Nynorsk or Bokmål?

Here’s a reply I wrote to some guy on the «how-to-teach-yourself-any-language» forum who wondered about what you should learn as a foreigner coming to Norway:

Well, Danish is the one that’s most similiar to actual German. Norwegian Nynorsk has the least German loanwords since it’s based on a puristic approach to everything that Danish and other languages brought to the Norwegian language after 1387.

But hold on, this isn’t so scary as it sounds. You can actually choose which words you want to use when writing Norwegian Nynorsk. «To Begin» can be either å byrja, which is að byrja in Old Norse, or it can be «å begynne», which comes from Low German: beginnen. So it’s entirely up to you how you want your written language to look like.

People coming from Oslo tend to resist Nynorsk a lot, which to some extent is understandable. But how would they react if people in the West of Norway would refuse learning Bokmål? Several people from Oslo use the argument that «we can all understand each other, so why bother using two forms instead of just Bokmål»? Well it hasn’t really so much to do with the practicality of having two forms of writing, it has to do with taking care of our heritage and being able to respect those who chose to do so. Language is all about identity, therefore you shouldn’t have to defend your language. Defending your choice of language is just like defending your right to exist.

Norwegians who are really against this form of the language are inclined to make fun of it because it can tend to sound hopelessly old-fashioned, but if you «do some digging» you’ll see that how you actually write Norwegian Nynorsk is up to yourself. You can choose lots of forms for the same word, but it’s recommended by the Norwegian Council of Language that you consequently stick to one form of writing, it’s not allowed to use several forms of the same word in one single text.

Here’s an example, as to which how you can conjugate the verb «to become»:

To become -> became -> has become

1) Å verte -> vart -> har vorte OR har vorti
2) Å bli -> vart -> har vorte OR har vorti (this 2nd option is my own choice since I say «æ blir, æ vart & æ ha vyrti)
3) Å bli -> blei -> har vorte OR har vorti

(In Bokmål you’re only allowed to write «Å bli -> ble -> har blitt», I would never ever say «ble» or «blitt»)

The great thing about this for Norwegians is that they can write a Norwegian Nynorsk that’s not too far from what they actually speak in their everyday lives. Most people aren’t aware of this and frankly don’t care too much because of two things:

1: Bokmål is used by about 85 % percent of the population. It dominates the newspapers, tv channels, books and magazines.
2: Norwegians are brought up with this one dominant form of Norwegian, and because of this fact that they tend to resent this «new form» that they encounter in school.

I, for one, write Norwegian Nynorsk. This is a very conscious choice, since I’ve been writing Norwegian Bokmål all my life. I find that my own version of Nynorsk is much more attractive, since it’s allowed to use so many of the words that I use every day in my own dialect. When I write I tend to take my time and really think about how I can produce something truly beautiful. This probably has something to do with the fact that Nynorsk feels like my own language, it receives more respect than Bokmål because it’s closer to my identity. Bokmål feels like something that doesn’t truly belong to me, since I associate that form of Norwegian with «Østlandet» and Oslo, and it really sounds different from my own way of speech.

While writing Nynorsk I really feel much more in touch with my roots. Here are some examples of words in Nynorsk (/my dialect) that are almost or entirely identical to both Icelandic and Faroese:

WATER: Icelandic vatn, Faroese vatn, Nynorsk vatn, My dialect vatn, Bokmål vann
SHORT: Icelandic lágur, Faroese lágur, Nynorsk låg, My dialect låg, Bokmål lav
ROAD/»WAY»: Icelandic vegur, Faroese vegur, Nynorsk veg, My dialect væg, Bokmål vei
«TO SEE»: Icelandic að sjá, Farose að sjá, Nynorsk å sjå, My dialect å sjå, Bokmål å se
HOME: Icelandic heim, Faroese heim, Nynorsk heim, My dialect heim, Bokmål hjem
HUNGRY: Icelandic hungraður, Faroese svangur, Nynorsk svolten OR hungrig, My dialect hungri, Bokmål sulten
HOUSEFLY: Icelandic fluga, Faroese fluga, Nynorsk fluga, My dialect fluggu, Bokmål flue

If you’re a foreigner who wishes to learn Norwegian, you should in any case learn Bokmål if you’re going to a «Bokmål region», like the East part of the country. If you’re going to my part of the country, it would really impress and even amaze Norwegians that you took the effort to learn Nynorsk. It’s much more charming to hear a foreigner speaking Nynorsk than Bokmål. It might give the impression that you’re in love with Norway and Norwegian culture, rather than just looking for some random country to live in. In any case, knowing Nynorsk will help a great deal in understanding Norwegian dialects since it’s basically based on their common traits.

While being a bit off-topic, I hope my answer might clear up why some Norwegians write Nynorsk while others write Bokmål.


5 Responses to Nynorsk or Bokmål?

  1. sjoerd seier:

    I don’t know anything about the language(s) of Norway, but I tend to understand; I think it all has to do with one of the dominating aspects of the New Age thought: everything what is old-fashioned or traditional is not of this time, therefore ridiculous and should be erased from society. I think this also applies to different languages forms….That’s my opinion!

    gr. sjoerd

  2. sakiimi seier:

    That’s one argument people use against Norwegian Nynorsk. I find it’s all about respect and the will to stand up for your language. In terms of actual speech Nynorsk is the property of the Norwegian people, Bokmål belongs to Oslo.

  3. Jordan C seier:

    Do you know of any resources for learning to write Nynorsk?

  4. Galenskald seier:


    I’ve studied German for about 4 years and Swedish on my own for a while now. Your entry was very very interesting and useful to me, since I’m willing to study Norwegian in Norway and then study a master in Scandinavian languages. I was considering Telemark, Volda or Trondheim for the first part of my studies and then I’ve seen this master program at Agder and Trondheim. To be honest, my hesitation on Volda and Telemark was Nynorsk, because it’s the official form there if I’m right, and I was thinking of the real use of that form. Actually, I read that you have to know both of them in order to get into the NTNU.

    PS: I love Nordic rather than German language roots.

    Thanks and regards

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