Nobel Prize winner Jon Fosse writes in Nynorsk, a minority writing system

« previous post | next post »

"The Nobel literature prize goes to Norway’s Jon Fosse, who once wrote a novel in a single sentence"


While Fosse is the fourth Norwegian writer to get the Nobel literature prize, he is the first in nearly a century and the first who writes in Nynorsk, one of the two official written versions of the Norwegian language. It is used by just 10% of the country’s 5.4 million people, according to the Language Council of Norway, but completely understandable to users of the other written form, Bokmaal.

Guy Puzey, senior lecturer in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, said that Bokmaal is “the language of power, it’s the language of urban centers, of the press.” Nynorsk, by contrast, is used mainly by people in rural western Norway.

“So it’s a really big day for a minority language,” Puzey said

His first novel, “Red, Black,” was published in 1983, and his debut play, “Someone is Going to Come,” in 1992.

His work “A New Name: Septology VI-VII” — described by Olsson as Fosse’s magnum opus — was a finalist for the International Booker Prize in 2022. The final volume in a seven-novel exploration of life, death and spirituality contains no sentence breaks.

His other major prose works include “Melancholy;” “Morning and Evening,” whose two parts depict a birth and a death; “Wakefulness;” and “Olav’s Dreams.”

His plays, which have been staged across Europe and in the United States, include “The Name,” “Dream of Autumn” and “I am the Wind.”

Bokmaal / Bokmål

Bokmål (Urban East Norwegian: [ˈbûːkmoːɫ] ) (UK: /ˈbkmɔːl/, US: /ˈbʊk-, ˈbk-/; lit. 'book tongue') is an official written standard for the Norwegian language, alongside Nynorsk. Bokmål is the preferred written standard of Norwegian for 85% to 90% of the population in Norway. There is no nationwide standard or agreement on the pronunciation of Bokmål.

Bokmål is regulated by the governmental Language Council of Norway. A related, more conservative orthographic standard, commonly known as Riksmål, is regulated by the non-governmental Norwegian Academy for Language and Literature. The written standard is a Norwegianised variety of the Danish language.

The first Bokmål orthography was officially adopted in 1907 under the name Riksmål after being under development since 1879. The architects behind the reform were Marius Nygaard and Jacob Jonathan Aars. It was an adaptation of written Danish, which was commonly used since the past union with Denmark, to the Dano-Norwegian koiné spoken by the Norwegian urban elite, especially in the capital. When the large conservative newspaper Aftenposten adopted the 1907 orthography in 1923, Danish writing was practically out of use in Norway. The name Bokmål was officially adopted in 1929 after a proposition to call the written language Dano-Norwegian lost by a single vote in the Lagting (a chamber in the Norwegian parliament).

The government does not regulate spoken Bokmål and recommends that normalised pronunciation should follow the phonology of the speaker's local dialect. Nevertheless, there is a spoken variety of Norwegian that, in the region of South-Eastern Norway, is commonly seen as the de facto standard for spoken Bokmål. In The Phonology of Norwegian, Gjert Kristoffersen writes that

Bokmål […] is in its most common variety looked upon as reflecting formal middle-class urban speech, especially that found in the eastern part of Southern Norway [sic], with the capital Oslo as the obvious centre. One can therefore say that Bokmål has a spoken realisation that one might call an unofficial standard spoken Norwegian. It is in fact often referred to as Standard Østnorsk ('Standard East Norwegian').

Standard Østnorsk (literally 'Standard East Norwegian', or sometimes described as 'Urban East Norwegian') is the pronunciation most commonly given in dictionaries. However, Standard Østnorsk as a spoken language is not used (and does not have prestige) outside South-Eastern Norway. All spoken variations of the Norwegian language are used in the Storting (parliament) and in Norwegian national broadcasters such as NRK and TV 2, even in cases where the conventions of Bokmål are used. The spoken variation typically reflects the region the speaker grew up in.



