Nynorsk - is the distinctive example of re-established language
source - http://www.aasentunet.no/default.asp?menu=94&id=454
Peter Hallaråker: The Nynorsk language - yesterday
Article by Peter Hallaråker, Associate Professor of Norwegian language at Volda University College, Norway
(From: Heinrich P. Kelz, Rudolf Simek and Stefan Zimmer: Europäische Kleinsprachen. Zu Lage und Status der kleinen Sprachen and der Schwelle zum dritten Jahrtausend. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. Baden-Baden 2001. Pp. 41-58.)
1. Characteristics of the linguistic situation in Norway today
To any foreigner, the linguistic situation in Norway today must seem like a chaos, and many Norwegians - even students and professors of Norwegian - have the same feeling. There is hardly any Norwegian professor, not even a professor of Norwegian linguistics, who is so familiar with all the main forms and optional forms in our two official languages, Dano-Norwegian (Bokmål) and New Norwegian (Nynorsk), that he or she would be able to write an article without looking up some words in the dicti onary. An expert on Nynorsk, the late Professor Reidar Djupedal at the University of Trondheim, tried to justify the Norwegian choice of solution to the language problem by saying that the Norwegian linguistic chaos is a sound sign. It shows that the Norwe gian democracy works in practice. We are bilingual in a special sort of way, he said. My own case can illustrate his point. To me, Nynorsk is the first language both in speech and writing, together with about half a million other Norwegians. However, I also know Bokmål very well, particularly written Bokmål, but I can also speak it relatively correctly, using my West Norwegian tone. Most of the newspapers, books and articles I read are written in Bokmål or English, and so are most of the radio programs I listen to, and the television programs I watch.
To my knowledge, no other country in Europe has such a unique linguistic situation as Norway. With a population of approximately 4,5 million people, not only has it two official languages, but two official languages that are so similar in phonology, morpho logy, vocabulary and syntax that is difficult to tell them apart. One might, therefore, question whether it is linguistically correct to call modern Bokmål and modern Nynorsk two separate national languages, or rather regard them as two forms of the same Nor wegian national language (Venås 1981). In general, they represent the same Norwegian culture and nationality, although Nynorsk is closer associated with the rural and coastal culture.
Dano-Norwegian (Bokmål "book language") is based on literary Danish, but has gradu ally been norwegianized on the basis of spoken Norwegian both in the cities and the countryside, starting with the spelling reform of 1907. It is used by approximately 88% of the population, i.e., nearly 4 million people, as their first language. New Norwegian, or the Nynorsk language, is based on Norwegian rural dialects, using Old Norse as a general guideline for the written standard, but its linguistic base has been widened in recent years to include both rural and urban dialects and partly the interna tional vocabulary used in Bokmål. The Nynorsk language is used in various fields of society by approximately 12% of the population, i.e. close to 500 000 people, as their first language, its core area being the four counties in Western Norway (Møre og Romsdal, Sogn og Fjordane, Hordaland and Rogaland), and the City of Oslo, where some national Nynorsk institutions are located. A third official language is the Sámi language, spoken by approximately 20 000 Lapps in Norway, but ac cording to the Sá¡mi language law of 1992, its official status is restricted to six muni cipalities in Northern Norway (Kautokeino, Karasjok, Porsanger, Nesseby, Tana and Kåfjord). Norway has also some 2000 Finnish-speaking people, a few hundred of Romany-speaking people, and several immigrant languages are used.
As far as the spoken language in general is concerned, Norway also seems to be in a rather special situation. Unlike the case in most other countries in Europe, the local dialects have a high social status, and more than 98%, in fact, use a local or regional dialect in speech both in private use and partly also in official use. Even the prime minister, cabinet ministers, bishops, professors etc. can use their dialect on official occasions if they prefer to do so, but probably not the Royal family.
Another interesting fact is that young Norwegians today speak English so well that they can communicate quite easily with any foreigner speaking English. One may therefore say that in practical communication English functions as the third spoken language in Norway.
More than any other country in Europe, Norway has also been active in language planning. Since 1874 the Parliament has with regular intervals had language issues on its agenda, even practical rules for spelling and the choice of vocabulary. With a majority vote it has decided what is to be considered as correct written Bokmål and Nynorsk. From the 1930's and until 1981 it has worked deliberately for two main objectives: the norwegianization of Bokmål on the basis of spoken Norwegian both in the cities and in the countryside, and the mutual approach of the two languages in order to develop a common Norwegian language some time in the future. The first important spelling reform to norwegianize Bokmål in order to get rid of Danish elements was introduced in 1907. Later reforms have had the same goal. One practical result of the policy of mutual approach of the two languages was the acceptance of a number of optional forms. In order to make the two standards as representative as possible of the spoken language, i.e., the dialects in the countryside and in the cities, different variants were allowed both in Bokmål and Nynorsk. In 1934, the government set up a language committee whose mandate was to recommend a policy of mutual approach, which had already been mentioned in the spelling reform of 1917. The result was the spelling reform of 1938, in which Bokmål and Nynorsk became much more similar than earlier. This policy of mutual approach was broken in 1981, when so-called conservative forms, i.e., classical literary forms, were accepted again in Bokmål. It is a complicating and confusing factor that both languages have compulsory forms to be used in textbooks, and additional optional forms for use in written school works such as term papers and final written exams. This means that both Bokmål and Nynorsk actually have two standards, a so-called textbook standard and an expanded standard, or a students standard, if you like. However, even the textbook standard contains optional forms, i.e., a choice between two different forms that both are standard forms, although they may be quite similar. Every year the Norwegian Language Advisory Commission set up by Parliament in 1970 (Norsk språkråd) may present new optional forms. Thus, in fact, a very good student of Norwegian should be familiar with four standards, which, of course, is completely unrealistic.
