Cow-talk

Photo: Malene

I work with language, and within the theories that I use as my framework, the goal is to find out what is common and universal to all languages in the world. We are sort of looking for the atoms of language, and we want to describe these atoms. In a way we are trying to arrive at a periodic table for languages.

An element of this sort, a feature that all languages need, we call "predication". It might sound complicated, but in essence we can think of this element a a kind of hinge. If I say, for instance

THE FISH

I have not, thereby, given you any information about anything in the world. Nor if I say

IS ALIVE!

But using this fine hinge that all languages posess, and link these two together, I get

THE FISH IS ALIVE!

Now I have given you a piece of information about something that you might not know, and then you may act upon this new knowledge. Without this hinge we could not use language to transfer information, and thus this hinge is a basic element, an atom, in natural human language.

To find these basic elements it is not enough to know and study Norwegian. I have to compare all the languages I know, and some that I do not know, to discover how these basic elements behave. And I need to coopoerate with researchers who are experts on languages that I don't know, so we may compare these basic elements across languages.

This means that even though I live on a farm far in the countryside in provincial Norway, I still get to meet the entire world through my work. The world comes to us, especially to my university in Trondheim (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNU), but it also happens sometimes that good colleagues become good friends and visit me at our farm.

Leonie is one of these. Leonie is a Dutch linguist who I have known for a number of years, and even long before that, I used to read what she wrote about her research. Because this is one very smart and interesting lady.

Here is Leonie visiting me at Eide, wearing her newly acquired fair isle cardigan, knit by me. I also made one for myself. Photo: Hans

Leonie is extremely fond of animals. At home she has a big dog (Roos) and she takes every opportunity to visit farms and domesticated animals in the Netherlands. So you might imagine what was on her mind already at her first day of visiting me at Eide farm.

"Can we go and meet the cows?" Leonie asks. "MEET the cows?!" I reply. "They are inside for the winter, Jon Gunnar has taken them all inside the barn." "Yes, but can we go into the barn and meet them?" Leonie asks. I give a long sigh. I just washed my hair! There is no way you can spend time in a cow barn with live cows in it and not have the smell getting stuck in your hair and your clothes. "Does it have to be right now? Can't it wait until the morning? I just washed my hair!" I object.

"But I don't mind going there by myself," Leonie says. "I don't mind, and I am not scared." Well, it is not that I am scared either -- except for the prospect of cow smell in my newly washed hair. And it is not like the cows will harm her in any way. Demonstrating my total lack of the skills becoming of a good hostess, I leave it to Leonie to visit the barn by herself.

Later Leonie describes her visit to the cow stall in an almost poetic way. It is quite dark, the cows are very close to each other, and close to the entrance. The cows are facing each other in two rows, and Leonie feels a bit like an intruder. The cows are calm, quiet, and close. As she enters, the cows turn their heads in her direction and try to establish eye contact. They have clearly noticed her arrival.

Photo: Malene

The cows look at her with their big brown eyes, and one of them (she cannot tell which one) makes a deep sound: "mmmmmmm". The farmer is not there, and Leonie decides to come back a bit later. The next time she enters, one of the cows makes exactly the same sound as before. The cows only make this sound when she enters the barn, not later, even if she stays in the barn for a while.

(This is a later recording, the cow Beatrice is making the sound, and Jon Gunnar made the recording).

Leonie is pondering. Could it be that she has just had the experience of being greeted by a cow?

But cows don't greet humans, do they? Only humans greet each other with these special rituals. Also, Leonie has been studying Dutch cows and how they interact with their owners. And she is pretty certain that she has never heard a similar sound from the Dutch cows. The Dutch farms are obviously usually much bigger than the farm at Eide, with a lot more cows and typically a much more peripheral relation between the cows and their caretakers. But still.

This needs a more thorough investigation. "Kristin," Leonie asks me the same night. "If a cow makes this long, deep mmmm-sound when you enter the barn, do you attach any particular meaning to that sound?"

