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Norwegian is the national language of Norway, spoken by virtually all of the country’s 4 million inhabitants. It is one of the Scandinavian languages, which are descended from the Old Norse spoken throughout Scandinavia in Viking times. These form a branch of the Germanic languages, in turn a part of the Indo-European family. Norwegian is very similar to Danish and somewhat less similar to Swedish.
Norway and Denmark were one country for four centuries before 1814, and from then until 1905 Norway was under the Swedish crown. During the years of Danish rule a Danish-based “city language” began to develop in Bergen and Oslo, which eventually became the written language of Norway.
In the mid-19th century, however, a movement was begun to develop a new national language for Norway distinct from Danish. Originally known as landsmål (“country language”), it is now called nynorsk (“New Norse”). Based largely on the dialects of rural Norway, landsmål was intended to revive the tradition of Old Norse, interrupted in the 15th century.
The result is that today there are two standard languages in Norway. The Dano-Norwegian variety, originally called riksmål (“state language”) and now known as bokmål (“book language”) is still used by most newspapers and on radio and television broadcasts. But nynorsk has equal status with bokmål in government and also in the schools. Attempts to combine the two into samnorsk (“Common Norwegian”) have thus far been unsuccessful, but many Norwegians believe that at some point they will merge into one.
Both the Norwegian and Danish alphabets contain the additional letters œ and ø, which in Swedish are ä and ö. All three contain the letter å.
English words of Norwegian origin include fjord, slalom, troll, lemming, auk, and narwhal.
Authorized from the original edition of The Languages of the World 3rd edition by Keneth Katzner published by Routledge, a member of the Taylor & Francis Group.
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