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Norwegian language


Norwegian is a Germanic language spoken in Norway. Norwegian is closely related to and generally mutually intelligible with Swedish and Danish. Together with these two languages as well as Faroese and Icelandic, Norwegian belongs to the North Germanic languages (also called Scandinavian languages). Faroese and Icelandic, although the same language 800 years ago, are no longer mutually intelligible with Norwegian in their spoken form.

As established by law and governmental policy, there are currently 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, but these are seldomly used.

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 an orthography 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 Hgnorsøk more conservative than Nynorsk.

Norwegians are educated in both Bokmål and Nynorsk, but around 86-90% use Bokmål as their daily written language, and 10%-12% use Nynorsk, although most spoken dialects resemble Nynorsk more closely than Bokmål. Broadly speaking, Bokmål and Riksmål are more commonly seen in urban and suburban areas; Nynorsk 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). According to the Norwegian Language Council, "It may be reasonably realistic to assume that about 10-12% use Nynorsk, i.e. somewhat less than half a million people." 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.

Dialects

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; but there is renewed interest in preserving distinct dialects.