Introduction to the Norwegian Language

Hi, and welcome to this video
introducing the Norwegian language. I’m Adam, and I’ll be your teacher. Norwegian is spoken by about 5 million people. It is the primary official language of Norway, and spoken by about 90 %
of the population as a first language. Geographically, it is the majority language
in all of Norway, with the exception of two municipalities in the north, where this position is instead held by North Sami. Norwegian is however,
the common language of Norway, and is spoken and understood by the entire population. The Norwegian alphabet consists of the Latin alphabet, with 3 extra letters attached at the end, and is identical to the Danish alphabet,
with which it is also related. The extra letters are proper letters in their own right, and are not regarded as variations of ae, o or a, as you can see and hear in words such as: Now, a very distinguishing feature of Norwegian, and one of the most important things to learn about, is that Norwegian actually has
two official written standards. That’s right, and I’m not talking
about two different languages here, but two standardized and official ways
of writing the same language. It’s not a very common thing to do,
so I can understand if this might seem puzzling to you. Anyway, the names of these two language forms are: The original meanings of these names are
‘modern Norwegian’ and ‘book language’ respectively, but today the names are completely standalone, and nobody really cares about
what they originally referred to. Also, I want to reiterate that these are
different written forms of the same language, and that nobody speaks them. The language is simply Norwegian,
no matter how you write it. Anyway, to get a better grip on this situation,
let’s look at some history. In 1537, shortly after the collapse of the Kalmar Union, Norwegian sovereignty was effectively ended
and the country became a province of Denmark. This led to a complete stop in the writing of Norwegian, which until then had had quite a rich literary tradition, and instead, writing was done only in Danish. Then, in 1814, after the Napoleonic wars, Norway declared its independence, and with the newfound sense of nationalism,
people started to think about, you know, not writing in Danish anymore. But then Sweden came along
and forced Norway into a union, and then the Norwegians were like,
“Oh well, at least it’s not Swedish”, and so they kept writing in Danish. But the question remained,
and all throughout the 19th century, there was a hot debate on how to actually implement
a written Norwegian language. And this is where the entire thing starts. Because there were two camps, with different ideas on how to actually do this. On the one hand you had the opinion: Let’s not break with tradition,
and the language people already know how to write. Let’s just make it more Norwegian, step by step, until it better represents how we actually speak. This position was mainly held by conservatives
and by middle-class urban dwellers. And this makes sense, since Norwegian
and Danish are closely related to begin with, and since the spoken language
of the urban upper classes had been significantly influenced by Danish
and the Danish written language, and thus they wouldn’t have to modify it all that much before it was a reasonable representation
of their speech. Well, that and the fact that most people
do tend to be quite conservative when it comes to language. Anyway, the other opinion, was basically:
Well, screw this. Let’s just get rid of everything and start over, and make a new written language based on
how Norwegians actually speak. This position was advocated primarily
by liberals and by non-urban dwellers. And this position makes sense too, since the spoken language outside of the major cities was generally so distant from the written language, that it’d be way simpler
to just make a new written language than try to fit the old Danish one onto it. And what happened then, was that both
of these movements prevailed. The Norwegianization of the Danish standard
resulted in bokmål, and the creation of an entirely new Norwegian standard
gave today’s nynorsk. Strength wise, bokmål has always had the advantage
over nynorsk, since it didn’t start from zero. although up until the Second World War,
the gap was closing rapidly, and in the 1940s,
about a third of elementary school pupils were using nynorsk as their primary written form. But since nynorsk failed to get a foothold
in the major urban areas, post-war urbanization and exclusion in mass media
led to a decline in its use. Today, about 15 % of the total population