An interesting question to be asked today is to what degree modern Nynorsk can be regarded as a minority language in Norway in the traditional sense of the word alongside with the SÃ¡mi language, Finnish and Romany. From the point of view of statistics, the Nynorsk language is obviously a minority language, but it lacks some of the other fea tures we associate with a minority language. It is not associated with any ethnic group or any special culture, except for its traditional ties to the rural and coastal culture, nor is it linked to any particular social group or region, even though its stronghold is the four counties in Western Norway and the capital.
2. Two roads to a common Norwegian national language
Norway was a sovereign state until 1380. Its written language, which was in use from 1050 until around 1400, was Classical Old Norwegian, and some literature was com posed in it. However, the main body of the classical old literature was written in Old Icelandic, and the term Old Norse is today frequently used as a common term for both Old Norwegian and Old Icelandic.
From 1380 until 1814 Norway was united with Denmark and governed from Copen hagen. The Danish language gradually replaced the Norwegian language and finally because the only written language in Norway around 1600, and kept this position until the last part of the 19th century. There were many causes for this change of language, political, religious, educational, and probably also linguistic. One important fact to keep in mind is that written Old Norse for some reason other than purely political gradually died out during the 16th century. The Norwegian National Council was abolished in 1660, absolute monarchy was introduced, and Norway was governed by a Civil Service appointed by the Danish absolute king.
The most important religious impact on the language had to do with the development within the church. The old Catholic Church was dissolved and replaced by a State Lutheran Church, and the Reformation was accepted in Denmark-Norway in 1536-1537. The main reason for the influence on the language from the Reformation is obvious. The main contact people in general had with the written language was through the church and its religious books: the Bible, which was published in Danish in 1550 (Christian the Third's Bible), the Hymn Book, and the Catechism. All these books were in Danish, and many people learned parts of them by heart. The introduction of the confirmation in 1736, which required a closer study of religious texts, also strengthened the position of Danish. Books of law written in Old Norwegian were still used, but in 1604 Christian the Fourth's Norwegian Law, which was a translation to Danish of The Law of Magnus the Lawmaker, was published.
The Danish written language was not standardized in the sixteenth century, but a Danish written norm was gradually developed based on the speech of the higher social groups in the City of Copenhagen. Particularly in the course of the 18th century, the need for a written norm was increasing for educational purposes. A very important event was the introduction of the General School Law in 1739, which required school attendance for all, and reading and writing Danish as compulsory subjects. In the high schools and at the university, Latin had been the dominant subject, but at the end of the 18th century Danish became a subject in the Danish High School. The written norm of Ove Malling's book, Store og gode Handlinger af Danske, Norske og Holstenere, was recommended by the Ministry of Church and Education in 1775. Written Danish thus had developed a stabilized norm at the turn of the 19th century.
The introduction of literary Danish in Norway in the 16th century had little effect on the spoken language of most contemporary Norwegians. They continued to use the same language as their forefathers had used, i.e., they spoke their local dialects, all of which could be traced back to Old Norwegian. As a result, the Norwegian dialects developed along the same Norwegian lines as before, without being influenced by Danish. This was particularly the case in the Norwegian countryside and among the lower classes in the cities, whereas the speech of the upper classes in the cities was gradually influenced by Danish and partly led to a Norwegian pronunciation of written Danish.
After four centuries of political, cultural and linguistic subordination, Norway adopted its own constitution on May 17, 1814. That same year it also achieved home rule under Sweden, which lasted until 1905, when the union was dissolved. Since then Norway has been an independent state, except for the years 1940-1945 when it was occupied by Nazi Germany.
Soon after Norway had gained political independence in 1814, there were growing feelings in the country in favor of establishing a national Norwegian language because many people considered a Norwegian language as the most distinctive sign of Norwe gian nationality and freedom. To keep on using Danish as if nothing had happened in 1814 was politically impossible. The least the power elite could do to satisfy the oppo sition was to change the name of the Danish language used in Norway to Norwegian. This was actually done as early as on November 4, 1814, in the revised version of the Constitution, which, of course, was written in Danish (Grunnloven 4. nov. 1814). Here, the language to be used in Norway was referred to as the Norwegian language (det Norske Sprog) in Â§ 33: Alle Forestillinger om Norske Sager, saavelsom de Expedi tioner, som i Anledning deraf skee, forfattes i det Norske Sprog (canceled in 1908). Since this name of the Danish language used in Norway was very misleading, it an noyed some scholars and politicians and therefore led to a long discussion about the name of the language. As a matter of fact, the written language in Norway around 1814 was closer to correct Danish of the time than it had ever been. Many attempts were therefore made to find a name that both Norwegians and Danes could accept. Strangely enough, the logical name Norwegian-Danish was never accepted, probably because it was politically too sensitive to use, so names such as "the common language", "Danish-Norwegian", "Norwegian-Danish", "the national language", "our common written and literary language" were used, the last one being chosen as a compromise and used until the poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910) suggested the name Riksmål "national language" in 1899, which was changed to Bokmål "book language" in 1929.