Nynorsk (Urban East Norwegian: [ˈnỳːnɔʂk] ) (lit. 'New Norwegian') is one of the two official written standards of the Norwegian language, the other being Bokmål. From 12 May 1885, it became the state-sanctioned version of Ivar Aasen's standard Norwegian language (Norwegian: Landsmål) parallel to the Dano-Norwegian written language (Riksmål). Nynorsk became the name in 1929, and it is after a series of reforms still a variation which is closer to Landsmål, whereas Bokmål is closer to Riksmål and Danish.

Between 10 and 15 percent of Norwegians (primarily in the west around the city of Bergen) have Nynorsk as their official language form, estimated by the number of students attending videregående skole (secondary education). Nynorsk is also taught as a mandatory subject in both high school and middle school for all Norwegians who do not have it as their own language form.


I remember that a place of honor in our humble family library in the rural northeast Ohio township of Osnaburg was held by the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy (1920-22), written by Sigrid Undset (1882-1947), the last Norwegian Nobel laureate in literature (1928) before Jon Fosse (2023).


Selected readings

[Thanks to John Rohsenow]


  1. Thomas said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 7:14 am

    With Norway not even reaching 6 million inhabitants and the "minority language" being equally understandable by everyone, this sounds like a bad case of balkanism to me. BCS can be one language if politics want it to be, but also three or four languages if the people want it that way. I'm no linguist, but I guess Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are probably in the same category. Something something army and navy. I do not understand how one can come to the verdict "a really big day for a minority language" here.

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 8:33 am

    I'm curious about the relationship between the statement that Nynorsk is "completely understandable to users of the other written form, Bokmaal" and the statement that "Nynorsk is also taught as a mandatory subject in both high school and middle school for all Norwegians who do not have it as their own language form." Would it be completely understandable to the Bokmål-users if they hadn't been taught it explicitly?

  3. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 8:44 am

    I don't think "writing system" is a good term for Nynorsk. Both Nynorsk and Bokmål use the Latin writing system. Note the terms used by the Wikipedia quotes…

  4. David Arthur said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 10:59 am

    I once saw a programme about Norway's dialects, where they took the head of the supporters' club for Bergen FC around town. Everyone (even the non-white immigrants!) agreed that he could never count as 'really' from Bergen, because he spoke Standard Østnorsk, having moved from Oslo as a child.

    Thomas: The Balkanisation goes well beyond the two written languages, as there is also significant dialectal variation in speech, which often has little connection to either Bokmål or Nynorsk. This is a problem for immigrants – if you learn Bokmål & Standard Østnorsk, many of the dialects will prove harder to understand than even Danish or Swedish. The number of grammatical genders isn't even constant across the country.

  5. David Marjanović said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 12:58 pm

    The number of grammatical genders isn't even constant across the country.

    Likewise in Denmark, where, further, there's variation in whether the definite article goes before its noun or is suffixed to it.

  6. Einar said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 1:35 pm

    @J.W. Brewer:
    Yes, it's understandable. It's more about writing it than understanding it. It's like reading a somewhat different spelling of English. You'd have little or no trouble reading and understanding, but you couldn't write it without training.

    Describing a different writing standard as a "minority language" seems quite extreme, and tying it to "rural" people seems off, since it's used in quite urban areas like Bergen and Stavanger, and Bokmål is used by at least as many non-urban people.

    Those western dialects are not considered "inferior" dialects. It's the norm for TV presenters and particularly meteorologists to be from Bergen. The Norwegian dialects that carry some social stigma akin to US "redneck" accents are from the northern Norway.

  7. Philip Anderson said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 3:07 pm

    Although Nynorsk can be understood by all Norwegians, it will still be recognisable as Nynorsk, and I can understand why seeing it not only in print but prize-winning is important to its speakers.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 4:07 pm

    From Christoph Anderl:

    Nynorsk is not a minority language but one of the two official languages of Norway. Besides Bokmål which is based on the Oslo dialect, Nynorsk is the second official language (not writing system; but, of course, its writing is different from Bokmål).

