Norwegian (norsk) is a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Norway, where it is an official language. It is also widely spoken as a second language among Norwegian-Americans in the USA, especially in the central northern states. Together with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a continuum of more or less mutually intelligible local and regional variants (see Danish language#Classification).
These continental Scandinavian languages together with the insular languages Faroese and Icelandic, as well as some extinct languages, constitute the North Germanic languages (also called Scandinavian languages). Faroese and Icelandic are hardly mutually intelligible with Norwegian in their spoken form, because continental Scandinavian has diverged from them.
As established by law and governmental policy, there are two official forms of written Norwegian Bokmål (literally "book language") and Nynorsk (literally "new Norwegian"). The Norwegian Language Council recommends the terms "Norwegian Bokmål" and "Norwegian Nynorsk" in English.
There is no officially sanctioned standard of spoken Norwegian, and most Norwegians speak their own dialect in all circumstances. The sociolect of the urban upper and middle class in East Norway, upon which Bokmål is primarily based, can be regarded as a de facto spoken standard for Bokmål. This so-called standard østnorsk ("Standard Eastern Norwegian") is the form generally taught to foreign students.
From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Danish was the standard written language of Norway. As a result, the development of modern written Norwegian has been subject to strong controversy related to nationalism, rural versus urban discourse, and Norway's literary history. Historically, Bokmål is a Norwegianized variety of Danish, while Nynorsk is a language form based on Norwegian dialects and puristic opposition to Danish. The now abandoned official policy to merge Bokmål and Nynorsk into one common language called Samnorsk through a series of spelling reforms has created a wide spectrum of varieties of both Bokmål and Nynorsk. The unofficial form known as Riksmål is considered more conservative than Bokmål, and the unofficial Høgnorsk more conservative than Nynorsk.
Norwegians are educated in both Bokmål and Nynorsk. A 2005 poll indicates that 86.3% use primarily Bokmål as their daily written language, 5.5% use both Bokmål and Nynorsk, and 7.5% use primarily Nynorsk. Thus only 13% are frequently writing Nynorsk, although the majority speak dialects that resemble Nynorsk more closely than Bokmål. Broadly speaking, Bokmål and Riksmål are more commonly seen in urban and suburban areas; Nynorsk is seen in rural areas, particularly in Western Norway. The Norwegian broadcasting corporation (NRK) broadcasts in both Bokmål and Nynorsk, and all governmental agencies are required to support both written languages. Bokmål is used in 92% of all written publications, Nynorsk in 8% (2000). In spite of concern that Norwegian dialects would eventually give way to a common, spoken, Norwegian language close to Bokmål, dialects find significant support in local environments, popular opinion, and public policy.
Norwegian is one of the working languages of the Nordic Council. Under the Nordic Language Convention, citizens of the Nordic countries speaking Norwegian have the opportunity to use their native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable to any interpretation or translation costs.
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 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 begun 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 Norway (including its overseas settlements in Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Shetland Islands), while Eastern Norse developed in Denmark and south-central 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 the period traditionally dated to 1350–1525, Norwegian went through a Middle Norwegian transition toward Modern Norwegian. The major changes were simplification of the morphology, a more fixed syntax, and a considerable adoption of Middle Low German vocabulary. Similar development happened in Swedish and Danish, keeping the dialect continuum in continental Scandinavia intact. This did not, however, happen in Faroese and Icelandic, so these languages lost mutual intelligibility with continental Scandinavia during this period.
Norway was forced to enter a new personal union with Sweden, shortly after the end of the former one with Denmark. However, Norwegians began to push for true independence by embracing democracy and attempting to enforce the constitutional declaration of being a sovereign state. Part of this nationalist movement was directed towards the development of an independent Norwegian language. Three major paths were available: do nothing (Norwegian written language, i.e. Danish, was already different from Swedish), Norwegianize the Danish language, or build a new national language based on Modern Norwegian dialects. All three approaches were attempted.
Meanwhile, 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 traveled 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, meaning national language. The name "Landsmål" is sometimes interpreted as "rural language" or "country language," but this was clearly not Aasen's intended meaning.
The name of the Danish language in Norway was a topic of hot dispute through the 19th century. Its proponents claimed that it was a language common to Norway and Denmark, and no more Danish than Norwegian. The proponents of Landsmål thought that the Danish character of the language should not be concealed. In 1899, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson proposed the neutral name Riksmål, meaning national language like Landsmål, and this was officially adopted along with the 1907 spelling reform. The name "Riksmål" is sometimes interpreted as "state language," but this meaning is secondary at best, compare to Danish rigsmål from where the name was borrowed.
