Can speakers of Norwegian bokmål and nynorsk understand each other?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sure they can. In actual practice when speaking (from what I've read) each region has its own variant anyway, so it's not simply a clear distinction between bokmål and nynorsk. But the two standards are similar enough that there's no problem understanding one when you've learned the other when written. In this thread you can see a question asked by a person in nynorsk (Kva skal eg gjera? - Hva skal jeg gjøre? in bokmål), and the response is in bokmål. In fact, sometimes you'll be reading something in Norwegian and it won't be obvious that it's even written in nynorsk until a few sentences in.

So what's the point of this post? Simply this: sometimes people will attempt to scare prospective students of the language away by mentioning that there are (oh noes!) two standards for the language, when really it's just not that big of a deal. In fact, languages without regional variants are an extreme minority. Icelandic is one example, and...apparently Romanian doesn't vary that much from place to place either. In most cases though (including English) languages have a large number of regional variants, so bringing this up as a reason not to learn a language just doesn't stand.

And anyone that thinks they can become fluent in a language without learning at least a fair amount of other variants and archaic forms is deluding themselves. Could you call yourself completely fluent in English without being able to understand things like "y'all", "da boss wants ta speak wid' ya", "I canna' do it, Captain! The drives are shot. They canna' be fixed." (Scotty from Star Trek), "lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe..." and all the rest? Certainly not. Watching CNN alone won't do it.


Anonymous said...

Pour toute question sur le norvégien, se référer a M. Morten Svendsen, le sage interlinguiste de Bergen, qui parle aussi Bergensk, et qui donne un lien au sérénissime roi Mithridate!


Unknown said...

On the other hand, isn't this argument actually a demonstration of the positive points of conauxlangs such as Ido? They have just one widely legitimate standard language, and this seems to be an important symbolic feature that works as a selling point for those languages.

(I unfortunately have to remove Interlingua from that list of conauxlangs though because the existence of 2 standard ortographies removes that psychological illusion of "a single, uniform language", although this does not cause comprehension problems in practice either.)

데이빛 / Mithridates said...

You know, that's probably something that supporters of IALs with a uniform script should point out a bit more - that when learning a "natural" language you usually also have to take into account regional variants and dialects and all the rest before you can consider yourself fluent (not perfectly, but a general knowledge of what people from different parts of the country sound like and how they differ from the norm). I think I've seen that mentioned a few times before, but it really should be more towards the top of the list when mentioning their good points.

데이빛 / Mithridates said...

Novparl: good idea. He should be able to provide more info.

Anonymous said...

As an English man living in a nynorsk area of Norway learning bokmaal on a Norwegian course.

I have found that I can adapt my Norwegian to suit the situation. i.e if I must ring to Oslo I will speak more bokmaal whereas if I am talking to a local I will tend to speak dialect (form of nynorsk). I notice it most when I am writing to a local and start writing how I would normally speak. It is sad not being able to write nynorsk but I am glad from a business point of view that I can write Bokmaal.

I think the children here are like little language processors. After I have spoken a few sentences to them they will be able to understand my Norwegian despite my english accent and locate where I live.

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