Dawntime and the gentle elves

Satisfied to find in my Geologisk Ordlista (Glossary of Geology), that the longest geochronological unit is an eon followed in descending order by an era, a period and an epoch. In pre-digital times, it made sense to accumulate glossaries to avoid spending a day travelling to Stockholm to find a few obscure words related to whatever arcane corner of human endeavour I was plunging into. Now with the mighty Google, it’s hardly so, even less for me a twilight translator sated with more of yesterday rather than wild ventures into budgerigar cage terminology. I should purge my library so that I no longer have books about Kabbalah tumbling from my kitchen cupboard on to my Meissen breakfast cup (poetic licence). But I find it hard to part from my companions of the labour of decades.

Geology is a special case; every time I come to the Dorset coast and read about greensand and sandstone and gooey blue liais, I want to learn more  (when the day finally arrives that I move on from Dorset churches). I’d better keep that one for the time being, for another eon or so.

Otherwise, I’ve dabbled with place names. Around the midsummer table, mention made of Ulva kvarn, an old mill from the ancient. The many place names beginning with Ull have attracted my interest and I have a doctoral thesis “Gudarnas Platser.  Förkristna Sakrala Ortsnamn I Mälarlandskapen” by Per Vikstrand (Pre-Christian Sacral Place Names in Central Sweden). A long section on ”ul” names where he discusses whether ”Ull” was the Svears’ foremost God and hence the names or whether some place names were hydronymic. It has been suggested that “ull” was associated with the early Swedish “vaella”, to bubble up, flow, perhaps “well up” (as with tears).

If correct, it would seem an appropriate name for a mill. However, I can’t find a mention of Ulva Kvarn in Vikstrand’s thesis, Calissendorf’s Ortnamn i Uppland (Place Names in Uppland) has Ulva Vad (Vlfawadh 1344), a place where wolves waded across the river.

I am suspicious of picturesque names of this kind, ever on the look out for popular “back formations”.

We have a prime example in the town of Trollhättan in western Sweden, literally translated as “the troll’s bonnet”. It was supposed, when you looked down at the rocks in the water from on high, that they resembled the tips of the hats of fallen in the water trolls. More prosaically, Trollhättan was as far as you could navigate on the water and here boats had to be dragged (tragen) over the rock (hättan) that blocked the water way. Mundane but credible.

I don’t know about wolves fording the river at Ulva. I could look at the map and inspect the area and make some kind of reasonability assessment but this just might be an area where I must tolerate the dark of unknowing.

I’m mostly reading about the Faroes in my less serious moments. I’ve making my way slowly through William Heinesen’s Gryningssvindar, written in Danish and only later translated into Faroese.

Gryning in Swedish is Dawn so it would be Dawntime (the Dawn of Time is more mellifluent but leads thoughts astray). He takes us to a Faroes where the old traditions live on, the culture of songs important for the preservation of the Faroese language. And with a large cast of characters, which allows him to mention many major themes in island life – the increasing importance of fishing and later fish processing, religion, the missionaries and the stricter versions of protestantism, the difficulty of travelling from island to island and the freedom offered by the motor boat. Alcohol, where the Faroes had prohibition for many years. It was rumoured that he was a candidate for the Nobel prize in 1981 but said that he wrote to the Academy to withdraw his candidature as he wrote in Danish and not Faroese.

Also started to dabble in life as well as literature and I came across the following motto for the University of the Faroe Islands, which amused me:

“Mildar veittrar tendraðu ein vita føroyum stjørnuleið frá øld til øld” translated as “Gentle elves set light to lead the Faroes on the starry way from age to age”.

In my rambling around the groves of academe, I’ve yet to come across an academic who self-identified as a gentle elf. It sounds pleasantly Hobbityish.

Islands of the sheep and paradise of birds

After two months of wandering, urgent matters took time to attend to; I’m still some way off being able to operate seamlessly from my important anywheres. But now I’m settling and my fast-breeding projects are becoming more disciplined and chaste.

Among my more light-hearted occupations, I’m  preparing for a trip to the Faroe Islands in early August.

