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The Norwegian Language, a Cousin of Danish and Swedish

The Norwegian Language, a Cousin of Danish and Swedish
on May, 16 2013

Planning a trip to beautiful Scandinavian Kingdom of Norway? Then learning a few Norwegian words is a must!

Hallo, Ha det, Unnskyld meg, Vaer sa snill and Takk

These are just some of the words you’re likely to use when visiting Norway. These translate to:

Hello, goodbye, excuse me, please and thank you

The Kingdom of Norway, known as Kongeriket Norge or Kongeriket Noreg, is a Scandinavian monarchy. It is bordered by the countries of Finland, Sweden and Russia. With some five million people, it is one of the least densely populated countries in Europe, leaving Norwegians much space to go about their business. At the same time, Norway is one of the highest-per capita countries in the world, as it is the world’s largest producer of natural gas and oil following the Middle East. With all that money and space to go about living, the people enjoy life more than most anywhere on the planet. Norwegians enjoy having the highest human development index anywhere in the world. No wonder it is often regarded as the best country in the world to live in.

The people of Norway are of North Germanic descent. The Sami people are the traditional inhabitants of the northern as well as the central portions of the country, something they share with the people of Finland, Russia and Sweden. Just like many other countries, immigration has influenced the language and culture of Norway. There are now over 100 dialects and languages spoken in the country.

North Germanic Norwegian language

Norwegian is very similar to German and the language shares many characteristics with other languages from neighboring countries. However, deviations emerged some time in the 14th century. The language evolved from the Old Norse language, thanks to the influence of the Vikings. When Christianity spread to the region, the vernacular made the shift from a runic alphabet to the Latin script.

Bokmål (which translates to book tongue) and Nynorsk (which translates to New Norwegian) are the two official written forms of Norway’s official language. About 4.7 million people speak Norwegian around the world. In 2005 15% of Norway’s population use Nynorsk while 91.8% use Bokmål. Bokmål is also the standard Norwegian that is taught to foreign students who want to learn the language.


Bokmål can be traced to Dano-Norwegian roots and is the dialect of choice in the eastern parts of the country. Those going to the capital of Oslo and many other major towns will find that Bokmål is the main language used. The majority of school age children are taught Bokmål, comprising as much as 86% of primary and secondary school students.


On the other hand, New Norwegian only evolved in the 19th century, when linguist Ivar Aasen developed it in the 1850s based on the different dialects in the country. Nynorsk is heard mostly on the western portions of Norway, and it is the language used in government, media, church and literature. In the early 20th century, Nynorsk and Bokmål were merged in some manner, evolving into Samnorsk, or “common Norwegian” although this did not officially take off. Today, both languages are officially recognized in the country.

The language

The Norwegian language shares many similarities to Swedish, Danish and Scandinavian languages. The bulk of the vocabulary words of Norwegian are from Old Norse. In terms of phonetic sounds, it is similar to Swedish. It also shares the same pitch accent. In terms of spelling, many of the words are similarly written.

The Norwegian alphabet also carries more letters (a total of 29 letters) than the English alphabet. This is because of the letters æ, ø and å.

At the same time, certain letters of the Norwegian alphabet are only used for loan words. These are the letters c, q, w, x and z.

Nouns also have a gender, much like other Indo-European languages. There are three genders in the language, masculine, feminine and neuter. In Bokmål, there are two genders, common and neuter since feminine nouns are now written as masculine nouns.

As an example, here are the some of the differences between Bokmål and Nynorsk.

Ivar Aasen

The new written Norwegian language is largely credited to Ivar Aasen, a modern Renaissance man who was born as the son of a peasant farmer in 1813. He was considered a lexicographer, philosopher, poet and playwright as well as a philologist. He was a self-taught linguist who started his work at the young age of 22.

He studied the various dialects in the country, and later published his work between 1848 and 1873, calling the language Landsmaal, which translates to “national language.” The same term is used to refer to “rural language.” Aasen’s work was published in 1848 in “Det Norske Folkesprogs Grammatik” or Grammar of the Norwegian Dialects, which was intended to merge the Norwegian language with Dano-Norwegian language. Today, there is the Ivar Aasen-tunet, which is an institution that celebrates the Nynorsk language of the country.

Speak it to become a citizen

The people of Norway give so much importance to their language. It is a must for those applying for Norwegian citizenship to learn to speak Norwegian before being granted citizenship. Proof of having attended at least 300 hours of Norwegian languages classes may be provided.

A language advisory board

Norway has the Norwegian Language Council, an official advisory board that oversees the language of the country. In collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, the language’s grammar, spelling and vocabulary are preserved, monitored or modified by the council.

English is used

English is taught as a foreign language to young Norwegian school-age children. Other foreign languages taught are German, Spanish and French, making many Norwegians fluent in various languages.

Borrowed words from Norway

Indeed, Norwegian remains an interesting language. In fact, some Norwegian words have found their way into the English language such as krill (a small shrimp), kraken (giant squid), fjord (a deep inlet of water located in a valley between high cliffs), ski (the plank of wood used for skiing), slalom (downhill skiing), lemming (a rodent species), floe (river ice slide), brisling (type of small fish) and ombudsman (a government-appointed official).

For those who wish to learn, there are many language centers that teach Norwegian. Many guidebooks also offer basic words and phrases to be used by travelers to Norway.

If all else fails, you can always say,

“Jeg forstår ikke”
(which means, “I do not understand.”)

Do not forget to say

“Tusen takk!”
(to express your profound thanks)

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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