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Norwegian language
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Norwegian language

Norwegian is a Germanic language spoken in Norway. Norwegian is closely related to, and generally mutually intelligible with Swedish and Danish. Together with these two languages, Norwegian belongs to the Northern, or Scandinavian group of the Germanic languages. Written Danish and Norwegian are particularly close, though the pronunciation of all three languages differs significantly. Proficient speakers of any of the three languages can understand the others.

There are two official forms of written Norwegian - Bokmål (which may be translated as "Standard Norwegian", literally it is meaning "book language") and Nynorsk ("New Norwegian"). There are also other widely used written forms of the Norwegian language, i.e. Traditional Standard Norwegian (Riksmål). Bokmål and Riksmål are used by the majority.

Norwegian (norsk)
Spoken in: Norway
Region: Urban areas (Bokmål/Riksmål)
Rural areas (Nynorsk)
Total speakers: 5 million
Ranking: Not in top 100
  North Germanic (from Old Norse)
   East (Continental) Nordic
    Standard Norwegian (Bokmål/Riksmål)
   West (Insular) Nordic
    New Norwegian (Nynorsk)
Official status
Official language of: Norway (Bokmål and Nynorsk)
Regulated by: Bokmål and Nynorsk: Norsk språkråd
(Norwegian Language Council)
Riksmål: Norwegian Academy
Høgnorsk: Høgnorskringen
Language codes
ISO 639-1 no (Norwegian)
nb (Bokmål)
nn (Nynorsk)
ISO 639-2(B) nor (Norwegian)
nob (Bokmål)
nno (Nynorsk)
SIL NRR (Bokmål)
NRN (''Nynorsk)

Table of contents
1 Alphabet
2 Roots of the language
3 Bokmål, Riksmål and Nynorsk
4 Grammar
5 Trivia
6 See also
7 External links
8 References


The Norwegian alphabet consists of 29 letters, the first 26 of which are the same as the Latin alphabet used in English. The three last letters are Æ, Ø and Å. In addition to the 29 official letters, there are several diacritical signs in use (somewhat more in Nynorsk than Bokmål): à ä ç é è ê ñ ó ò ô ü. The diacritical signs are not compulsory, but may in a few cases alter the meaning of the word dramatically, e.g.: for (for), fór (went), fòr (meadow) and fôr (fodder).

Roots of the language

The languages now spoken in Scandinavia developed from the Old Norse language, which did not differ greatly between what are now Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish areas. In fact, Viking traders spread the language across Europe and into Russia, making Old Norse one of the most widespread languages for a time. According to tradition, King Harald Fairhair united Norway in 872. Around this time, a simple runic alphabet was used. According to writings found on stone tablets from this period of history, the language showed remarkably little deviation between different regions. Runes had been in limited use since at least the 3rd century. Around 1030, Christianity came to Norway, bringing with it the Latin alphabet. Norwegian manuscripts in the new alphabet began to appear about a century later. The Norwegian language began to deviate from its neighbors around this time as well.

Viking explorers had began to settle Iceland in the 9th century, carrying with them the Old Norse language. Over time, Old Norse developed into "Western" and "Eastern" variants. Western Norse covered Iceland and Norway, while Eastern Norse developed in Denmark and Sweden. The languages of Iceland and Norway remained very similar until about the year 1300, when they became what are now known as Old Icelandic and Old Norwegian. In 1397, Norway entered a personal union with Denmark, which came to be the dominating part, and Danish was used as Norway's written language. Danish, a language since mediaeval times mostly influenced by Low Saxon, came to be the primary language of the Norwegian elite, although adoption was slower among the commoners. The union lasted more than 400 years, until 1814 when Norway became independent of Denmark, but was promised to Sweden. Norwegians began to push for true independence by embracing democracy and attempting to act as a sovereign state. Part of this nationalist movement was directed to the development of an independent Norwegian language. Two major paths were available: modify the elite's Danish, or attempt to undo centuries of foreign rule and work with the commoners' Norwegian. Both approaches were attempted.

Bokmål, Riksmål and Nynorsk

In the 1840s, many writers began to "Norwegianize" Danish by incorporating words that were descriptive of Norwegian scenery and folk life. Spelling and grammar were also modified. This was adopted by the Norwegian parliament as Riksmål, or "Standard Norwegian" in 1899. However, in the western, more rural regions of Norway, a nationalistic movement strove for the development of a new written Norwegian. Ivar Aasen, a self-taught linguist, began his work to create a new Norwegian language at the age of 22. He travelled around the country, comparing the dialects in different regions, and examined the development of Icelandic, which had largely escaped the influences Norwegian had come under. He called his work, which was published in several books from 1848 to 1873, Landsmål, or "National Language" (it can also mean "Rural Language").

