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Gjest Jorinde Helmich

[#26881] Norway in the Middle Ages: changes in written language

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Gjest Jorinde Helmich

I wonder if someone has some information on a topic that interests me very much. I read that in 1350 the Black Death killed about two-thirds of the people in Norway and the written language. I now have two questions I hope someone has an answer to: 1)How was it possible that the diease killed so many people? It wasn't that worse in other countries. 2) How do we still know so much about the time before 1350, if we don't understand the manuscripts from before that time? Most we kno about the history is though written manuscripts, isn't it?I really hope someone can help me. Thank you so much!

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Gjest Heidi C. Huitfeldt

Hi Jorinde,To answer your questions takes more than a couple of lines, and I guess that is why no one (much more skilled than I) has answered your posting.In short; the plague did not kill the language, written or otherwise. And at the time of the plague, Norway was quite well organized in regard to written documents connected to 'law and order'. (Though, the art of reading was obviously for the few). Many of these documents have been preserved and transcribed. The language changed in the periode after the plague, but not because of the plague. The danish influence in the following union did that over a longer period of time.You obviously have the interest to read about these things, and should contact a library in order to find books on the issue Nowegian Mideval history. (Or may be someone here on the forum could suggest some titles?)You could also take a look at this site http://www.dokpro.uio.no/engelsk/index.html to read about the sourses for the information we have.This was not much, but I thought it was to bad no one had answered you ;-)Good luck and kind regards,Heidi

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Gjest Jorinde Helmich

Hi Heidi!Thank you so much for your reaction! I have been searching so long for information on this topic, because I have to write an essay (I am a student) about the Middle Ages and this interests me. In the Netherlands there isn't so much information about this all and everywhere else everything is in Norwegian. But I really thought I heard about the relation between the plague and the disappearance of the written language. Too bad the relation isn't there, because it would have been quite interesting. I will go and have a look on the site you proposed. A pity that the people who know more didn't react, because I was looking for someone sepcialised on this matter.Kind regards, Jorinde

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Gjest per helge seglsten

You could contact the university of Oslo. I'm sure there is someone there who will help you. Try this link which is in english: http://www.uio.no/english/

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Gjest Wenche Hervig

Plague in the late medieval Nordic countries : epidemiological studies / Ole Jørgen Benedictow, Oslo 1992, 2d edition 1996. This is a doctoral thesis, published as a book. (ISBN:82-91114-02-1, 82-91114-00-5.I think the link to the supposed disapperance of the written language is the fact or the myth (I don't know which) that most of the educated men before the plague was church men, and they were supposed to be extra exposed to the disease. This is what I was told at school some 40 years back, and may very well have been found untrue by now. I suggest you try to take a look at the book by Benedictow. Wish you luckWenche Hervig

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Gjest Arnfinn Kjelland

I'm far from an expert in this topic, but I can give you a couple of litterature references:Jan Terje Faarlund: ”Old and Middle Scandinavian”, chapter 3 (pp. 38–71) in The Germanic Languages, London, Routledge 1994.Lars Vikør: The Nordic Languages. Oslo 1993.

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Gjest Knut Høiaas

Even after 1349 most of the documents were written in the norse language. There were however a significant drop in the production of written material in Norway after the plague. According to 'Regesta Norvegica' we know of more than 750 documents written in Norway in the period 1340-49, and we know of less than 400 documenst written in the period 1350-59. This was probably just a natural cause of the drop in the population. As others have already written there still exist quit a few medieval documents written in and to Norway or norwegians (most of them unfortunatly in foreign archives)The national norwegian laws written in the old norse language in 1274 existed in the same written language for several centuries.

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Gjest Jorinde Helmich

Thank you for your information. But I thought the written language after 1349 was only Danish, because de Norwegian written language was (either by the plague or by something else) gone. Am I wrong?Was the Norwegian language still there in the same form?

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Gjest Trond Engen

You are not entirely wrong, but it seems as though either you or your source have overinterpreted the influence of the black death. The plague desimated the population and the ruling classes and deflated economy, thereby initiating political change towards larger kingdoms, in Scandinavia as in other parts of Europe. Here it led to the 'union of Kalmar' between Denmark, Sweden and Norway in 1397. Supported by german industrial interests, Sweden withdrew from the union a couple of times, ultimately in 1521 (if my brain works).The change of language of administration was not instantaneous. At first the union was somewhat loose, although Norway definitely the junior partner. Later, with the Lutheran reformation of 1536-37 and judicial reforms aimed at professionalising the legal system, Danish language gradually took over.Much more could be said about the influence of the union upon the Norwegian (and Danish) society, especially from those with the proper education, so I think I will hold it here.