are users of nynorsk, and about 85 % are users of bokmål, and when it comes to using the other variety, users of nynorsk are more likely
to be proficient in bokmål, than the other way around. As an example of the difference
between the two language forms, here are some common words written in both of them, that you can also use when trying to identify
what variety a text is written in. But remember, that even though
these words are different, there are also a whole lot of words
that are completely identical in the two language forms. Geographically, bokmål is the official written form
in 158 municipalities, primarily in eastern and northern Norway. Nynorsk is the official written form
in 113 municipalities, primarily in western Norway. The remaining 157 municipalities are officially neutral, but in practice,
bokmål tends to dominate in such places. We can also note that of the 20 largest municipalities, none use nynorsk as their official language form,
regardless of location, which further reflects the historical status
of bokmål in the urban areas. And here I want to make another thing clear— and that is that this municipal distribution
of nynorsk and bokmål as official language forms. does not necessarily correspond
to the spoken language in these areas. In fact, neither variety is based
on the speech of a specific region, and as you saw earlier, the geographic distribution of the two varieties
hasn’t always been the same either. Of course, the present distribution
is not entirely coincidental either, but the relationship between the two written varieties
and the spoken language is a complex issue, and we’re probably better off saving this
for another presentation. Anyway, let’s talk about
the spoken Norwegian language instead. Compared to most other Western languages,
dialects in Norwegian have a very strong position, and have not been streamlined or replaced to the same extent as those
of many other languages of Europe. In theory, every dialect is equally valid
and considered correct Norwegian, and there is no officially promoted
standard spoken language. In practice however, this can vary significantly. In general, urban dialects and varieties
that take many elements from the written language often enjoy high covert prestige,
especially in Southeastern Norway. On the other hand, in many areas
the local dialect enjoys equally high status, and speaking a dialect close to the written
language might instead be considered conspicuous. The most prominent Norwegian dialect today,
is called Urban East Norwegian, and many people do consider this variety a
kind of unofficial standard. This is essentially a kind of spoken bokmål, which traces its origins to Western Oslo and the prestigious Danish-Norwegian hybrid language
once spoken there. This variety has spread and mixed
with surrounding dialects, radiating out from Oslo, and is now the main dialect
for many people living in this area. This form of spoken Norwegian
is the one usually taught to foreigners and the one described in Norwegian grammars, but in learning or speaking Norwegian,
you should nevertheless be prepared to encounter a lot of spoken,
and often even written, variation. As for the dialects throughout Norway, these are traditionally divided into a western
and an eastern branch, as you can see here. The most prominent feature of these two areas
is the intonation, which in the western dialects
is more levelled and falling, while in the eastern ones it’s instead quite rising, and you’ll be able to hear this difference
in the samples later on. Anyway, there’s also another four-way division
of the Norwegian dialects. This division is more commonly seen today, and also corresponds better to how Norwegians
themselves perceive the various dialectal areas. Each of these groups have
a set of defining characteristics, but there is also a lot of variation within
each group, and all of them can of course be divided even further. But in any case, it’s important to note
that speakers of most dialects have little trouble understanding each other, and most people are also quite used
to adapting their speech when encountering people speaking another variety. And, if Norwegian hasn’t struck you as unique thus far, it’s time for yet another striking feature of the language, namely its optional forms
and freedom of choice between them. It so happens, that foreigners
are not the only ones to question the use of having two written standards for the same language, and so during the first half of the 20th century, several attempts were made
to bring them closer to each other, with the ultimate goal of merging them
