a member of the Western group of the Scandinavian branch of the Germanic
languages, a subfamily of the Indo-European languages.
Norwegian is closely related to, and generally
mutually intelligible with Swedish and Danish.
Danish, the official language of Norway
since 1397, became in the 16th century the written language of Norway.
During the 19th century, the spoken Danish
developed into a language called Dano-Norwegian, which was heavily
Danish in structure and vocabulary, but with
native Norwegian pronunciation and some native grammatical influences.
Written Danish and Norwegian are particularly close, though the
pronunciation of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish differs significantly.
Proficient speakers of any of the three languages can understand the others.
The Norwegian alphabet
consists of 29 letters, the first 26 of which are the same as the Latin
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 diacritical signs
are not compulsory, but may alter the meaning of the word dramatically, e.g.:
for (for), fór (went), fòr (meadow) and fôr (fodder).
In the 1840s, many writers began to "Norwegianize"
Danish by incorporating words that were descriptive of Norwegian scenery and
folk life. Spelling and grammar were also modified. This was adopted by the
Norwegian parliament as Riksmål, or "Official Language" in 1899. However, in
the western, more rural regions of Norway, a nationalistic movement
strove for the development of a new written Norwegian. Ivar Aasen, a
self-taught genius, began his work to create a new Norwegian language at the
age of 22. He traveled around the country, comparing the dialects in
different regions, and examined the development of Icelandic, which had
largely escaped the influences Norwegian had come under. He called his work,
which was published in several books from 1848 to 1873, Landsmål, or
After Norway gained independence, both languages were developed further.
Riksmål was eventually superseded by Bokmål (literally "Book language"), and
Landsmål developed into Nynorsk (literally "New Norwegian"). 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")
through spelling reforms. This resulted in massive protests, and has now
been given up as official policy.
Today, two official written forms of the Norwegian language are still in
existence. Bokmål is used by the majority (84 %), while Nynorsk is used by a
significant minority (16 %). Norwegian spoken language is far more
complicated. At least 90 % speak a dialect which can't be counted as either
of them, but most of them are more similar to Nynorsk. Some dialects are
even so dissimilar - with respect to pronunciation, word endings, unique
local words and expressions, and even small syntactical differences - that
people in some cases have difficulties understanding each other if they're
not accustomed to the particular dialect. For instance in the case of
syntactical differences, which is rare and generally not a problem to most
Norwegians, a simple sentence like What are you saying? will in most
dialects be What say you? or What is it you say? while it in some northern
dialects could be What you say?. The dissimilarities in the other aspects of
the spoken language are far greater than this.
Opponents of the various spelling reforms have retained the name Riksmål as
their own unofficial form of Norwegian and use more traditional spelling.
Riksmål, which is translated as "Standard Norwegian", has been the de facto
standard language of Norway for most of the 20th century, and is the
language used by the largest Norwegian newspapers and encyclopedias. Since
the reforms of 1981 and 2003, the official Bokmål can be written almost
identical with modern Riksmål. Bokmål has forms that are close to Riksmål
and forms that are close to Nynorsk. The Bokmål that uses the forms that are
close to Riksmål is called moderate or conservative, depending on one's
viewpoint, while the Bokmål that uses the forms that are close to Nynorsk is
called radical. There is also an unofficial form of Nynorsk, called Høgnorsk
(literally "High Norwegian"), which is based on more traditional forms of
Nynorsk was based on the provincial dialects of some selected districts,
mostly in the west of the country. Bokmål is used mostly in the eastern and
northern parts of Norway and Nynorsk is used mainly in the western parts of
Norway. In national broadcasting all read (written) material is spoken in
either Bokmål or Nynorsk, while interviews, talks etc. may be spoken in the
dialect of the person speaking.
The number of grammatical genders in Norwegian is somewhat disputed, but the
official view is that Norwegian nouns fall into three genders: masculine,
feminine and neuter. The inflection of the nouns depends on the gender.