The black sun and seeing things with a child’s eyes

Now here’s a couple of oddities. The word for ‘blackbird’ across the five main Nordic languages is – with the exception of Danish – more zoologically accurate in every instance than is the case in English. Four times out of five, it literally translates as ‘black thrush’ or ‘coal thrush’ – rightly so as the blackbird is a member of the Turdidae thrush family. It’s also apposite that Nordic words are pin-point accurate in this instance given that the remarkable Swede Carl Linnæus (1707-1778) is the modern father of taxonomy – the very categorisation of plants and animal species themselves.

The taxonomy godfather

The odd one out? The Danish solsort. Now this one I cannot fathom. That would literally translate as ‘sun black’- as mysterious as the appearance of the same word to define an oil prospect in the North Sea. Or am I overlooking something here? Any ideas about the etymology of this word?

The Icelandic svartþröstur follows the ‘black thrush’ formula but don’t expect to find that out in any standard online resource – Google Translate was just one of a number of reputed sites found wanting when I tried a simple translation search. So three cheers to an Australian website apparently aimed at the younger generation for cracking this one.

The irony is that at a time when Nordic translation resources are still in their infancy online, and still not exactly cheap in hard copy, it is infants themselves who may well end up ahead of the game here. Whilst this incident shows up the fallibilities of the Internet (don’t think Google’s helpful offer of ‘blackbird’ as the translation into Icelandic will cut much sinnep or mustard in Reykjavik Harbour), it also belies the old adage from anyone way past school finishing age that education was ‘better in our day’.

That one deserves a rethink. My six-year-old godson and his siblings can manage intellectual considerations that I was nowhere near at their respective ages. They’re all of some Norwegian heritage only a few generations back, and they will certainly have the opportunity to learn about both the country and its language in depth if a new age of open information is marshalled sensibly and discerningly, because the education system can and will openly flourish in the process and ostensibly niche subjects will become a commonplace part of the academic process – as has happened here.

At the moment my godson is chiefly interested in Star War figures as a birthday present. Fair enough. I have no intention of buying him huge dictionaries and tracts and jostling him into inveterate Scandifriendliness at this tender age – or indeed at any other age. But it’s good to know that public information at its very best gives him an opportunity of working out which way the koltrast/svartrost/solsort/mustarastas/ svartþröstur flies.

Svartþröstur singing in the dead of night


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