into a single, common Norwegian, written standard. But, since bokmål and nynorsk is basically all
I’ve been talking about so far, this obviously failed. But it did result in a number of new forms
entering both varieties, with many of them being made optional, meaning that every person is free to choose
whichever form they wish, as long as they’re being consistent. In bokmål, the optional forms
usually represent a conflict between reintroduced Norwegian forms
and original Danish forms, called radical or moderate,
as we can see in these examples. ‘Sju’, ‘kasta’ and ‘boka’ are radical,
originally Norwegian, forms, and ‘syv’, ‘kastet’ and ‘boken’ are moderate,
originally Danish forms. In nynorsk, optional forms instead
usually represent different dialectal forms, and there is no historical opposition between them. Examples of this are ‘vera’ and ‘vere’,
‘me’ and ‘vi’, and ‘tenkjer’ and ‘tenker’. Relationship wise, Norwegian belongs
to the North Germanic languages, of the Indo-European language family. This makes it closely related to languages
such as Swedish, Danish and Icelandic, more distantly related to languages
like English, Dutch and German, and very distantly related to languages
like French, Spanish, Russian, Greek and Hindi. Swedish and Danish are the closest relatives
of Norwegian, and the three languages are generally considered
to be mutually intelligible, meaning that speakers of these languages
can use their own languages with each other and expect to be understood, especially if written. How well this works in practice
varies a lot from person to person, but especially Norwegians and Swedes will tend to
communicate with each other in their own languages, and Norwegian speakers are also better
at understanding Swedish and Danish than the other way around, not unlikely because Norwegians are used to
a lot of variation in their own language already. As an example of the similarity
of the three Scandinavian languages, let’s take the phrase
“I’ve bought myself a new car”, which in Eastern Norwegian is: And upon seeing this, there should be no wonder that these languages
are intelligible to each other, right? Now, moving on to grammar, Norwegian nouns have no cases, but they do have 3 genders:
masculine, feminine or neuter. Although, in moderate bokmål,
the feminine gender is optional, and it’s quite common
to use the masculine forms instead, which is similar to how it works in Swedish and Danish. So in bokmål we get: meaning ‘a car’, ‘a book’ and ‘a house’, respectively. Now, a peculiarity in the nouns, is that the definite article
is attached to the end of a word. instead of being independent, like English ‘the’. So from the indefinite words just mentioned, we get the definite forms: meaning ‘the car’, ‘the book’,
and ‘the house’, respectively. As for the verbs,
there is no conjugation for person, so for example ‘to live’ is ‘lever’ in the present tense, ‘levde’ in the past, and ‘har levd’ in the perfect, no matter what person is doing the living. This is unlike English, where you say for example
‘I live’, but ‘she lives’, and so on. And besides grammar, there is also an interesting thing to note
about the pronunciation of Norwegian: the pitch accent. Simply put, this is a kind of tone contrast where a word can have either accent 1 or accent 2, and where this can change
the meaning of a word entirely. So for example, with the Eastern accent shown here, we have ‘hender’ and ‘hender’, where the first means ‘hands’,
and the second means ‘happens’. Other such pairs are ‘vatnet’ and ‘vatne’, and ‘bønder’ and ‘bønner’, which despite the spelling
are otherwise identical in pronunciation. Alright, to round off, I’m gonna let you listen and read along
to two texts in Norwegian. The first one is a passage from the 1991 novel
‘Sophie’s World’, by Jostein Gaarder, written in moderate bokmål and read with a local accent by a native speaker
from the Østfold region. The original title is ‘Sofies verden’,
and it is an international best seller, having been translated
into fifty-nine different languages. The next passage is from the 1963 novel
‘The Ice Palace’, by Tarjei Vesaas, written in nynorsk, and read with a local accent by a native speaker
from the Sunnhordland region. Its original title is ‘Is-slottet’,
and it is considered a classic of Norwegian literature, being awarded the Nordic Council’s Literature prize
in 1964. And so we’re at the end of this presentation about the in many ways unique Norwegian language. Be sure to follow this channel
for more videos about Norwegian, and for introductions to other languages. Thank you for watching!

