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Joined: 27.12.2016

Written Norwegian comes in two flavors, "bokmål" and "nynorsk". In's pull down menus for languages, these varieties are referred to as "Dano-Norwegian" and "Sognamål". As a statement in an ongoing Norwegian debate, I guess they're about equally offensive. No matter what, the present designations are factually incorrect.

Joined: 27.05.2008

Einsamfalk, which debate are you referring to?

Moderator and Scholar of a Dark Age
Joined: 16.02.2011

Neither Dano-Norwegian nor Sognamål are meant to be names for Bokmål and Nynorsk, but, in the case of Sognamål, it refers to another dialect of Norwegian, in the case of Dano-Norwegian to an extinct predecessor of Bokmål (like we also have a category for Old English and Middle English and some dialects of English, like Jamaican and Scots).

I have already suggested 3 years ago that different categories be added for Bokmål and Nynorsk, but it wasn't deemed necessary. I don't think the debate was picked up again in the meantime, and it wasn't viewable to normal users anyway, so there is hardly an ongoing debate that I would be aware of - I might have not noticed it, though, if there is one.

EDIT: I have re-categorized your idioms and idiom explanations all to Norwegian, as I doubt they actually are in Dano-Norwegian or Sognamål. If we add different categories for Bokmål and Nynorsk, then you can put them into those categories.


I do not mean in any way to answer for Einsamfalk or to intrude; please forgive me if it feels otherwise. I am answering to the Administrator It.

When I read the phrase "the debate,"as a student of Norwegian this was my interpretation:

In Norwegian society there is an ongoing linguistic reality regarding their two standardized written variations of Norwegian, which are known as "bokmål" (book language) and "nynorsk" (New Norwegian).

Why is this? In the 14th Century, Norway's royal house died out, and by the end of the century it was united to Denmark. The Old Norwegian literary language grew apart from spoken Norwegian, as any living language in constant evolution would. But over time, the written standard of Danish was adopted as a way to write Norwegian.

In the 19th Century, Norway and Sweden existed as a joint kingdom. It was then that efforts arose to norwegianize the literary language of Norway, from its spoken forms. The challenge of how to do this exactly was what gave birth to two written standards in Norway--beginning two centuries ago, one descended from what was there already and the second (nynorsk) part of a movement to adopt a standard based on the "more conservative" western dialects of Norway. Last century (20th), after Norway became an independent country again (1905), the linguistic reform continued.

In our 21st century, a Language Council of Norway exists.
I imagine this situation at times can be controversial for the Norwegian people, and that's the ongoing talk or debate.
By the way, foreigners who study Norwegian are usually taught Bokmål, at least at first.

This is what I think the original post refered to, but as I said I'm not speaking for anyone else but me. I hope my commentary was useful, and if not I hope it causes no harm.

Moderator and Scholar of a Dark Age
Joined: 16.02.2011

@NoruweiNoMori Thanks for clarifying; re-reading Einsamfalk's post I figured he'd be referring to something like that.

Nevertheless, I don't think we had any debate like that on Norwegian here at LT so far, so it doesn't seem like many users have a problem with it.
However, I'm still in favor of splitting the Norwegian category into its two standard languages as they seem to be clearly separate idioms.

Joined: 27.12.2016

I was referring to the ongoing debate in Norway. As for the names of the varieties, they were called "Rigsmål" og"Landsmål" before they were changed to "bokmål" og "Nynorsk" (sometimes in the 1920's, see Wikipedia:)). I suppose "Rigsmål" would translate to something like "language of the government", "language of the realm", etc., while "landsmål" would be "language of the country". Like in English, the latter could also be thought of as "language of the country-side". I don't think "Dano-Norwegian" has ever been an official designation. I the Norwegian constitution, which dates from 1814 (second oldest after the US constitution), there was a paragraph saying that all laws had to be written in the "language of the land". That meant Danish as opposed to Swedish, since Sweden was given Norway as a consolation price after their earlier loss of Finland to Russia earlier in the Napoleonic wars. Danish was basically unintelligible to Norwegians and required a lot of effort to learn, always with a result that the Danish found laughable. By 1814 written 'Danish was pronounced basically as it was spelled which does not sound Danish at all Norwegian didn't have the phonetic inventory of Danish at all. The negotiations between the Norwegians and their new Swedish masters had to be conducted through interpreters to a certain degree. As the 1800 progressed you got two different approaches. The conservative part of the upper class tried to change the grammar and spelling of Danish to suit Norwegian. The progressive liberals, led by another part of the upper class, went for an etymological approach that was based on the norse language. By surveying the different dialects all over the country (certainly not only the Western parts of Norway) it was found that the systematic sound changes and grammatical changes in different dialects could render a written language based on old norse spelling that gracefully took into account the systematic sound changes in the dialects, making it possible for any Norwegian to know how to spell a word based on his peculiar pronunciation, It resulted in a few letters that would be redundant according to which dialect you spoke. I believe that is called an etymological approach. It had just been successfully tried in the Faroe Islands. In 1885 the Norwegian parliament (Stortinget) issued a law explicitly forbidding teachers at all levels to correct the pronunciation of their pupils/students in order to preserve the genuine links of the spoken language to Old West Norse language. It is still in effect.

