kommune

serbianfan

Senior Member
British English
I saw that a Dane had posted something about 'kommune' many years ago under the heading 'commune', with a couple of replies, so I replied without realising that it was in 'English only' rather than 'Nordic languages'. I'm no doubt not allowed to move the whole thread here, so I'll just repeat what I wrote:

'Kommune' is a difficult word. Leaving aside the fact that most Scandinavians seem to translate it by 'municipality', which is rarely used in British English, the point is that in the UK at least, we don't talk about 'kommuner' all the time. In an official sense 'kommune' = 'local authority (area)', '(local) council' but the way it's used differs greatly between Norwegian and English. 'Jeg bor i Skien kommune' = 'I live in/near/just outside Accrington'. Even if the person wanted to specify, he probably wouldn't use the word 'local authority/council' - he'd be more likely to say 'We live in the countryside, but officially it's part of Accrington'. Similarly, 'folk som bor i kommunene omkring' = 'people who live in the surrounding area/towns and villages' or similar, but definitely not 'people who live in the surrounding local authority areas'.

I also notice that an American replying back in 2005 didn't mention the word 'municipality' which many Scandinavians use. So it would be interesting to hear from the Americans on this forum what they would normally say for e.g. 'Kommunen bruker altfor mange penger på...' (in British English, 'The Council/council spends far too much on...').
 
  • Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Kommune in Norwegian means "a self governing part of the country" and is always related to a geographical area. It can also mean "the adminstrative council of the area". I agree that the two concepts are not identical, and need a good separate translation to other languages. If there is no equivalent in the language, then one should use "kommune" (with k), in the same way as one uses "wilayet", "prefecture", "powiat", "departement", and so on, depending on the country in question.
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    If there is no equivalent in the language, then one should use "kommune" (with k), in the same way as one uses "wilayet", "prefecture", "powiat", "departement", and so on, depending on the country in question.
    That's an interesting idea, but it's not used much for "kommune" compared to e.g. "wilaya" in texts in English about Arabic-speaking countries or "oblast" in texts about Russian-speaking or former USSR countries. I suppose it's partly a question of convention, and partly whether there is (more or less) no equivalent. We really have to use the foreign word in other cases where there is absolutely no equivalent, often written in italics: "All Norwegians like bløtkake but not all Norwegians like gamalost". This is ok as long as you have explained something about those kinds of food.

    I'm still hoping someone here will tell me how Americans would/could translate "Kommunen bruker for lite penger på..." If "municipality" is not used that much in American English either, it seems rather silly that it should be the most common translation of "kommune".

    The larger "kommuner" use "council" on their English websites (Oslo City Council, Bergen City Council) but the smaller ones (if they have an English version) seem to use "municipality".
     

    raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    In my job, I write in English about kommuner. For us, the standard is clear: we use municipality for "kommune" and municipal council or local council for "kommunestyre".

    The larger "kommuner" use "council" on their English websites (Oslo City Council, Bergen City Council) but the smaller ones (if they have an English version) seem to use "municipality".

    That does not seem to be the case, they use "the City of Oslo/Bergen". When they use City Council, this always means "bystyret". Of course, smaller municipalities don't call themselves, for example, "the City of Hattfjelldal". That would just look silly.

    Actually, the English use of "council" confuses many Norwegians, since we limit this word to the elected councillors. I think I saw Norwegian TV subtitles where "I work for the local council" was translated as something like "Jeg er byråd".

    The Americans must answer for themselves, but I suppose they would use "city". But the US system is different, because they don't have municipalities in rural areas, but "unincorporated areas" (which belongs to a county, but has no lower administrative level).
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    In my job, I write in English about kommuner. For us, the standard is clear: we use municipality for "kommune" and municipal council or local council for "kommunestyre".
    In my job, I often have to translate 'kommune' into English. My attitude has changed over the years. At first, it jarred to read 'municipality' in a text in British English and I would always translate it by 'local authority' or 'local/city/town/district council' or avoid it if possible (District Council is what you need for Hattfjelldal, if they want to use BE). But once I got a reaction from some Norwegian researchers who said they preferred 'municipality' as they had a lot of collaboration with colleagues from the US and Canada. Later, an American reviewer even said he didn't understand 'local authority'. So now I just think, what the heck, if people want 'municipality', let them have it! (But I do sometimes translate the whole text into AE, with 'center', 'favor', etc. to make it more consistent with 'municipality') :)
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    In my job, I often have to translate 'kommune' into English. My attitude has changed over the years. At first, it jarred to read 'municipality' in a text in British English and I would always translate it by 'local authority' or 'local/city/town/district council' or avoid it if possible (District Council is what you need for Hattfjelldal, if they want to use BE). But once I got a reaction from some Norwegian researchers who said they preferred 'municipality' as they had a lot of collaboration with colleagues from the US and Canada. Later, an American reviewer even said he didn't understand 'local authority'. So now I just think, what the heck, if people want 'municipality', let them have it! (But I do sometimes translate the whole text into AE, with 'center', 'favor', etc. to make it more consistent with 'municipality') :)
    I think this a problem caused by the mess in the English language, where almost any word can mean anything, and anything can have dozens of names. As long as English has got the status and role of "the world's lingua franca" it should take care and introduce some standardization.
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I don't think the problem lies with the English language per se, but rather the variations in local government in the various English-speaking countries. And as you doubtless know, there are bodies responsible for the standardisation/standardization (sic) of English anyway.

