Norwegians Speak Dialects

Posted on 15. Mar, 2015 by in History, Language, Politics


Fish village. (Photo by This Pilgrim’s Progress at Flickr, CC License.)

”I don’t understand people who speak Nynorsk Norwegian, why can’t they just switch to Bokmål Norwegian?” Now and then, readers ask such things. I’ve written about the nynorsk/bokmål split before. Of course, it may still be confusing for new learners of Norwegian. So, I’d like to set the record straight as simply as I can:

Norwegians speak Norwegian dialects. They write Bokmål Norwegian or Nynorsk Norwegian.

In other words, nobody really ”speaks” Nynorsk or Bokmål! :-)

They’re just two different ways of putting down what Norwegians say and think in writing. Think about someone from Yorkshire who’s speaking a traditional Yorkshire dialect of English. When writing an e-mail, she’ll probably write it in Standard English. The same thing happens in Norway, except that everybody speaks a dialect and has two choose between two ”Standard Norwegians” when firing off that e-mail!

Admitted, some Norwegian dialects – especially in Bergen and in the Oslo area – are very close to written bokmål, so some people will say that they do ”speak Bokmål”, even if that is not entirely accurate. And some nyhetsopplesere (news presenters) and skuespillere (actors) do ”speak Nynorsk” in their jobs – but switch to dialect when they get back home. (Just like people at the BBC maybe don’t speak BBC English with their families…)

As I’ve shown you before, Bokmål and Nynorsk are quite close to each other – after all, they both represent Norwegian! (Just think about how Americans write color while Britons write colour.) The differences boil down to a handful of token words such as jeg vs. eg for ’I’, as well as some variations in vowels and inflections:

Bokmål: Jeg liker ikke eplebiter i grøten. (I don’t like pieces of apple in the [my] porridge.)

Nynorsk: Eg liker ikkje eplebitar i grauten. 

Every Norwegian has to learn both ways of writing in school. 8 % of the people enrolled in the Norwegian army in 2014 said nynorsk was their main målform (”language variety”), so bokmål is clearly dominant. Still, many people speak a dialect that’s closer to nynorsk. To these people, bokmål feels a bit foreign, while nynorsk feels a bit closer to the heart. In social media such as Facebook, many Norwegians avoid the ”language conflict” entirely, trying to write in their local dialect instead!

Many Norwegian kommuner (municipalities, ”townships”) have chosen an official målform, while some are ”neutral”. This map should tell you why many people associate nynorsk with Vestlandet (Western Norway):

Red = bokmål; blue = nynorsk; grey = neutral. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC License.)

Red = bokmål; blue = nynorsk; grey = neutral. (Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC License.)

Why are there two ”Standard Norwegians”?

In 1814, Norway left a political union with Denmark (only to enter a new union with Sweden). For four centuries, Norway had been ruled by Danish kings. Old Norwegian (which was almost identical to Icelandic) had died out as a written language, and people were writing their documents in Danish instead. The hunt for a new Norwegian writing system began…

• Knud Knudsen wanted to write Norwegian as spoken (by the upper clases) in cities like Oslo, where the dialects had been most exposed to Danish. This led to the (gradual) creation of bokmål. (And now you know why Danish looks so similar to Norwegian!)

• Ivar Aasen wanted to write Norwegian as spoken (by farmers, fishermen…) in the rural districts. He travelled around in the countryside, collecting words and expressions from many dialects who had been less influenced by Danish. From this cocktail he created nynorsk.

Got it? :-)

Big and Small

Posted on 28. Feb, 2015 by in Grammar

Courtesy of Open Clipart

Courtesy of Open Clipart

The Norwegian words for ’big’ and ’small’ are a bit more complex than your average adjective. Let’s start with stor, which covers most instances where you’d use the words big or large in English:

en stor tanke (a big thought) – den store tanken (the big thought) – tanken er stor (the thought is big)

ei stor jente (a big girl) – den store jenta (the big girl) – jenta er stor (the girl is big)

et stort fjell (a big mountain) – det store fjellet (the big mountain) – fjellet er stort (the mountain is big)

store katter (big cats) – kattene er store (the cats are big)

(As you already know, a -t is usually added to adjectives describing neuter nouns, while an -e is added to adjectives describing both plural nouns and definite nouns, that is, nouns that ”singled out” somehow: dette store fjellet – this big mountain [and not another one]; Karis store tanke – Kari’s big thought [and not someone else’s].)

