Bokmål

Bokmål

[book-mawl]

Bokmål (lit. "book language") or Dano-Norwegian is the most commonly used of the two official Norwegian written standard languages, the other being Nynorsk. Bokmål is used by around 90% of the population, regardless of dialect, and is the standard most commonly taught to foreign students of Norwegian language.

Writing and speech

The first Bokmål orthography was officially adopted in 1907 under the name Riksmål after being under development since 1897. It was an adaptation of written Danish, which was commonly used since the past union with Denmark, to the Dano-Norwegian koiné spoken by the Norwegian urban elite, especially in the capital. When the large conservative newspaper Aftenposten adopted the 1907 orthography in 1923, Danish writing was practically out of use in Norway. The name Bokmål was officially adopted in 1929 after a proposition to call the written language Dano-Norwegian lost by a single vote in the Lagting (a chamber in the Norwegian parliament).

Unlike most standard languages, there is no codified standard for spoken Bokmål (and Nynorsk). There are, however, spoken varieties of Norwegian that are close or largely identical to written Bokmål. In The Phonology of Norwegian, Gjert Kristoffersen writes that

"Bokmål [...] is in its most common variety looked upon as reflecting formal middle-class urban speech, especially that found in the eastern part of Southern Norway, with the capital Oslo as the obvious centre. One can therefore say that Bokmål has a spoken realization that one might call an unofficial standard spoken Norwegian. It is in fact often referred to as Standard Østnorsk ('Standard East Norwegian')."

History

Up until about 1300, the written language of Norway, Old Norwegian, was essentially identical to Old Icelandic. The speech, however, was gradually differentiated into local and regional dialects. As long as Norway remained an independent kingdom, the written language remained essentially constant.

In 1380, Norway entered into a union with Denmark, and no longer had its own king. By the early 16th century, Norway had lost its separate political institutions, and together with Denmark formed the political unit known as Denmark-Norway until 1814, progressively becoming the weaker member of the union. During this period written Norwegian was displaced by Danish, which was used for virtually all administrative documents.

Norwegians used Danish primarily in writing, but it gradually came to be spoken by the urban elite on formal or official occasions. Although Danish never became the spoken language of the vast majority of the population, by the time Norway's ties with Denmark were severed in 1814, a Dano-Norwegian vernacular often called the "educated daily speech" had become the mother tongue of parts of the urban elite. This new Dano-Norwegian koiné could be described as Danish with East Norwegian pronunciation, some Norwegian vocabulary, and a simplified grammar. Or as Kristoffersen puts it:

"Standard Østnorsk can be considered a sociolect that has developed as a result of tension between Danish as the official written, and in some contexts spoken, language used by the upper class before 1814, and the variety of Norwegian used by the lower social classes in the towns of Eastern Norway."

In 1814, when Norway had been ceded from Denmark to Sweden, Norway defied Sweden and her allies, declared independence and adopted a democratic constitution. Although compelled to submit to a dynastic union with Sweden, this spark of independence continued to burn, influencing the evolution of language in Norway. Old language traditions were revived by the patriotic poet Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845), who championed an independent non-Danish written language. Haugen indicates that:

"Within the first generation of liberty, two solutions emerged and won adherents, one based on the speech of the upper class and one on that of the common people. The former called for Norwegianization of the Danish writing, the latter for a brand new start."

The more conservative of the two language transitions was advanced by the work of writers like Peter Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, schoolmaster and agitator for language reform Knud Knudsen, and Knudsen's famous disciple, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, as well as a more cautious Norwegianization by Henrik Ibsen. In particular, Knudsens work on language reform in the mid 1800s was important for the 1907 orthography and a subsequent reform in 1917. So much so that he is now often called the "father of Bokmål".

Controversy

Riksmål vs. Bokmål

The term Riksmål, meaning National Language, was first proposed by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1899 as a name for the Norwegian variety of written Danish as well as spoken Dano-Norwegian. It was borrowed from Denmark where it denoted standard written and spoken Danish. The same year the Riksmål movement became organized under his leadership in order to fight against the growing influence of Nynorsk, eventually leading to the foundation of the non-governmental organization Riksmålsforbundet in 1907. Bjørnson became Riksmålsforbundet's first leader until his death in 1910.

The 1917 reform introduced some elements from Norwegian dialects and Nynorsk as optional alternatives to traditional Dano-Norwegian forms. This was part of an official policy to bring the two Norwegian languages closer together, intending eventually to merge them into one. These changes met resistance from the Riksmål movement, and the Riksmålsvernet (To the Protection of Riksmål) was founded in 1919.

The 1938 reform in Bokmål introduced more elements from dialects and Nynorsk, and more importantly, many traditional Dano-Norwegian forms were excluded. This so called radical Bokmål or Samnorsk (Common Norwegian) met even harder resistance from the Riksmål movement, topping in the 1950s under the leadership of Arnulf Øverland. The Riksmålsforbundet organized a parents' campaign against Samnorsk in 1951, and the Norwegian Academy for Language and Literature was founded in 1953. The 1938 reform was partially reverted in 1959, 1981, and 2005.