    Nynorsk is an "artificial" language which is meant to be inclusive, since it was created by picking elements from various dialects. Most Norwegians have a very ambivalent relationship to it, and many dislike it (especially the children who have to learn it in school ).

    I also write out of experience, since my daughter did not like Nynorsk in school. Also, some newspapers are written in Nynorsk, for me a bit irritating, since I cannot read it as smoothly as Bokmål. The distribution / acceptance of Nynorsk is also quite uneven, I think. If I am not mistaken, it is more accepted on the Westcoast (which is a "dialect area"), for example.

  9. Martin Holterman said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 4:32 pm

    I'm not a linguist, but that was essentially my understanding too. Nynorsk is like Norway's Katharevousa, an "artificial" language developed by people who thought Bokmål was too Danish, and that a proper independent Norwegian nation should have a proper Norwegian language. (See also the Hebrew revival from the late 19th century.) But yes, even though Nynorsk is mostly associated with the Western dialects, all of this is more about written Norwegian than about spoken Norwegian.

  10. Gunnar H said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 4:57 pm

    I would not agree, and don't think most Norwegians would agree, with Christoph Anderl's assertion that nynorsk and bokmål are "two official languages."

    In Norwegian they are referred to as målformer, which might best translate as "language varieties" or "language standards."

    Although bokmål and its associated urban dialects historically derive from Danish and were thus at one point a different language from native Norwegian (although a closely related one), hundreds of years of convergence and mixing has brought them so close, and has wiped out any clear dividing line between them, to the point where they are now better seen as one language with regional variations.

    At the same time, I think it's worth pointing out that while most everyday nynorsk in use today is quite understandable to those who write bokmål, older texts, particularly poetry, often use words that are completely unknown in bokmål, and can therefore be rather impenetrable.

  11. Gunnar H said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 5:34 pm

    @J.W. Brewer

    Would it be completely understandable to the Bokmål-users if they hadn't been taught it explicitly?

    Some degree of exposure is always going to be necessary to understand a dialect (or written standard) sufficiently different from your own. The relationship between nynorsk and bokmål is somewhat analogous to that between Scottish and British English (as spoken and written in England), but the two Norwegian standards are probably more similar to each other—at least more similar than the purest, most conservative form of Scots is to standard British English.

    @Martin Holterman:

    Nynorsk is like Norway's Katharevousa, an "artificial" language

    Any time a written language standard is created to cover a range of spoken dialects, some "artificial" synthesis and standardization is involved (for example in orthography, where a common spelling needs to be fixed for a word that may be realized in different ways in different dialects). Rather than Katharevousa, I would compare it to Homeric Greek: a literary merging of different dialects. Another important point about nynorsk is that the standard has been revised repeatedly, based on different philosophies and goals at various times, but largely away from conservative purity.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 5:52 pm

    I was reflecting that since Serious Literature is so marginal these days in terms of cultural/social impact, Fosse's Nobel doesn't make up for the fact that he has a much smaller international audience than let's say for instance his fellow Norwegian the rather notorious, convicted felon and author of outre heavy-metal lyrics. Of course many of Varg's lyrics are in English, the international language of metal (and other musical forms) — on a very quick scan they may or may not be your cup of tea but are not embarrassingly ESLish. As part of his pagan-revivalist and anti-Christian stance, he has apparently recorded some songs with Old Norse lyrics which thus sidestep the more recent Nynorsk/Bokmål distinction. He has also recorded some with modern Norwegian lyrics although I lack the competence to tell at sight from online transcriptions which orthographic-etc. standard they reflect. He is reportedly from Bergen, for whatever that's worth.

  13. David Marjanović said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 6:09 pm

    the standard has been revised repeatedly

    …with the fascinating consequence that all these versions remain available as archaizing registers, for example when you're trying to translate LOTR (and apparently succeeding wildly).

