If you want to study another language, by all means feel free to study such widely spoken ones as English, Spanish, and Chinese. But obscurity, as we all learn at one point or another growing up, also has an appeal, though we often need someone cool to give us a hint as to which obscurities to pursue. One “cowboy professor” has, since the videos he posts to Youtube have begun to gain popularity, emerged as the cool guy who may well turn a generation of scholars-to-be on to the study of Old Norse. Though he holds an academic position at the University of California, Berkeley, “Wyoming’s Dr. Jackson Crawford,” as he refers to himself, seems to spend at least part of his time in what he describes as “the Wilderness of the American West.”
He also shoots his videos out there, an appropriately sublime backdrop for the discussion of the mechanics of the Old Norse language, originally spoken by the Scandinavians of the 9th through the 13h centuries, and the myth and poetry composed in it.
Here we have three of Crawford’s videos meant to address questions of general curiosity about Old Norse: what the language sounded like, and, in two parts, how best to pronounce the names of the various gods, places, and other elements of its mythology, from Óðinn (whom you might have seen referred to as Odin) to Valhǫll (Valhalla) to Ásgarðr (Asgard).
Jackson also gives readings from the 13th-century Poetic Edda, arguably the most influential piece of Scandinavian literature ever written, and one which he recently translated into modern English. Perhaps a sample:
Þagalt ok hugalt
skyli þjóðans barn,
ok vígdjarft vera.
Glaðr ok reifr
skyli gumna hverr,
unz sinn bíðr bana.
A noble man should
be silent, thoughtful,
and bold in battle.
But every man should also
be cheerful and happy,
till the inevitable day of death.
In addition to that and other impressive CV items, he also came up with the runes and Old Norse dialogue for the hit Disney movie Frozen — just in case you had any concerns as to the language’s professional practicality. Explore his Youtube channel here.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.