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Gjest knut fasting

Hi.Both danish and norwegian changed a lot up to 1600, when the vocabulary was 60 % german, Platt-deutch.The written language had no strict spelling but was more or less written as spoken.This had nothing to do with the plague, Denmark an Norway were not countries in a modern sense, they were parts of a conglomerate state, together with f.ex. Schleswig and Holstein, now in nothern Germany, and other landscapes, f.ex. southern Sweden: Skåne, Halland and Blekinge.On the other hand, the norwegian nobility was almost totally killed by the plague and was not strong enough to be able to rule the country, the danish nobility was much stronger and could keep up their position as the ruling class.; o} knut f

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Gjest Are S. Gustavsen

Gradually in the 19th and 20th century the written Norwegian language has become 'Norwegian' as we know of today.Although, much of the old Norse language in its structure and vocabulary remained, i.e. until our friends from the 'beloved danish priesthood' came along with their translated bibles as their main tools in reforming people the Lutheran way. One were, of course, to learn about the Lord in ones own language! : /In conclusion, danish was not imposed upon us because of the black plague, it took a mere 200 years and a german named Martin to 'rectify' our tongue. ; )Best regards,AreP.S. Estimates of losses because of the black plagues varies from 1/3 to 2/3, all according to what the rest of Europe experienced.

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Gjest Are S. Gustavsen

Trying again:Jorinde Helmich:Basic linguistic periods in Norway could be considered as follows, when it comes to dividing according to a pattern of the documents survived:1. Norse language untill app. 1370 2. Intermediate period 'Mellom Norsk' app. 1370-app. 1540. 3. Danish from app 1540Gradually in the 19th and 20th century the written Norwegian language has become 'Norwegian' as we know of today.Although, much of the old Norse language in its structure and vocabulary remained, i.e. until our friends from the 'beloved danish priesthood' came along with their translated bibles as their main tools in reforming people the Lutheran way. One were, of course, to learn about the Lord in ones own language! : /In conclusion, danish was not imposed upon us because of the black plague, it took a mere 200 years and a german named Martin to 'rectify' our tongue. ; )Best regards,AreP.S. Estimates of losses because of the black plagues varies from 1/3 to 2/3, all according to what the rest of Europe experienced.

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Gjest Knut Bryn

Jorinde: In your first message you tell us that you 'read that in 1350 the Black Death killed about two-thirds of the people in Norway and the written language'. As you now see, this is at least an exaggeration, - perhaps a misunderstanding. More than 10.000 written documents are known from the period 1350-1536 and these are important sources for our knowledge about the use and development of written language in Norway in this period. The most of these documents are, however, administrative and juridical documents.I presume that your source for the statement quoted above is dealing with Norwegian literature in a more narrow sense. In a somewhat outdated Norwegian literature history it is stated that except for folklore poetry Norwegian literature seem to have 'disappeared from the surface' between 1350 and 1550. Perhaps your source has based its understanding on expressions like this? Today's scientists will not agree upon this, but it is correct that the production of literature declined significantly after the Black Death.If you are mainly focusing on the development of the language used in Norwegian literature before and after the Black Death, you may find a lot about this in English on the internet making a Google search for the string 'Middle Norwegian'. As usual you will find a lot of rubbish, but also some scientific stuff. Good luck!

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Gjest Knut Skorpen

You have very interesting questions. As told, they cannot be answered excactly, because the excperts have different answers. I am not an expert.1. Even though some will say that 1/3 died in the Black death, some will say 1/2 and some 2/3, it is possible that 2/3 was killed in the Black death. Possible reasons for the high number of deaths may be the disease itself, but also the fact that it possibly was to many people in the country compared with the ressourses. Maybe the climat developed to a colder climat that years. Maybe the black rats, that spread the disease, were more common here. All these are questions discussed by historicans.2. A lot of the stories written in the old norwegian language were translated to danish and later to modern norwegian. The norwegian laws were translated (and modernized) to danish by king Christian IV.Maybe it was not the disease that killed the written language, but the wars. In the following centuries the danish kings wanted to control the country, and they put danish men in important jobs. They wrote danish. The talken language was neither danish nor old norwegian, but something in the middel.We learn that the old norwegian language disappeared as a written language in Norway when the last catholic bishop (Olav Engelbrektsson) flied to the Nederlands in 1537.

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