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The Norwegian Nynorsk press in America (English)

All the attempts at issuing purely Norwegian Nynorsk publications in the USA have ended in failure. The three publications Norrøna (1900–01 and 1914–15), Dølen (1903–04) and Ny Verd (1972–81) were all short-lived. But literary texts and contributions to the public debate in Norwegian Nynorsk and dialect were printed in a number of North American newspapers and magazines over a long period of time.

Norwegian version

The interest among Norwegian immigrants for Nynorsk and writing in this variety of the language variety can be divided into three periods. The language debate and writing in dialect in North American newspapers, and in particular in Skandinaven in the 1870- and 80s, represents the first period. In the first two decades of the previous century, Norwegian Nynorsk enjoyed its heyday in America. After 1930 the number of Norwegian Nynorsk enterprises is gradually reduced, but right up until the 1980s writings and books (Eivind Evans and Arnfinn Bruflot) and a newspaper, Ny Verd (1972-81) (New World) have been published in Norwegian Nynorsk in America. 

Language debate and writing in dialect

Landsmål and the language conflict were first introduced in America with the appearance of the book Den norske Maalsag (1874) by Rasmus Bjørn Anderson. The debate that followed the publication of this book was started by P.P. Iverslie in the newspaper Skandinaven, and is, according to Einar Haugen, the first purely cultural debate in North American press. The discussion was carried out in riksmål, and it was never the aim of the debaters to introduce the Landsmål among Norwegian Americans.

The Landsmål was something new to Norwegian Americans and many felt that the language conflict in Norway did not concern them. On the other hand, the dialects represented the regional, the homely, the places from which they had their identity. In publications by local community associations, in particular in Telesoga, you can find many texts written in the Telemark dialects.

The peak period for Norwegian Nynorsk in the USA

There is a rich selection of sources on Norwegian Nynorsk in America. The magazine Norrøna – det fyrste blad paa norskt maal i Vesterheimen (The Norse – the First Magazine in the Norwegian Language in the Western Home) is the best source of information about the language movement in America. But there are also a number of books and magazines and some articles about the language movement. Also in this country there was an interest in Norwegian Nynorsk users in the USA. Both Den 17de Mai, Ung-Norig and Syn og Segn published articles and book reviews of Nynorsk books and mention of the language movement in America.

Norrøna was a quarterly magazine published in Walnut Grove, Minnesota and later in Fargo, Nord-Dakota with a total of four annual volumes (1900–01, 1914–15). The periodical was run and supported by a group of idealistic men, but never achieved more than barely a thousand subscribers. The owner and editor was Peer Storeygard from Heidal in Gudbrandsdalen, and he recruited well-known Nynorsk writers to the executive committee. The publication was edited according to the pattern established by Norwegian language periodicals and reflected much of the same ideology as their Norwegian models. There was very little material on general Norwegian-American circumstances; rather the publication saw it as its responsibility to inform its readers about the Norwegian Nynorsk language and the Old Norse culture.

The periodical contained a variety of material – articles, literary contributions, book reviews and advertisements for books. Most of the articles were about language and cultural issues, but we also find articles on more trivial matters with titles like «Kva honning er god fyrr», «Flatbrødet», «Kunnskap verdi hev mist» osv. What these articles had in common was that they focused on popular education and they encouraged people to live the simple life. The articles on language and culture were strictly conservative. The Norwegian Nynorsk culture was continually compared with the Dano-Norwegian, and the style of argumentation was often naive and preaching/moralizing. Book reviews and portraits of authors help to illustrate the Landsmål culture and in that way emphasize the positive self-image of the language movement supporters.

Even though publication of Norrøna ceased for an interval of 13 years, there were still activities among Nynorsk activists during this period. Norwegian Nynorsk authors and language enthusiasts submitted poems and articles to other newspapers and publications, for example Symra, Eidsvoll, Ervingen, Kvartalskrift, Skandinaven and Decorah-Posten. An important event for language supporters in this period was the unveiling of the Ivar Aasen bust at Concordia College on 7 June 1913. On the very same day the Normannalaget – the first language society in America – was founded. It enjoyed a very brief life.

Jon Norstog, Knut Knutsen Rudie, Knut Martin Teigen and Ola J. Rise were among the most productive Norwegian Nynorsk writers at this time. Of these, Jon Norstog (1877–1942) is not just the most productive, but also the most colourful of all Norwegian Nynorsk authors in America. Norstog was engaged in the language movement long before he emigrated in 1902. In Iowa he started his own tiny Nynorsk magazine, Dølen – tidsskrift paa norsk maal (1903–04). In it we find simple poems and short stories about feeling homesick, presentations of well-known Norwegian writers, for example Vinje and Sivle, other self-composed material and book reviews. Apart from just a few poems by Olav Bakkane and advertisements from «Koefod bokhandel – einaste landsmaalbokhandel i Amerika», all the material was produced by Norstog himself. In 1904 Norstog moved the enterprise to Minneapolis and changed its name to Dølen – tidsskrift paa norsk og dansk-norsk. But the periodical published just one issue in 1904 before closing down. A selection of the best material from Dølen was published in 1904 in the book Paa Heklemogen.

Norstog published a total of 25 books, the vast majority in Norwegian Nynorsk. For many years Norstog contributed to a regular column in various Norwegian American newspapers, for example Decorah-Posten and Skandinaven, where he among other things wrote about cultural issues, politics, the language cause and literature and about the Norwegians in America, whom he accused of being dull and ignorant crofters.

Publishing in Norway and a new attempt at a Nynorsk newspaper

After 1930 there ceased to be anything written in Norwegian Nynorsk in America. But in the 1970s Eivind Evans and Arnfinn Bruflot published texts in Norway. Evans wrote stories among other things in Norsk Barneblad, while Bruflot published five anthologies of poems in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as a novel, Inn i Amerika (1980). He also joined the editorial staff of the Norwegian Nynorsk newspaper Ny Verd, which was published in the USA between 1972 and 1981.

English translation Howard Medland

Sources

Einar Haugen: The Norwegian Language in America. A Study in Bilingual Behavior. Philadelphia 1953

Arne Sunde: «Nynorsk i Amerika», in Botolv Helleland (red.): Norsk språk i Amerika. NAHA-Noreg, Vol. 3. Oslo 1991

Arne Sunde: «A Minority within a Minority. The Promotion of Nynorsk in the United States, 1900–1920», in Odd Lovoll (red.): Norwegian-American Studies, Volume 34. The Norwegian-American Historical Association. Northfield, Minnesota 1995

Først publisert: 23.10.2018
Sist oppdatert: 23.10.2018