When is Norwegian not Norwegian?

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When is Norwegian not Norwegian?

When it's Bokmål.

or when it's Nynorsk.

or when it's Danish.

or when it's Old Norse.


The Norwegian language struggle

Okay, first things first, there is one official language of Norway – Norwegian. But there are two official forms of written Norwegian (together with several Sami variants officially recognised as regional languages)

Bokmål is the most common written form. It's used daily by 80-90% of the population, is the standard taught to most foreign students of Norwegian and is used in the majority of urban areas. It's similar to Danish and the historical Eastern Old Norse language.

Nynorsk is used daily by 10% of the population and taught in 15% of schools, but is popular in many rural areas and the official language of four counties. It's more similar to the historical Western Old Norse language.

Written forms of Norwegian

The image above highlights the regions where Nynorsk is the primary written form (although it's a little misleading, as much of the area covered in blue is very sparsely populated)

Add in to the mix that there is no regulation of spoken Norwegian, where regional dialects dominate, and you've got one hell of a melting pot! Isn't language wonderful?

The historical development of both forms is fascinating stuff even if you're not a linguist. It's covered very well by Wikipedia, so it's pointless me covering it here.

The differences between Bokmål and Nynorsk

Since I live in Oslo (the capital of Bokmål), I've been learning the more common form. I'm not exposed at all to Nynorsk so admittedly I don't know a great deal about the differences. But they are important to understand, not least because the name of the country is written differently!

Norge – Bokmål

Noreg – Nynorsk

Our regular readers will have enjoyed the first few posts from Bryce, the latest blogger to join the Life in Norway team. He's a passionate linguist and a student of Nynorsk, so what better person than he to dive into the detail and explain the differences?

Part one is coming right up…

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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2 thoughts on “When is Norwegian not Norwegian?”

  1. There are actually three official languages in Norway: Norwegian, Sami and Kven.


    Nynorsk is taught in all schools, at least in years 1-10, as it is required for all pupils to learn both forms. The number you cited, 15%, looks to me like it may be the percentage of pupils who have Nynorsk as their main written form in years 1-10, usually chosen by their parents when they started school. I grew up in an area where Nynorsk was the dominant form, with 2/3 of the pupils in Nynorsk classes, and that was what I used as well. Then, when I started high school, we were all told to pick whatever form we preferred and stick to it, and a lot of us switched to Bokmål at that point. Just about everywhere, in newspapers, magazines, books and advertising, Nynorsk was and is almost completely absent, so it was just what we where most used to.

  2. I just read a comment to one of Bryce’s post, and I realized what I wrote earlier about Nynorsk being taught to everybody in years 1-10 is wrong. The first few years only the child’s main written form is taught. I can’t remember what year they start teaching both. Also, it seems in Oslo the second form is not mandatory, at least not for everybody.


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