"I guess," I respond. "To me it means 'come here and let me look at you a bit closer, there you are, here I am.'" But it is also a message to the rest of the cows, that the event of me entering is not scary, nothing to be alarmed about." Leonie obviously finds this interpretation very interesting. For some reason. I would think this would be obvious to anyone raised on a farm.

Slightly cubistic version of my office at the Department of language and literature at NTNU.

The next day we are back in my office at the university. "Too bad," Leonie says, "that there is nobody but you in this department who knows anything about cows. Then we could have checked if anyone else had the same inerpretation as you." I burst out in laughter. "Half of the people working with Scandinavian langauges in this department are farmers", I am giggling. "I hardly think it will be a problem to acquire another informant."

We call on Professor Stian, who was raised on a dairy farm, just like me. Stian gets the same question, out of the blue. It is quite obvious that Professor Stian is a bit puzzled by the question, and he allows himself a characteristic little puff of laughter. "Uhhhhh, well..." he roames around in his mind. "To me that sound means that the cow has seen you, "you are there, I am here, kind of." The cow is not afraid or anything like that, it is a sort of emphatic sound, friendly and curious."

My jaw drops. It sounds as if Stian and I have agreed on this interpretation on beforehand, since this rendering is in part word for word the same. But we have not agreed on anything, we have not discussed it. And yet we agree completely on what this sound means. So when the cows we know are greeting us, we both know that this is exactly what they do. Without giving it much thought.

But Leonie has given it a great deal of thought. She starts comparing the communication she observes between cows and their caretakers on small farms like the Eide farm, and that taking place on huge, more factory-like farms, typical for the Netherlands and other European countries. A bit later in the fall she visits such a big farm, with more than 150 dairy cows. She asks the farmer on that farm what his interpretation is of this mmmmmm-sound. "I have never heard such a sound," he says.

Still, the picture is a bit more complicated than merely the size of the farm. Leonie finds that most calves try to greet their caretakers this way. In the Netherlands it is not uncommon that cow stalls have one or more open walls. Norwegian cow barns, like the one at Eide, have four closed walls, because of the climate. When cows are enclosed (that is, not outside, or in a barn with open walls), they make this sound much more, preferably to people they know, and sometimes they will give this sound even upon hearing the sound of the tractor, if the driver is someone they like and trust.

If you pay attention you can easily find other Norwegian farmers who claim to understand what cows express with different types of sounds, not just greetings. Like Svein Arild Averøy, who says that "There is a moo for anything. I can tell whether the sound signifies that one of the cows is in heat, if there si a calf being born, if there is a water leakage or whether one of the cows is lose and the others are telling on her."

A screenshot from the magazine "Norwegian Agriculture". The farmer Svein Arild Aae says cows have different types of moos for different things they want to express. "There is a moo for anything."

Why is it so important to establish that cows greet people? A greeting is usually an expression of respect. When cows show us respect, and greet us, it becomes more obvious that they themselves deserve our respect. Unfortunately, not all cows receive this respect today. This is one reason, among many, why this reserch is important.

The reserach on the communication between animals and humans is a field of research which is only in its beginning, but it is a field which will become increasingly more important in the future. The new generation of young people, which means eventually also researchers of this generation, are very much committed to animal rights and how we respect them.

Greta Thunberg wants to save the planet, and is also committed to animal rights.

Therefore I am a bit proud that one important step in this research was taken on this farm, on Eide, not very long ago. With our cows, on our farm.

Of course, one might object that it is not very strange that Norwegians communicate with their cows. They are fellow inhabitants of the farm, the dairy cows in the barn have all been born here, and had their early years in the pen outside with the other calves. We have known every cow for a long time.

People used to say that in Lierne people treated shep mostly like other people, which is why the sheep talked the local dialect until the sixties. But I wonder if we might also look into the following claim from our American friends here, about a fact that possibly could ease the communication between people and cows regarding the mmmm-sound explicitly.