  14. M. said,

    October 7, 2023 @ 11:15 pm

    @ Jarek Weckwerth. "I don't think "writing system" is a good term for Nynorsk. Both Nynorsk and Bokmål use the Latin writing system."

    Maybe grapholect is the appropriate term here.

  15. Nathan Edwin Hopson said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 1:28 am

    As a relatively new transplant to Norway still struggling through intermediate Bokmål in the classroom and advanced Bergensk (Bergen dialect, which is closer to Nynorsk, but certainly not identical), I have been enjoying this thread.

    Nynorsk is pretty heavily promoted by Norwegian officialdom. About half of the articles on the website and app of NRK (, Norway's BBC/NHK, are in Nynorsk afaik. On the other hand, it's also nicknamed "Spynorsk" (spy = English "spew," so "Vomit Norwegian") and actively hated by many students who end up taking it in school.

    But all of this masks the more important truth, which is that both Bokmål and Nynorsk are *written language conventions*, and in reality everyone just speaks their own dialect without much or any attempt to conform to any one "standard" in the overwhelming majority of cases. Most of those fall more or less within the Bokmål-Nynorsk spectrum, to be sure, but for a country of 5.5 million, there's more linguistic variation than I think most people expect.

    On the other hand, the level of mutual intelligibility between Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians is pretty high, especially in writing. Though it's definitely impolitic to say so, in a disinterested and depoliticized/ahistorical context, it probably wouldn't be hard to argue that they're all topolects of a single "language." At least, it wouldn't be much harder than arguing the same about all the language diversity we group together under the "English" umbrella.

  16. Bybo said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 4:07 am

    In a discussion about linguistics rather than literature, the 2006 Nynorsk translation, by Eilev Groven Myhren, of Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' might be of interest here. It doesn't stick to the official Nynorsk standard but uses all kinds of (dialectal and historic) variation in order to convey different kinds of language uses. The elves, eg, talk in a way identical or very close to Ivar Aasen's 1864 norm, the hobbits in a rural dialect, etc. (My Norwegian is too poor to enjoy it for its literary value, but it's an interesting book nonetheless.)

    @J.W. Brewer:

    I don't know much about Vikernes's texts, and I refuse to dig into them. However, 'sidestepping the more recent Nynorsk/Bokmål distinction' seems to me a bit beside the point if the texts are not in modern Norwegian but in Old Norse—this is hardly more relevant to Norway's 20‍ᵗʰ and 21ᵗʰ century language question than if those songs (or neo-Nazi pamphlets or whatever) were in English (as most of them probably are). Be that as it may, I don't think Fosse has to 'make up for' anything regarding here. Louise Glück has, I wager, a much smaller international audience than Justin Bieber. Well, what of it.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 5:40 am

    I must say that I am enormously pleased by the discussion being carried out on this thread. It is one of the most illuminating things about the relationships among writing system / grapholect, speech, language, and dialect / topolect we've ever done on Language Log.

    And to think that it has resulted from the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature!

  18. Philip Anderson said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 8:30 am

    @Victor Mair
    I agree, and the differing views from Norway are enlightening, while showing that there can’t be a universal definition of Nynorsk.
    The Nobel prize is the only literature award I know of that is not language-specific. Some aren’t country-specific, but books still have to be written in English, or for others translated into English. The Welsh Book of the Year has separate categories for Welsh and English works, and English newspapers report the English category winners as the winners. Unexpectedly, the Welsh Poetry Prize explicitly excludes Welsh poetry, being a Welsh prize for English poetry.

  19. Tom Dawkes said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 9:06 am

    For a detailed view of language in Norway — though no doubt somewhat dated — read Einar Haugen's "Language Conflict and Language Planning: The Case of Modern Norwegian" (1966)

  20. Tom Dawkes said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 9:09 am

    On a cruise twenty years ago to Scandinavia, one of our Norwegian guides from a Western country district and a Nynorsk speaker said, when I asked her about the language situation, said "They hate us in Oslo"…

  21. Lars Skovlund said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 12:10 pm

    There is also Høgnorsk, which I've seen a few people write. It looks rather extreme through the eyes of this Dane.

