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Information about the Norwegian Language

The Norwegian Language is an interesting character. Linguists classify Norwegian as a West Scandinavian language, putting it in the same group as Icelandic, Danish, and Swedish. With roughly 5 million native speakers, it is one of the few languages that has no officially recognized spoken standard, while at the same time having two officially regulated written standards. In day to day conversation, the Norwegian people generally use their own dialect, with some dialects having varying degrees of mutual intelligibility to others.

Of the two written standards, Bokmål, which literally translates to “book language,” is the majority used standard. Used by more than 85% of the population, this writing standard is usually what is taught to foreigners learning the language.

The other written standard is called Nynorsk, or “New Norwegian.” It was created in the 19th century by Ivar Aasen as an alternative to Danish, which was used in much of Norway at the time. 27% of Norwegian municipalities have declared this to be their writing standard of choice, which makes up about 12% of the population.

There are two other written standards used by a small minority of the population, but these are not officially enforced anywhere in Norway. One of them, Riksmål (lit. “national language”), is similar to Bokmål but is more similar to Danish. The fourth, Høgnorsk (lit. “high Norwegian”), is a more purist form of Nynorsk.

The reason for these varying writing systems is due to the controversy surrounding the establishment of a standard for the Norwegian language, due to the fact that Danish was the official written language of Norway from the 16th to the 19th century. Feelings of nationalism, Norway’s literary history, and other factors play a role in the debate. Though most Norwegians are educated in both Bokmål and Nynorsk, most, as noted above, choose Bokmål for their day to day needs. Despite this, most spoken dialects of Norwegian more closely resemble Nynorsk.

Due to Norway being under Danish rule for most of its recent history, modern Norway, despite the controversy surrounding its written forms, has been influenced by Danish in its development. This is particularly true of Norwegian spoken by the wealthier members of society, and this has resulted in urban areas speaking a more “Danish form” of Norwegian than what is commonly used in rural areas.

Along with Norway, Norwegian is one of the official languages of the Nordic Council, and there is a significant minority of native speakers in part of the United States.

Contact Axis Translations for assistance with Norwegian translation, transcription and interpreters.