegian and what's more both the book Bikubesong and most of the articles from Spraaknytt were written in some other kind of Norwegian - different from the one I was learning from the beginning: Bokmaal. Actually my last serious contact with written Bokmaal was over 14 months ago: when I finished reading the book L by Erlend Loe - 2002 June 29.

Below follows a transcript of what I wrote by hand in a paper notebook.
Words marked in italics were perceived by me as problematic while I was composing the text. I purposefully left them like that because my goal was to analyze my ability to write correctly. As will be discussed below, I have made a number of "silly" mistakes.

my Norwegian:

Jeg har laert meg norsk paa over to aar. Jeg har ikke skrevet mye paa norsk. Jeg har (aldri) alltid ventet paa den tiden hvordan jeg har inntatt nok norsk for aa vaere kompetent og for aa kunne skrive uten feil. Jeg har aldri inntatt nok norsk because
Den aarsak for dette er at jeg har lest for faa boeker.

Jeg hadde alltid lyst til aa lese mer boeker paa norsk men norsk boeker er veldig dyr og jeg har ikke bestemt aa spendere saa mye penger paa Norsk Experiment.

Selv om eksperimentet er sluttet, har jeg stor lyst til aa lese norsk boeker, especially
Jeg har mest lyst til aa lese boeker skrevet av Erlend Loe. Han er min beste forfatter. Erlend Loe har skrevet mye boeker og jeg har lest bare fire: Naiv. Super., L, Tatt av kvinnen, Fakta om Finland. De to siste boekene har jeg lest paa russisk.

Jeg har ogsaa kjoept en lydbok versjon av Naiv. Super. - lest av forfatteren selv. Jeg har hoert denne lydboken mange mange ganger. Den boken inneholder tekster paa engelsk og saa har jeg hoert Erlend Loes engelsk uttale. Han snakker engelsk sakt og veldig klar.

Jeg haaper jeg kan moete Erlend Loe en gang i framtida og snakke med ham om sine boeker og om verden, filosofi, og alt. Jeg skjoenner han er en veldig interessant mann.

aldri - alltid

I first wrote Jeg har aldri ventet with the intention of I have always waited and only after some time I realized that the word aldri means never and not always.

It took me some time to think of the right word. I first wrote down the word always in English, German, Polish, Russian and only then did it occur to me that the Norwegian word is simply alltid.

I now have the opportunity to discuss a phenomenon that I suspect has been taking place all the time during my learning process. Let's focus on the Norwegian word alltid. The part tid means time and the part all is the same as in English. So this word looks like "alltime" which clearly suggests always. So each time I saw the word alltid I immediately knew what it meant even if I had forgotten it in the meantime.

My hypothesis is that my brain has been optimizing the use of memory in such a way as to refuse to store the spelling of words whose meaning I can decipher on the spot - as if seeing them for the first time.

Indeed, if I can decipher a particular word "at first sight", then it is even more likely that I will be able to decipher it again in the future, so there is no need to store the spelling of the word in memory.

hvordan - naar

The corrected sentence goes Jeg har alltid ventet paa den tiden hvordan jeg har....
It was supposed to mean I have always waited for the time when I have....

But the word hvordan means how, not when. I realized this after I wrote the sentence, but I couldn't think of the word for when, although I have seen it thousands of times and today it is obvious to me that it should be naar.

Perhaps I expected the word to begin in hv which is the beginning of many wh-words:
hva - what, hvilken - which, hvor - where, hvem - who, hvordan - how.

The word naar means when but it does not begin in hv like the other Norwegian wh-words. Perhaps that was why I failed to drag it out of my memory.

At this point I feel compelled to write a remark for connoisseurs: the English archaic word for why is wherefore which corresponds to the Norwegian word hvorfor. It is still used in the fixed phrase the whys and wherefores. In the Collins COBUILD dictionary we can read that the whys and wherefores of something are the reasons for it, as in the example: Even successful bosses need to be queried about the whys and wherefores of their actions.

kompetent

I was simply unsure if this was a Norwegian word.

because - fordi

I wrote the English word because to indicate that I meant to write the Norwegian word for 'because' which is fordi. I simply couldn't recall this word while I was writing, and what's worse I couldn't recall it even later when I had already finished writing and was analyzing the text. I was certain that I would recognize the word if I saw or heard it, but I just couldn't make active use of what was in my head.

The funny thing is that it took me much time to finally discover what the word is. I first inserted the audiobook Naiv. Super. into my CD player and as I listened I was trying to catch this word. I failed after a minute or two, and inserted another CD with Norwegian speech, and again I failed after a minute or two.

I finally found the word in the grammar book Norsk grammatikk for fremmedspraaklige by Kirsti Mac Donald, which was the subject of report 13: Norwegian Grammar Book (2001 December 04).

