We’ve embarked on Norwegian logic, which will be a permanent category with posts on a regular basis. Today we will set about the Norwegian language, which is a category in itself. I dare to say our language is the star of our culture. There’s really nothing quite like the Norwegian language. “What about the Swedes and the Danish?” you might think. Well, they usually don’t understand crap of what Norwegians are saying, even though we understand them perfectly. Maybe not always Danish though. They sound very queer. Like they’re chocking on something. Anyway, the thing is that we Norwegians don’t always understand each other either and I will explain why.
So what do you think happens when you live in a fjord with three other people? You start to talk peculiar and your dialect differ from the people in the forest on the other side of the mountain. Actually Norwegian dialects with it’s significant differences has existed as far back as Norse time and despite population growth since then, I’m willing to bet we have as many dialects as we have villages. No one knows for sure how many there are and some of them are impossible to even identify as Norwegian. I’m not sure that some of our kindred dialect speakers understand each other in between themselves. Even so, the Norwegian language no matter which dialect you speak, is an just as important identity mark as your Bunad. I lied, it’s more important. And because this strong sense of identity emerges from our language and dialects, which can be impossible to understand, we are a people of few words.
Easy enough, don’t you think? This also counts for the number of Norwegian words, which means we use the same words in different variations of contexts. This might make it very, very tricky for you non-Norwegians out there whom want to learn Norwegian. Let’s do two examples:
- Plante, f.eks. Gran bjørk, furu. Et tre – flere trær / A tree
- Materiale: Eska er laget av tre. I denne formen kan ordet ikke brukes i flertall. / Material: wood
- Handling: Tre i nåla (verb, tre eller træ) Tre, trer, tredde, har tredd / Thread a needle
- Tre frem, tre i kraft (verb, tre eller trå) Tre, trer, trådte, har trådt / Emerge
- Tre, 3 – tallord / The number three
- “Jeg vil heller bruke skje enn gaffel.” / Rather
- “Han heller vann i glasset.” / Pour
- “Vi skal legge heller på trappa” / Sorry, I have no idea what this is in English.. Some type of stone.
- “Det er viktig at baderomsgulvet heller inn mot sluket.” / Paving
The words does not change in shape or sound, their meaning simply depend on the context. I’m sorry Norwegian-students! We expanded our dialects rather then our vocabulary. By the way, I lied again – the sounds can differ, but only depended on spoken dialect, not the word itself. To make it harder, note that the pronunciation of Norwegian dialects may have nothing to do with our written language.
I appreciate a good Norwegian dialect. First off I grew up moving around the country. I’ve lived in East-Norway (Østlandet, Oslo), West-Norway (Vestlandet, Stavanger) and North-Norway (Nord-Norge, Harstad) and I have family spread out across the country – like those three people in the fjord. My family members speaks all sorts of dialects, but mostly Northern Norwegian (Nordnorsk) and Eastern Norwegian (Østlandsk), although there are hundreds of variations within these categories. I myself speak Østlandsk/Oslo dialect, which often can be perceived as boring by other Norwegians. Reason why? It’s all about character, identity and culture. The raw and untamed Norwegian. And frankly – my dialect is similar to one of our written languages and considered an affiliation to the capital city with it’s tamed, astray Norwegians – shamefully occupied with all things non-Norwegian and lack of patriotic engagement. Which is not true by the way.. But as a country where villages flourished separate from each other, micro cultures thrive. Our culture is therefore just as complex as our language.
I hope you have enjoyed your first Norwegian lesson and my insane skill of drawing explanations. It will not be the last, there is much more where that came from. And remember: If you feel frustrated that you can’t understand the Norwegian language, use the comfort of knowing that neither do we.