After the personal union with Sweden was dissolved, both languages were developed further. Riksmål was eventually officially superseded by Bokmål (literally "Book language"), and Landsmål developed into Nynorsk (literally "New Norwegian"). For a long period during the 20th century it was official policy to merge the two variants into a common form called Samnorsk (literally "Common Norwegian") through spelling reforms. This resulted in massive protests, and has now been given up as official policy.

Today, two official written forms of the Norwegian language are still in existence. Bokmål and the unofficial form Riksmål (see below) are used by the majority (86-90 %), while Nynorsk is used by a minority (10-12 %) [1]. Norwegian spoken language is far more complicated. Many people speak a dialect which can't be counted as either of them. Some dialects are even so dissimilar - with respect to pronunciation, word endings, unique local words and expressions, and even small syntactical differences - that people in some cases have difficulties understanding each other if they're not accustomed to the particular dialect. For instance in the case of syntactical differences, which is rare and generally not a problem to most Norwegians, a simple sentence like What are you saying? will in most dialects be What say you? or What is it you say? while it in some northern dialects could be What you say?. The dissimilarities in the other aspects of the spoken language are far greater than this. Many people understand Danish and Swedish much better than they understand certain Norwegian dialects.

Opponents of the various spelling reforms have retained the name Riksmål as their own unofficial form of Norwegian and use more traditional spelling. Riksmål, which is translated as "Standard Norwegian", has been the de facto standard language of Norway for most of the 20th century, and is the language used by the largest Norwegian newspapers and encyclopedias , a very large proportion of the population of the capital and its surrounding areas, and the Norwegian elite. Since the reforms of 1981 and 2003, the official Bokmål can be written almost identical with modern Riksmål. Bokmål has forms that are close to Riksmål and forms that are close to Nynorsk. The Bokmål that uses the forms that are close to Riksmål is called moderate or conservative, depending on one's viewpoint, while the Bokmål that uses the forms that are close to Nynorsk is called radical. There is also an unofficial form of Nynorsk, called Høgnorsk (literally "High Norwegian"), which is based on more traditional forms of Nynorsk.

Nynorsk was based on the provincial dialects of some selected districts, mostly in the west of the country. Bokmål is used mostly in the eastern and northern parts of Norway and Nynorsk is used mainly in the western parts of Norway. In national broadcasting all read (written) material is spoken in either Bokmål or Nynorsk, while interviews, talks etc. may be spoken in the dialect of the person speaking.

Below are a few sentences giving an indication of the differences between Bokmål and Nynorsk:

B=Bokmål R=Riksmål N=Nynorsk H=Høgnorsk E=English

B/R: Jeg kommer fra Norge. (as in Danish: Jeg kommer fra Norge)
N: Eg kjem frå Noreg.
H: Eg kjem frå Norig.
E: I come from Norway.

B/R: Hva heter han?
N/H: Kva heiter han?
E: What is his name?

B/R: Dette er en hest.
N/H: Dette er ein hest.
E: This is a horse.

B: Regnbuen har mange farger.
R: Regnbuen har mange farver.
N: Regnbogen har mange fargar.
H: Regnbogen hev mange fargar.
E: The rainbow has many colours.


The number of grammatical genders in Norwegian is somewhat disputed, but the official view is that Norwegian nouns fall into three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. The inflection of the nouns depends on the gender.

m.: en gutt     gutten        gutter     guttene
    (a boy)     (the boy)     (boys)     (the boys)
f.: en/ei dør   døren/døra    dører      dørene
    (a door)    (the door)    (doors)    (the doors)
n.: et hus      huset         hus        husene/husa
    (a house)   (the house)   (houses)   (the houses)

Note that feminine nouns can be inflected like masculine nouns in Bokmål. Riksmål rejects the feminine gender and merges it with the masculine into a common gender (utrum), like in Danish.

m.: ein gut     guten         gutar      gutane
    (a boy)     (the boy)     (boys)     (the boys)
f.: ei dør      døra/døri     dører      dørene
    (a door)    (the door)    (doors)    (the doors)
    ei kyrkje/kyrkja kyrkja   kyrkjer/kyrkjor kyrkjene/kyrkjone
    (a church)  (the church)  (churches) (the churches)
n.: eit hus     huset         hus        husa/husi
    (a house)   (the house)   (houses)   (the houses)

Nynorsk is more consequent in inflection between the genders than Bokmål.


Compound words are written together in Norwegian, which can cause words to become very long, e.g. sannsynlighetsmaksimeringsestimator (maximum likelihood estimator). However, because of the increasing influence the English language is having on Norwegian, this is often forgotten, sometimes with a humorous result. Instead of writing e.g. lammekoteletter (lamb chops), people make the mistake of writing lamme koteletter ("paralyzed chops"). The original message can also be reversed. Røykfritt (no smoking) becomes røyk fritt (smoke freely).

See also

External links