Provencal and Rudolf Värnlund

Making hay while the sun shines means being indoors for me. It’s a fine warm spring day and I very much want to cycle in the countryside. But I had a legal text on patent law to do this morning and the final part of a company’s interim report to polish off now so maybe tomorrow.

My appetite for travel got whetted this morning by a discussion with one of my children about the origin of some place names in Provence. In the course of this, I discovered that one of the leading French/Provencal place name researchers was greatly influenced by a German, Hermann Gröhler (1862-1958), Gröhler’s special interests included pre-Celtic influences on place names. He was presumably on the verge of retirement before the “gleichschaltung” – I wonder what happened to research into French and English at German universities in this period.

The German influence on French place name research is an amusing parallel to Dorset´s place names where major research work took place at the Swedish universities of Lund and Uppsala in the years before and after the second world war, I’ll write about this time some time when I get around to it! (hopefully amusing anyway unless there were darker forces at work to show that the northern French were “really Germans”, bearing in mind the special treatment of parts of northern France in the war which were separately administered and not controlled by Vichy or administered together with the other German occupied areas of France).

I want to learn more about the way that Provencal differs from northern French, to see what words from the Franks “ took over” in northern French. The differing impact of German on the western European languages is fascinating. How the Anglo-Saxons largely obliterated the Celtic heritage from most of England (apart from the rivers, some places names and brock the badger), leaving Early English a very Germanic language. And then the Latin languages resurfaced, Latin itself through the church and Norman French through the Norman invasion with the English elite French-speaking for almost three centuries; the end result being that English is the most Latin of the Germanic languages.

The picture is different in France where I think there was more of a merger between the old Celtic language, Gallois and Latin. There was a heavy German input from the Franks, perhaps often disguised by French orthography, so that French became the most Germanic of the Latin languages.

The pre-breakfast dip into Provencal introduced me to a couple of writers whom I want to know about.

I’ve been dipping into Swedish literature too stimulated by the street names around my house. To the west all the names are from Nordic mythology, which is rather fine. While to the east and south, the streets are all named after Swedish authors both of the canon and of minor repute. On my way to my early Sunday morning pick up at my local post office, I passed Värnlundsgatan (Värnlund Rd), which I’d been meaning to look up for some time, I learnt that Rudolf Värnlund (1900-1945) was one of the proletarian writers (Wikipedia claims that he was the first to depict Stockholm from a proletarian perspective but I think this is open to dispute). He was anyway a worker intellectual whose writings were often published in the anarchist magazine Brand but who also active in the social democrats. He died prematurely in a fire, possibly caused by his habit of smoking in bed. I’ve ordered a couple of his books from our local second hand internet book market (which I hope that Amazon’s new Swedish outfit doesn’t crush).

I’ve now had the first of my two jabs against covid-19 and in about six weeks time, I’ll be able to travel. I’ll longing to be back in the UK again but will probably have to quarantine for at least five days. I’ve got so used to my restricted existence that it requires effort to “re-think” and work out how I need to prepare to be  out of Sweden for a while. One project that I’ve had in mind for some time is to make sure that I have access to my major translation aids in digital form to avoid lugging dictionaries around with me. For many years, I was spoilt by having a base in Islington where I had a bookshelf but I need alternative solutions now. It will be a project that will anyway quickly repay the time spent on it, not just for the UK but for my general mobility.

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