Norwegian Language Blog

Norwegian Dialects Posted by on Apr 13, 2010 in Culture, Language

The question: ”Snakker du norsk?”  (”Do you speak Norwegian?”) should almost always be followed by another question: ”Hvilken dialekt?” (”Which dialect?”).  There are 2 official written Norwegian languages, bokmål (literally book language) and nynorsk (literally new Norwegian).  Although Norwegian dialects are commonly organized in 5 main groups: nordnorsk (northern Norwegian), trøndersk (Trøndelag Norwegian), innlandsmål (Midland Norwegian), vestnorsk (western Norwegian), and østnorsk (easter Norwegian)….who knows how many dialekter there are, hundreds perhaps.

Hundreds of years ago the Norwegian landscape, coupled with the  lack of sophisticated modes of transportation resulted in little contact between people in different communities.  Fjellene og fjordene (the mountains and the fjords) separated people.  Therefore, each community developed their own form of spoken Norwegian.  Grammar, vocabulary, syntax, and accent are all features that differ from dialekt to dialekt.

Unlike the many different accents in the United States (Texas, Boston, New York, Louisiana, Minnesota, etc.), Norwegian dialekter can differ so much that even Norwegians have difficulty understanding other Norwegians, depending on the dialekt.  For instance, there was a girl in my history class at the University of Oslo who was from Valdres (which is considered Midland Norwegian) and it was extremely difficult for me to understand her.  Some of the words she used were completely foreign to me.  I remember hearing about how different dialekter can be, but I didn’t really understand it until I lived there, heard many different dialekter, and struggled to understand some.

If you speak bokmål and have spent any time in Oslo, perhaps you’d be interested in taking a quiz to find out which Oslo-dialekt you speak.  Two Norwegian grad students at the University of Oslo, Karine Stjernholm and Ingunn Indrebø, are conducting a research project that will shed light on the spoken languages in Oslo.  Some questions that the girls hope the study provides answers to are:  Is Oslo still a split language city?  Do people from the eastern part of Olso and the western part of Oslo say certain words differently?  How have newcomers to the city contributed to change in the dialkter spoken in Oslo?

Indrebø and Stjernholm, both Linguists, explain that ‘språk lager identitet’ (language makes identity).  We all speak differently depending on the situation we are in.  I know that I speak differently around my friends than I do when I’m at work or talking to an elderly relative.  If I changed jobs, I would probably speak a little different yet.  Language often reflects sociodemographics, gender, education, industry.  The two girls are especially curious to find out how slang differs from area to area within the city of Oslo.  Slang in the eastern part of the city is heavily influenced by Arabic and Turkish, for example.  In the west, English is very influential.

I find it fascinating to learn about how and why language evolves.  Check out the article about the study.  Click here to take the test and find how you really speak på norsk.

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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. Osvaldo:

    Hi, great post, could I translate it to Spanish and upload it to my site Tiempos Nordicos (Nordic Times)? It’s a news-blog in Spanish, which shares some info about the nordics and baltics. Thanks.

  2. Tom:

    Hi there:

    I would like to learn to read either Norwegian or Danish. The reason is my keen interest in Scandinavian authors such as Kierkegaard, Ibsen, Hamsun and Zapffe – particularly the last as very few of his works have been translated into English.

    Which should I learn? I understand that written Norwegian (bokmål) and Danish are quite similar. Are they mutually intelligible?

    I used to speak Icelandic as a kid and even studied Danish at school – but that was more than 25 years ago and I haven’t used either language much since. Still, hopefully this will help!


  3. BM:


    Bokmål and written Danish are asymmetrically intelligible. Norwegians find it much easier to read and understand Danish than the other way round.

    Goosken’s fun 2007 paper, finding out whether Norwegians understood Danish or English the best found that Norwegian could understand about 89% of what was written in Danish (so about 1 in 10 words were “lost”).

    Delsing and Åkesson did a fuller study, and found that in two tests of understanding the written language, Norwegians consistently out-performed Danes in understanding the others language.

    You’ve chosen two writers who wrote in Danish, and two who wrote in Norwegian (one who was very influential in the “invention” of Norwegian to boot). I don’t think the stuff they wrote is published in their hand, so to speak, but rather published in a modernised, normalised form.

    So, take from this information what you will, and remember that it is only based on reading. If you want speaking, that’s a whole different matter!