DAY 125: Norn

March 26th, 2015 § 0 comments

Well, I haven’t goofed so badly for quite a time. Many Faroese readers have been hammering on my door – and when they’re heavy metal aficionados, they can hammer pretty hard – to complain about the insult I paid them by describing Faroese as a ‘dialect’. A language in its own right spoken by about 66 K people, I’m told, it’s incomprehensible to speakers of the closely related Icelandic. (So a Bjork concert – her again – in the Faroes would need subtitles? except she’d be singing in Anglo-American anyway?) These two form a family (are you concentrating?) with Norwegian and Norn. Norn is the really cool one, as it was spoken in the Orkneys and Shetlands and died out by 1800, the last speaker being (allegedly) Walter Sutherland of th_sh_past035Skaw. A suspiciously Anglo-Saxon name you might think.

It seems – thinking of Cornish – as though it would be easy to resuscitate Norn and give it a legitimate status in the EU. (At this point it seems essential to point out that the oldest phrase we have in Cornish is ud rocashaas, which means “it (the mind) hated the gloomy places”. Why did a people with such a positive outlook disappear? And what about the Norns?) All around the fringes of Europe there are probably remnants of peoples – the Crimean Goths


come to mind – whose outlook, culture and music would enrich our festivals. Goths are notoriously into heavy metal. I’ve naturally thought about resuscitating Norn, using modern technology necessarily, since there’s very little literature and there have been no speakers for 200 years. The obvious method is to dig up dead speakers and get at the language encoded in their DNA à la Jurassic Park. [However, anyone who knows their Darwin plus Chomsky will know that what's in your DNA is not the vocabulary and syntax but the generative grammar.] I find more attractive the idea that there may be in remote parts of the Shetlands (say Unst) fragments of ancient songs borne on the air, preserved over the centuries, which could be recorded, reconstructed via Fourier analysis, fed into Arduino or something, and crunched through a structural linguistics machine. It’s just the kind of project which seems to richly deserve a huge grant application.

Well, this is naturally the point to insert a plug for PIVOT (courtesy of Mazin Qumsiyeh who passed me the link), an app developed by two Palestinian-Americans, Asma Jaber and Sami Jitan - which ‘will streamline digital cultural preservation in areas where cultures and histories are at risk of being lost, areas with rich tourism potential, or areas with diminished tourism sectors throughout the world.’ Its goal is ‘to be a high quality, widely used open-sourced platform that enables everyday users to streamline digital cultural preservation in the places they know best… a startup aimed at building a multi-platform app that seeks to digitally streamline historical preservation throughout the world. We will first implement a proof of concept in Historic Palestine (Palestine/Israel) as well as in and around Harvard University.’

I can’t see that Harvard University is an endangered culture, but maybe I’m misunderstanding

Screen shot 2015-03-25 at 10.35.16


Screen shot 2015-03-25 at 10.36.13                             Asma Jaber                                 Sami Jitan

Sami and Asma’s project. And, while it most clearly and admirably applies to historic Palestine, where for example in area C, displaced families are even now making new homes010 in caves, (and settlers take over homes in Silwan) it could be extended to displaced urban communities in Tottenham or lost Native Americans in Brazil. Or, to return to our original project, Norn-speakers in the Shetlands.

So if, like most young historians these days, you’ve decided that the Annales project is too much like hard work and you’d rather trawl through meaningless memories – see Alex Confino’s rude words about this kind of work –  this is the dream app for your dissertation. 

Meanwhile, in other news, DCI-Palestine reports that Israeli forces have shot 30 Palestinian children palestinian-children-protesting-confronting-israeli-soldiers-near-nabi-saleh-2since the start of the year;

DCI claim that the use of live bullets has “left several children in a critical condition”, including a 15-year-old shot in the chest and a 16-year-old shot in the face.Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at the organisation, claimed that “the high rate of incidents involving live ammunition against children amounts to a de facto policy that permits Israeli forces to use lethal force on civilians.”

“Soldiers operate with the knowledge that their brutal actions will go unchecked whatever the result.” DCI-Palestine also noted UN figures that show Israeli forces have injured a total of 258 Palestinians over the past 12 weeks in the West Bank. Just in the week March 10-16, the Israeli army shot 18 Palestinians, including nine children, with live ammunition.

And one child shot is one too many.


We haven’t had a decent picture for a long time. Here, from the current Goya show at the Courtauld (‘Witches and Old Women’) is the uncharacteristically optimistic ‘Content with her Lot’

Screen shot 2015-03-25 at 23.50.39more comforting than the sleep of reason. (I think I’ve used that already…). An image one would wish to identify with. Which, I think, will do instead of a poem.

And, Music: well, to be boringly predictable, let’s hear the archetypal Easter music – I know it’s early – ‘Wir setzen uns‘ from the Bach (J.S.) Matthew Passion.

Or, if you prefer something more secular, here are London based group Karama with Soufian Saifi on oud in a catchy rendition of ‘Lalla Aicha‘.



Leave a Reply

What's this?

You are currently reading DAY 125: Norn at Luke Hodgkin.