100 Replies to “Introduction to the Norwegian Language

  1. 7:05 Bokmål may or may not be spoken by retired people( or older ) located at Frogner and Bygdøy. Bokmål works as a written language. 10:51 No cases? What about: Han, ham, hannom[s] 12:35 Otherwise the wave form can be used to distinct between question and statement by using 1 – one word only. Example Pizza going down at the end of the word, means we chose pizza, or pizza going up at the end; implicit question would you mind pizza.

  2. Why did I watch this at 4AM, I am fluent in this language, my family has been living in Norway for all mapped generations, and I learned the rest of this in school.

  3. I'm curious. Is the narrator of this video Swedish? It sounds a lot like Swedish intonation when pronouncing the Norwegian words. Bokmål, for instance, sounds like it's being pronounced with Swedish pitch accent 2 vs Norwegian pitch accent 2.

  4. A very good, detalied and overall scientifically correct presentation! 🙂
    Still, it is not entirely correct to say that Norwegian Nynorsk and Norwegian Bokmål are not two different languages but only two different standards. A better way to put it is that they are two different written languages, that both are Norwegian, and that they are rather close to each other (and not as different as, for example, French and German in Switzerland, but more like Belarusian or Ukrainian and Russian, or Czech and Slovak). In Norway there is a growing tendency to refer to Norwegian Nynorsk and Norwegian Bokmål as "språk" ('languages') instead of "målformer" (a Norwegian term that has no exact equivalent in English, literally 'language forms'). The so-called "samnorsk" ('Common Norwegian') policy, whereby Nynorsk and Bokmål should eventually be conflated into a single Norwegian language, was officially abandoned long ago.

  5. Then there's folks like meself who was born in Bergen (West), lived in Moldø a few years (Little further north), and grew up through most of childhood in Halden (South-east bordering Sweden), lived in England for a year and back to Bergen.

    My accent is messed up. :'D

  6. Nynorsk favours western norwegians the most, as it is closer to their dialect than other places on norway. Being from northern norway myself, living many places around and in Bodø before going to university in trondheim, I wouldnt say that western norwegian is just as distant to us as eastern norwegian. So I'd favour the parting into four main groups of dialects. Saying this, dialects change drasticly from just fjord to fjord or mountainside to the other mountainside. Atleast in the north. The dialect I had the most trouble with was probably people from Stavanger, as that is a very special dialect. As a kid when I first heard it, I mistaked it as english, as at that point, I didnt understand either. We're talking 2nd to 3rd grade here, so it was a while ago. Understand easily now with a bit of guesswork hehe

  7. As a bokmål speaker, im very sad that nynorsk isn’t the written form of norway 🙁 denmark royaly fucked us there

  8. The fuckt up thing is when u have lived in a place where ir is bokmål and then u moving to a place with nynorsk everything messes up i got 2 on norwegian beacuse i writed on bokmål and not on nynorsk

  9. My birth father was from Norway but left my Canadian mother when I was five. I never got to learn the language. I think I will change that!

  10. The pitch accents in the western dialects (strangely) sound much more like many Swedish dialects' pitch accents, like in Dalarna but also Gotland, even though the language as a whole is more different from Swedish and significantly more difficult for Swedes to understand unless they've either lived in Norway or are well versed in the history of their own language and Scandinavian in general.
    The south-eastern dialects sound very similar in accent to the Swedish dialects in the same area across the border, to the extent that some people from small towns in Värmland and northern Dalsland is hard to tell whether they are just speaking in their local dialect/accent, or if they are Norwegians speaking Swedish with a south-east Norwegian accent. Actually the Norwegians speaking Swedish with south-eastern Norwegian accent are probably even easier to understand even than the people speaking actual local dialects from small towns in Värmland.

  11. Are you guys going to keep doing this? I want to learn norwegian, and you make awesome videos, please reconsider uploading here, or can someon etell me where can I learn instead? I'm very concerned about norwegian accents, I want to learn a specific one and realize when someone speaks with other accent, or else it'd be a mess

  12. The optional forms are the worst thing about Norwegian, and I say that as a Norwegian myself. For example, see the word 'love', which means 'promise'. In the past tense you can choose between 'lovd', 'lova', 'lovet' and 'lovt'. 4 equally valid ways to write the same word! It's nonsense. I believe in Swedish you only say 'lova' and in Danish it is 'lovet'.

  13. As a Dane I can understand a little bit of Norwegian, as in almost literally the basics- I can understand a few words and kind of figure out what's going on. It's almost the same thing with Swedish, except harder.