Knowing Swedish, it’s just about possible to stagger through written Faroese on familiar topics.

”Samgongan hevði mist meirilutan, um løgtingsval var nú. Tað vísir veljarakanning, sum talgilda blaðið hjá Portal.fo, Vikuskifti, kunngjørdi í gjár”.

I love the ancient letters which were used in Old English and now still appear in Icelandic and Faroese. Icelanders and Faroese may be able to understand one another at a very basic level. The sound system of Faroese is, I believe, closer to Norwegian than Danish but the course of inter-Nordic communication would hardly run smooth.

The language was very much a spoken language used most in informal family contexts until at least the latter part of the nineteenth century. Danish was the language of the law and education and children were at least discouraged from using Faroese at school (reminiscent of the treatment of those speaking Tornedal Finnish in northern Sweden).

Jörgen-Frantz Jacobsen wrote his internationally known novel “Barbara” in Danish, later translated to Faroese, as did William  Heinesen with Gryningsvindar among other works.

The situation reminds me of Malta, where Maltese is widely spoken in everyday, familiar use but where English dominates in commercial and formal use.

In the nineteenth century, much work was done by on the orthography and grammar of Faroese and its status has gradually improved since then. According to Wikipedia, Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb and the Icelandic grammarian and politician Jón Sigurðsson published a written standard for Modern Faroese in 1854, which still exists.[10] They set a standard for the orthography of the language, based on its Old Norse roots and similar to that of Icelandic” and “In 1937, Faroese replaced Danish as the official school language, in 1938, as the church language, and in 1948, as the national language by the Home Rule Act of the Faroe Islands”. 

The islands were occupied by the British in the second World War, which spurred hopes for independence (like Iceland). It also apparently led to the Faroese developing a taste for fish and chips and Cadbury’s chocolate.

There was a referendum in 1947, just over 50% being in favour of independence from Denmark. The numbers involved, however, were small, the total vote count being just over 11,000. The Danish government didn’t recognise the referendum result but, after a further general election, gave the Faroe Islands an autonomous status but still within the state of Denmark and with the Danish King as head of state. This status has allowed the Faroes Islands not to be part of the European Community and its habitants, while being Danish citizens do not have the right of freedom of movement in the Schengen area (they can, however, move freely within the Nordic countries by earlier treaty).  I believe the Faroese political parties are split on the independence question. The Faroese are culturally, linguistically and economically distinct from the mainland Danes but the total population is only just over 50,000 and presumably many  younger Faroese value the ease of access to the Danish education system provided by common statehood.

I’d like to find out more about the trade relationship between the Faroes and the EU.

I hope also to find out more about ownership of the Faroese economy. Fishing (and presumably fish processing) have been the most important industry by far although attempts have and are being made to diversify. Russia has been one of the most important countries for Faroese exports. Foreign ownership of Faroese concerns (fishing-related presumably) has been an issue and there is apparently a deadline (in about 25 years,  I believe) when it is to be ended, although that deadline has recently been pushed further into the future.

I’ve recently read and enjoyed Jacobsen’s Barbara and am now reading William Heinesen’s Gryningsvindar. The fine old paperback (published in 1935) is a pleasure in itself with its inscription “Lilla morfar, God Jul” från Ingrid. I see it was translated by Elsa Thulin (1887-1960) whom I had never heard of before but who was a highly regarded literary translator and who also worked hard to improve the poor payment offered to literary translators. Looking for information about her, I find a list of Swedish literary translators (Svenskt Översättarlexikon) and am struck by my only recognising a couple of names on the rather long list. Another gap in my knowledge of Sweden,,,

I’ll probably try and buy a copy of Barbara in Faroese when I’m in Torshavn and work my way through a chapter of two with the aid of a parallel text in Swedish. I´ve done that before with some success with German literature although the novel I read was too interesting and I wearied of the plod and sped ahead with the English translation.

But if I managed to read Barbara in Faroese, it would be a step in learning about the history of Scandinavian languages, which I would like to do.