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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, Norwegian belongs to the Northern, or Scandinavian group of the Germanic languages. Written Danish and Norwegian are particularly close, though the pronunciation of all three languages differs significantly. Proficient speakers of any of the three languages can understand the others.

Table of contents

Alphabet

The Norwegian alphabet consists of 29 letters, the first 26 or which are the same as the alphabet used in English. The three last letters are Æ, Ø and Å. In addition to the 29 official letters, there are several diacritical signs in use (somewhat more in Nynorsk than Bokmål): à ä ç é è ê ñ ó ò ô ü. The diactritical signs are not compulsory, but may alter the meaning of the word dramatically, e.g.: for (for), fór (have gone), fòr (meadow) and fôr (animals food).

Bokmål and Nynorsk

Two official written forms of the Norwegian language are in existence. Bokmål (literally "Book language") is the most widely used variant, while Nynorsk (literally "New Norwegian") is used by a significant minority (15 - 20%). The unofficial form Riksmål is more or less a subset of Bokmål with more conservative forms. The unofficial Høgnorsk is a variant of Nynorsk, usually based on grammar and spelling of the 1917 language reforms.


Ivar Aasen, father of Nynorsk

Norway became a province of Denmark during the middle ages. During this time, written Norwegian did not exist as a separate language and Danish was used as Norway's written language. When Norway became independent of Denmark, nationalistic feelings strove for the development of a new written Norwegian, which was developed by Ivar Aasen in the 19th century. Nynorsk was based on what all the Norwegian dialects (estimated to around 4000 unique dialects) had in common, and had a strict spelling based on the etymological connection with Old Norse. The Danish language, as used in Norway, evolved into what is now Bokmål.

Both the variants of Norwegian have survived until today. For a long period during the 20th century it was official policy to merge the two variants into a common form called Samnorsk (literally "Common Norwegian"). This resulted in massive protests and has now been given up as official policy.

Bokmål is used mostly in the eastern and northern parts of Norway and Nynorsk is used mainly in the western parts of Norway. It is worth noting that the differences between Bokmål and Nynorsk are limited and smaller than the differences between many of the Norwegian spoken dialects.

Virtually nobody speaks perfect Bokmål or Nynorsk; everybody speaks some kind of dialect, and most dialects are closest to one of the written variants - but not necessarily the one the person is writing.

In national broadcasting all read (written) material is spoken in either Bokmål or Nynorsk, while interviews, talks etc are spoken/said in the dialect of the person speaking.

Below are a few sentences giving an indication of the differences between Bokmål and Nynorsk:

B: Jeg kommer fra Norge.
N: Eg kjem frå Noreg.
E: I come from Norway.

B: Hva heter han?
N: Kva heiter han?
E: What is his name?

B: Dette er en hest.
N: Dette er ein hest.
E: This is a horse.

B: Regnbuen har mange farger.
N: Regnbogen har mange fargar.
E: The rainbow has many colours.

Trivia

Compound words are written together in Norwegian, which can cause words to become very long, e.g. sannsynlighetsmaksimeringsestimator (maximum likelihood estimator).

See also

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