Moderator and Scholar of a Dark Age
Joined: 16.02.2011

Thanks for those infos. That etymological spelling-approach sounds interesting.
About Dano-Norwegian:
We currently have 4 texts in our database that are categorized to be written in it:


@Einsamfalk How very interesting. Thank you very much for sharing these fascinating details of how the Norwegian forms of language have evolved through time. It was very enjoyable to read about it and hear your own perspective, as you are a native speaker. I have always been curious about the cultural side of it. I've seen that sometimes people from Norway on the internet are freer when they write; at times it may appear as if people are writing their own spoken regional dialect, not necessarily any strict standard. This can be tricky for foreign learners, but it happens in many languages.

As @Sciera points out, Dano-Norwegian is a term that exists in English academic terms, although it is not so in vogue anymore. It actually appears in a textbook I own for bokmål that was published in the 1960s. As times goes on, terminology changes, depending on the school of thought you go to for guidance.

What I found really interesting about your post was the idea that Norwegians and Danes had such a hard time understanding one another. You see, linguists often argue about language continuums, but how language actually plays out in real life is very different from academics and much more lively to hear about.

Thank you. Regular smile

Senior Member
Joined: 22.11.2016

Norwegian is not my native tongue, albeit one which I fluently speak and read and write, having lived and worked and studied and taught there for many years. Neither Einsamfalk nor I were around to listen to and converse with native Swedish, Danish, (and Norwegian!) speakers 200 years ago, and I don’t know which sources he got his information from -- it may indeed be correct, but it is not what I learned or was taught on the subject:

While I can well imagine that a local farmer or fisherman, with only minimal schooling or minimal book-learning or contact with the outside world who had never ventured more than a few miles out of his native (Western Norwegian) inner Sognefjord, might indeed have had difficulty understanding a Swede or a Dane, By the same token, he would have been almost equally hard-pressed to understand a native Norwegian speaker from eastern or southeastern Norway!

The merchant classes, the educated classes, especially the populations of the major towns, and the population of eastern and southeastern, and southern coastal Norway were, according to my information, adequately conversant in Danish, even if they didn’t themselves pronounce it exactly the same as the native Danes did. (Conversant, among other reasons, because the majority of the government officials posted to Norway up until 1814 were native Danes...!) (The pronunciation of Danish, incidentally, has continued to evolve much more rapidly and more radically than in most other languages, such that Danish films or newsreels from the late 1940s and early 1950s today sound like they are being read with a highly stilted, artificial “reading” pronunciation...)

But the Norwegian of eastern and southeastern Norway, (and most of the urban centers throughout Norway), where about nine-tenths of the population live, most closely resembles written Danish, and is relatively uniform, whereas the grammar, spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary of the more remote rural populations, one tenth of the total, but spread over nine-tenths or the geographical area, have now been somewhat more standarized and amalgamated through the influence of the literary standard of nynorsk for the past 150 years, but were initially and to the extent they’ve been preserved intact in their spoken forms, far more diverse than the eastern-southeastern-urban dialects of Norwegian.

There are some quirky differences between Swedish and Norwegian - “rolig” is the most famous one, (which means “quiet” in Norwegian, but: “a lot of fun” in Swedish), and when negotiating something as weighty as a constitutional union, I can certainly understand the Norwegians demanding that both the text of the agreement and the negotiations be translated into their native language, and as said, someone from Indre Sogn or Setesdal might not have been readily understood by (nor been able themselves to understand) Swedish speakers. But my impression is that even 200 years ago, Swedes and Norwegians; and Norwegians and Danes who wanted to communicate, were able to do so relatively easily, each using their mother tongue. (Danes and Swedes have long been more divergent linguistically; Norwegian indeed enjoys a “mediating status”, linguistically speaking...)

That’s my take on the history, I could be wrong, and mean to offense to Einsamfalk...

For other foreigners with less direct contact with spoken Norwegian, but high levels of interest in its dialects, I can recommend the following entertaining article written by a (relatively recent) French immigrant:

and for the more serious-minded:

-- Og for de som kan norsk, og interesserer seg for dialektene, diskusjonen i:

-- er veldig kjekt å lese!

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