I want to emphasize that this was a joke.

Also, the mmm-sound that cows make is very different from the one Norwegians make. Just listen:

Still --- it is a fun observation to make.

Steep

We try to get together for dinner every Friday. And since Friday is Friday, the obvious choice is our new national Friday-dish: Tacos. As always, there is a lively discussion over dinner.

Malene used to work at Rosendal Barony for many years, and a lot of the time she was tending to the sheep. "Maybe that is an idea? To get a handful of sheep?" I suggest. Jon Gunnar, the eldest son, is totally dismissive to the idea. There will never be one single sheep on his farm!

"It is a pity," I say. "After all, we do own a mountain just beside the farm, seeemingly very suited for a couple of sheep to roam around.

Stone age sheep, for instance, might be able to stand their ground against the lynx, which sometimes roams around in the same mountain."

Photo: Malene

"You own a mountain?" Malene is eager to know. "And where is this mountain?" Hans is a bit surprised by the question, and I point at Eidsfjellet (Eide mountain, which, btw, is called house mountain on the old local maps over the area).

Hand drawn map over Eide, with Eide mountain/ House mountain. The drawing is made by a late neighbour, "Reksterkallen".

"It is right over there!" Malene is really surprised as she glances up at Eide mountain. "Aaaaaah", she says, in a very condescending tone. "So THAT is "the mountain". I see. Back home that would barely qualify as a hill."

All right! All right! Eide mountain is 156 meters high. Melderskin , the mountain right behind The Barony Rosendal, is 1426 meters high. Almost ten times the height of our "mountain".

Rosendal Barony, Malene's old workplace. Photo: Malene.

Hill, mountain, whatever! No matter what, Eide mountain is very well suited for hiking. For a real westerner it might not be steep enough, but on the other hand, it is right outside our house.

And there is no doubt that Malene takes advantage of the Eide mountain as her preferred everyday hiking ground, on every occasion. For picking berries, for photo safaris, and for exercise.

One day Malene is out hiking in "Eide hill", she discovers an old grass field. A secret grass field? It stretches out over many square meters, and someone, a long time ago, found it worthwhile to grow grass on this field. Maybe one hundred years ago? Now it is overgrown with birches and alder, but it is quite evident that once this was a grassy field able to feed several cows and other farm animals.

The whole family seizes the opportunity to take a look, young and not-so-young. Even Malene's parents, who are visiting for a week. We strive up the hill, all the way to the secret meadow. Djeez-Louise, this is steep. Rebecca (8) loudly informs us that she regrets her part in this hike, and her grandmother (involuntarily) mimicks the sounds of the leaky bellows of an old accordion. How the heck can anyone come up with the idea to cultivate a piece of land at this particular place? Did they transport the animals up here, or did they carry the grass back down? How come we have never heard about this meadow? As far as we can remember, Gudmund has never mentioned it.

Foto: Hans

We are standing in the green half-light and looking around, quite astonished. This is one big chunk of land! There can be no doubt that Malene is right, this is a meadow, a cultivated piece of land. This is all so very strange!

How can we restore this to what it used to be? Is there any point?

What is the best way to travel back and forth to this meadow? An ATV (fourwheel)? On foot? Should we start a project to build a road, so we might eventually reach it with a tractor? is this possible and realistic? And ( I am just throwing this in there): perhaps we have enough projects for now?

Also: who on earth decided to cultivate this piece of land? When might that have happened? Let us do some thorough reading of my father-in-law Gudmund's history of the farm.

Gudmund never fails us. Under the heading "Cottage Allotments on the Eide farm" we find the story of the cotter Andreas Henriksen Halbrendt. And this is an exciting story!

On the sea shore South-East of the Eide farm there was a cottage allotment inhabited by Andreas Henriksen Halbrendt. He was a sailor who was born in Førde in Sogn and Fjordane and he was married to Olina Johnsdatter from Agdenes. The allotment had a small piece of land capable of feeding some sheep and some goats.

