The Construction of Preposition and Infinitive/At-Clause in Norwegian vs. English

Examining the syntactic structures in Norwegian and English reveals fascinating distinctions in how each language constructs prepositional phrases with infinitive and at-clauses. Norwegian’s syntactic flexibility contrasts sharply with English’s more rigid structure, particularly in how prepositions combine with subsequent clauses. This difference becomes especially evident when considering that Norwegian lacks gerunds, a feature prevalent in English. By exploring these linguistic variations, we gain a deeper understanding of the inherent complexities in translating and learning these languages.

Norwegian Preposition and At-Clause Construction

Norwegian demonstrates a remarkable ease in combining prepositions with ‘at’-clauses, a feature that allows speakers to convey complex thoughts and emotions succinctly. In Norwegian, this structure is grammatically acceptable and frequently used. Consider the following examples:

  • Hun er opptatt av at vi kommer i tide.
    Translation: “She is concerned that we arrive on time.”
  • Han er glad for at du fikk jobben.
    Translation: “He is happy that you got the job.”
  • Vi snakker om at de flytter til utlandet.
    Translation: “We are talking about them moving abroad.”
  • Hun bekymrer seg over at barna går alene til skolen.
    Translation: “She worries about the children walking to school alone.”
  • Han er misfornøyd med at møtet ble avlyst.
    Translation: “He is dissatisfied that the meeting was canceled.”
  • Vi gleder oss til at du kommer på besøk.
    Translation: “We are looking forward to you visiting.”
  • Jeg er lei meg for at jeg ikke kunne komme.
    Translation: “I am sorry that I couldn’t come.”
  • De er stolte av at de vant konkurransen.
    Translation: “They are proud that they won the competition.”
  • Hun er irritert over at han alltid er forsinket.
    Translation: “She is irritated that he is always late.”

In these sentences, the prepositions ‘av’, ‘for’, ‘om’, ‘over’, ‘med’, and ’til’ are seamlessly followed by ‘at’-clauses, demonstrating Norwegian’s ability to link prepositions directly with clauses to express nuanced ideas. This structure simplifies the communication of complex thoughts and states, making Norwegian particularly efficient in certain expressions.

In terms of grammatical construction, the ‘at’-clause in Norwegian serves as a complement to the preposition, much like a noun phrase would. This construction is quite natural in Norwegian, which often leads to succinct expressions of complex ideas. For example, “Hun er opptatt av at vi kommer i tide” directly translates to “She is concerned that we arrive on time,” where the ‘at’-clause provides the necessary context for the concern.

English Preposition and That-Clause Construction

In contrast, English does not freely combine prepositions with ‘that’-clauses. Attempting a direct translation from Norwegian to English often results in sentences that sound awkward or incorrect. To address this, English typically requires the insertion of phrases like “the fact” before the ‘that’-clause. This addition ensures grammatical correctness and enhances sentence clarity. For instance:

  • Hun er opptatt av at vi kommer i tide.
    Translation: “She is concerned about the fact that we arrive on time.”
  • Han er glad for at du fikk jobben.
    Translation: “He is happy about the fact that you got the job.”
  • Vi snakker om at de flytter til utlandet.
    Translation: “We are talking about the fact that they are moving abroad.”
  • Hun bekymrer seg over at barna går alene til skolen.
    Translation: “She worries about the fact that the children walk to school alone.”
  • Han er misfornøyd med at møtet ble avlyst.
    Translation: “He is dissatisfied with the fact that the meeting was canceled.”
  • Vi gleder oss til at du kommer på besøk.
    Translation: “We are looking forward to the fact that you are visiting.”
  • Jeg er lei meg for at jeg ikke kunne komme.
    Translation: “I am sorry about the fact that I couldn’t come.”
  • De er stolte av at de vant konkurransen.
    Translation: “They are proud of the fact that they won the competition.”
  • Hun er irritert over at han alltid er forsinket.
    Translation: “She is irritated by the fact that he is always late.”

Inserting “the fact” before the ‘that’-clause allows English speakers to maintain the intended meaning of the original Norwegian sentences while adhering to English grammatical norms. This insertion bridges the syntactic gap, ensuring clarity and fluency in communication.

The need for “the fact” stems from English’s syntactic preference for clarity and separation of ideas. In these constructions, the ‘that’-clause functions as an appositive, explaining or specifying the noun phrase (“the fact”). For instance, in “She is concerned about the fact that we arrive on time,” the ‘that’-clause elaborates on “the fact,” providing necessary context for the concern.