  22. Victor Mair said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 1:29 pm

    @Lars Skovlund

    "Extreme" in what way? In the direction of Nynorsk?

  23. Bybo said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 1:48 pm

    Høgnorsk is purist in the sense of avoiding Low Saxon loanwords. This in itself sets Høgnorsk apart from Danish, which has really a lot of those words.

    Also, Høgnorsk has all those Norwegian grammatical features that Bokmål and the more common forms of Nynorsk don't have, arguably because of the influence of Danish. Three-gender system, full vowels in verb endings, maybe even a dative case (I'm not sure) …

    So, it's further from Danish not so much in the direction of Nynorsk (that would be a not so useful way of putting it, because Nynorsk itself is more of a spectrum), but in the direction of un-Danicised Norwegian.

    Or so I think, as a non-Norwegian layperson.

  24. Bybo said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 1:54 pm

    Well, come to think of it, I believe official Nynorsk and Bokmål do also have a three-gender system, or remnants thereof. Sorry.

  25. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 1:59 pm

    @Bybo: I'm not sure I would have picked Justin Bieber because I'm not confident of the extent to which he himself composes the lyrics he sings, but one could find any number of viewed-as-low-brow American rock-music lyricists who have much larger international audiences than e.g. W.S. Merwin. This is actually relevant to the world of ESL speakers, since in many countries they will have had much more substantial exposure to English via the registers used in song lyrics or movie dialogue etc etc than in any samples of Respectable English Literature they are assigned to read in their school English classes. And, indeed, they may be more subjectively motivated to learn to understand the English in those more pop-culture uses. Are there other languages which at present have an impact on those beyond their native speakers via similar channels? Maybe Spanish and French to a more limited extent? Italian only within the fairly narrow world of opera buffs? I have heard of American enthusiasts who have learned Japanese because of an obsession with anime or manga culture. Not necessarily a very numerous group, but probably more numerous than those who learned Japanese to be able to read Kenzaburō Ōe (to pick a Nobel laureate) in the original.

    When it comes to Scandinavian singers, at least since Abba's big international breakthrough via the 1974 Eurovision song contest it has been understood that singing in English is the royal road to potential international success, so I find it interesting when anyone deviates from that even in part. Obviously Vikernes' following is (perhaps fortunately) much smaller than Abba's, but also perhaps more likely to contain intense/obsessed individuals willing to try to figure out lyrics in a language they don't know. (My original post BTW may have been a bit unclear – I think the songs he has put out with Old Norse lyrics are just cut-and-pastes of excerpts from the Völuspá etc., as contrasted with others with some-variety-of-modern-Norwegian lyrics he may have composed himself.)

  26. Bybo said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 2:36 pm

    @J.W. Brewer:

    First: I don't know anything about Bieber except that he's a popular and apparently often derided American singer, that's why he came to my mind. I didn't intend to imply that he was comparable to the criminal Vikernes in any other way. I might have picked Michael Jackson (the singer, not the writer) instead of Justin Bieber, but then I'd have felt very old. ;)

    Anyway …

    As to other languages than English attracting learners via pop culture: Those you mentioned, plus maybe Korean, are certainly the most salient examples. (I'm writing this from the perspective of someone in Germany; I just don't know if, maybe, somewhere, people learn Portuguese because of Brazilian TV, or what have you.)

    Concerning the Scandinavian languages, you could actually have picked better examples than Burzum/Vikernes. Metal music is English-dominated but, compared to other forms of Western popular music, rather multilingual, and the Scandinavian languages are rather well-represented. Off the top of my hat, Finntroll (Swedish), Týr (Faeroese, Danish/Dano-Norwegian), Sólstafir (Icelandic), Kvelertak (Norwegian) have a considerable (for a metal band) following outside their linguistic area, and, anecdotically, a fondness for such music has indeed motivated people to learn a Scandinavian language.

