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Norwegian Egozones Posted by on Aug 30, 2014 in Geography, Pronunciation

This is going to be the egoistical post. We all need to talk about ourselves now and then, so we need a word for ”I”. This is easy enough in written Norwegian – jeg (let’s stick to bokmål for the time being!) Jeg lærer norsk. (I’m learning Norwegian.)

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”I hate Norway” written in nynorsk. Thanks to Aslak Raanes on Flickr. (”Must be irony,” as he writes.)

If you’ve ever heard somebody saying jeg the way it’s written – ”yegh” – then you’ve probably met a Martian or something! The word for ”I” is pronounced in a dozen different ways, depending on the part of Norway you’re from. Even as a foreigner you have to ”choose your region”. Most people go for the Oslo variety, but I know people who’ve moved to other parts of Norway and tried to learn the local dialect instead.

Okay, this is a gross simplification, but if we leave out the niceties, one could say Norway has three major ”ego regions”: The places where people say jeg [yay], the places where they say eg [egh], and the places where you refer to yourself by letting out an æ [a]. Østlandet (Eastern Norway), in particular the Oslo area, are the strongholds of jeg, while Vestlandet (Western Norway) is the traditional eg sphere. Put crudely, the remaining parts of Norway – Sørlandet, Trøndelag and Nordnorge – go for æ.

(If you’ve been following this blog, you should know that there are two official ways to write Norwegian: bokmål – which is being taught here – and nynorsk. In nynorsk, ”I” is always eg. Most nynorsk users live in Western Norway. Hm… The poor æ-sayers, on the other hand, have no official support for their favourite pronoun!)

Alrighty then! You’ve picked your local identity. Now, how do you talk about ”me”? That’s easy – just add an m: jeg > meg [may], eg > meg [megh], æ > [ma]. Jeg har fått meg ny bil./Eg har fått meg ny bil./Æ har fått mæ ny bil. (I’ve gotten myself a new car.)

In real life things are a bit more complicated. For example, some østlendinger (Eastern Norwegians) say je [yeh]. Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Norwegian PM, called himself i [e!], as people in his hometown of Molde usually do.

So, if you’re tired of all the people around you that only say ”I – I – I…”, maybe you should go on an ego trip to Norway!

 

A nice children’s song demonstrating æ:

M – Æ så en liten grønn frosk en gang… (M – I saw a small green frog once…)

Try this at home!

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


Comments:

  1. Mona:

    Don’t forget those that says ” je”. Norwegian is truly a confusing language to teach but very simple when you are born to it. Mona

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Mona Well, the text does mention ”je” somewhere… 😉

  2. Maggie:

    Is this always the case with meg?

    I have friends in Alta that say jeg like “yay” – but didn’t think to figure out if they were also rhyming meg and deg with “yay”…

  3. Henry:

    Bjørn,

    I love reading your articles as I am a beginner for Norwegian. One problem is that I’m Deaf and will not able to hear other people speak in Norwegian. So I am trying to find a list on how to pronounce by each letter as well as word like for example, kvinden, hjernen, and so on. Is there a possible way to have all of them with pronunciation in brackets as you did with your other blogs? It really does help me to pronounce while reading than hearing it. It would be much appreciated as I want to learn this language before I come to Oslo University somewhere in 2017 for PhD in Celtic and Viking Archaeology. Oh, I’ll be learning Norwegian Sign Language too. They’re both very beneficial for me. Takke!!
    Henry

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Henry Hello Henry,

      first of all, I must admit, I never thought about Deaf readers. Thank you for crying out! 🙂
      Norwegian, as a rule, is pronounced more or less as it is written. But you’re right – there are exceptions. I don’t like to add brackets after ”evident words” such as SNØ or IS or VANN (supposing the readers know something about the basics?) However, I’ll try to remember what you wrote me, and use brackets more often for those words where they are needed.
      Good luck with your studies, phd+Celts+Vikings, that sounds absolutely marvellous to me. 😀
      Bjørn

  4. Elise Aasen:

    Just to add to the confusion:
    Here in Ålesund on the west coast we say e (é, no diphtong). In the rest of the Sunnmøre district it’s ej (ey). In Romsdal a bit further north/east they say i (ee). Makes it easy to tell where people are from!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Elise Aasen @Elise
      Takk for opplysningen! Thank you for the information!
      You learn something new everyday. 🙂