The Absence of Gerunds in Norwegian

Another noteworthy syntactic distinction is Norwegian’s absence of gerunds. In English, gerunds (verbs ending in -ing that function as nouns) are commonly used after prepositions, playing a crucial role in sentence construction. For example:

  • “She is concerned about arriving on time.”
  • “He is happy about getting the job.”
  • “We are talking about moving abroad.”

Here, “arriving,” “getting,” and “moving” are gerunds following the prepositions. Since Norwegian lacks gerunds, it relies on alternative structures such as infinitive or at-clauses to convey similar meanings. This linguistic feature demands a different approach when constructing sentences involving actions or states.

For instance, the English sentence “She is worried about passing the exam” would be translated into Norwegian as:

  • Hun er bekymret for å bestå eksamen.
    (Literally: “She is worried about to pass the exam.”)

Norwegian’s reliance on infinitive forms rather than gerunds necessitates a deeper understanding of verb usage and sentence structure, especially for English speakers learning Norwegian.

In grammatical terms, the Norwegian infinitive (‘å’ + verb) often serves a similar function to the English gerund, acting as the object of the preposition. This difference requires learners to shift their perspective on how actions and states are expressed syntactically.

Practical Implications for Language Learners

Understanding these syntactic differences is crucial for language learners aiming for fluency and accuracy in either language. Norwegian speakers learning English must adapt to the necessity of inserting phrases like “the fact” to create grammatically correct sentences. Conversely, English speakers learning Norwegian need to become comfortable with the direct use of at-clauses following prepositions.

For instance, an English speaker might initially struggle with the Norwegian sentence:

  • Jeg er redd for at vi kommer for sent.
    Translation: “I am afraid that we will be late.”

They would need to resist the impulse to translate this directly as “I am afraid for that we will be late,” instead learning the correct structure without an additional phrase.

Additionally, an English speaker might need to adapt from using gerunds to using infinitive forms when translating or speaking Norwegian. For example, the English sentence “I am interested in learning Norwegian” would be translated to:

  • Jeg er interessert i å lære norsk.
    (Literally: “I am interested in to learn Norwegian.”)

Translation Challenges

For translators, these syntactic variations present unique challenges. Translating Norwegian texts into English requires meticulous attention to structural differences to ensure the resulting sentences are grammatically correct and convey the original meaning accurately. Translators must skillfully insert phrases like “the fact” to maintain clarity and correctness in English. Conversely, translating English texts into Norwegian involves simplifying or adjusting gerund constructions to fit Norwegian syntax.

Consider translating the English sentence “She is looking forward to meeting you” into Norwegian. The correct translation would involve using an infinitive form:

  • Hun ser frem til å møte deg.
    (Literally: “She looks forward to to meet you.”)

This translation reflects Norwegian’s preference for infinitive clauses over gerunds, highlighting the need for careful syntactic adjustments in translation work.

In addition to understanding vocabulary and grammar, translators must also be adept at recognizing cultural nuances and idiomatic expressions that may not have direct equivalents in the other language. This skill is essential for ensuring that translations are both accurate and culturally appropriate.

Conclusion

The construction of prepositional phrases with infinitive and at-clauses in Norwegian and English underscores significant linguistic divergences. Norwegian’s syntactic flexibility contrasts with the more rigid structure of English, necessitating additional elements for grammatical correctness. Recognizing and understanding these differences is essential for enhancing language learning, achieving translation accuracy, and fostering effective communication between Norwegian and English speakers. By appreciating these syntactic nuances, language learners and translators can navigate the complexities of each language with greater ease and precision.

In summary, the syntactic structures of Norwegian and English reveal a fascinating interplay of flexibility and rigidity, reflecting broader linguistic principles and cultural preferences. Understanding these differences not only aids in language acquisition but also enriches our appreciation of the diverse ways in which human languages express thoughts, emotions, and actions. As learners and translators delve deeper into these syntactic intricacies, they contribute to a richer, more nuanced understanding of both Norwegian and English, enhancing cross-cultural communication and appreciation.

Furthermore, the study of these syntactic differences offers valuable insights into the cognitive processes involved in language learning and translation. By examining how different languages handle similar grammatical concepts, we gain a deeper understanding of the universal principles underlying human language and the specific ways in which individual languages manifest these principles. This knowledge not only enhances our linguistic skills but also broadens our perspectives on the diversity and complexity of human communication.

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