    Of course, this is in no way comparable to the impact the English language has, not only, but also via pop culture. But then (again, talking about Germany), in these times, learning any foreign language except English is, I'd say, considered a hobby or an excentricity, not a serious undertaking, because 'everybody knows' that English is the only foreign language you need. Yes, schools still teach French, but you're not expected to speak even remotely passable French after finishing school; just as you're not expected to explain how a nuclear power plant works.

  27. Peter Grubtal said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 3:24 pm

    Peter Trudgill relates in "Sociolinguistics – An Introduction" (1974) how a weather forecaster on the Norwegian radio was sacked because he refused to use the Bokmål "snø" (for snow) instead of his preferred "sne". In the ensuing controversy he became known as the abominable snowman.

  28. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 3:42 pm

    @Bybo: Back in the Eighties there were at least two hit songs where the "auf Deutsch" version did surprisingly well (for a song not fully translated into English) in the U.S.: "Rock Me Amadeus" & "99 Luftballons." There were some others that did well in the U.S. only in English translation (e.g. "Da Da Da" & "Der Komissar"), but I have the vague impression that the German originals of those were hits in some non-German-speaking European markets. Does that still happen at all for sung-auf-Deutsch popular music, or has that possibility now been lost as a practical matter? I have the vague impression that German may have suffered even more than French in recent decades in terms of its prominence as a school-taught L2 in European countries where the L1 is neither, but I could be wrong about that.

  29. Bybo said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 3:52 pm

    @J.W. Brewer:

    Well, there's always Rammstein … (sigh)

  30. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 4:32 pm

    @Bybo. As you can perhaps tell I am by generation and current advanced age more of a Neue Deutsche Welle guy than a Neue Deutsche Härte guy. Of course back in the last days of Communist Yugoslavia you had the Neue Slowenische Kunst crowd, who deliberately chose a German rather than English monicker to distance themselves from Yugoslav-nationalist identity and rhetoric. A Slovenian name would presumably not have created the desired symbolic distance.

  31. Philip Anderson said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 4:41 pm

    Justin Bieber is actually Canadian, although the Canadians keep very quiet about it.

  32. John Swindle said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 7:17 pm

    South Korean pop culture (soap operas, boy bands) does seem to have generated interest in the Korean language in the USA, including in Hawaii among speakers of other East Asian languages. I don't particularly expect a big upsurge in interest in learning Norwegian, but you never know.

  33. Victor Mair said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 7:24 pm

    "Justin Bieber OK infix" (2/13/18)

  34. Bybo said,

    October 8, 2023 @ 7:39 pm

    @Philip Anderson

    Sorry, my bad, probably just assumed the man was American. And for all I know he might be a wonderful person, I just used his name as a bad (and after all rather unnecessary) example.

    (I thought there was a meme about most 'American' celebrities actually but secretly being Canadians, but all I can find right now is which isn't quite the same thing.)

  35. JOHN S ROHSENOW said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 1:08 am

    Perhaps I missed something in the linked wikipedia entry on 'Kristin Lavransdatter', the trilogy of historical novels written by Sigrid Undset that Victor's family had in their home,
    but I could find no mention of whether it was written/printed (in the early 1920s) in Nynorsk or Bokmaal. While the subject matter suggests the former, I wonder if it was then later 'translated' as it were, into the latter?

  36. Gunnar H said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 7:28 am

    'Kristin Lavransdatter' is written in riksmål, the forerunner of bokmål (and which continued to exist for much of the twentieth century as a rival, unofficial standard preferred by conservative writers and publications; nowadays it has in practice re-merged with bokmål).

    The subject matter of a novel does not normally determine the language standard used; the background of the author does. Sigrid Undset was Danish-born and grew up in Kristiania/Oslo, so she was naturally a riksmål/bokmål user.