The name conflict had a strong symbolic value, but for obvious reasons, there were individuals and groups who demanded more than just a change of name of the language. As far as we know, the idea of getting a separate Norwegian national language is older than the constitution. In 1806 or 1807 a 20-year old Norwegian student at the Univer sity of Copenhagen by the name of Greghers Fougner Lundh (1786-1836) made a note of this idea as a possible subject for a disputation. In a rough outline he mentions where to turn for guidance when the reconstruction is to take place, namely the rural dialects and Old Norse. In an article written in 1831, Jonas Anton Hielm (1782-1884) gave a short analysis of the language situation in Norway and voiced the idea of developing a separate Norwegian language. The fact that Norway got its own uni versity in 1811, led to an increasing interest in Norwegian culture and history. The study of Old Norse language and literature was a consequence of this basic interest, and the possibility of reconstructing the old language was not too far-fetched (Hielm 1831).
The general debate on the language issue started in the 1830's, or to be more exact, in 1832. It is the young poet Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845) who is the actual cause of the discussion by having used some Norwegian dialect words in his poetry, often referred to as lexical enrichment or norwegianization (den lexikalske Berigelse). As a poet, he felt a strong need for Norwegian words to describe the Norwegian landscape and mind. Wergeland had a "modern" attitude to language. He did not consider the dialects as vulgar or low style used by the lower classes, which was quite common in that period, but rather as a rich source of words and idioms that was open to the poet and thus could enrich genuine Norwegian poetry.
Professor P.A. Munch (1811-1863), probably the Norwegian professor with the high est academic status of the time, disagreed strongly with Wergeland on this point. In a relatively short article from 1832 entitled "A Norwegian language reform" (Norsk Sprogreformation), he severely criticized him and other language reformers for at tempting to norwegianize literary Danish in this way, particularly Wergeland for using Norwegian words and idioms in his literary works, mixing them with Danish. Munch was of the opinion that the use of literary Danish had been a cultural advantage for a small and isolated country like Norway, and he disagreed that there was such a strong psychological bond between nationality and language. However, if a possible national Norwegian language was to be reconstructed, he indicated that it should be based on one single, genuine and pure dialect (Munch 1832).
Wergeland did not answer Munch's attack on his language until three years later in a long article called "On a Norwegian language reform" (Om Norsk Sprogreformation), in which he presented and discussed three main arguments in defense of a national Norwegian language: nationality, literary style and democracy. All independent and free nations must have their own language, he said. A national language is a necessary symbol of nationality. For stylistic reasons, the Norwegians should be allowed to express themselves in the language that was natural to them, and the Norwegian mind could only be expressed in the Norwegian language. For democratic reasons, the written language should be close to the spoken language. This would make it easier to learn to read and write, and thus indirectly promote general education (Wer geland 1835).
In January 1836, only a couple of months after Wergeland's self de fense had been published, the 22-year old Ivar Aasen (1813-1896) wrote a little article called "On our Norwegian written language" (Om vort Skriftsprog). The article was, in fact, a contribution to the lan guage debate in the 1830's, but was not published until 1909, in the Nynorsk periodical Syn og Segn. Aasen was then a private teacher with a family at Skodje in Sunnmøre, Norway, where he was pretty isolated from other people. It is evident, however, that he must have read both Munch's and Wergeland's articles on how to reform Danish or re construct a national Norwegian language. The article gives Aasen's great view in a nutshell:
Since our national country again has become what it once was, namely free and independent, it must be absolutely necessary to use an independent and national language, because this is the finest sign of a nation...
Suggestion. It is not my purpose to put one particular dialect before another one; no; no single dialect should be the main language, but this should be a comparison, a basis for them all. (Aasen 1836)1
A relatively unknown article by P.A. Munch (1845) entitled "On the introduction of an Improved spelling of our folk language" (Om Indførelsen af en forbedret Retskrivning i vort Folkesprog), should also be mentioned in this connection. In this article, Munch strongly defends an etymological principle of writing and criticizes any form of phonetic spelling of the Norwegian dialects. Indirectly, he thus actually agrees with Aasen's linguistic program of finding a common denominator for the dialects. In fact, at the end of this article, he even says that the preparation of a dictionary and a grammar built on this basic etymological principle would be a rewarding work (Munch 1845).2
At any rate, the language debate in the 1830's had indicated two different courses to follow in order to obtain a Norwegian national language: either norwegianize the Danish language, or reconstruct a new Norwegian written language. The norwe gianization of Danish was started by Wergeland with the enriching of the vocabulary through the introduction of words from Norwegian dialects. Knud Knudsen (1812-1895), the father of modern Bokmål, developed this idea further, basing the written standard on the speech of the upper classes in the cities (Oslo). Starting with the spelling reform of 1907, both phonology, morphology, vocabulary and syntax were gradually norwegianized on the basis of spoken Norwegian, and has resulted in the so- called Bokmål, Dano-Norwegian. The reconstruction of a new Norwegian written language, which was Ivar Aasen's radical program, was to be based on the Norwegian rural dialects, using Old Norse as a guideline for the written standard. His linguistic works resulted in the so-called Landsmål "national language", which was recognized by the Act of Parliament on May 12, 1885, and given the same legal status as Bokmål. Its name was changed to Nynorsk in 1929 (New Norwegian, neunorwegisch), a rather unsatisfactory term both seen from a linguistic, historical and grammatical point of view.
