https://www.duolingo.com/SusannaG1

History of the Written Norwegian Language

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Early Scandinavians developed a North Germanic language called Proto-Norse. Proto-Norse is a written language in the form of runes. The alphabet is called Elder Futhark. Elder Futhark had twenty-four different characters or letters that were based on the Latin alphabet and symbols from parts of Italy. Later the runic alphabet was reduced to sixteen characters.

Vikings spoke Old Norse, which originated from the even older language Proto-Norse. Eventually, Old Norse divided into two different languages. Old West Norse was spoken in Norway, and Old East Norse was spoken in Sweden and Denmark.

Since the 1500s, Norwegians had no written language of their own, although most of them spoke Norwegian in various dialects that were not uniform or consistent. Even in the years after 1814, Danish continued to be the only written language in Norway, as well as the language of the government and business.

That began to change in the 1830s and 1840s when Norwegians started writing their own books in their own language. Two authors by the names of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe collected oral folk tales from various parts of the country. In 1845, they published those stories in written Norwegian. After Asbjørnsen, Moe, and others broke the ice, more authors began to publish books and other writings in Norwegian.

Despite the efforts of Norwegians such as Asbjørnsen and Moe, there was still no standardized written Norwegian language until a young private teacher from western Norway named Ivar Aasen decided to change that. He was a self-taught philologist who studied Old Norse and other languages, and he decided to undertake the monumental task of creating a new written Norwegian language. Aasen traveled throughout most of Norway in the 1840s, and at each village and farmstead, he listened to how the Norwegians spoke. He compiled a long list of words, phrases sayings, and definitions, as well as word endings, conjugation, inflection, and grammar. Many people thought it was rather strange that he just wanted to hear them talk, but they were generally accommodating. Aasen spent almost all of his time in rural areas because he felt that the dialects of the farmers were the purest form of Norwegian and were the least influenced by Danish and other foreign languages. However, even the rural dialects were somewhat different from each other, and while narrowing down his final list of words and phrases, Aasen had to choose from many different alternatives.

After he finished his research, Aasen created a new written Norwegian language that he called landsmål. He published a grammar book in 1848 and a dictionary in1850 for the new language. His artificial written language became very popular among Norwegians, especially in western Norway from which he borrowed most of his words and rules of grammar. However, many people in the cities and eastern Norway did not like Aasen’s new language, and they felt that the written Norwegian should be based on Danish, but modified by Norwegian spelling, pronunciation, and grammar and other Norwegian words and phrases. So they supported a written language that was called Dano-Norwegian or riskmal.

In 1892, both languages were given equal status in the Norwegian elementary schools. There are presently two written national languages in Norway. Nynorsk (new Norwegian) is based on Aasen’s landsmål, and bokmål (book language) is derived from riksmal or Dano-Norwegian. So Norway is one of the very few countries in the world to have an artificially-created language – nynorsk - as a national language. In school, students in Norway are given the opportunity to take their classes in either bokmål or nynorsk. About 87 percent select bokmål, although all students must show proficiency in both languages. Bokmal is also used in most newspapers and books, as well as Norwegian language classes for Americans, British, and other foreigners. In Norway, bokmål and nynorsk are considered written languages, and most Norwegians like to speak their own native dialects which are not identical to either of the two written languages.

1 year ago

8 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/semonje
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Nice post! Although, I have to comment:

Saying Nynorsk is "artificial" is a commonly used argument in the Nynorsk vs Bokmål debate. I feel like I need to point out that Nynorsk is neither less nor more artificial than any other written language.

Also, Nynorsk is used in basically any newspaper where the kommune uses Nynorsk, which is quite a bit (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nynorsk#/media/File:M%C3%A5lformer_i_Norge.svg).

One of the main reasons why Nynorsk failed to become popular in the cities were because the political establishment and "elite" and used Danish. They saw Nynorsk as "dirty" and "undeveloped", as it reflected how "normal" people were speaking, and not themselves.

Even today, as Nynorsk changes to reflect the spoken language as its "ideology", a majority of people in Norway speak a dialect which is closer to Nynorsk than Bokmål. Still, possibly because of the increasingly socially accepted negative attitudes towards Nynorsk, a lot of Norwegians tend to dislike it. This leads to less Nynorsk (for students who use Bokmål as their main written language) in school, which again leads to those students failing in mastering the language.

I've been using Nynorsk my whole life, as it is very similar to how I speak. Even some students from my town tend to dislike it (even though it's basically how they speak), and I think this illustrates how bad (some of) the Norwegian media/society is treating Nynorsk and its users.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SusannaG1
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Thank you for you input. :) How different is Nynorsk from Bokmål?

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/semonje
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Both languages try to reflect the spoken languages, so the difference is about the same as how different people speak on Vestlandet, in comparison to Austlandet.

Example: The English sentence "My name is Simon, I'm 20 years old and I come from a village on Vestlandet. How are you?" would translate to (in my dialect, nynorsk and bokmål):

I'm from Sunnmøre on Vestlandet, so I'd say: "Ej heite Simon, e' 20 år gammal å' kjøme frå ei bygd på Vestlandet. Korleis de går med dej?"

which in Nynorsk would be "Eg heiter Simon, er 20 år gammal og kjem frå ei bygd på Vestlandet. Korleis det går med deg?"

In bokmål (and Standard Østnorsk, which is pretty similar), this would be: "Jeg heter Simon, er 20 år gammel og kommer fra en bygd på Vestlandet. Hvordan går det med deg?"

As you can see, a lot is pretty similar, but there's also some major differences, even in sentence construction ("hvordan går det med deg"/"korleis det går med deg"). There are of course many other differences, but they're kind of difficult to illustrate in so view sentences.

The first example is simply written dialect (but keep in mind that it doesn't fully reflect how it's pronounced). It's very common in areas that don't use Bokmål as much. You don't have to worry about it - it's not necessary at all to become fluent in Norwegian. But it's very interesting, so I'd recommend looking into it for people who are comfortable with the language.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Grandmumm
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Very interesting! Thank you for sharing, SusannaG1!

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SusannaG1
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You're welcome! :)

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/knudvaneeden
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Very interesting.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Roy_Vega
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Thanks for the knowledge, it is a very interesting article.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/DavidWilliams58

Thank you for sharing this history of the Norwegian language with us SusannaG1.

1 year ago
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