He was a very skilled fisherman, but he also sailed with bigger boats. He cultivated a small piece of land far up in the hillside of Eide mountain, and people used to tell stories about him carrying manure in a homemade rücksack up to this meadow. People in the village were not used to this type of transport, which is why Hallbrendt's efforts were at the center of attention.

Andreas Hallbrendt is probably the only person in our village who ever dug for gold. There is a small round hill just beside the house where he lived, and he was convinced that this was an old burial gound (it has the shape of a viking burial ground). This hill is now registered and taken under laws of special protection."

Andreas Hallbrendt died in November 1915 with no descendants. The meadow he must have cultivated about one hundred years ago, or a little more, maybe 120 years ago.

Really a working guy, this Andreas. Not worried at all to walk up the steepest hills, obviously. But bear in mind that this was also a westerner. Maybe 120 years ago, he too sniffed condescendingly about the people of flatland who boasted a mountain which was, in reality, a mole pile.

It is very strange indeed that more than one hundred years after Andreas Halbrendt put down his rücksack and quit his transport of grass from the secret meadow, another westerner unearths it. Moreover, Einar, our youngest son, just moved to Sogndal to take up a permanent position as a teacher. That is just some very few miles from Førde, to the East. It feels like we are making a gobelin on this farm, embroidering back and forth between pictures, times and signs.

Andreas Henrik Henriksen Halbrendt, from now on we will remember your name, for sure. And 120 years ago, perhaps you we standing in this exact spot, resting after an especially hard day of clearing land, and gazing at the fjord, down from the modest mountain, Eide mountain. Just like we do today. And you looked at it, and you saw that is was good. I bet you were thinking that "This is really beautiful".

Because it is. It was and it is.

Photo: Malene

Det første blogginnlegget

Veien blir til mens vi går. Dette er Strandveien.

En dag bestemte vi oss, Malene og jeg, for at vi skulle prøve å starte en blogg. Nå er det vel egentlig litt ute med blogger og mer inne med insta og snap — men det finnes en instagramkonto også, som Malene fyller med vakre bilder av gården, renoveringen, og dagliglivet.

Det er veldig mange som føler tilknytning til denne gården. Slik blir det, når det er en eiendom med lang historie, der samme slekt har sittet i flere hundre år. Det har vært store familier, mange barn, og mange har hatt gode opplevelser fra barndom, ungdom og voksenliv.

Hvorfor skulle vi starte en blogg?

  • For å la folk få et lite innblikk i renovering og restaurering
  • For å gi noen glimt av gårdsdrift i dag der nesten alle jobber utenom gården
  • For å gi oss selv påskudd til å bli bedre kjent med denne tradisjonsrike gårdens historie– og kanskje det kan være verdt å lese for flere også?

Hvorfor skulle du ha lyst til å lese denne bloggen?

Egentlig lager vi denne bloggen mest for oss selv, og for slekta. Så kan dere følge med litt på hva vi driver på med. Men dessuten:

  • Det er altfor få blogger om renovering av trønderlåner!
  • Det er altfor mange i dag som har lite og ingen direkte kunnskap om moderne gårdsdrift!
  • Altfor mange gårder legges ned i raskt tempo, så les om oss som fremdeles er her!
  • Vi syns selv det hadde vært artig å lese om slikt som vi skriver om her.

Vi kan jo ikke blogge, så her må veien nødvendigvis bli til mens vi går. Vi håper denne bloggen kan brukes til inspirasjon, praktisk nytte, til ettertanke, og til fellesskap. Vi håper også at du vil være sammen med oss, lenge.

På den annen side KAN jo denne bloggen bli en svært så kortlivet greie. I så fall, desto større grunn til å lese den mens den fremdeles eksisterer!

Skrevet av Kristin