3. Ivar Aasen's linguistic program and the rise of the Nynorsk language
In my view, both P.A. Munch and Ivar Aasen were representatives of the National Romantic period in Norway since they were both preoccupied with the original language and the connection between the Vikings and modern Norway. It was the Norwegian farmer who was the connecting link between the free Vikings and contemporary Nor wegians. The farmer was therefore placed into focus: his language, literature, music and art, and his language was considered the genuine national language of Norway.
Ivar Aasen was the self-educated son of a small farmer in the county of Ørsta in Sunnmøre, Norway. At the age of 18, he became a public school teacher and turned from farming to books for good. He began his linguistic career in 1837 when he investigated his own dialect, the Sunnmøre dialect, and spent the rest of his life on Norwegian linguistics, both on descriptive and prescriptive linguistics. In his spare time, he wrote fiction in his new language. His collection of poems from 1863, The Anemone (Symra), is still very popular. His remarkably large linguistic production at a very high academic level has evidently much to do with his genius, but may also partly be due to the fact that he remained a bachelor all his 83-old-year life.
The Royal Society of Scholars in Trondheim became so interested in Aasen's impressive dialect studies that they offered him a scholarship if he would travel throughout the country to gather data about the different Norwegian dialects and then write a grammar and a dictionary on the basis of the information he had collected. Aasen accepted the offer and, in 1842, began his five years of extensive field work in Norwegian dialects. He traveled through Western Norway, the Agder communities, Telemark, most of the communities in the flatland districts, and as far north as Helgeland. In addition to the national aspect, Aasen also, like Wergeland, stressed the social and democratic implications of a reconstructed Norwegian language. To Aasen himself, the national, social and democratic aspects were inseparable, but he caused unrest and disagreement within the Nynorsk movement. Contrary to other linguists and language planners in Europe, who based their national standards on one particular dialect with a high social status, e.g., Danish, Swedish, English, German and French, Aasen's idea was to try and find a common denominator for the rural dialects, using Old Norwegian as a guideline to obtain a consistent linguistic structure when there were many variants in the dialects. He was critical to urban dialects and considered them less Norwegian and pure and held that they were too much influenced by Danish to be used as a basis for a new national norm. We can summarize his main idea or linguistic program into five statements:
1. For national, social and democratic reasons he wanted to establish a Norwegian national language on the basis of modern Norwegian speech, neither on Old Norwegian, nor on Danish.
2. He would use only genuinely rural dialects as a basis for the new standard.
3. All Norwegian dialects in the countryside descend from Old Norwegian and are structurally related, but not of the same value.
4. He would identify a common denominator for selected dialects.
5. He would apply an etymological principle of writing to reflect this common denominator.
Based on his collected data, Aasen presented a comparative study of the dialects which became the foundation of Norwegian dialectology. In his comparative studies of the dialects, he applied linguistic methods developed by internationally known linguists such as the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask (1787-1832) and the German linguist Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), who both based their studies on the assumption that Germanic languages and dialects are related and descend from the same original language. Aasen was not the first to study dialect words and realize that they descended from Old Nor wegian, but he was the first to demonstrate conclusively the connection between the Norwegian dialects and the language of ancient Norway and Iceland found in the old literature.
His first grammar, which was descriptive, was published in 1848, shortly after he had finished his field work, his standard grammar in 1864, Norwegian Grammar (Norsk Grammatik). His first dictionary of Norwegian words was also descriptive and was published in 1850, his standard dictionary in 1873, Norwegian Dictionary (Norsk Ord bog). In 1853, based on his own fieldwork and studies, he presented his first samples of a standard native language in a book called Samples of the national language of Norway (Prøver af Landsmaalet i Norge).
As appears from this list of books, a standard written norm for Nynorsk was not com pleted by Aasen until 1873, when he finished his standardized version of his dicti onary. In that year all the three standardized works mentioned above were available. Aasen also suggested how his norm could be used in practice, in such books as The Heir (Ervingen), 1855 (a play), The Anemone (Symra), 1863 (an election of poems), A View of the Earth (Heimsyn), 1875 (a topographical work).
Aasen emphasized some linguistic characteristics as strictly Norwegian as opposed to Danish ones. In his new national language, he wanted to introduce the Norwegian features and abolish all corresponding Danish ones, particularly the following six features, which have caused a lot of conflicts between the supporters of Bokmål and Nynorsk:
1. The Norwegian (and Old Norwegian) diphthongs ei, au and øy as opposed to e and ø in Danish (stein "stone", laus "loose", øyre "ear" - sten, løs, øre).
2. Full vowels in unstressed position as opposed to reduced vowels in Danish (kastar "throw", griser "pigs", visor "songs" - kaster, grise, viser)
3. The voiceless plosives p,t,k after long vowels in final position as opposed to the voiced plosives b,d,g in Danish (ape "ape", ut "out", kake "cake" - abe, ud, kage)
4. The spelling of double consonants in final position after short vowels as opposed to one in Danish (hopp "jump", lett "easy", takk "thanks" - hop, let, tak).
