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  5. I am confused about Norwegian


I am confused about Norwegian

So if bokmal is only a written standard, then why do we hear how to say it on duolingo?

Or, the pronunciation we hear on duolingo, is that a common dialect?

Just confused :/

May 25, 2015



The long answer is that both Nynorsk and Bokmal are somewhat constructed languages. They are two standards, somewhat differing in grammar and vocabulary, compiled from a lot of dialects spoken in Norway.

If you take a look at the map of Norway, you see lots of islands, mountains, fjords and all sorts of terrain which is unfriendly to travel. That led to a much more significant segmentation of the population and their accents and dialects. Their dialects are still very similar, sometimes just changing a sound here and there. But it would be pure Chaos if these dialects where all written phonologically.

In turn, Bokmal has certainly influenced the spoken Norwegian dialects, just like any writing system influences the language it is used to transcribe.

Same with Nynorsk, but as I'm not Norwegian I still don't entirely grasp the concept ;-)


I understand your question/problem, and I'd say it's partially correct that bokmål is only written.

To give you some sort of explanation: Norwegians write in either bokmål or nynorsk, depending on the area they live in. And both bokmål and nynorsk is standardized - there is one correct way of writing them, that's used no matter where you are in the country.

When it comes to spoken Norwegian, there is a huge dialect variation that doesn't necessarily correspond to the written form in the area. People from East Norway (especially Oslo) has a dialect that's pretty close to standard bokmål and the speaking I guess you're hearing in this course. In West Norway, the dialects are closer to nynorsk. For instance, I'm from west Norway, I write bokmål and speak a dialect that's closer to nynorsk. And as I said, there's a lot of variation, and some dialects aren't really close to either of the written forms.

So that's the bad news, and I hope it doesn't put you off learning Norwegian. There is some good news as well.

You will be understood by everyone if you speak the kind of Norwegian you learn here. If your pronunciation is good, people will probably think you're from east Norway somewhere.

Almost every Norwegian I know that speak a strange/deviating dialect know how to moderate it and speak in a way that's closer to the standard. Many of them are used to doing so, and will change their dialect automatically when they speak to someone who doesn't understand (that doesn't only apply to foreigners…). You can ask what a word you don't understand mean, and they will probably respond with the standard bokmål variation of that word. I do that sometimes when I speak to Norwegians from other parts of the country. We are used to that. It isn't a big deal. And when they meet someone who is learning the language, most people will be friendly and will try to help you understand.

Hope this made some kind of sense. And tl;dr - there are too many dialects to learn/know them all, but it do make sense to learn the standard bokmål way of speaking. That's the closest we get to a common standard, it is spoken in some parts of the country, and you will always be understood. And if people have ordinary good manners, they will take some steps to help you understand their way of speaking.


thank you! this really helped :) .. i was looking at articles online but nothing was really giving me a clear answer like you just did. I think now that it has been explained, i feel like i want to learn it even more than i did before haha :) thanks!


Hey I was wonder the same thing about this course here! Takk!


We have dozens of spoken dialects in Norway, and two versions of written language. The two written versions are:

Bokmål: Was created on the basis of the language that where spoken by the elite (intellectual and economical) in the cities (mainly Oslo). This is the most used written form, and is used in Eastern-Norway. It is closer to Danish than Nynorsk. When one speaks about spoken Bokmål, one refers to the Oslo (and Akershus) dialect.

Nynorsk: Ivar Åsen created Nynorsk as an option to Bokmål, because he wanted to capture the essence of the Norwegian spoken language, not just the sophisticated city (Oslo) dialect, which he felt was too closely related to Danish. Nynorsk is therefore based on the dialects from the countryside (mainly West-Norway). There is no such thing as spoken Nynorsk.

To answer your question: The dialect you hear on Duolingo is almost identical to the West-Oslo dialect, and is very common.

West-Oslo: Few contractions, very similar to written Bokmål, masculine definite and feminine definite nouns ends in -en. The West-Oslo dialect is regarded as more proper than the East-Oslo dialect.

East-Oslo: Some contractions, some slang, definite male and female nouns may end in -a.


While West-Oslo may be regarded as 'more proper', the flip side of that coin is that I've also heard people dismiss it as 'posh'/'haughty'.


That is true, but normally only an extreme West-Oslo dialect is considered as 'posh'/'haughty'. The moderate West-Oslo dialect, like the one you hear in the Norwegian course, is rarely considered as 'posh'/'haughty', but might seem a bit formal and stiff among some people (people who have an extreme East-Oslo dialect, who uses a lot of slang or have a very dominant and heavy dialect).


hey thank you :) your answer helped :)


You are welcome! (Bare hyggelig)

[deactivated user]

    Kanskje er det bedre å snakke "radikalt Bokmål"? Hvis jeg sier "Jeg er heime"..."Hvor er boka mi?", "Jeg snakka med ham i går", "kvitløk", "Jeg glømmer". Disse formene brukes på Bokmål. I Oslo, "Eg veit ikkje"..nei men kanskje "Jeg veit ikke"? "Jeg trenger mjøl"? "Jeg er sjuk"? kan sies??


    Because the dialects of the south and east part of norway sound much like spoken bokmål.


    As a Sørlending I feel kinda offended by that statement … ;)

    [deactivated user]

      Jeg var sommerutvekslingstudent i Stavanger. Da jeg ankom, var det vanskelig å forsta.


      Hello thatguyrox,

      I would like to know how you heard this about Norwegian bokmål: ‘So if bokmal is only a written standard, then why do we hear how to say it on duolingo’.

      When I read this sentence I got the impression immediately about Norwegian bokmål in your head being a language like latin, a dead language not spoken. This is not at all true.

      In Norway we have two languages: Bokmål and Nynorsk. They are now so similar to each other, that since 2005 they cannot be regarded as two different languages, but as one language with two variations. The dialects are not languages by themselves; they are only variations of the two above. About 85 % of the Norwegian population write bokmål, 15 % write nynorsk. Bokmål with variation is the most used ‘language’ in Norway. We don’t know how many who speak bokmål, but strict bokmål is spoken by around 30%, many more speak with small variations. Even the King speaks bokmål.

      What you learn here is bokmål with variations. The variations might be very small. Mostly it is the ending of the words, in strict bokmål you have more ET or EN in the end of feminine nouns instead of A, as in jenta, boka, hytta instead of jenten, boken, hytten. The same goes for verbs. I say I speak bokmål, but I always say jenta and hytta, however I say boken. You can choose what you find natural.

      If you learn everything here in Duolingo , and you become fluent in bokmål, and you then go to Norway, you will find that everybody speak a language you understand, some sound a bit strange and use some words you don’t know. But that happens to Norwegians too. When you watch TV or listen to Norwegian radio you’ll understand almost everything. If you go to Oslo, most people will speak like you. And we will understand you.

      The discussion about the Norwegian language between Norwegians does not concern you at all. You can forget about it!! You can even forget that you learn bokmål for now, say to yourself: I am learning Norwegian.

      Good luck.


      Collection of a lot of norwegian music with examples of a lot of different dialects. (Pop/Rock, christmas, children, funny songs and so on.)


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