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  5. How old is too old when it co…


How old is too old when it comes to picking out a book for a new learner of Norwegian?

I found a famous Norwegian book called Sult by Knut Hamsun which sounded interesting to me. It's only from 1890, and since English has barely changed at all since then I figured it would be fine. But the spelling is totally different and some of the vocabulary seems almost more like Danish than Norwegian. So is it not recommended to read something this old? At what point did Norwegian really begin to modernize into something like what we're learning here on Duolingo?

September 16, 2015



I think Bokmal was established the way it is now in around the early 1900s. So that book may be in an older form which would be closer to Danish or a mix of Danish and Norwegian. :)


To assess this I just took a brief look through a random sample of decisions from the Supreme Court from various time periods. I’d say that anything post-war should be similar enough to the way we write today. The language from the 30s and maybe the 20s would be somewhat unfamiliar, but ought to be accessible to a language learner at an advanced level. Things written before 1920 would, I guess, be difficult to understand for a language learner and require quite a bit of effort to read. It would also not be so useful if the goal is to improve your Norwegian. (That is, you might want to read Sult for its own sake, but if the goal is to improve you knowledge of Norwegian, you might want to choose a more recently written book.)

Of course this also varies from writer to writer. Hamsun’s post-war book is also written in an old-fashioned language.


Not yo quench your hopes: I think if you learn the differences between a few key words/spellings you'd get far. Many of the words that were spelled differently are very common (mig, dig, sig = meg, deg, seg; lave = lage), some spelling differences you can learn quickly (aa = å, double consonants are more common now, gik = gikk, op = opp, fik = fikk).

Take a look at the Wikipedia articles about Riksmål and Norwegian spelling reforms, and you'll get a good idea. Or ask us if there's a word you cannot find in the dictionary!

I really like Sult, so I'd totally say give it a go :)


Thanks! Guess that rules out Project Gutenberg as a source of free Norwegian literature though. :( I'll just have to find a modern Norwegian author and get both an English and Norwegian copy of his/her book so that I can translate it and check my translation. Any suggestions? https://www.duolingo.com/comment/10540250


Btw for some modern free Norwegian books, try bokhylla.no ! It's a service from the Norwegian national library.


Thanks for the recommendations. I couldn't find the Wikipedia article listing spelling reforms, although I did read a lot of information about the political history of the language dispute.


Jo Nesbø publishes in both English and Norwegian afaik, he writes mystery novels for adults (Harry Hole) and kids (Doktor Proktor). And Karl Ove Knausgårds self biography project Min Kamp (My struggle) also got popular enough to get translated. At least those two are both available in English in the Kindle-store


I looked up both on Amazon, and they run $35+ per used book (for the Norwegian ones), which is a bit exorbitant. :/ I was trying to avoid that by going for a free classic like Sult. Thanks for the advice anyways though.

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