Bokmål or Nynorsk? Which Norwegian to learn?

Norway is the northernmost Scandinavian country with beautiful landscapes and exciting history. But do you know that there are two official variants of Norwegian? Those are Bokmål and New Norwegian (or Nynosk, as they say in Norway). This article will tell why Norway has two languages and which is better to learn.


A Brief History of the Norwegian Language

Norwegian is the language of the North Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. It is closest to Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, and Faroese, also descended from Old Norse. At the beginning of the XI century, with the advent of the Latin alphabet, Norwegian began to separate from Old Norse. From the XIV until independence in 1814, Norway was under the influence of Denmark, which also affected the language – writing was conducted mainly in Danish, and oral Danish was popular with the Norwegian elite.

The independence of Norway has also affected the language – elite Danish was subjected to unification. At the end of the XIX century, the Norwegian literary language was legislated and named Riksmål. At the same time, the researcher Ivar Osen studied and described the vernacular language. He published several books, thus combining and creating the vernacular Norwegian language – Lannsmål (“national language”). In the XX century, Riksmål was officially renamed Bokmål (“book language”), and Lannsmål was officially renamed Nynorsk (“New Norwegian”).

In the figure, red indicates where Bokmål predominates, and blue indicates where the Nynorsk dominates.


Which Norwegian language is better to learn?

Depending on your goals and where you are in Norway, the answers to this question may vary, but most often, people learn Bokmål, and there are several reasons for this.

Firstly, Bokmål is spoken by all Norwegians. Books and periodics are also mainly printed in this language, and you can hear it on TV or radio. Secondly, it will be easier to learn Bokmål, as more textbooks, courses, and manuals are available.

Is it challenging to learn Norwegian?

Surprisingly, one of the most challenging tasks when learning Norwegian is to find a good teacher! Norway is a small country with a population of just over five million people, which is several times less than the population of some Russian cities. Since there are few native speakers, it is usually not in great demand. Even large online platforms and language schools do not provide a large selection of teachers in Norwegian, but this does not mean that they do not exist! Finding a Norwegian teacher may take longer than you expected, but that doesn’t mean the quality of instruction will be worse.

Even though Norwegian is not very popular among language learners, there are many modern textbooks, manuals, and online platforms. In specialized language communities, you can find helpful materials, including videos. Our next article will explain what books and resources we recommend using when learning Norwegian.

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