5. Three grammatical genders as opposed to two genders in Danish:
gard m. "farm" - garden - - gård - gården
sol f. "sun" - soli - - sol - solen / visa f. "song" - visa - - vise - visen
hus n. "house" - huset - - hus - huset
6. Norwegian vocabulary, particularly the derivational morphemes "leik, -ing/-ning, -skap and -nad as opposed to Danish/German an-, be-, -het, and -else:
søknad - ansøkelse "application"
trong - behov "need"
kjærleik - kjærlighet "love"
likning - lignelse "equation"
dumskap - dumhet "foolishness"
One consequence of Aasen's national program was that he had to apply an etymo logical principle of writing instead of a more phonetic one. He therefore came in opposition to the supporters of the use of dialect forms in spelling within the Nynorsk group itself, which represented a more socially oriented attitude. This "dialect move ment" was established as early as in the 1870's in competition with Aasen's national program because they wanted to apply a more phonetic spelling than Aasen in order to reflect the actual variants in speech. It is still active and has many supporters both within the Nynorsk movement and the Bokmål movement. Both fictional and non fictional literature written in dialect have, in fact, existed in Norway since the 17th century. For more information on Aasen, see Krokvik 1996, Venås 1996, and Walton 1996.
4. The establishment of the Nynorsk language
In spite of the fact that both Knud Knudsen and Ivar Aasen had laid the linguistic foundations for two different solutions of the language problem, Danish kept its strong literary position in Norway until the last part of the 19th century, when the language issue was put on the political agenda. The Nynorsk language won its first official recognition with the Act of Parliament on May 12, 1885, when the Parliament with the Liberal Party in the majority made the following request to the Government:
The government is requested to see to it that the Norwegian Folk language [Ivar Aasen's term for Nynorsk in his grammar of 1848] gets the same status as Dano-Norwegian as a school and official language.3
The first official Nynorsk norm was approved by the government in 1901, and impor tant revisions were made in 1910, 1917, 1938 and 1959.
Long before the Nynorsk language was established as an official language with the same status as Bokmål, its supporters realized that the language question had become an important political issue. It was thus necessary to organize to win new adherents and to pressure the political parties into taking clear positions about it. On January 1868, Norway's first society for the promotion of Nynorsk, Vestmannalaget, was established in Bergen, and shortly afterwards the same year Det Norske Samlaget was established in Oslo. It was so important to publish newspapers, periodicals and books in Nynorsk that both societies soon became publishing houses for Nynorsk literature. Noregs Mållag, a national association of Nynorsk societies was founded in 1906 and is today the main organization for the promotion of the Nynorsk language in Norway.
It was not until 1877, however, that the Nynorsk language movement got a common spokesman. In that year Arne Garborg (1851-1924) published The Nynorsk Language and National Movement (Den ny-norske Sprog- og Nationalitetsbevægelse), which was considered to be the "Bible" of the adherents of Nynorsk. In the same year, he began to publish a Nynorsk newspaper called The Home of the Forefathers (Fedraheimen), in which he used all his wit and intelligence to defend the new language. In 1894 it was succeeded by The 17th of May (Den 17de Mai), which became the largest and most im portant mouthpiece the movement has had. It ceased publication in 1935, but the inde pendent newspaper Norwegian Times (Norsk Tidend) was started that year, and is still printed in Oslo. The only present nationwide Nynorsk newspaper is the weekly Day and Time (Dag og Tid).
Fortunately for the new language, a considerable Nynorsk literature had already been published before 1885, particularly by Ivar Aasen himself, A.O. Vinje, Arne Garborg and Elias Blix. In addition to building up a Nynorsk literature and a Nynorsk press, it was important to introduce the language into the schools, and on July 6, 1892, a new school law was passed that gave the different school districts the right to decide which language was to be used as the first language in their district. During the following years, many school districts voted in favor of Nynorsk. The highest percentage reached was 34%, in 1944, which has been reduced to 17% today. According to the present school law of the 10-year public school, school children must learn to read and write both languages. For the final examination in Norwegian in high school (since 1907) or at the university, one examination must be written in Bokmål and one in Nynorsk.
The year 1892 was also a milestone as regards the legal status of Nynorsk in the State Lutheran Church. In that year Elias Blix's four collections of hymns in Nynorsk (1969, 1870, 1875 and 1883) published in one volume in 1891 with the title Some Hymns (Nokre Salmar) were approved by the government for use in the church. It was introduced in more than 500 churches shortly afterwards. The Nynorsk Hymn Book (Nynorsk Salmebok) was officially accepted in 1925. Today, a common hymnbook in Nynorsk and Bokmål is used.
As far as the legal status of Nynorsk within government administration is concerned, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1930, which was replaced by a new law in 1981, regulating the use of the two languages in all kinds of government administration - local, regional and central. In Article II it is explicitly said that the two languages are to be considered legally equal in government administration.
According to the present regulations, 25% of the verbal state radio and television programs should be in Nynorsk. Recently, the government has established a Nynorsk cultural foundation on Ivar Aasen's home farm in Ørsta, and a Nynorsk institute at Volda University College.