    Even within England alone, there are unitary authorities in some areas and two-tier systems in others. And in Manchester, where I live, there is the confusion between the City of Manchester (also referred to as the Borough or District I believe) and Greater Manchester. I am also pretty sure most of us do not understand the difference between Members of the Council (elected representatives) and Officers (civil servants). But then I doubt very much all council employees are Officers - a lot of the work is now contracted out to private companies anyway. Also the meaning of county is not completely clear - some are so-called ceremonial counties based on old county borders, while others are local authority areas.

    I believe everything in the above paragraph is correct, but I cannot promise it. Life is too short to check everything, and even if I did check, it could change tomorrow. I am not at all surprised "council" confuses Norwegians. Brits may not look confused when they use the word, but they too would probably be perplexed if you started asking details about what they meant. It's a total mess frankly, like a lot of things in the UK at the moment, but "we" seem to like it that way, and it's what endears us to the rest of the world ;)

    Anyway, municipality sounds like a good translation of kommune to me. Even if is not used in the UK, it's easy enough to get the idea of what it means. Having said that, if I am talking with Norwegians in English, kommune is one of the few words I would not translate if I was referring to a Norwegian district - along with the above-mentioned bløtkake and gamalost for example.
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    Having said that, if I am talking with Norwegians in English, kommune is one of the few words I would not translate if I was referring to a Norwegian district - along with the above-mentioned bløtkake and gamalost for example.
    Not only with Norwegians, but with other Brits living in Norway. An English friend I used to have when I lived in Norway, who also spoke Norwegian, would use some Norwegian words when speaking English. I can't actually remember, but I'm pretty sure he would have said, e.g. "I'm going to the kommune today", and when there were different offices, he (and I) would probably have said "I'm going to the trygdekontor/skattekontor". I assume that Somalis, Pakistanis, etc. use the Norwegian word "kommune" in the middle of a sentence when speaking Somali or Urdu to each other in Norway. And definitely "gamalost", if they ever talk about it! :)
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Not only with Norwegians, but with other Brits living in Norway. An English friend I used to have when I lived in Norway, who also spoke Norwegian, would use some Norwegian words when speaking English. I can't actually remember, but I'm pretty sure he would have said, e.g. "I'm going to the kommune today", and when there were different offices, he (and I) would probably have said "I'm going to the trygdekontor/skattekontor". I assume that Somalis, Pakistanis, etc. use the Norwegian word "kommune" in the middle of a sentence when speaking Somali or Urdu to each other in Norway. And definitely "gamalost", if they ever talk about it! :)
    Indeed. And it works in both directions. Sometimes it is for precision of meaning, but in other cases it can be sheer laziness - you use the first word that comes to mind, irrespective of language, safe in the knowledge that you will be understood because you know the listener's abilities. It is very noble to struggle to speak a language consistently, but sometimes you just want to communicate. Presumably this has been studied by linguists.
     

    Segorian

    Senior Member
    Icelandic & Swedish
    I'm still hoping someone here will tell me how Americans would/could translate "Kommunen bruker for lite penger på..." If "municipality" is not used that much in American English either, it seems rather silly that it should be the most common translation of "kommune".
    It seems to me that there are various terms that Americans might use to translate the Scandinavian “kommun(e)”. I have seen the following:
    • municipality — Very commonly used, not least because in most US states it is the collective administrative term for cities, towns, villages etc.
    • township — Sometimes used to refer to a kommun(e) as an area, since many of the states (mainly in New England and the Mid-West) are divided geographically into townships.
    • local government — Perceived as the most appropriate term for all level of governments below the state, and sometimes applied to subdivisions of regions specifically.
    • local authority — Rarely, and only as a term referring generally to regional and local jurisdictions. In America, local authority does not designate a specific level of local government as it does in, for example, England.
    It is also worth mentioning that municipality is the chosen term in most contexts of European cooperation. The European Union uses it for the “smallest sub-national geographical and administrative unit” in each member state (which in some cases happens to be the only such unit, for example in Luxembourg and Slovenia). There is also the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), which “represents the interests of Europe's local and regional governments and their associations”.
     
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