Intro to “Kebabnorsk”

The delicious-sounding ethnolect that’s catching on quickly in multiethnic Oslo

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Kebab, from the Arabic kabāb (also the word in Persian and Urdu), also spelled cabob in English, is the word for pieces of meat roasted on a skewer. It came into English in the early 19th century, in oriental travelogues. It came into Norwegian in the 1980s, with the influx of immigrants from countries to the east, particularly in Oslo where it became the slang term for the growing immigrant subgroup in the city.

The word Kebabnorsk was coined in 1995 by Stine Cecile Aasheim, in her University of Oslo Master’s Degree thesis: Kebab-norsk: fremmedspråklig påvirkning på ungdomsspråket i Oslo (Kebabnorsk, foreign language influences on youth language in Oslo). It caught on quickly and became the term for what linguists call an ethnolect, a variety of a language associated with an ethnic subgroup. Thereafter, philosopher and translator Andreas Eilert Østbye compiled the first Kebabnorsk-Bokmål Dictionary, published in 2005 by Gyldendal Forlag in Oslo. The words in it come from nearly 20 languages, including English (sample: “lost” in the sense of being remote, book page 71). In 2007, a hip-hop Kebabnorsk version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was staged on the waterfront on an anchored theater boat. In 2008, a film about Oslo youth, 99% Ærlig (99% Honest), about a hip-hop group named Forente Minoriteter (United Minorities), featured Kebabnorsk.

Linguistically, Kebabnorsk is characterized by phrases intended to convey news. Therefore the frequent use of the word Wolla, from the Arabic Wallah, meaning “I swear by Allah.” Hence the quintessential Kebabnorsk phrase: Wolla, den kæba var schpaa ass! in Kebabnorsk, a mix of Arabic, Berber, and Urdu words into Norwegian translates to “Jeg lover, den jenta var fin!” in Bokmål Norwegian, and in English translation literally “I promise (you) the girl was nice.”

Further reading:
Kebabnorsk ordbok (Kebabnorsk: Norwegian Bokmål Dictionary) by Andreas E. Østbye, Oslo, Gyldendal Forlag, 2005, 118 page hardcover, ISBN 978-82-05-33910-1

• “Wolla I swear this is typical for the conversational style of adolescents in multiethnic areas in Oslo,” by Toril Opsahl, in Nordic Journal of Linguistics, Volume 32, Issue 2 (Sociolinguistics), Dec. 2009, pp. 221-244; Dgital Object Identifier (DOI) at www.doi.org, enter: 10.1017/S0332586509990059

M. Michael Brady was educated as a scientist and with time turned to writing and translating.

This article originally appeared in the April 21, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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