Sharing Culture

by Alexander Austad

As a globally intertwined society, what would be different if entertainment didn’t spread across borders in such a huge way as it does today? This question struck me after having discussed the export and import of media like movies and TV shows in sociology class.

I’m a Norwegian living in an international dorm in Japan, where I communicate with people of various nationalities every day. When I came here I was astonished by how easy it was to get along with everyone, as we quickly started joking around with this and that, often involving references from commonly known shows, music or what have you.

In Norway, a huge part of what is broadcasted on TV is from English speaking countries, and ever since I was little I have been playing video games in English, as most games do not get translated to Norwegian. I have always been grateful that I have been able to understand English from a young age thanks to this, but there is a cultural aspect to it as well that I had not thought of before.

If I was perfectly able to speak English, having learned it in school without any help from the media, chances are I couldn’t as easily had a lighthearted conversation with my friends here in my dorm, and I would most certainly feel slightly out of place if everyone around me was talking or sharing laughs about stuff that I had no idea what was.
With the huge flow of media comes the aspect of inclusion, and this on a different level than what we get from sharing for example intelligence and research across borders.

So does this mean less culture or more culture?

Norway is a small country, population wise, and we cannot really compete with the big dogs in the media industry, like Hollywood. This means that people like me will be kind of Americanized, if you will, and I have even been told here that I am “pretty much an American”.

Chatting with English native speakers here, while I feel like I may be lacking a cultural identity of my own at times, it is merely just that other people don’t see it as much, as I am adapting to ‘them’ when I’m here and not the other way around. I have my own set of references which I can only share with my Norwegian friends, and quite frankly I think that’s enough.

You shouldn’t just learn the language, because with it comes a culture, and I think the entertainment industry, although not necessarily the best source for portrayal of accurate culture, is a very important source, as it is about having shared common experiences with other people, and shared experiences is often what carries conversations.

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Are foreign languages a threat to the host country culture and language?

by Glenn Soenvisen

In the mid-90’s a new term, “Kebab-Norwegian,” was coined in Norway; it meant the dialect of the Norwegian language which contained relatively many loanwords from non-western immigrants. This term was soon picked up and used vigorously by the media, where it sometimes was stated as a reason for the deterioration of the “real” Norwegian language. In some extreme cases it was even stated that the verb was put in the wrong place when speaking “Kebab-Norwegian” and female and neuter gender nouns became male. Some even said that it brought unwanted culture into the country, stating that degrading non-western words for “females” were used to refer to females in general. In short, some people perceived “Kebab-Norwegian” as a threat to the “real” Norwegian culture and language. Therefore, we needed assimilation of the users in order to retain our national identity and values.

What I find funny about this, though, is how little basis there are for these utterances. For one thing, “Kebab-Norwegian” is only used in the eastern parts of the Norwegian capital Oslo by immigrant youth and their possible native Norwegian friends; it’s an ethnolect rather than a dialect, and there has been no proof of it spreading to other parts of the country, as is only logical since ethnolects are associated with specific ethnic or cultural subgroups. You could say it is an in-group way of speaking.

And that brings me to another thing worth pointing out: the ethnolect in question is spoken, not written. Sure, users may write it when chatting online through facebook and the like, but those services are closed networks and not available to everyone. Furthermore, even Norwegians may write in their own dialects in such contexts, but it doesn’t seem to affect their ability to write correctly written Norwegian when needed.

Moreover, considering that “Kebab-Norwegian” is almost exclusively used by youths, the users of it are most likely bilingual, or even trilingual, having learned “real” Norwegian from a very young age, as well as English which are being taught from early elementary school level. Keeping this in mind we can take a look at what Alejandro Portes writes in his feature article “English-only triumphs, but the costs are high:” bilinguals outperform their monolingual counterparts in almost all cognitive tests.

In short, immigrants speaking “Kebab-Norwegian” should have no more difficulty in using suitable language to suitable situations on the same level as native Norwegians do. That learning two or more languages at the same time makes for underdeveloped ability in both/all is a thought for the 1930’s.

Besides, even Norwegians themselves mess with the genders of the nouns. I myself use all three genders (male, female, neuter), but in some parts of Norway the female one doesn’t exist. There’s also often the case that nouns can be used as both male and female. What’s more, the new rages in the language debate is that native Norwegian children are more and more using the sound sh [ ʃ ] where kj [ ç ] should be used and, to a lesser degree, using the word hvem (who) where hvilken (which) should be used.

Lastly, it’s not like degrading words for females in general is exclusive to non-western languages. I dare say that bitch is, unfortunately, used extensively in informal spoken English and Norwegian both.

Of course, foreign languages may have influence on the national language and culture, but only in minor ways, such as adding words which we don’t have any words for in our own language, replacing interjections, or introducing new foods. However, this cannot be considered a threat at all. Rather than threatening, the influences enrich and enhance, like an add-on to your browser. If “Kebab-Norwegian” really was a threat, one can wonder why the English influence, which is much bigger, hasn’t made us all speak “Norwish” yet. There is no need for complete assimilation.