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Frans Gregersen, Københavns Universitet

Keynote Speaker

The battle between the three Scandinavias, the past, the present and the future

Abstract: The idea of a specific Nordic-ness originates with the Romantic movement. For reasons which I will explain a bit more in the lecture, the specific forging of a Romantic movement in the Nordic countries implied a common Nordic past, based on the idea that the Icelandic sagas were a true rendering of ‘our’ past or at least a literature on a par with the Graeco-Latin tradition and thus able to serve as a mirror for, as well as a reflection of, Nordicness in the various educational systems.

When the Nordic tradition passed away, it was partly supplanted by an international outlook viewing Nordic as provincial, and partly by a new nationalism with a European slant. The essential other for the Romantic imagined community of the Nordic peoples was of course the German culture. And the focus on German(y) was only abandoned, but then also abandoned for good, after World War II.

In my presentation I will give examples of how the Nordic compass has guided research in the Nordic languages. The irony is that the Nordic welfare states in many ways resemble each other which has made a new Nordic identity available, i.e. as a particular solution to the problems of inequality. The dilemma is how this new Nordic identity can be made to accord with the old one, if that is at all possible: On the one hand we have an imagined community based on an ideology which makes the distant past a bond between separate but related nation states. On the other hand, we have multiplex present day connections which seem to constantly be underplayed or even be made invisible.

As a conclusion, I argue that we need to adopt a pragmatic approach to the region based on an analysis of similarities and differences such that we may re-think Scandinavia instead of blindly walking in the trodden footsteps of ‘our’ ancestors. The implications for language policies will be elucidated.


Frans Gregersen is Professor of Danish language at the University of Copenhagen since 1996. Former head of the Danish National Research Foundation Center for Language Change in Real time (2005-2015) and active in a number of Nordic collaborative projects within the language sciences.