English for Norwegians 101

I`m not much of a blogger these days as I`m quite occupied with writing my master thesis. I`m writing my thesis in English, not because Norwegian would be insufficient, but because I hope that it will be more available in English. One of the teachers here is English and when I asked him if he could proof-read my thesis, he kindly accepted the challenge.. Today, he stopped by my office telling me to re-write the whole thing. I think he was half joking – at least I hope that he was! I asked if my English was that bad, and he said: No, it`s not that bad, but an Englishman would never say “I” and “we” when writing a scholary paper.

Well.. I have always been taught that when writing a scholarly paper, one should use “one” and “the authors” instead of “I” and “we”, and I did until I started my master`s degree. I was then being told that I wrote too “old-fashioned” and that my sentences were too passive.  The notion of the objective scholar has been abandoned.

Norwegians speak and write remarkably casual. It is not uncommon to speak of the prime minister using his Christian name only and we address our bosses informally without seeing that as a sign of disrespect. It is seen as something natural because our culture is based on socialistic and egalitarian principles. But how will an Englishman or an American read my thesis? Will s/he think my thesis is unacademic? Will s/he think I have misinterpreted my role?

My proof-reader gave me a possible solution that didn`t involve a total re-write: Write a preface that explains the Norwegian writing tradition. I hope that it will be enough..

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