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I'm not understanding Norwegian (Bokmål)?

I've read that Bokmål is a written language, so does that means it's not spoken? I've tried to do some research, but I'm making myself more confused. It must be spoken if it's on Duolingo now, yes?

May 22, 2015



This is a common saying in the constantly ongoing Norwegian language debate: people speak a dialect, but they write one of the two written forms, Bokmål or Nynorsk. It's not so meaningful outside the context of this debate, but in some way it's true: neither written language is a faithful representation of the language people actually speak. There are for example lots of silent letters, you often can't predict a word's pronuciation from its spelling alone, and while a word may have just one or a few standardized spellings, it can have a large number of different pronunciations in the various dialects.

But this is not so different from the situation in other languages. If there is a difference between Norwegian and other languages in this regard, it is that we don't consider the written language to be some kind of idealized version of the language which is somehow the most “correct” one, which is a view I've encountered at least in Germany. The general view here (at least outside certain circles) is that all dialects are somehow equal, and a dialect is not better or purer just because it's closer to the written standard.

That said, the version of the written language you will learn with this Duolingo course is Bokmål, and the spoken dialect (judging from the few sentences I've listened to) is pretty much as close as you can get to the written language.


Don't worry about it!

No, Bokmål is not spoken per se. But then again, neither is written English. Both are merely visual representations of a spoken language in the lingual and geographical climates they derive from, using a given set of signifiers (an alphabet, numbers, etc.).

If you want to learn to speak Norwegian, bokmål will be as helpful to you as written English was (and is) for me when I learn(ed) to speak English :)


Definitely. In many parts of the UK you can buy pocket dictionaries of the local dialect, they're intended more for amusement than as a serious study tool but it gives you an idea of the variation. About 85% of British people speak some form of dialect, many just use Standard (written) English with a few local words and others will use a lot of different vocabulary and grammar.

I like the idea of spoken dialects being equally respected in Norway, they're certainly not here and many people (myself included) make an effort to get rid of their regional accent and vocabulary. Yay for linguistic diversity!


I wouldn't agree that the dialects are equally respected here. My dialect has been crowned the worst in the country (which is ridiculous!) and I've been looked down on because of it. At the same time, in my city, I'm looked at as snobby because I grew up in a wealthy neighbourhood and speak the way they speak.


There is no standard speaking Norwegian. People in different parts of Norway speak different dialects. Some of these dialects can be quite different to the next. Think of Bokmål as sort of a dialect for writing so that most Norwegians can understand it. I hope I helped!


You could say that there are two writing standards, it's the word "language" that is confusing here. Bokmål is closer to the eastern dialects(especially to those in Oslo and around), and nynorsk is closer to the western ones; however, most people regardless of their location write in bokmål. The spoken language that you learn as a foreigner is western Oslo dialect.

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