5. The use of Nynorsk in various fields of society today
Surprisingly enough, no general official statistics exist for the use of Nynorsk, except for its use in certain fields of society (Grepstad 1998). Based on a rather rough esti mate, the Nynorsk language is today used in various fields of society by approximately 12% of the population, i.e., close to 500 000 people, as their first language, its core area being the four counties in Western Norway (Møre og Romsdal, Sogn og Fjordane, Hordaland and Rogaland), and Oslo, where some nationwide Nynorsk institutions are located. Why Nynorsk never gained ground in Northern Norway, with its decentralized population and decentralized socio-economic structure, is hard to tell. It might have had something to do with the fact that the fish industries and their centers, where the financial power was located, had close contact with the City of Bergen, which was extremely negative to Nynorsk, and international business.
The use of Nynorsk by some national institutions in Oslo and the media is of a particu larly high significance today because it keeps up and develops further the national status of the language. The nationwide institutions with the strongest positive influence on the development of Nynorsk are first of all the Norwegian State Broadcasting Corporation (Norsk Rikskringkasting), Noregs Mållag (the central organization), Det Norske Samlaget (a publishing house), Det Norske Teatret (a Nynorsk theater), Norsk Barneblad (a children's magazine), Dag og Tid (a newspaper), and the Parliament and the ministries.
As indicated above, it was a great advantage for the Nynorsk language that Ivar Aasen not only was an outstanding linguist, but also a good poet and translator. As early as 1855, he translated Martin Luther's hymn "Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott" into Nynorsk, and his little collection of verse The Anemone (Symra, a flower) clearly shows the poetic power of the new language. Since Aasen's time, a large number of Norwe gian authors have written and still do write in Nynorsk. Their subjects are often local or regional, whereas their themes are universal. In addition to Aasen himself, they include such classic writers as A.O. Vinje (1818-1870), Arne Garborg (1851-1924), Elias Blix (1836-1902), Per Sivle (1857-1904), Olav Aukrust (1883-1929), Olav Duun (1876-1939), Anders Hovden (1860-1943), Tarjei Vesaas (1897-1970), Olav Nygard (1884-1924), Inge Krokann (1893-1962), Aslaug Laastad Lygre (1915-1966), Kristofer Uppdal (1878-1961), Aslaug Vaa (1889-1965), Tor Jonsson (1916-1951), Halvor Floden (1884-1956), Jan Magnus Bruheim (1914-1988), Jakob Sande (1906-1967), Alfred Hauge (1915-1986), Haldis Moren Vesaas (1907-1995), Olav H. Hauge (1908-1994), Ingebjørg Kasin Sandsdalen (1915-2000), Åse-Marie Nesse (1934-2001), and contemporary writers such as Rune Belsvik, Oskar Stein Bjørlykke, Kjartan Fløgstad, Jon Fosse, Paal-Helge Haugen, Edvard Hoem, Ragnar Hovland, Eldrid Lunden, Ingvar Moe, Karin Moe, Tor Obrestad, Rolf Sagen, Martha Schumann, Jan Inge Sørbø, Marie Takvam, Jan Ove Ulstein, Einar Økland, and many others.
Today 17% of all school children are taught in Nynorsk as their first written language, at present a total of 88 000 pupils. At the highest, the proportion of school children using Nynorsk was estimated to be 34% in 1944, 25% in 1955, 20% in 1965, 18% in 1970. It reached bottom in 1977, 16,4%. This percentage remained constant during the next four years, after which it slowly began to rise again in the 1990's and seems to have stabilized around 17%.
Nynorsk is used in the local press, particularly in Western Norway and some national newspapers and periodicals include articles in Nynorsk. Approximately 20% of all state radio and TV programs are in Nynorsk.
Today there are 435 municipalities in Norway, and 114 out of these have chosen Nynorsk as their official language. Around 175 have adopted Bokmål, while the remaining have decided to be neutral. Neutrality, however, means that Bokmål is dominant. Except for the Town of Florø, Nynorsk is not used as an administrative language in any Norwegian city, nor is it used in business or modern information technology, ex cept for small local enterprises in the core area.
6. The Nynorsk Language in the United States
Nearly 800 000 Norwegians emigrated to the United States between 1825 and 1924, when the National Origins Act was passed, reducing the number of Norwegian immi grants drastically. The vast majority of them came from valleys in Eastern Norway and from the coastal areas in Southern, Western and Northern Norway. Most of them were farmers or fishermen. As far as spoken Norwegian was concerned, it was only to be expected that they continued to use their local Norwegian dialects in the new country and little by little learned to speak English. Any form of spoken Bokmål was unknown to them and of no interest. In spite of this fact, the Norwegian immigrants - with a few exceptions - chose Bokmål in its most conservative form as their written expression of Norwegian. Only three Nynorsk magazines were published (Norrøna, Dølen, and Ny verd) as compared to more than 500 newspapers in Bokmål (Hallaråker 1992). However, quite a large number of fictional texts were written in Nynorsk by such writers as Signe Mydland Steinarson (1871-1928), Jon Norstog (1877-1942), Torgeir Edland (1889-1981), Eyvind J. Evans (1900-), and Arnfinn Bruflot (1904-) (Hallaråker 1991).
I have found no single answer to the question why the Norwegian immigrants were so reluctant to use Nynorsk, even to discuss this question as a problem. Obviously, there were that many practical difficulties connected with the introduction and use of Nynorsk that they may not have had a real choice. Conservative Bokmål was already established by the first generation in the church, the school and the press. At any rate, in my view, the answers given so far are not satisfactory (Hallaråker 1991:22-30).
