Differences between the two Norwegian standards Bokmål and Nynorsk

Monday, September 15, 2008

Map of the official language forms of Norwegian municipalities as of 2007

There is almost no information on Norwegian in Korean at present - in a big bookstore like Bandi & Luni's for example there's a total of two books on the language and no dictionaries. Luckily one of them is cheap and not too bad, and also has an example near the end of the differences between Bokmål (the standard used by some 90% of the country) and Nynorsk (the other standard based on the dialects found around the country).

Here's the example the book gives on the differences between the two, a text written by Leif Mæhle, a professor of Nynorsk Literature at the University of Oslo. The words that are different in Nynorsk from Bokmål are in bold.

Bokmål Nynorsk English
Språksituasjonen in Norge
Språksituasjonen i Noreg
The language situation in Norway
Det kan nok synes forvirrende for utlendinger, når de får vite at det finnes to former av norsk språk -- to offisielt likestilte former, bokmål og nynorsk.
Det kan nok synast forvirrande for utlendingar, nar dei får vite at det finst to former av norsk språk -- to offisielt likestilte former, bokmål og nynorsk.
It might seem confusing for foreigners, when they are told that there are two forms of Norwegian -- two official equal forms, bokmål and nynorsk.
Hva er bakgrunnen for dette?
Kva er bakgrunnen for dette?
What is the background for this?
I den lange perioden da Danmark og Norge var i union (ca 400 år), trengte dansk inn som skriftspråk i Norge og da denne unionen ble oppløst i 1814, skrev nordmennene nesten rent dansk.
I den lange perioden da Danmark og Norge var i union (ca 400 år), trengde dansk inn som skriftspråk i Noreg og da denne unionen vart oppløyst i 1814, skreiv nordmennene nesten reint dansk.
In the long period when Denmark and Norway were in union (around 400 years), Danish was required as a written language in Norway and when the union was dissolved in 1814, almost all Norwegians wrote purely in Danish.
Det var en sterk nasjonal stemning i den unge norske staten på 1800-tallet og mange begynte å arbeide for et eget norsk skriftspråk, bygd på talespråket.
Det var ei sterk nasjonal stemning i den unge norske staten på 1800-talet og mange begynte å arbeide for eit eige norsk skriftspråk, bygd på talespraket.
There was a strong national mood in the young Norwegian state in the 1800s and many began to work for their own Norwegian written language, built on the spoken language.
Men for å komme til dette målet, gikk nordmennene to forskjellige veier.
Men for å kome til dette målet, gjekk nordmennene to forskjellige vegar.
But to get to this goal, Norwegians went two different ways.
Det er disse to veiene som har ført fram til de to språkformene vi har i dag -- Bokmål, som er resultatet av den gradvide fornorskningen av det opprinnelig danske skriftspråket i Norge, og Nynorsk, som er et skriftspråk bygd på det som er felles i dialektene rundt om i landet.
Det er desse to vegane som har ført fram til dei to språkformene vi har i dag -- Bokmål, som er resultatet av den gradvise fornorskinga av det opphavleg danske skriftspråket i Noreg, og Nynorsk, som er eit skriftspråk bygd på det som er felles i dialektane rundt om i landet.
It is these two roads that have led to the two language forms we have today -- Bokmål, which is the result of the original Danish written language in Norway, and Nynorsk, which is a written language built on that found in the dialects around the country.

From a purely language-learning point of view, Nynorsk is harder to learn than Bokmål given the extra gender (Bokmål technically has three but you don't really have to concern yourself with the feminine gender as a student) and more complex formation of the plural in particular.

The book also gives the following progression from urnordisk (the original Viking language from 800-1050) to the modern Scandinavian languages in terms of similarity as follows:

Urnordisk .=. Icelandic > Nynorsk > Swedish > Danish > Bokmål with 2 genders


Urnordisk .=. Icelandic > Nynorsk > Swedish > Bokmål with 3 genders > Danish

So Bokmål with 2 genders (the type of Norwegian most commonly taught) is the farthest away from the original Urnordisk but also the easiest to learn for an English speaker in my opinion.

All this talk about different forms for the language can scare people away from learning the language though, but I wouldn't worry about it: reading Nynorsk is no harder for a person that knows Bokmål to read than English written in a dialect, and given that Bokmål is used in urban areas and most people that go to a place like Norway to live for a long period of time will likely be doing so because of a job offering (most of which are located in large cities), there's no real need to give it that much thought besides recognizing in general how the two can differ. Kva for hva, plurals will often end in -ar instead of -er, and that sort of thing.

Don't forget that a language like German has a ton of regional and national variations too, and that doesn't stop anybody from learning it either. In fact, with three national standards (standard German, Austrian German, Swiss German) and over 30 regional variations, I would submit that Norwegian is actually a much more unified language than German is. A lot of these varieties of German are considered to be their own languages and have their own Wikipedias, whereas in Norwegian there are only two Wikipedias. Behold the 35 regional variations of German:

Wikipedia gives a list of 20 Norwegian dialects, less than the 35 given for German. 20 vs. 35 is still a lot of dialects and there's no 100% workable definition on what constitutes a dialect and what doesn't, but suffice to say that languages in Europe all have a very distinct character by region and if the argument is to be made that a language like Norwegian (Danish too by the way) isn't worth learning because of the number of dialects, then it has to be made for languages like German too.


Norwegian guy said...

Urnordisk is called Proto-Norse in English. It was spoken before 800. The language of the vikings where Norse.

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