Category Archives: Language


My creation

Norway is a monolingual society in many respects. While we do have many minority languages, the majority of the people tend to forget that as they go through their lives speaking Norwegian at home, at work and with friends, and hearing the language on the news and reading it in the newspapers.

When the theme was ‘Words’ over at Mortal Muses, I spent two weeks shooting images containing words in some way, two weeks where I didn’t travel abroad or anything, but lived my life in Oslo as I usually do.

The end result is a collection of words in a surprising amount of languages. There is of course both bokmål and nynorsk, the two written standards of Norwegian. Then, of course, English is highly prevalent. But there is also Latin and French, and there are several examples where two languages are mixed.

If you ask me, this is a positive discovery and a good thing. The more languages we know, the more insight and knowledge we stand to gain.

Links to the images in the mosaic:
1. {115/366-2} Definition of calmness?, 2. Golden Book, 3. {116/366-2} City languages, 4. {117/366-2} Words and images, 5. Weird words, 6. {118/366-2} …if he soars with his own wings., 7. Short – and sweet?, 8. {119/366-2} But where is the sun?, 9. The Crow and the Owl, 10. Signs, 11. {120/366-2} Antiques, 12. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 13. {121/366-2} Ljos – ‘light’, 14. {122/366-2} I , 15. {123/366-2} The books you remember, 16. {124/366-2} Handwriting, 17. {125/366-2} Bilingualism, 18. {126/366-2} Cryptic message, 19. {127/366-2} Bookshelf in sepia, 20. Birds of Passage

Created with fd’s Flickr Toys


Black and White Monday

Language is wine upon the lips. –Virginia Woolf

The above quote is one of my all-time favourites. It evokes a full-bodied red wine, enjoyed in good company, while eating delicious food. It evokes laughter. Friendship. Candles gently lighting the room.

I have wanted to know where this sentence is taken from. What is its context? For what kind of story did she come up with this metaphor? I have found only two answers to these questions, neither completely satisfactory.

According to one blog I found, she said once said this to her husband Leonard. No source was provided for this piece of information.

Using Ctrl+F to search for the phrase “wine upon” in her works on Project Gutenberg, I found the following sentence, from her book Jacob’s Room:

Cowan, Erasmus Cowan, sipped his port alone, or with one rosy little man, whose memory held precisely the same span of time; sipped his port, and told his stories, and without book before him intoned Latin, Virgil and Catullus, as if language were wine upon his lips.

At this point I almost regret looking for the context. For one thing, the words are not exactly the same. The book version is tied to a person, a he, Erasmus Cowan, that I can’t know without reading the book, and now the perfect adaptability of the internet quote is destroyed. What is more, Cowan is drinking port wine while telling stories, so there is an almost physical connection between the wine and the language rather than the evocative metaphoric connection of the internet quote.

The point of all this? For once I should have remembered the old line about never letting the truth get in the way of a good story instead of following my native academic instinct to dig for sources and originals.

Painting language

I have never expected to be any good at anything relating to drawing or painting. I enjoyed it as a kid but never had any formal training, and once I grew up enough that drawing and painting was “childish”, I never really missed it or went back to it, perhaps except for frequent droodling in my notebooks as a student and academic. I guess that is why I have enjoyed getting my old watercolours out for Creative Boot Camp. Since no one, myself included, expects me to be good at it, I don’t have that nasty mental voice telling me that what I do isn’t good enough.

{228/365} Painting language [shooting language]

When asked to jump right in and get some art on the page, in order to keep away that other mental voice that says you can’t do this, it is no coincidence that the first thing that occured to me to paint was letters. I have always been a verbal person more than anything. Much more so than a visual person. My parents tell stories of how I was far more interested in the letters than the pictures in my books as soon as I became aware of the letters themselves and their connection with what my parents were reading to me. Learning to read and write, I was fascinated by the shapes of letters and the relationship between them – the similarities between the sounds and shapes of p and b for instance, and the fact that all the letters combine on the page to make up an infinte amount of different utterances. –This focus on forms and shapes – including the circle – is something I want to develop more in my photography in general.

When I began to focus seriously on photography, my interest in letters planted an urge to translate language into something visually interesting to look at. Language itself is in essence an intagible entity; only by using letters to abstract it onto the page are we able to “see” it. My project Shooting Language is where I stumble along the path of discovering what language looks like.

There is a political side to this idea of shooting language, quite apart from the my artistic fascination with letters. Like many smaller countries in the world, Norway cannot do without English any longer. This fact is displayed not only in the fact that quite a few Norwegians achieve fluency in English and use it frequently in their work, but in the linguistic landscapes of the country. There is advertising in English, English film titles displayed on cinema facades, English books on the bookstore shelves, and so on and so forth. Norwegian is not, at this point, at risk of being replaced by English. That being said, it will serve us well if we are aware of it when English starts to become more dominant in certain aspects of Norwegian life. I certainly agree that happiness is a way of life, but I would by far prefer to live a happy life in Norway in Norwegian.

Happiness is a way of life. [shooting language]