7. The Nynorsk language in the future
As mentioned above, the decrease of Nynorsk as a written language started after World War II, but seems to have stabilized round 10 to 12% on average. In the 10-year compulsory school it is higher, being close to 17% today, meaning that many young people change to Bokmål when they move or go to college. I see this decrease of the Nynorsk language today first of all as the political result or compromise of two different solutions to the complicated language problem the nation was faced with after having obtained political independence in 1814. Even though the Liberal Party were in the majority in the Parliament in 1885, when the language issue was on the agenda, they did not vote for either a continuation of the Danish literary tradition, or the introduction of the Nynorsk language, but actually for both solutions. In my judgement, that is the essence of the language situation in Norway.
Secondly, it is the result of active language planning by the government to further a mutual approach of Nynorsk and Bokmål on the basis of both rural and urban dialects with the purpose of developing a common Norwegian written language some time in the future. This policy has been a political success, but has at the same time partly de stroyed the foundation of the Nynorsk language.
A chief characteristic of Nynorsk today is the widening of its linguistic basis, a proce dure which has taken it away from Aasen's consistent and puristic norm. In order to make it more representative of both rural as well as of urban dialects throughout the whole country, a number of words and grammatical forms from dialects in Eastern Norway have been introduced. Additionally, a number of words and forms from Bokmål have recently been introduced into Nynorsk. These changes, or the "bokmål ization" of Nynorsk, have made modern Nynorsk and modern Bokmål increasingly more alike in phonology, grammatical structure, vocabulary and syntax.
If we take into consideration all the optional forms both in Nynorsk and Bokmål, we could probably oversimplify the situation by saying that the main differences between modern Nynorsk and modern Bokmål are limited to a couple of personal pronouns, such as eg "I" in contrast to jeg, ho "she" in contrast to hun, dei "they" in contrast to de, the negative adverb ikkje "not" in contrast to ikke, interrogative pronouns and adverbs in kv- /kv/ in initial position in contrast to hv- /v/ in Bokmål, in words such as kven/hvem "who", kva/hva "what", korleis/hvordan "how", kvifor/hvorfor "why", kvar/hvor "where", and the name Noreg (Norway) in contrast to Norge.
In addition to these evident differences, some other basic contrasts should be men tioned. There are some minor phonological differences between traditional Nynorsk and traditional Bokmål. For example, there is a more frequent use of diphthongs (ei, au, øy) in Nynorsk than in Bokmål, cf. stein "stone" in contrast to sten, laus "loose" in con trast to løs, øyre "ear" in contrast to øre. However, the clearest differences are the morphological ones, and appear in the inflection of nouns and the conjugation of verbs. Nynorsk makes consistently use of three genders in accordance with the Norwegian dialects with the exception of the dialect of the City of Bergen, whereas traditional Bokmål quite frequently, depending on the style, may use only two, i.e., a "common gender" for feminine and masculine nouns, and the neuter gender. The inflectional forms of the three genders are not identical in Nynorsk and Bokmål. As far as the conjugation of verb is concerned, one characteristic contrast should also be mentioned. In Nynorsk, the present tense of strong verbs is monosyllabic, whereas Bokmål has two-syllabic forms, cf. han fell "he falls" in contrast to han faller.
Today, the syntax is practically identical, but there are still some differences in the vocabulary, even though Aasen's policy of lexical selection has been more or less discarded over the last 50 years. In general, people feel that Nynorsk and Bokmål have a common vocabulary. For example, in the new edition of the standard wordlist by Alf Hellevik (Nynorsk ordliste), revised by Kåre Skadberg and Aud Søyland, a large num ber of accepted words from Bokmål are included, and the book now contains 35 377 words (Hellevik 2000). Consequently, neither national, nor social or democratic arguments for a separate Nynorsk language seem to be particulary relevant any more. Thirdly, the decrease is the result of the dramatic change of the social and economic structure of Norway after World War II, with an increasing emphasis on industrializa tion, centralization, urbanization and information technology. The social and economic function of the primary industries such as traditional farming, fishing and forestry, on which Nynorsk was based, has therefore been reduced to a marginal one.
How long Nynorsk will exist is hard to tell, but there are some political indications to day that it may get a more limited function as a written national language in the near future. It has become apparent that it was Knud Knudsen's pragmatic program that has attracted most supporters, not Ivar Aasen's more radical and idealistic one. Knudsen has won the language battle, if you want to speak in war terms. However, one has to admit that his linguistic program combined with active government language planning of mutual approach, coinciding with the dramatic socio-economic change after World War II, has led to a strong and versatile Bokmål. Some people will even claim that the most important function Nynorsk has had over the last hundred years is the tremendous norwegianizing impact it has had on modern Bokmål, particularly on the vocabulary and syntax, but also to some degree on the morphology. Today, Norwegian speech is a model for a good Norwegian literary vocabulary, morphology, syntax and style in Bokmål as well as in Nynorsk.
One might, therefore, ask whether there is any actual need for a second national language today. In my opinion, the most important argument in favor of keeping up Nynorsk as a written language is the psychological one, not the practical one. Language is an integral part of one's personality, and Nynorsk is also felt to be closer attached to the dialects than Bokmål. If the majority, therefore, should decide to reduce its function as a written language or abolish it altogether, it will prove that Norwegian democracy does not work in practice, only in theory.