Okay, that’s still like most Norwegian adjectives would behave – but look at ’bigger’, ’biggest’: større, størst:

fjellene er større i Sogn og Fjordane (the mountains are bigger in Sogn og Fjordane)

Oslo er den største byen i Norge (Oslo is the biggest city in Norway)


The word for ’little, small’ is totally messed up – it’s liten in the masculine, lita in the feminine, lite in the neuter:

en liten gutt (a little boy)

ei lita jente (a little girl)  – – Please note that many people tend to ”go masculine” in writing, expressing things like jenta er liten, which is felt to be more ”formal” than jenta er liten!

• et lite barn (a small child)

However, this word becomes lille when describing definite nouns:

den lille gutten (the little boy)

den lille jenta (the little girl)

det lille barnet (the little child)

(Some people also use the word vesle here – it’s very Nynorsk-ish: den vesle gutten, den vesle jenta, det vesle barnet.)

And, even weirder, ’little’ is små whenever plural nouns are described:

barna er små (the children are small/little)

jeg liker de små bygdene (I like the small villages)

The word små can be ”re-singularized” as smått (”something small”), which is used in some fixed expressions:

det er smått med penger (there’s little money [left])

smått om senn (little by little)

Føler du deg litt forvirret nå? (Feeling a bit confused now?)

Don’t worry, were almost there. The only thing lacking is ’smaller – smallest’: mindre – minst:

bygdene er mindre i Nordnorge (the villages are smaller in Northern Norway)

sist, men ikke minst: (last, but not least:)

Norwegian pick-up lines

Posted on 14. Feb, 2015 by in Leisure

(Photo by Simon at Flickr, Creative Commons License.)

(Photo by Simon at Flickr, Creative Commons License.)

It’s that time of year again! Thanks to the Norwegians’ great kjærlighet [”SHARE”-leeghet] for American traditions, many par (couples) in the country are buying hverandre [vare-ANDreh] (each other) blomster (flowers), sjokolade [SHOCK-oh-lahdeh], kinobilletter (cinema tickets) and what not to celebrate Valentinsdagen. But what about all those people who haven’t got a kjæreste (girlfriend/boyfriend), an elsker (lover) or an ektefelle (spouse)? Below is a bit of romantic small-talk, mixed with a few sjekkereplikker (pick-up lines)…

Hei! Er det du! (Hi! Is it you!)

Tror du på kjærlighet ved første blikk? (Do you believe in love at first sight?)

Har ikke vi sett hverandre før? (Haven’t we seen each other before?)

Hva er passordet ditt? (What’s your password?)

Du er han/hun fra… (You’re the guy/girl from…)

Kommer du ofte her? (Do you often come here?)

Jeg er fra USA/Skottland/Australia… (I’m from the US/Scotland/Australia…)

Kan jeg sitte her? (May I sit here?)

Røyker du? (Do you smoke?)

Blir du med ut og tar en røyk? (Fancy going out for a smoke?)

Har du fyr? (Got fire?)

Tror du på skjebnen? (Do you believe in destiny?)

Trener du mye? (Do you do a lot of work-out?)

Du ser søt ut!  (You look cute!)

Du har vakre øyne. (You’ve got beautiful eyes.)

Kom, dans med meg! (Come on, dance with me!)

Vil du danse? (Wanna dance?)

Skal vi danse? (Shall we dance?)

Er det ikke ensomt å være på utveksling? (Isn’t it lonely to be on exchange?)

Har du en kjæreste? (Have you got a girlfriend/boyfriend?)

Nei, jeg er singel. (No, I’m single.)

Vil du bli med meg hjem? (Wanna come home with me?)

Hos meg eller deg? (My place or your place?)

Kan jeg få telefonnummeret ditt? (Can I get your phone number?)

Jeg har mistet telefonnummeret mitt… Kan jeg få ditt? (I’ve lost my phone number… Can I get yours?)

Gjorde det vondt da du falt ned fra himmelen? (Did it hurt when you fell down from Heaven?)

Jeg liker deg… (I like you…)

Jeg elsker deg. (I love you.)

And finally, the classic:

Vil du bli med meg hjem og se frimerkesamlingen min? (Wanna come home to me and see my collection of stamps?)

I can’t guarantee that any of these lines will work, but if you say them with a fun, foreign accent, I’m sure you’ll get a laugh … and maybe den neste dansen (the next dance)!