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Language facts: Language poster for Norway

Language poster for Norway.


Vitality. Both Norwegian Bokmål and Norwegian Nynorsk are among the world’s one hundred most vital languages. Norwegian Nynorsk is used less widely in Norway than Norwegian Bokmål, but with its 600 000 users, it is a large language in a global context. Seven out of ten languages in the world are used by fewer than 100 000 people.

Equality. When the Norwegian national assembly, Stortinget, in 1885 voted to grant equal status to Nynorsk and Bokmål as two Norwegian languages, Norway became one of the first formally multilingual states in the world. Today, Norway is divided down the middle on the issue of whether the two languages should continue to enjoy this equality.

Democracy. Since 1892, the inhabitants locally have decided on which language to use in church and school. Since 1930, the local municipalities have decided which language the state authorities should use in their communication with them. After more than 4000 local referendums, language and democracy is more closely linked in Norway than in many other countries. The language struggle has taught Norwegians how to solve cultural conflicts without violence.


Stability. In very many areas of society, the use of Norwegian Nynorsk and Norwegian Bokmål is fairly stable. Half of those who use Norwegian Nynorsk during their compulsory education remain users of Nynorsk during upper secondary school. Rather more adult women than men use Norwegian Nynorsk, but young women are often more critical of Nynorsk than young men. The use of Norwegian Bokmål increases in accordance with increased income and education.

Spoken language. The greatest linguistic change in Norway during the last fifty years is that the majority of people now speak dialect in most contexts, but not everyone accepts this fact. Far more people speak their dialect privately than at work, and when at work, women in particular tend to normalise their language in the direction of Norwegian Bokmål. The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK uses more dialect than a few decades ago, especially on the radio. This change has mainly affected the use of standard Bokmål, which is barely used any longer in its spoken form north of the county of Trøndelag.

The press. Norwegian Bokmål is the most widely used written language in Norway, in its spoken form it is the majority language only in Eastern Norway. Norwegian Bokmål is under pressure from English, especially in the fields of science, business life and the entertainment industry. The Sami language is generally under pressure from Norwegian Bokmål, and Norwegian Nynorsk is under pressure from Bokmål in some fields. Norwegian Bokmål users are more positive towards English than Norwegian Nynorsk users are.


Difference of opinion. People in the north and west of the country are the most positive to the use of dialects – and are also those who use their dialect most actively – while people in Oslo are the least positive. Women are more positive than men, and those with a poor education want less linguistic variation than those with a longer education. The only language issue that Oslo inhabitants and people in the north of the country agree on is their opposition towards Norwegian Nynorsk.

Indigenous peoples and minorities. The Northern Sami language enjoys a far stronger position today than prior to the 1980s, whereas the Lule Sami and Southern Sami languages are facing difficulties. The decline of the Kven language can perhaps be slowing down. 

Multilingual. One in three Norwegians is positive to a more multilingual Norway, one in three is negative. Women are more positive than men, younger people more positive than older, and people with a higher education are more positive than those with little education. Many Norwegian Nynorsk users and a few Norwegian Bokmål users are bilingual in reality.

English. Men are more positive than women to the use of English, the younger generation is much more positive than the older, and people in the Oslo region are more positive than people in the west and north of the country. 

Digital publishing

Dictionaries. «Norsk Ordbok» for Norwegian Nynorsk and all Norwegian dialects (2017) is with its 325 000 entries one of the largest dictionaries in the world. «Det Norske Akademis Store Ordbok» (2017) for Riksmål and Norwegian Bokmål contains 225 000 headwords.

Understanding. The wide linguistic variety that is to be found in everyday life in Norway is an important reason why most Norwegians understand other Scandinavian languages better than Swedes and Danes do.

Digital written culture. The Internet and social media strengthen the position of other languages than English internationally, and both Norwegian Nynorsk and Norwegian Bokmål in Norway. For some people, dialects have become a third non-standard written language in digital media, but in general, eight out of ten do not use dialect in writing.   

English translation Howard Medland 

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About the article

Extracts from Ottar Grepstad: Språkfakta 2015. Ørsta 2015. Digital and interactive version by Allkunne 2019. 

The complete edition of Språkfakta 2015 (in Norwegian) with tables is available at aasentunet.no

Sources to Ottar Grepstad: Språkfakta 2015. Ørsta 2015.

Først publisert: 11.12.2019
Sist oppdatert: 24.12.2019