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About Norwegian

The Norwegian language is of the North Germanic classification and is mainly spoken in the country of Norway. Along with Danish and Scandinavian this language forms a range of variations and dialects that are specific both to regions and groups of people. Though these languages are largely mutually intelligible they are quite different from the others of the North Germanic languages, Faroese and Icelandic.

Two official versions of the written Norwegian language have been established in Norway by governmental policy and law. They translate literally as “book tongue” (Bokmål) and “new Norwegian” (Nynorsk), but the body that regulates both forms, the Norwegian Language Council, recommends they be referred to in English as “Norwegian Bokmål” and “Norwegian Nynorsk”.

There are also two forms of the written language that do not hold official status but are commonly used. The first, Riksmål literally means “national language” and is very similar to Bokmål with some aspects that are more closely linked to Danish. This form is referred to as “Standard Norwegian” by the Norwegian Academy, the body that regulates the form.

The other non-official written form is Høgnorsk, literally “High Norwegian” and is considered a purist version of the language that rejects many of the language reforms that were introduced in the 20th century. It is not a popularly used form of the language.

As there is no one official form of spoken Norwegian, most that speak the language use their own dialect in all situations. The upper and middle classes of East Norway speak a form, referred to as a sociolect because it is used by a social class of people rather than specifically due to a geographic region, which is considered by most to be the spoken version of Bokmål because of its many characteristic links to Danish.

Students hoping to learn the Norwegian language are likely to be taught standard ostnorsk, or “Standard Eastern Norwegian”.

Use of Norwegian has faced considerable controversy due to feelings of nationalism, a separation of rural and urban speakers, and ties to the literary history of Norway. This is due to the fact that it was Danish, not any form of Norwegian, that was the standard language used in the country between the 16th and 19th centuries. Though Bokmål is a variety of Danish with Norwegian elements, Nynorsk is seen as a purist opposition to the former use of the Danish language.

Though the majority of people speak their own dialect, Norwegians are formally educated in the two official written forms.