Silencing the Vikings: Bureaucracy and The End of Old Norse at Aarhus University

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“Not perverts but bureaucrats will set things off, and we won’t even know if their intentions were good or bad. Things will go off by command; they will be carried through according to regulations, mechanically, down the chain of command, with human wills bent, abolished, overcome, in a task that ceases to have any meaning”.[1]

– Jacques Lacan

Old Norse is the language of the Vikings. It is the language carved laboriously into runestones all over Scandinavia, indeed even as far afield as Ukraine. It is the language of the Icelandic sagas of the High Middle Ages, and the language which preserves most of our knowledge of Scandinavian mythology: Gods such as Óðinn and Þórr, the vengeful Fenrisúlfr …

A new book about the history of English

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More than 50 years ago, Barbara Strang published her highly innovative book A History of English (1970, Methuen £2.25) which, daringly, began its chronological treatment of the English language in the (then) present-day, with “Changes in living memory” (Strang was born in 1925), and then worked its way backwards. The first chapter in the chronological sequence was devoted to “1970-1770”, and the final chapter covered the period “Before 370”.

The obvious advantage of this strategy is that you can start readers off in a place they are familiar with, and then take them on a journey to increasingly remote and less familiar periods of time. Strang’s way of dealing with this material was an intriguing and attractive one, and in …