Norwegian 101

Norwegian is a Germanic language spoken in Norway. Norwegian is closely related to, and generally mutually intelligible with Swedish and Danish. Together with these two languages as well as Faroese and Icelandic, Norwegian belongs to the North Germanic languages, (also called Scandinavian languages). Native speakers of Norwegian are, for the most part, quite proficient in understanding Danish and Swedish, in spoken as well as written form. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Danish was the standard written language of Norway. As a result, the development of modern written Norwegian has been subject to strong controversy related to nationalism, rural versus urban discourse, and Norway's literary history.

As established by law and governmental policy, there are currently two official forms of written Norwegian – Bokmål (literally "book language") and Nynorsk (literally "new Norwegian"). The Norwegian Language Council recommends the terms "Norwegian Bokmål" and "Norwegian Nynorsk" in English, but these are seldom used. The language question in Norway has been subject to much controversy during the past generations. Though not reflective of the political landscape in general, written Norwegian is often described as a spectrum ranging from the conservative to the radical. This is because successive spelling reforms have resulted in an increased number of optional forms in spelling and grammar, allowing for greater possibility of combining elements from both written forms, particularly in the Bokmål variant. The current forms of Bokmål and Nynorsk are considered moderate forms of conservative and radical versions of written Norwegian, respectively.

The unofficial written form known as Riksmål is considered more conservative than Bokmål, and the unofficial Høgnorsk more conservative than Nynorsk. Those forms became popular among enthusiastic conservative people due to the reforms in the 1920s and 30s when the two official languages were brought closer together. Although Norwegians are educated in both Bokmål and Nynorsk, around 86-90% use Bokmål as their daily written language, and 10%-12% use Nynorsk, although many of the spoken dialects resemble Nynorsk more closely than Bokmål, mostly in terms of vocabulary and accent. Broadly speaking, Bokmål and Riksmål are more commonly seen in urban and suburban areas; Nynorsk in rural areas, particularly in Western Norway. The Norwegian broadcasting corporation (NRK) broadcasts in both Bokmål and Nynorsk, and all governmental agencies are required to support both written languages. Bokmål is used in 92% of all written publications, Nynorsk in 8% (2000). According to the Norwegian Language Council, "It may be reasonably realistic to assume that about 10-12% use Nynorsk, i.e. somewhat less than half a million people." In spite of concern that Norwegian dialects would eventually give way to a common spoken Norwegian language close to Bokmål, dialects find significant support in local environments, popular opinion, and public policy.

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