    Fun? extra.

    One of the biggest troubles of being Danish and communicating with a swede or a Norwegian is : knowing which is which. . .
    Swedish and Norwegian sounds almost identical to the untrained Danish ear and if you accidentally call a Norwegian for a swede -or the other way around:
    you will be met with the power of Swedish/Norwegian disappointment! Horrible, deeeb disappointment !…
    Or Maybe it's just me, who thinks it's VERY uncomfortable to stand in front of a Norwegian who's starring daggers at you for calling them a swede.

  14. "Hællæ". Jeg er østfolding, og føler jeg kjente igjen stemmen på representanten fra fylket mitt. Har grublet en stund. Kan man spørre om et navn?

  15. I moved from Denmark to Norway. Written its the same but it depends who you meet in understanding. Like Stavanger is difficult but Native Bergen is easy. I realise the younger a person is the easier i understand them

  16. Kudos for this video. Quite informative compared to others, and I love that you included things lile the map of cases.

    Only things that could make it better would be a comments about Old Norse, or the Norwegian dialects in Sweden (Jamtland, Dalarna).

  17. The name Nynorsk was chosen to distinguish it from gamalnorsk (Old Norwegian/Norse) and mellomnorsk (Middle Norwegian). Since it's based on the language phase after Mellomnorsk, the written language could just as well be called "Nynorsk". Nynorsk is not newer than Bokmål in any way. The spoken language that nynorsk is based on is often less "modern" than Danish/Bokmål.

    Knud Knudsen, the man that created bokmål/riksmål wanted the 'norwagisation' to continue until it became actual Norwegian, but that didn't happen because of upper-class city dwellers.
    Nynorsk was also meant to replace the Danish, but it didn't happen because of upper-class city dwellers.

    The Samnorsk movement ruined a lot of Nynorsk's ability to represent the whole language. Before Samnorsk, you would write vìka (week) in Nynorsk. This word has an 'open' i, which means it can both be /e/ and /i/. Dialect variations are vika, vike, veka and veke (and a lot more). After Samnorsk, you can only write veke.
    Also, a lot of d's was removed. Instead of saud (sheep) and løda (barn) from before Samnorsk, you can only write sau and løe today. The Sunnmøre dialect in West Norway has saud and løde.

    Some Norwegian dialects and much of Nynorsk (at least the traditional Nynorsk) i quite similar to (written) Faroese. I would say some Norwegian dialects are closer to Faroese than to Danish.

    The Nynorsk example sentence you showed would be "Eg hev køypt meg ein ny bil" in traditional nynorsk. "A book – the book" would be "ei bok – boki" (similar to a lot of dialects with bokje, bokji etc.), but -a or i was optional.

  18. You mention that Norwegian is distantly related to English, but its actually far more closely related to Scots! A lot of Scots words sound almost identical to the Norweigan ones, such as bairn (child), kirk (Church), ettercap (spider), Kinnen (rabbit), stoor (dust) and words like hoose, coo, broon etc.

  19. A Question for Any Scandinavian: Why do Norwegians and Swedes "sing" when they speak, while speakers of the other Scandinavian languages do not?

  20. Bønnebønder ber bønnebønner over bønneåkeren for en bedre bønneavling…

    Bean farmers says bean prayers over the bean field for a better bean harvest

  21. As a finn I find Nynorsk much easier to understand. Maybe that's because I've only seen written Norwegian in the northern parts of Norway. 🤔 (I speak a little bit Swedish)

  22. Oh, I very like Norway and Norwegian, but I have no people to speak on Norwegian((( it’s kinda sad because I wanna talk to people((

  23. When Norway was in a Union with Sweden, the Norwegian Language got some influence from the Swedish Language. For example, in some Norwegian eastern terretories at the swedish border, we use the word "inte" instead of "ikke/ikkje".