    It is rare for books in Norwegian to be translated from bokmål to nynorsk or vice versa, and I suspect that doing so for "high literature" would in many cases be considered provocative if not outright offensive, with a feeling that the language standard used is an essential part of the work's literary integrity and of the writer's cultural identity.

  37. Benjamin Ernest Orsatti said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 9:14 am

    Forgive me if I'm opening up a can of worms here, but…

    …why doesn't Swedish have this problem?

  38. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 10:34 am

    @Benjamin O.: Sweden got out from under Danish rule almost three centuries before Norway did. More to the point, since it was the early 16th century, the printing press had just arrived, mass literacy was still in the future, and spelling conventions remained variable and unstandardized for another century or two. So Swedish nationalists probably did not have the same perceived-problem of an already-incumbent prestige/normative standard for their language that appeared to (from a nationalist standpoint) reflect excessive Danish influence.

  39. Benjamin Ernest Orsatti said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 12:03 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: That makes a lot of sense. It's amazing to consider how beholden "language" is to accidents of history. Hebrew would look much different if postwar Israel had thrown its horses behind Yiddish, and there might not even be such a "thing" as "Scots" were it not for people's fondness for poems about mice and haggis.

  40. Bybo said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 12:28 pm

    @Benjamin Ernest Orsatti

    I'm not sure if I'd frame it as problem foremost. (I leave that decision to the Norwegians.) Anyway, the Norwegian situation is obviously not normal, so instead of asking why Sweden isn't like Norway, one may ask, the other way around, what on earth happened in Norway.

    Einar Haugen has, IIRC, written extensively about this question, but I can't find him on line. However, Ivar Aasen (the man himself, so to speak) already went on for page after page (in Danish, of course) in the preface to his Norsk Grammatik, which Aasen-tunet thankfully put on line (as a DOC file … but still).

    After a lengthy exposition about the history of Norway, and the circumstances under which Danish had become the written language of the country, Aasen puts it this way:

    'I den nylig vaagnede Omhu for alle Mærker paa Selvstændighed, var det blevet et Slags Skik, at alt, som brugtes i Landet, skulde hedde norsk, og saaledes blev da ogsaa det benyttede Bogmaal kaldet det ‘norske’ Sprog, uagtet det dog var dansk, som det havde været.'

    In the recent zeal for all symbols of independence, it had become a kind of custom that everything that was used in the country should be called Norwegian, and thus also the Bokmål (Book-language) that we use became called the 'Norwegian' language, notwithstanding the fact that it was Danish as it had been before.

    (The translation is probably shaky, sorry.)

    So, Bokmål, to him, was still just Danish under another name, and he wasn't content with that.

    (Maybe there are some minor parallels in the history of Luxembourgish? But one difference is, of course, that nobody in Luxembourg would call German-used-in-Luxembourg a variety of Luxembourgish.)

    By the way, the Nordic Council has published a popular (as in for a non-scholarly audience) overview of the linguistic situation in the Nordic countries, which I found quite enjoyable to read at the time.

  41. David Marjanović said,

    October 9, 2023 @ 1:15 pm

    I have heard of American enthusiasts who have learned Japanese because of an obsession with anime or manga culture.

    Not just American ones by any means.

  42. David Arthur said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 8:14 am

    @ Bybo

    By a similar token, in Oslo you'll find both the National Theatre and the Norwegian Theatre, the latter being founded by Nynorsk-supporters who would argue that former doesn't perform in Norwegian.

  43. Vanya said,

    October 13, 2023 @ 6:01 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: The „auf Deutsch” version of „Der Kommissar” is not entirely “German” but a mix of English, German and Viennese mesolect. Good luck to American students of German trying to parse “drah di ned om”. And a Komissar is simply a police detective. You occasionally see Americans interpreting the title as a Cold War song, which was not Falco’s intent.

    I have a British friend who told me his college age daughters have learned Turkish because they are so enthusiastic about Turkish soap operas. I have no idea how common that is, not very I suspect.

RSS feed for comments on this post