People who are learning Norwegian language are usually extremely confused. Imagine learning any sort of foreign language and suddenly it turns of that there is another official language which differs a little bit, both in pronunciation and writing. Additionally this language is continuously in use. Furthermore, there are over 400 dialects, which can cause some trouble too. How did it happen that there are so many differences in just one language?

The genesis of the modern Norwegian language begins in 1814. After 423 years of union with Denmark, Norway was given to Sweden after Napoleon’s defeat. It was then that people started to talk about a Norwegian national identity, independence and language. Linguists argued about necessary changes concerning language and they came up with two ideas, reflecting divided points of view. Some thought Norwegian should be based on the dialects of the countryside. Others proposed that the language ought to develop slowly, following Norwegian pronunciation.

Let’s begin with bokmål, previously known as riksmål, that is to say ‘book language’. It is a language based on the concept proposed by second group of linguists. Bokmål is used by 80% of Norway’s population. You can say that it is a blend of Danish and Norwegian. That is why most people learning Norwegian do not have trouble with Danish later on. This version was embraced very quickly by the vast majority of Norwegians due to its modernity and uniformity. The creator of bokmål was Knud Knudsen and it was developed in 1886.

Nynorsk, literally ‘new Norwegian’ and earlier known as landsmål, meaning ‘country language’, was created by Ivar Aasen and reflected the views of the first group of linguists. During Ivar’s travels across Norwegian villages and Iceland, he came across a spoken Norwegian language which had been protected from any outside influence. He recorded the ways people spoke in certain regions and compiled this work in several books.

Both varieties of this language were officially accepted by the Stortinget (the translation is: the Norwegian government) in 1929. However, ever since then, the language has been continuously modified, mainly by teenagers who use many English phrases with a Norwegian accent. You may get the impression that everyone is speaking a little bit differently. The language is evolving rapidly, and this is intensified by the existence of so many dialects, which differ from village to village. This divergence of dialects is caused by population density, which is low in comparison to the country’s size and also by the fact that in the past travelling between cities and villages was impossible or hindered because of the difficulty of the terrain. Nowadays, due to country development, urbanisation, technology and economical progress such travelling is fortunately possible.

The Norwegian language is highly diverse, leading many to be wary of learning it. Yet, you can say it I this which makes Norwegian special. Perhaps nowhere else in the world do people use their mother tongue in so many different ways. This may be the cause of communication obstacles in translation, administration and in everyday life as well, which surely is enormous inconvenience. But the simple attempt to comprehend someone using a different dialect may in fact be an interesting growth experience, one which is worth trying.


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