At the time when I wrote that report, I was interested in the way a grammar book could be useful for writing one's own sentences. I had read this grammar book several times but unfortunately I had lacked the enthusiasm to carry out experiments with my own writing. But now the time has come and I am writing this little report.

I opened the grammar book at the Innhold page (the contents page) and went straight to the Spoerreord chapter (question-words). Then I found the Grunn section (reason) and found the following remark:

Vi bruker hvorfor for aa spoerre om grunnen til at noe har skjedd.
(Svaret er ofte: Fordi ....)

We use why to ask for the reason that something has happened.
(The answer is often: Because ....)

So that's how I located the word fordi. The grammar book turned out useful in this case.

In report 16: I wrote some Norwegian sentences (2002 January 15), I quote a passage of my Norwegian writing in which the word fordi is used. At that time (a year plus eight months ago) it was in my active vocabulary, apparently.

spendere

I wasn't sure if the word was used correctly. In fact, I still don't know.

especially

I wrote the English word especially to indicate that I meant to write the Norwegian word for 'especially'. I simply didn't know what the word was while I was writing, and what's worse I couldn't find it in my head even later when I had already finished writing and was analyzing the text.

I don't have a Norwegian dictionary and I couldn't access the Internet at that moment, so I started to look for the Norwegian equivalent of especially by browsing through the catalog (which is the subject of the first report). I found the following sentence:

CD-ROM-en er laget for voksne som kan litt norsk og oensker mer trening, spesielt i muntlig norsk.

My understanding of the sentence is like this:
The CD-ROM is designed for adults who know a little Norwegian and need more training, especially in spoken Norwegian.

So the word spesielt is my candidate for especially. But I am still a little bit unsure - I couldn't find more sentences with this word.

russisk

I wasn't sure about the spelling - one s or two s's. In the catalog, I found a page which listed a Russian-Norwegian dictionary and thus I confirmed that my spelling was correct.

because

I will now discuss mistakes that I wasn't aware of when I wrote. I discovered them only later when I was analyzing the text. Let us go back to the broken sentence with because.

Jeg har aldri inntatt nok norsk because
Den aarsak for dette er at jeg har lest for faa boeker.

The second sentence was my attempt to avoid using the word because. Instead, I wrote something like: The reason for that is ...

Unfortunately I made a mistake in the use of the word aarsak (reason).

When I was browsing the grammar book, I came upon the following:
Hva er aarsaken til at ...

This reminded me that I should have placed the ending en at the end of the root aarsak, and secondly it made me aware that perhaps the preposition for shouldn't be used after aarsaken: instead it should be aarsaken til.

Again the grammar book turned out useful.

norske boeker

I wrote norsk boeker instead of norske boeker. (Adjectives before plural nouns should have the e ending.) It is interesting that in April 2003 (over five months ago) I wrote norske boeker correctly.

sakt - langsomt - klart

Let's go back to this sentence:
Han snakker engelsk sakt og veldig klar.
It is intended to mean: He speaks English slowly and very clearly.

I had a lot of difficulty writing this sentence. First of all, I couldn't recall the word for slowly. To help me get this word out of my memory, I tried to think of the word for fast and again my memory failed me for a considerably long time.

I finally dragged out of my memory the word fort which means fast and then after some time the word sakt (slowly) came to me too. The word klar was immediately on my mind with no effort.

So I put them together to form a sentence which turned out to have two problems that I discovered later when I was browsing the grammar book. I found this example sentence (with a slight modification for the sake of clarity):

De snakker langsomt, raskt, klart.

To me it means: They speak slowly, fast, clearly.

When I saw this, I immediately understood that I had forgotten to place the ending t on the adjective klar to make it into the adverb klart. The other thing was my wrong choice of words for 'slowly' and 'fast'. Norwegian has two words that I understand to mean 'slowly': sakt and langsomt, and two words that I understand to mean 'fast' (or 'quickly'): fort and raskt.

In my struggle to recall the word for slow I had thought of langsom but I was afraid that I was only making this word up because I know the German word langsam which means slow and I thought that perhaps I was only being influenced by German.

paa over to aar

Let us go back to the first sentence:
Jeg har laert meg norsk paa over to aar.
It is intended to mean: I have learned Norwegian for over two years.

The part 'over to aar' means 'over two years'.

The word in question is the preposition paa in this sentence, like the corresponding for in the English version.

For the current discussion it is relevant to consider a sentence with a similar structure that I have already published in a different report (2003 April 06):
Jeg har ikke gjort noe med norsk paa over to maaneder.
It means: I have not done anything about Norwegian for over two months.