Currently, Riksmål denotes the moderate, chiefly pre-1938, unofficial variant of Bokmål, which is still in use and is regulated by the Norwegian Academy and promoted by the Riksmålsforbundet. Riksmål has gone through some spelling reforms, but none as profound as the ones having shaped Bokmål. A Riksmål dictionary was published in four volumes in the period 1937 to 1957 by Riksmålsvernet, and two supplementary volumes were published in 1995 by the Norwegian Academy. After the latest Bokmål reforms, the difference between Bokmål and Riksmål has diminished and is comparable to American and British English differences, but the Norwegian Academy still upholds its own standard.

Terminology

In the Norwegian discourse, the term Dano-Norwegian is seldom used with reference to contemporary Bokmål and its spoken varieties. The nationality of the language has been a hotly debated topic, and its users and proponents have generally not been fond of the implied association with Danish (hence the neutral names Riksmål and Bokmål, meaning national language and literary language respectively). The debate intensified with the advent of Nynorsk in the 1800s, a written language based on Modern Norwegian dialects and puristic opposition to Danish and Dano-Norwegian. Historically, many Nynorsk supporters have held that Nynorsk is the only genuinely Norwegian language, since Bokmål is a relic of the dual monarchy; therefore, the term Dano-Norwegian applied to Bokmål can be used to stigmatize or delegitimize the language. Many Bokmål users consider this use to be offensive, and it is therefore mainly confined to the Nynorsk-supporting side of heated discussions.

Characteristics

Differences from the traditional Oslo dialect

Colloquially, Standard Østnorsk is often called the Oslo dialect. This is misleading since Standard Østnorsk is not confined to Oslo, and since the traditional Oslo dialect is different from Standard Østnorsk. In reality, most natives of Oslo will speak a sociolect somewhere on a scale from traditional Dano-Norwegian at the high end to the traditional Oslo dialect at the low end.

The following table shows some important cases where traditional Bokmål and Standard Østnorsk followed Danish rather than the traditional Oslo dialect as it is commonly portrayed in literature about Norwegian dialects.. In many of these cases, radical Bokmål follows the traditional Oslo dialect, and these forms are also given. Radical forms that are allowed but not much used, are parenthesized.

Differences between Bokmål and the traditional Oslo dialect
Danish Bokmål/Standard Østnorsk Oslo dialect
traditional radical
Differentiation between masculine and feminine
a little man
a little woman
no
en lille mand
en lille kvinde
no
en liten mann
en liten kvinne
yes
en liten mann
ei lita kvinne
yes
en liten mann
ei lita kvinne
Differentiation between masc. and fem. definite plural
the boats
the wagons
no
bådene
vognene
no
båtene
vognene
yes
båta
vognene
Definite plural neuter suffix
the houses
-ene/erne
husene
-ene
husene
-a
husa
-a
husa
Weak past participle suffix
cycled
-et
cyklet
-et
syklet
-a
sykla
-a
sykla
Weak preterite suffix
cycled
-ede
cyklede
-et
syklet
-a
sykla
-a
sykla
Strong past participle suffix
written
-et
skrevet
-et
skrevet
-i
skrivi
Split infinitive
come
lie (in bed)
no
komme
ligge
no
komme
ligge
yes
komma
ligge
Splitting of masculines ending on unstressed vowel
ladder
round
no
stige
runde
no
stige
runde
yes
stega
runde
West Scandinavian diphthongs
leg (noun)
smoke (noun)
soft/wet (adjective)
no
ben
røg
blød
no
ben
røk
bløt
yes
bein
røyk
blaut
yes
bein
røyk
blaut
West Scandinavian u for o
bridge (noun)
no
bro
no
bro
yes
bru
yes
bru
West Scandinavian a-umlaut
floor (noun)
no
gulv
no
gulv
(yes)
(golv)
yes
gølv
Stress on first syllable in loan words
banana (noun)
no
/ba'na:n/
no
/ba'na:n/
yes
/'banan/
Retroflex flap /ɽ/ from old Norse /rð/
table, board (noun)
no
/bo:r/
no
/bu:r/
yes
/bu:ɽ/
Retroflex flap /ɽ/ from old Norse /l/
sun (noun)
no
/so:l/
no
/su:l/
yes
/su:ɽ/
yes
/su:ɽ/
Danish vocabulary
eat (verb)
why (adverb)
yes
spise
hvorfor
yes
spise
hvorfor
no
eta
åffer
Danish vocabulary
girl (noun)
how (adverb)
yes
pige
hvordan
yes
pike
hvordan
no
jente
(åssen)
no
jente
åssen

Differences from Danish

The following table shows a few central differences between Bokmål and Danish.

Differences between Bokmål and Danish
Danish Bokmål/Standard Østnorsk Oslo dialect
Definite plural suffix either -ene or -erne
the women
the wagons
yes
kvinderne
vognene
no
kvinnene
vognene
no
kvinnene
vognene
West Scandinavian diphthongs
heath
hay
cattle
no
hede
hø
nød
yes
hei (also hede)
høy
naut
yes
hei
høy
naut
Softening of p, t and k
loss (noun)
food (noun)
roof (noun)
yes
tab
mad
tag
no
tap
mat
tak
no
tap
mat
tak
Retroflexes
carnival
sport
no
/ka:rneval/
/sport/
yes
/ka:ɳeval/
/spoʈ/
yes
/ka:ɳeval/
/spoʈ/
Danish vocabulary
afraid (adjective)
angry (adjective)
boy (noun)
frog (noun)
yes
bange
vred
dreng
frø
no
redd
sint
gutt
frosk
no
redd
sint
gutt
frosk

References

See also

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