After the personal union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905, both languages were developed further and reached what is now considered their classic forms after a reform in 1917. Riksmål was in 1929 officially renamed Bokmål (literally "Book language"), and Landsmål to Nynorsk (literally "New Norwegian"). A proposition to substitute Dano-Norwegian for Bokmål lost in parliament by a single vote. The name Nynorsk, the linguistic term for Modern Norwegian, was chosen for contrast to Danish and emphasis on the historical connection to Old Norwegian. Today this meaning is often lost, and it is commonly mistaken as a "new" Norwegian in contrast to the "real" Norwegian Bokmål.
Bokmål and Nynorsk were made closer by a reform in 1938. This was a result of a state policy to merge Nynorsk and Bokmål into one language, called "Samnorsk" (Common Norwegian). A 1946 poll showed that this policy was supported by 79% of Norwegians at the time. However, opponents of the official policy still managed to create a massive protest movement against Samnorsk in the 1950s, fighting in particular the use of "radical" forms in Bokmål text books in schools. In the reform in 1959, the 1938 reform was partially reversed in Bokmål, but Nynorsk was changed further towards Bokmål. Since then Bokmål has reverted even further toward traditional Riksmål, while Nynorsk still adheres to the 1959 standard. Therefore a small minority of Nynorsk enthusiasts uses a more conservative standard called Høgnorsk. The Samnorsk policy had little influence after 1960, and was officially abandoned in 2002.
|a||/ɑ/||Open back unrounded|
|e (short)||/ɛ/, /æ/||open mid front unrounded|
|e (long)||/e/, /æ/||close-mid front unrounded|
|e (weak)||/ə/||schwa (mid central unrounded)|
|i (short)||/ɪ/||close front unrounded|
|i (long)||/i/||close front unrounded|
|o||close back rounded|
|u||/ʉ/, /u/||close central rounded (close front extra rounded)|
|y (short)||/ʏ/||close front rounded (close front less rounded)|
|y (long)||/y/||close front rounded (close front less rounded)|
|æ||/æ/, /ɛ/||near open front unrounded|
|ø||/ø/||close-mid front rounded|
|å||/ɔ/||open-mid back rounded|
There are significant variations in pitch accent between dialects. Thus, in most of western and northern Norway (the so-called high-pitch dialects) accent 1 is falling, while accent 2 is rising in the first syllable and falling in the second syllable or somewhere around the syllable boundary. The pitch accents (as well as the peculiar phrase accent in the low-tone dialects) give the Norwegian language a "singing" quality which makes it fairly easy to distinguish from other languages. Interestingly, accent 1 generally occurs in words that were monosyllabic in Old Norse, and accent 2 in words that were polysyllabic.
The letters c, q, w, x and z are only used in loanwords. Some also spell their otherwise Norwegian family names using these letters.
Some letters may be modified by diacritics: é, è, ê, ó, ò, â, and ô. In Nynorsk, ì and ù and ỳ are occasionally seen as well. The diacritics are not compulsory, but may in a few cases distinguish between different meanings of the word, e.g.: for (for/to), fór (went), fòr (furrow) and fôr (fodder). Loanwords may be spelled with other diacritics, most notably ü, á and à.
Both Nynorsk and Bokmål have a great variety of optional forms. 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. Nynorsk has forms that are close to the original Landsmål and forms that are close to Bokmål.
Riksmål is regulated by the Norwegian Academy, which determines acceptable spelling, grammar, and vocabulary.
About 86.2% of the pupils in the primary and lower secondary schools in Norway receive education in Bokmål, while about 13.8% receive education in Nynorsk. From the eighth grade onwards pupils are required to learn both. Out of the 431 municipalities in Norway, 161 have declared that they wish to communicate with the central authorities in Bokmål, 116 (representing 12% of the population) in Nynorsk, while 156 are neutral. Of 4,549 state publications in 2000 8% were in Nynorsk, and 92% in Bokmål. The large national newspapers (Aftenposten, Dagbladet and VG) are published in Bokmål or Riksmål. Some major regional newspapers (including Bergens Tidende and Stavanger Aftenblad), many political journals, and many local newspapers use both Bokmål and Nynorsk.
There is general agreement that a wide range of differences makes it difficult to estimate the number of different Norwegian dialects. Variations in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and pronunciation cut across geographical boundaries and can create a distinct dialect at the level of farm clusters. Dialects are in some cases so dissimilar as to be unintelligible to unfamiliar listeners. Many linguists note a trend toward regionalization of dialects that diminishes the differences at such local levels; there is, however, a renewed interest in preserving distinct dialects.