  24. Born in Trondheim, but didn't live there for long enough to pick up the accent. Lived in Bærum as I grew up, which gave me pretty much the most standard and basic Norwegian you could have, then I later went to school in Oslo, and started accidentally picking up those radical forms like "væra" or "gjøra".

    Also, fun fact about Norwegians, every northerner and westerner I know seem to see south-easterners as snobs AND hillbillies simultaneously.

  25. Norway was never
    a danish province. It was a puppet kingdom from 1537 to 1814 with its own

    laws and

    Danish and Norwegian
    was seen as the same language during the union, so they had the same written form,
    that was based on the Copenhagen dialect (linguistic, Danish, Norwegian

    and Swedish
    are the same language). But it is true that the written language

    based on
    the Copenhagen dialect had an impact on the spoken Norwegian dialects.

    the new writing system replaced the old norse writing in the 17th century
    (where few could read and write anywho, so it was a easy transition to a more
    modern type of writing ) In 1814

    it was seen
    as as much a Norwegian written language as a Danish written

    as the Norwegian constitution calls the written language Norwegian.

    Anyway very

    good video 😊

  26. You are avle to pronounce the Worse really well, but you can still hear that you are a foreginer. I would regimene you Toblerone norwegian since it gives you the door to a heaven of dialects and an radioer time learning danish and Swedish. Danish is just bokmål prinounced like you have porriage or a potato stuck in your throut. Keep up the amazing videos og yours. Love from Norway!

  27. This was a good video. Watching this in Molde, going to Kristiansund, Alvdal and Røros later this week. So, much exposure to norwegian dialects now.

    I have even seen «Sofies Verden».

  28. Nynorsk is not modern Norwegian, it's a writing language that less than the majority uses. Although most students like myself has to learn for maybe future use.

  29. ……Is "Oslo" properly pronounced "Oz low"…. in American English?… or, is it more like: …"Oh slow"…. or even
    …."Ahh slow"….?!… or something else?!…

  30. Here is a factoid; There are more Norwegians living in the US than in Norway and they all speak English. Virtually all Norwegians in Norway speak English as a second language.

  31. I find Nynorsk to be at lot more undesrstanable than Bokmål, but I think that Danish influence on most speakers have made an influence in that.

  32. Almost no one speaks "nynorsk", but variations of dialects. Many do not write correct nynorsk, but in dialect, where rest is forced by laws (official documents and some books), so 15% is very ex-aggregated. The "real" language ought to be closer to Icelandic, that is Norse.

  33. Also nice to mention that there are dialects most Norwegian speakers have trouble with. Like vallemål which is from an isolated place in southern Norway with its own grammar and vocabulary that makes it hard just for neighbouring towns to understand. As an example spoon and knife in Norwegian is skje og kniv. But in Valle it is spoone og knife.

  34. What is wrong with you. I speakers nynorsk. I haw doen it al my life and I am proud of it. You clearly dont know anything of norway. We speak NYNORSK.

  35. Anyone else that is native Norwegian that clicked this video just to check his pronunciation? 😂 It was quite good actually.

  36. As a Swedish person I now understand why it is so hard to understand some of the Norwegian dialects, with the two read examples I had no problem understanding the first "bokmål" but the second "nynorsk" was much harder to understand. Very interesting and educational 🤔😊👍🏻

  37. How works the case system? I know the German declination system but I didn't know that a dialect of bokmål has it… If anyone could write an example…

  38. Norwegians used to speak Old Norse before the Denmark union. If Norway weren't under Denmark's dominion, we norwegians would probably still speak Old Norse. Or our language would probably be more like icelandic or faroese.

  39. You are fucking freaking me out when you say bokmål and nynorsk in a fucking swdish way! It's torture to listen to!

  40. So i basically speak nynorsk but instead of no i sei nå and i have a special dialect that uses a lot of o endings (and no one understands danish btw)

  41. i wish this made like the finnish video, grammar explanation and useful stuff. my opinion tho, not judging the video

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