Linguistically speaking, are Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian different languages or dialects of a modern Norse language?

By: | Post date: 2016-12-26 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Other Languages

There’s one hiccup which I’m surprised other respondents have not brought up, Habib le toubib.

There are two standard languages of Norway, and a mess of dialects in between.

Norway used to be ruled by the Danish. The official language of Norway at the time it gained independence, Bokmål (“Book Language”), has been uncharitably described as Danish with a Norwegian accent. That was pretty much the language of Oslo. Given how bizarre Danish accents are (as others have pointed out), that makes Danish with a Norwegian accent quite different from Danish with a Danish accent.

But Norwegians resented their official language being Danish with a Norwegian accent. So Ivar Aasen, one of their language activists, went out to the fjords, recorded the West Norwegian dialects that were the furthest away from the hated Danish with a Norwegian accent of Oslo, mooshed them together, and came up with Nynorsk (“Neo-Norse”). So there are now two official languages of Norway.

Nynorsk advocates will still occasionally snarl that Bokmål is “Dano-Norwegian” (or if they’re being particularly bolshie, “Danish”; I red-lined that out of a colleague’s PhD thesis once). In practice: Bokmål has moved further away from Danish with time, and with some gentle nudging from the government. 10% or so of Norwegians claim to use Nynorsk, but in reality just speak their local West Norwegian dialect.

Are Bokmål and Danish dialects of a modern Dano-Norwegian language, then? Only if you’re being uncharitable and a Nynorsk activist. 🙂

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