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Meet the Man Accumulating Fading Place Names

Meet the Man Accumulating Fading Place Names

2023-03-12 17:22:10

Born in 1934, Anders Haslum grew up on a farm close to the craggy coast of southeastern Norway, halfway between Oslo and the southern port metropolis of Kristiansand. It was an previous plot of land, one which had been within the household for thus many generations that the individuals who lived there had adopted its title as their very own: “Haslum,” from the Outdated Norse “Haslheimr,” composed of the phrases “hasl,” or “hazel,” and “heim,” or “house.”

Anders’ son Vidar grew up listening to his father’s tales about Haslum, which included the evocative names the household had for what appeared like each discipline and hole—names like Haveheia (“Backyard Heath”), Vaskarbakken (“Washer Hill”) and Trollhola (“Troll’s Cave”).

“These are names that I acquired used to listening to and utilizing from a really younger age,” says Vidar Haslum, now 64 and a professor of Nordic and media research on the College of Agder, in Kristiansand (“Kristian’s Seashore”), in an e mail interview carried out via a translator. “At a younger age I found that the older technology knew much more native names than the youthful technology. Essentially the most fascinating names are sometimes discovered within the oldest settlements.”

Vidar Haslum's father, Anders, grew up on this farm in Haslum, Norway in the 1930s. The family had lived on the land for so many generations, they adopted the place name as their own.
Vidar Haslum’s father, Anders, grew up on this farm in Haslum, Norway within the Thirties. The household had lived on the land for thus many generations, they adopted the place title as their very own. Courtesy of Vidar Haslum

In an period of worldwide mobility, distant work and more and more on-line lives, such an intimate sense of place can really feel outdated, even out of date. Most of us have little cause anymore to consider any explicit hill or valley as having a reputation in any respect. However to geographers, linguists and historians, toponymy—the research of place names—can reveal a lot about who we’re and the way we acquired right here. And to Haslum, dropping these names is nothing in need of tragic.

Haslum’s early curiosity in toponymy would grow to be an obsession that culminated this 12 months in a brand new e-book, Stedsnavn i Birkenes (“Place Names in Birkenes”). It’s an exhaustive catalog of practically 7,000 place names he collected in and across the rural municipality of Birkenes (“Birch Headland”), a rugged area dotted with whitewashed church buildings and farmhouses, starting within the Nineteen Eighties. The gathering is extremely esoteric (it focuses on a neighborhood that’s house to simply 5,000 individuals), nevertheless it’s additionally a case research of a place-naming custom that was as soon as practically common—and is now vanishing.

“The areas the place I’ve collected names are typical rural areas,” Haslum says, mentioning names from the picturesque (Åbålshola, or “Appletree Hole”) to the business-minded (Toskillingsstykket, or “Two Shilling Patch”) to the downright mysterious (Vinnøyklona, or “Window Claw”). “Farmers and fishermen have been my informants, and I’ve clearly observed that a lot of the previous naming custom was misplaced throughout the twentieth century, and that is linked to modifications in using the panorama.”

Individuals who depended upon the land for his or her livelihoods used to call settlements and geographical options of any dimension, passing the names down orally, Haslum explains. These names have been usually constructed as compound nouns, with a private title or description mixed with a geographic characteristic, a sample that may assist individuals discover their approach across the countryside—comply with the street to Hansesåker (“Hans’s Area”), for instance, by way of Tjørrskaddåkeren (“Drought Injury Area”). “It is a essential sample that we discover in European languages,” Haslum says, “and we additionally discover it in languages around the globe, resembling Arabic, Chinese language and Japanese.”

In the present day, nonetheless, a much less granular familiarity with the land has led to the lack of many of those names, in addition to the observe of naming on such a small scale within the first place. However there’s extra at stake than geographic labels, Haslum argues. “In these names you could find phrases that have been misplaced within the language way back,” he says.

Haslum’s farm and household title, for instance, makes use of a suffix that means “house” that’s frequent throughout Germanic languages, showing in place names from England (“-ham,” as in Birmingham), to Germany (“-heim,” as in Mannheim). Via colonization and immigration, it’s also preserved within the names of cities and cities all through america and Canada—scattered amongst nonetheless older names like Connecticut and Poughkeepsie, which can be all that continues to be of long-dead Indigenous tongues.

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Over the centuries, the rural landscape of Birkenes, on the right bank of the Tovdalselva river, has inspired place names both picturesque (Åbålshola, or “Appletree Hollow”) and practical (Tjørrskaddåkeren, or “Drought Damage Field”).
Over the centuries, the agricultural panorama of Birkenes, on the proper financial institution of the Tovdalselva river, has impressed place names each picturesque (Åbålshola, or “Appletree Hole”) and sensible (Tjørrskaddåkeren, or “Drought Injury Area”). Bjoertvedt/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

It’s for these causes that toponymy will be of particular curiosity to linguists. Place names are linguistically conservative, that means they evolve extra slowly than on a regular basis speech and usually tend to preserve older types of language.

“Folks have been making maps for a very long time, and as soon as you place a reputation on a map, there’s in all probability extra resistance to vary,” says Laurel MacKenzie, a linguist at New York College who research the variability of language. That’s additionally why toponyms usually reveal settlement historical past, she provides: “When completely different teams talking completely different languages come to a brand new place, they title locations utilizing their languages, and people usually get preserved by subsequent generations who could now not communicate that language.”

Whereas place names have been as soon as intimately linked to locations themselves and the individuals who lived there, newer toponyms usually tend to be primarily based on advertising and marketing, as in Opportunity, Wash., or any variety of Buena Vistas. Often they could be plucked from the imaginations of poets and novelists, however extra usually they’re intentionally freed from historical past or geography (see your common suburban subdivision). It’s a improvement that Haslum has seen in Norway as properly, as his dad and mom’ technology passes on and previous names like Trollhola are forgotten.

“The change has been gradual,” Haslum says, “The content material of conventional names largely displays how the panorama was used previously. When new companies enter an space, new names are prone to come up. [But we] lose our sense of historical past. … We perceive much less in regards to the atmosphere we stay in.”

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