1907 newspaper article on Bokmål vs. Nynorsk (Landsmål) in the newly independent Norway

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Found an interesting article from 1907 from The Milford Mail on the linguistic struggle in newly independent Norway on which language to use, and the writer concludes that the Landsmål (later Nynorsk) movement is just the unnatural work of philologists and should be relegated to the dustbin of history. The language discussed at the time though was something more like Høgnorsk, I think, which is radically different from both Bokmål and Nynorsk. In appearance it may look quite similar (that's a wiki written in Høgnorsk) but the underlying structure behind the language is more complex.

singular plural
indefinite definite indefinite definite
(ein) dag dagen dagar dagane
(ein) hane hanen hanar hanane
(ei) tid tidi/tida tider tidene
(ei) visa/vise visa visor/visur visone/visune
(eit) hus huset hus husi/husa
(eit) auga auga(t) augo augo
I think there's also some verb conjugation by person on top of that.

Here's the article:


Would Like Something Better Than Danish for General Use.

Norway has a new king. That is, he is comparatively new. Some of the varnish may have been rubbed off by this time; but to all intents and purposes the king is new.

Norway now wants a new language, says a writer in the Boston Transcript. The national parliament passed a bill authorizing the change, though it has not yet advertised for bids or let the contract. Indeed, there seems to be a disposition to make the new language out of old materials. This will be a great saving, which means some little to a country with the slender purse of Norway.

It seems that the present written and spoken tongue of the country is made over Danish. There have been some very slight modifications in the pronunciation and the grammer, but Danes and Norwegians understand each other at once, and the literature of the two countries are really a unity. But from time immemorial there have lurked in Norway many peasant dialects, dialects that vary so much that peasants from one end of the country talk Greek to peasants in another end. These tongues are rich and racy, they are alive, they smell of the soil and they throb with the heart.

Fifty years or more ago there came into fashion an effort to preserve these tongues in the country's literature. The written language began to gather up quantities of these expressive spoken terms. Bjornson headed the movement and started the fashion, and his books borrow some of their remarkable qualities from this broadening of his vocabulary. That broadening carried with it broadening of interests and sympathies.

From these healthy beginnings there grew up a widespread endeavor that soon overshot itself, became an exaggeration and received its proper epithet in "maalstraveri." From innocent enrichment of the language the enthusiasts passed to the point of attempting an entirely upheaval of the language. Bjornson suddenly became a purist and set himself against this time of wholesale iconoclasm.

Now it is quite possible that some change may actually appear in the Norwegian tongue. Parliament has voted that examinations in the Norwegian vernacular shall be imposed upon pupils in the schools along with study of the existing forms of speech. The peasants really forced this measure through. They hold a large hand in the national assembly, and their vanity had been reached when it seemed to they had been called upon to supply their land with a language. First, the "Landsmaal" was "recommended" as a study. Then it was made optional. Soon teachers were required to possess a very good knowledge of it. Now the last step in this act, which compels the pupils in the secondary schools to learn two Norwegian languages, one with a literature and good for every day use, the other a product of pedantic philologists --- for by now the so-called "Landsmaal" has dwindled into an artificial effort of the linguists, who, in their passion for order and exactness, have robbed the poor thing of its original life and vigor.

There is in Norway an exaggeration of the nationalistic idea. There is a tendency to exclude foreign capital and foreign enterprise. This language deal seems another ultra-nationalistic extravagance. Fortunately for the present it appears to be nothing but a temporary ecstasy of temporarily predominant peasants. The whole future of Norway consists in its Europeanization.


Unknown said...

It is a lot of fun to read those political arguments. To decrease the prestige (and popular support) of a proposed language standard, it is a common tactics to argue that it is not natural or authentic.

Implicit in such arguments is that "artificiality" (whatever that means) implies sacrificing the "beauty" and "life" of a language (whatever that means) to achieve "order" and "exactness" (whatever that means), both of which -- the argument continues -- are "boring" and "lifeless" characteristics when we talk about languages.

It is thus not surprising that the same kind of appeal to emotion is made when people are offered a conIAL as a proposed lingua franca for the world.

By the way, it doesn't seem to me that the standard register of any of the major European languages is "natural" (native) to anyone.

For instance, I bet that no native English-speaking, 7-years-old child speaks with a syntax exactly like the one a grammar book prescribes. If we were to analyse her speech, we would see that there is a lot of internal variation and differences with respect to standard English. Not surprising either; she is native in the English dialect spoken in her local speech community, which differs a bit from the standard English dialect.

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