|I come from Norway||What is his name?||This is a horse||The rainbow has many colours|
|Bokmål||Jeg kommer fra Norge||Hva heter han?||Dette er en hest||Regnbuen har mange farger|
|Riksmål||Regnbuen har mange farver|
|Danish||Hvad hedder han?|
|Nynorsk||Eg kjem frå Noreg||Kva heiter han?||Dette er ein hest||Regnbogen har mange fargar|
|Høgnorsk|| Regnbogen hev mange fargar|
Regnbogen er manglìta
|Old Norse||Ek kem frá Noregi||Hvat heitir hann?||Þetta er hross/hestr||Regnboginn er marglitr|
|Icelandic||Ég er frá Noregi||Hvað heitir hann?||Þetta er hross/hestur||Regnboginn er marglitur|
|Swedish||Jag kommer från Norge||Vad heter han?||Detta är en häst||Regnbågen har många färger|
|Faroese||Eg eri úr Noregi||Hvussu eitur hann?||Hetta er eitt ross/ein hestur||Ælabogin hevur nógvar litir|
|German||Ich komme aus Norwegen||Wie heißt er?||Dies ist ein Hengst/Roß/Pferd||Der Regenbogen hat viele Farben|
|Dutch||Ik kom uit Noorwegen||Hoe heet hij?||Dit is een paard||De regenboog heeft veel kleuren|
|Afrikaans||Ek kom van Noorweë||Wat is sy naam?||Dit is 'n perd||Die reënboog het baie kleure|
As in most Indo-European languages (English language being one of a few exceptions), nouns are classified by gender, which has consequences for the declension of agreeing adjectives and determiners. Norwegian dialects have three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter, except the Bergen dialect which has only two genders: common and neuter. Bokmål and Standard Østnorsk traditionally have two genders like Danish (and the Bergen dialect), but so called radical varieties have three genders.
The declension of regular nouns depends on gender. Some dialects and variants of Nynorsk furthermore have different declension of weak and strong feminines and neuters.
|m.|| en gutt|
|f.|| ei/en dør|
|n.|| et hus|
As of July 1st 2005, all feminine nouns can be written as masculine nouns.
|m.|| ein gut|
|f.|| ei sol|
| ei kyrkje/kyrkja|
|n.|| eit hus|
| eit hjarta/hjarte|
The participles are verbal adjectives. The imperfective participle has no further declension, but the perfective participle is declined in gender (not in Bokmål and Standard Østnorsk) and number like strong, positive adjectives. The definite form of the participle is identical to the plural form.
|Indicative||Subjunctive||Imperative||Verbal nouns||Verbal adjectives (Participles)|
|Indicative||Subjunctive||Imperative||Verbal nouns||Verbal adjectives (Participles)|
|lever||leves||levde/ levet||leve||lev||leve||leves||levende||levd||levde/ levet|
In the most comprehensive Norwegian grammar, Norsk referansegrammatikk, the categorization of personal pronouns by person, gender, and number is not regarded as inflection. As with nouns, adjectives must agree with the gender and number of pronoun arguments.
Other pronouns have no inflection.
Pronouns are a closed class.
|han||han/honom||he, him or it (masculine)|
|ho||ho/henne||she, her or it (feminine)|
Bokmål, like English, has two sets of 3rd person pronouns. Han and hun refer to male and female individuals respectively, den and det refer to impersonal or inanimate nouns, of masculine/feminine or neutral gender respectively. In contrast, Nynorsk and most dialects use the same set of pronouns (han (m.), ho (f.) and det (n.)) for both personal and impersonal references. Det also has expletive and cataphoric uses like in the English examples it rains and it was known by everyone (that) he had travelled the world.
Compound words are written together in Norwegian, which can cause words to become very long, for example sannsynlighetsmaksimeringsestimator (maximum likelihood estimator) and menneskerettighetsorganisasjoner (human rights organisations). Another example is the title høyesterettsjustitiarius (originally a combination of supreme court and the actual title, justiciar). Note also the translation En midtsommernattsdrøm (A Midsummer Night's Dream).
If they are not written together, each part will naturally be read with primary stress, and the meaning of the compound is lost. This is sometimes forgotten, occasionally with humorous results. Instead of writing, for example, lammekoteletter (lamb chops), people make the mistake of writing lamme koteletter (lame, or paralyzed, chops). The original message can even be reversed, as when røykfritt (no smoking, i.e. "smoke free") becomes røyk fritt (smoke freely).
Other examples include:
These misunderstandings occur because most nouns can be interpreted as verbs or other types of words. Similar misunderstandings can be achieved in English too. The following are examples of phrases that both in Norwegian and English mean one thing as a compound word, and something different when regarded as separate words:
Some loanwords have their spelling changed to reflect Norwegian pronunciation rules, but in general Norwegianised spellings of these words tend to take a long time to sink in: e.g. sjåfør (from French chauffeur) and revansj (from French revanche) are now the common Norwegian spellings, but juice is more often used than the Norwegianised form jus, catering more often than keitering, service more often than sørvis, etc.