V and W

Via Tim, I have been introduced to Emily’s blog, and her adventures as a brand-new immigrant to Norway (which I am reading with almost as much wonder as a native Norwegian since I have never been that kind of immigrant). She is going through the experiences most immigrants to Norway go through, including the Norwegian for foreigners classes. I never did that, so there are some aspects of Norwegian that I have never questioned, having learned it as a child in a Norwegian school, but Emily did. She was wondering about W.

This is part of the comment I left on her blog:

W is […] not used in actual Norwegian. It, along with c, q, x and z, exists mainly to accommodate old-fashioned spellings of names, like Aschehoug (Askehaug) or Wiik (Vik). (The Norwegian alphabet has been through some evolutions, as has the English.) To a Norwegian, W looks like V, anyway, a concept that is baffling to an English-speaker. But V and W are interchangeable to a Norwegian as they sound exactly the same.

I didn’t actually realize how ingrained the interchangability of V and W was until I returned to this country in 1981. Then, Levi’s with the characteristic little red tag was all the rage. And very expensive at the time, costing about NOK 500-700 (they still do so inflation’s down and purchasing power is up). So a friend of mine was delighted when she saw a sign in a shop window that read: LEWIS JEANS KR 199,- (kr 199,- is how you write 199 kroner).

She was absolutely certain she’d just come across one helluva bargain. I tried to point out that she hadn’t. My friend aced English in school, and yet she could not see the difference between LEVI’S and LEWIS. The apostrophe isn’t used much in Norwegian and since W is seen as V (and pronounced the same), she read the two names as sounding alike (“leh-viss”). I did finally get her to understand that there was a difference in English.

Norwegian does use W and C a lot in one way: Restrooms are often marked WC, rumored to stand for Winston Churchill as he apparantly was born in a water closet…

By Keera Ann Fox

I am a bi-lingual American who has lived most of my life in Norway.
Jeg er en tospråklig amerikaner som har bodd mesteparten av mitt liv i Norge.

6 replies on “V and W”

I never heard about the Churchill reference, but it certainly wouldn\’t surprise me.I remember the same experience as Emily is having now with the \”W\”. I thought it was odd, too, but then again, the strangeness of singing an alphabet song overtook my surprise at \”W\’s\” absence.


WC: Not so much a reference as facts gone astray in humorous minds. ;-)I have never heard the alphabet song in Norwegian, either, and the idea is so un-Norwegian, I don\’t think I want to hear it. To tell the truth, I don\’t want to hear it in English, either. I prefer the \”Twinkle twinkle little star\” lyrics to that melody.


Hi Keera, the alphabet song we learned wasn\’t to the tune of \”Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star\” (although when I learned French it was that same melody). It was not a familiar tune to me.As for my immigrant experience, I try to keep my blog entries upbeat and light because my mom reads my blog and I don\’t want her to worry about me. The experience has been wonderful but also the hardest thing I have ever done. The first few months were the worst, the losses were incredible. Moving so far from friends, family and a job I loved was heartbreaking. I think it was also hard to give up \”status\”–I felt intelligent and capable and as if I was contributing to society in the U.S.–now I feel like a child all over again. I can barely read or talk, and until I can do those things, there is not much I can do that feels useful. I have had to rethink my definition of success–I am not out there making money or building my career, but I am seeing new and incredible sites, meeting interesting new people and learning all sorts of new things, and I am beginning to understand that that is every bit as valid as the path I was on before this adventure began. Thanks for your comments on my blog, I have found them really helpful! Emily


In that case, I can definitely say I have never heard the Norwegian alphabet song.You are very brave to make such a shift in your life. I didn\’t have to start from scratch like you. Still, I discovered that it took me years to adjust to Norway as an adult, even though I had spent 7 years here as a child. Other Americans would inevitably complain about Norway (I won\’t say unjustifiably), but it kept breaking something in me. Years later I realized what it was: Like pulling a young sprout up to see how far the roots have come. I needed to just focus on living in Norway, and not compare it to America.So I avoided other Americans, and focused on being Norwegian with the Norwegians (having some public school and language in common helped). Now I can see more clearly what\’s just different and what truly deserves a bit of complaining. :-)Feel free to e-mail me if you want to \”talk in private\”.


The only thing I myself have ever had to \”complain\” about, as it were, is the inefficiency of the health system. But I suppose Pooks and I have had an uncommon experience rather than the norm – one cannot say. Other than my terrible American accent while speaking Norwegian, I feel just as if I belong here as everyone else does. I avoid some Americans myself, but only the ones that are the loud and \”misinformed\” tourists or business folk.


I\’d say your experience with hospital care was not the norm, but neither was it entirely uncommon, unfortunately.I no longer avoid Americans. I\’m pretty sure about what\’s what and why I\’m here and why I like Norway (and even love it), and with Dubya in power, I don\’t get as homesick as usual. 😉


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