Photo: Private, Syn og Segn 4/2000                                           Photo: Dobbeltspill, Valdisholm 1988

 

Håkon Melberg                                   Interrogation of German prisoners-of-war, Lillehammer 1945                           

 

Håkon Melberg, 1911 – 1990,  was a Norwegian linguist. His vita can be difficult to obtain, since he left the University of Oslo without obtaining a formal degree as far as I know, and he was not mentioned in any lexical works until 2002, in "The Nordic Languages - An International Handbook of the History of the North Germanic Languages", Bandle, O., Jahr, E. H. ed. Below I'm presenting a summary based on information I have received from his wife, Anne-Kari Melberg.

He was born in Halden Jan 1, 1911, graduated from Halden Latinskole 1930with top grades. Then he studied languages and language science at Oslo University for 6 or 7 years. He knew 42 languages and could communicate in an additional 20. Attestation from two of his teachers, and from L.L. Hammerich, the only one that has published critical comments to Melberg's work:

From Professor Dr. Sten Konow, Oslo University, Dec 23, 1937 (extract):

'.. 1931 - 1936 Håkon Melberg attended my lectures and classes in Sanskrit, Avestan, "Tokharian", and a short time also in Saka .. he always gave proofs of a clear and unbiased understanding and a great faculty of seeing the problems and not leaving them before they had been mastered. He has acquired a good knowledge of (list of languages), and I know that his knowledge of Irish is far beyond the average. I am absolutely confident that he will be able to make important contributions to our understanding of those linguistic and philological problems to which he will devote his great energy and solid training'.
Dr Sten Konow (signed)

From Professor Dr. C. Marstrander, Oslo University, Dec 18, 1937
(unauthorised translation from Norwegian):

'Håkon Melberg has for several years been studying Celtic languages and Comparative linguistics (? Sammenlignende sprogvidenskap) with me at the University in Oslo.
Some years ago he received a Royal gold medal  for a scientific work.*) He is one of the most promising young linguists we have had at the university during the last 30 years (? den siste menneskealder). All who have learned to know him deeply regret that he is leaving the university. I can no better recommendation give him.'
C. Marstrander (signed)

*) This was for a treatise titled 'Genitivus qualitatis en Latin et des langues Indo-europeennes', 1932

From Professor Dr. L.L. Hammerich, President i Det Kgl. Danske
Videnskabers Selskab, København, May 23, 1953
(Extract, unauthorised translation from Danish):

'Mr. Håkon Melberg is a scientist with exceptionally (?særdeles) good knowledge of Celtic and old German philology, and in the Scandinavian and other German peoples' elder history. He is also a man rich on ideas
and with a gift for comprehensive methodical work. That I, even on essential points, not always agree with him, does not shake (?rokke) this evaluation. He will no doubt also sometimes disagree with me. ...'
L.L.Hammerich (signed)

Håkon Melberg was given a scholarship to study modern English in London, as recruitment for the professorate in English at the University in Oslo after Trampe Bødtker. He wrote the novel  'Solen går aldri ned', printed 1938. This novel contains the description of a self experienced hunger episode. To support a rather meagre economy in 1936 he worked as house teacher for the daughter of Thomas Coats, 2nd Baron of Glentanar in Scotland, known as ‘The Singing Peer”. Here Melberg’s talents and interests for theatre and music, in addition to language, were highly appreciated. To encourage the work with Celtic languages, Thomas Coats, and the Earl of Bute gave him a sum of money that he did not use himself, but handed over to Oslo University in support of a Celtic institute  (department) there. Then he got research funding to study Celtic languages, and he stayed in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Bretagne for long periods. The ‘Earl of Bute’ most probably refers to John Crichton-Stuart, the 4th Marquess of Bute. His interests did include languages: he spoke Welsh fluently and was a passionate supporter of Scottish Gaelic, and he was also keenly interested in the history of Scotland and actively promoted the preservation of historic buildings and records.


During the war, Håkon Melberg was one of the leaders of XU-Pan, a spy organisation collecting secret German information and transmitting it to London. Due to secrecy-obligation, the public knowledge of Melberg's war engagement was limited until he broke the silence obligation in 1988 by publishing the book
'Dobbeltspill - Nazilensmannen som lurte tyskerne' , together with T. Brynildsen.

During the first war years, 1940-43, Håkon assisted as jiu jitsu instructor (or zyuzyutu, soft zyudo) at his brother's, Sam Melberg's training institute in Oslo. Håkon wrote the introductory chapter titled "Vitenskapen å slåss", to Sam's book "Jiu Jitsu". Author's foreword.

In Sept. 1945 he presented the first version of his hypothesis on the origin of the Scandinavian nations to the Norwegian Science Academy in Oslo. It was met with silence. A year later it was presented to the Danish Science Academy in Copenhagen where it caused animated discussions. Due to misunderstandings and need for background information that became apparent during these discussions, Melberg decided to present his work complete, with all the information required to evaluate the hypothesis. The outcome was the two-volume work. 'Origin of the Scandinavian Nations and Languages' , 1953

After this Melberg continued his work with Celtic languages for some years. The rest of his active life he spent on work with and for children in Halden. From 1945 he and his wife ran an activity center for children:
Barnas hus with Barnas scene, Barnas galleri, Barnas tiltak. He wrote the text for an opera for children, 'Nattmannens barn', presented first in 1960. Some of this is described in
’Barnas hus – Barnas gåtefulle verden’  by Anne-Kari Melberg, Ask Forlag, Halden,1995
Håkon Melberg died November 1990.

-- This was just a brief summary to show that Håkon Melberg was a top qualified scientist, and he was a lot more. I look forward to someone writing his biography!

Updated 03.02.2012

Ivar Fylling
 
 

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Email: ivarjf@online.no

Last update: 2008.03.03