To a certain extent, Norway has come back to the starting point of our classical lan guage conflict in the 1830's. Norwegian is not threatened from Danish any more, but both Bokmål and Nynorsk are today exposed to linguistic pressure from the inter national community, particularly from American English. The Nynorsk language, however, is more strongly attacked than Bokmål, and from more angles: from the increasing urban culture in general, from members of the Conservative Party who have recently voiced the idea of abolishing the compulsory essay in Nynorsk for high school students in Oslo, introduced in 1907, from parents and students who prefer Bokmål and dislike Nynorsk because Nynorsk is difficult to learn and also of very limited practical value, from institutions offering courses in Norwegian for foreign students, finding it absurd to teach Nynorsk to foreign students, and last but not least from the information technology, using only English and Bokmål in their programs. These reluctant and partly hostile groups to the use of and instruction in the Nynorsk language have always applied and still do apply a very effective weapon: ridicule of the Nynorsk language, which turns out to be a ridicule of its users, even though they may characterize Nynorsk as "poetic" suitable in poetry, not in practical communication to be studied in school.
The present governmental policy is to protect both languages from the increasing influence of foreign languages, not from Northern German and Danish any more, but mostly from American English. My own guess is that Nynorsk will exist as a written language for generations, but will probably be more and more regionalized to the four counties in Western Norway, i.e., I doubt that it will keep its rather strong national position in the legislation. How long this process will take, is difficult to tell, but it usually takes some time to do away with a hundred years' literary tradition even if the power elite wants to get rid of it both for ideological, practical and financial reasons. It also remains to be seen how the development of the European Community may have any impact on our special form of bilingualism, i.e., whether they want to support it or ignore it. Most people agree that it is a cultural loss when a minority language dies out. Let us therefore hope that Nynorsk will stay alive for another hundred years.
Almenningen, Olaf o.fl. (ed.): Målreising i 75 år. Oslo 1981.
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Grepstad, Ottar: Nynorsk faktabok 1998. Oslo 1998.
Grunnloven 4. nov. 1814: Kongeriget Norges Grundlov given i Rigsforsamlingen paa Eidsvold den 17de Mai 1814 og nu i Anledning af Norges og Sveriges Rigers Forening, nærmere bestemt Norges overordentlige Storthing i Christiania den 4de November 1814. Christiania.
Hallaråker, Peter: The Nynorsk Language in the United States. Oslo 1991.
Hallaråker, Peter: Norwegian. Nynorsk. An introduction for foreign students. Volda, Norway. 21998, first edition in 1983.
Hallaråker, Peter: The Nynorsk Language and the Norwegian-American Press. Møre og Romsdal College, Volda 1992.
Hellevik, Alf: Nynorsk ordliste. 9. utg. Medredaktørar: Kåre Skadberg og Aud Søyland. Oslo 2000.
Hoem, Edvard: Mitt tapre språk. Oslo 1996.
Hielm, Jonas Anton: [No title, on the Norwegian language]. Almindeligt norsk Maanedskrivt 2 (1831:457-466). Christiania 1832.
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Munch, P.A.: Om Indførelsen af en forbedret Retskrivning i vort Folkesprog. Den Constitutionelle, 1845, nos. 181, June 30, 184, July 3, and 186, July 5. Christiania 1845.5
Torp, Arne og Lars S. Vikør: Hovuddrag i norsk språkhistorie. Oslo 1993.
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1 Original text: Efterat vort Fædreneland atter er blevet hvad det engang var, nemlig frit og selvstændigt, maa det være os magtpaaliggende at bruge et selvstændigt og nationalt Sprog, eftersom dette er en Nations fornemste Kjendemærke ... Forslag. Det er ikke min Hensigt hermed at fremhæve nogen enkelt af vore Dialekter; nei, ingen saadan bør være Hovedsprog, men dette skulde være en Sammenligning af, et Grundlag for dem alle.
2 Original text: Udarbeidelsen af et saadant nyere norsk Lexicon, og om muligt af en Grammatik eller idetmindste en Retskrivningslære, bygget paa de Grundsætninger, vi her have fremsat, vilde være et fortjenstligt Foretagende og overeensstemmende med Tidens Fordringer.
3 Original text: Regjeringen anmodes om at træffe fornøden forføining til, at det norske Folkesprog som Skole- og officielt Sprog sidestilles med vort almindelige Skrift- og Bogsprog.
4 My colleagues, Prof. Leif Ramsdal, Prof. Odd Monsson and Prof. Terje Aarset at Volda University College, have suggested some of the selected works.
5 My colleague, Prof. Odd Monsson, made me aware of this rather unknown article.
(*1933), Associate Professor of Norwegian language at Volda University College, Norway. Education: University of Bergen: 1961 Cand. philol.; 1955 Military Academy; 1955 Commercial School; 1964-1965 Graduate Studies at the University of Minnesota (USA). Languages: Norwegian, English, Italian, German. Academic career: 1966-1968 Lecturer at the University of Bologna; 1978-1979 Professor at the University of Wisconsin; since 1970 Associate Professor at Volda University College. Books: Skjergardsnamn frå Bremnes (1976), Norwegian. Nynorsk. An introduction for foreign students (1983), The Nynorsk Language in the United States (1991), Stadnamn i Møre og Romsdal (1995), Innføring i stadnamn (1998), Offisielle stadnamn i Møre og Romsdal (2000). In addition, a number of articles on place names and Nynorsk.