This sentence was suggested to me by a native speaker of Norwegian as a correction of my own sentence which was badly incorrect. My brain must have taken his advice seriously since I used the prepositional phrase paa over to aar in the sentence under discussion.

I remembered that I had a problem with this kind of structure, so as I was analyzing my text I decided to check it out in the grammar book. Here are the examples that I found:

Jeg har ikke sett dem paa to aar.
Jeg har vaert her i tre aar.
Jeg har vaert syk i fire dager.

I concluded that the choice of preposition depends on whether the sentence contains the negative marker ikke.

Translated into English with the preservation of Norwegian prepositions the example sentences would be like:

I have not seen them paa two years.
I have been here i three years.
I have been sick i four days.

So my conclusion is that since my sentence did not contain the negative marker, it was incorrect and should be corrected into:
Jeg har laert meg norsk i over to aar.

The grammar book also gives sentences which have paa rather than i although they don't have the negative marker:

Vi bruker paa naar vi forteller hvor lange tid det tar aa gjoere noe ferdig:
Jeg klarte det paa ei uke.
Hun malte huset paa tre dager

In my English translation (purposefully artificial to parallel the Norwegian sentence) it looks like this:

We use paa when we say how long time it takes to do something to-completion:
I managed-to-do it paa a week.
She completed-painting the house paa three days.

Explanation and Conclusion

I owe an explanation to my readers. I think I gave it to understand that it is enough for me to read lots of correct sentences, and then my own sentences will be correct too.

It is not necessarily wrong. I can still argue that I have not gotten enough correct sentences into my head, that it is simply too early for me to write on my own, but I would rather avoid this line of explanation, and try to draw constructive conclusions.

WARNING. My explanation is speculative:
Given such facts about the Norwegian language (the complicated paa versus i issue), I now understand why I got the prepositions wrong although I have read Norwegian books and even although I have read the grammatical explanation of this issue in the grammar book. This issue is so subtle that my "scanning brain" was unable to detect the patterns. And furthermore, the grammar book contained very few examples to demonstrate these patterns.

As I often suspected, precise knowledge of grammar rules may be very helpful in sorting out confusing input. Now, after I invested so much attention in this issue, I will perhaps be able to perceive my future input in such a way as to incorporate these patterns into my active usage.

Again the grammar book turned out useful and the question of grammar rules came into attention.

my translation of my Norwegian text:

I have learned Norwegian for over two years. I have not written a lot in Norwegian. I have always waited for the time when I have absorbed enough Norwegian to be competent and to be able to write in Norwegian without mistakes. I have never absorbed enough Norwegian because I have read too few books.

I always had the desire to read more books in Norwegian but Norwegian books are very expensive and I have not decided to spend so much money on Norsk Experiment.

Although the experiment is over I have a strong desire to read Norwegian books, especially books written by Erlend Loe. He is my best author. Erlend Loe has written many books and I have read only four: Naiv. Super., L, Tatt av kvinnen, Fakta om Finland. I have read the last two books in Russian.

I have also bought an audiobook version of Naiv. Super. - read by the author himself. I have listened to this audio book many many times. The book contains texts in English and so I have heard Erlend Loe's English pronunciation. I like his English pronunciation. He speaks slowly and very clearly.

I hope I can meet Erlend Loe one day in the future and talk with him about his books, the world, philosophy, and everything. I think that he is a very interesting man.

Silly mistakes or fundamental flaw in the method

To me personally, these incidents (my mistakes) show that I have had too long a break from reading in Norwegian because my once-active vocabulary has started to fall out of my memory.

To an outside observer, my experiment may look futile and inconclusive. But for me - who has very intimate perception of every aspect of it - it serves as a confirmation of the theories and hypotheses that I had in mind when I was starting and designing the experiment.

Although my personal conclusions are not facts I want to state them:

If I had read in Norwegian really intensively (like one book per month over a period of half a year) I would be able to write correctly - at least without making such "silly" mistakes. Mistakes like wrong endings and bad prepositions with common nouns would be out of the question. I would expect my mistakes to be of a much more subtle nature.

Given really intensive input intake it may be possible to avoid consciously learning grammar rules. It may still be possible to discern even subtle grammatical patterns only through reading actual texts rather than about the rules themselves. Unfortunately, my experiment has not been intense enough - so the question remains open.

I notice that technical awareness of grammar rules can be helpful. With technical grammatical knowledge in conscious mind, it is easier to interpret input in such a way as to absorb subtle patterns into one's active usage.


I made more mistakes than those that I discuss in this report. I was aware of some of them when I wrote the report but there were also mistakes that I discovered only later with the help of one my correspondents, who knows Norwegian as a foreign language. This text file feil2003nov.txt contains the correspondent's original comments on my mistakes. I agree with these comments.

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