Norwegian Language Blog

English language in Norway Posted by on Apr 30, 2010 in Culture, Language, Norway and the world

I have written on this topic before and I imagine I will again; the use of engelsk (English) in Norway continues to rise.  Engelsk is used increasingly in høyere utdannelse (higher education), forskning (research), arbeidsplass (work place) and daglig språk (daily language).  Requirements for English proficiency are on the rise at schools and in the job market.   As a result, kompetanse (competance) in det engelske språket (the English language) has increased.  Norwegians want to keep up with their fellow Norwegians and with foreigners who also speak engelsk in order to remain konkurransedyktig (competitive).

To give you an example of just how serious this movement is, the Norwegian company Statoil recently informed all of it’s suppliers that it would no longer use det norske språket (the Norwegian language) when conducting business.  All kontrakter (contracts) and fakturaer (invoices) will now be submitted på engelsk.  Statoil’s explanation for this bold change is that the company will save money in that they will no longer need to oversette (translate) everything back and forth.  Statoil is a global company, so why not use a global language, they say?

For one, there is certainly more room for misforståelse (misunderstanding), as well as an adverse reaction from the Norwegian people.  Many fear that norsk er i fare (Norwegian is in danger).  Naturally, the more engelsk that is used in alle samfunnsområder (all areas of society) means that norsk is used less and less.  Not only has the sheer volume of norsk used in daily life decreased, but the composure has changed as well. 

Even inside the Norwegian language, we are finding engelske ord (English words), or engelske ord that have been Norwegianized (I think I may have just made that word up).  And even beyond that, the struktur (structure) of words is actually changing!  For example, as many of you have gathered, Norwegian, like German, uses many compound words, such as sidevei (side road), nasjonaldag (national day), and vinglass (wine glass), whereas their English counterparts split the words up. 

 Ok, so where am I going with this?  Let’s take a look at another word: sukkerbiter (little bits of sugar).  To anglicize the word, Norwegians have started to split the words up, resulting in sukker biter (sugar bites), which is confusing because it seems like the sugar is biting something!  Potential for more misforståelser…..even expressions are being directly translated from English to Norwegian.  Expressions never sound right when they are directly translated.

I understand the logistics involved in international companies using engelsk to communicate with their business partners and such, but there’s a line to draw somewhere, isn’t there?  Is language not a sacred and valuable part of a culture anymore?

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About the Author: kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!


  1. BM:

    My girlfriend used to work for an international energy brokerage firm in Bergen. There’s supposed work-language was English, but every Norwegian spoke to every other Norwegian in Norwegian anyway. The only time English was really used was in documents and job titles.

    The English used in job titles was a particular source of humour, since you can’t just translate Norwegian job titles to English and have them make sense. No-one told this company.

  2. BM:

    You may find this book interesting:

    “Norsk er et lite språk som er i ferd med å dø ut, og andre myter om språk ”

  3. Lydia:

    Languages are live things – they constantly evolve. Norway’s location might have kept its language more static for a while, but some aspects of culture are international, and involvement means change.

    It’s unfortunate that it seems to be moving in a way that leads to more misunderstanding – but if it truly causes problems, those bits will most likely de-evolve back to the original way of saying things.

  4. LBH:

    as Lydia notes, languages change. More importantly, languages influence other languages and are themselves influenced. No modern language got to be where it is today without being altered by others, and most official languages got to be where they are by (often deliberately and with state help) destroying rival languages/dialects. My grandfather has lived outside of Norway for 60 years, and increasingly find that on trips home young people cannot understand him because he speaks his old rural dialect.

    We can’t just take a moment in time and freeze it, and say that the language, at that moment, is somehow most special and important. That is ridiculous. English certainly doesn’t do that, it is evolving constantly and taking in concepts and words from other languages, and has done for its entire existence! English is just the mongrel child of a dozen other languages (including Old Norse), all fused together over time.

    So I guess there’s a little poetry to English being the language that’s doing this to Norwegian.

  5. Stan:

    So like with languages, people should simply get over the fact that flora and fauna are being eradicated because the “world evolves and always changes”. Riiiight? A language should be taken care of. Thats the beauty of the world. How disturbing to think that eventually ones language, and large part of ones identity, should just be neglected. Everyone speaking the same language is dystopic. If something is worth preserving, it should be preserved. And English shouldn’t be anybody’s example of what a language should look like.

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    i am in japan now but i am Nepali.i want to learn english language in norway .

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