Deriving from the Germanic languages branch of the Indo-European language family, Norwegian is spoken by nearly 5 million people. It is the national language of Norway, but is also spoken in Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.
The origins of Norwegian
Together with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a sort of continuum of mutually intelligible regional varieties. The three languages derived from Old Norse, which used to be spoken by the Vikings in Scandinavian countries in the Middle Ages. In 1030, with the introduction of Christianity, which brought the Latin alphabet with it, Old Norse divided into two branches: West Scandinavian in Norway and Iceland, and East Scandinavian in Denmark and Sweden. For the next five centuries, Norwegian kept evolving, its grammar became simpler, its syntax acquired a fixed shape, and it progressively deviated from Icelandic.
After the Kalmar Union was formed in the 16th century, Norway was submitted to the Danish rule and the Danish language stood out as the language of the literary elite. Norwegians spoke a mix of Danish and Norwegian in everyday life, which later became their mother tongue when the union with Denmark fell apart in 1814. Followed a union with Sweden, which made Norwegians long for a national language of their own.
In the 19th century, a nationalist movement initiated by Ivar Aasen, a self-taught linguist, fought for the creation of a new written Norwegian. During the few trips he made inside the country, he created a new Norwegian language by mixing dialects from different regions and named it landsmål. This language cohabited with the official language, the Norwegianised Danish, riksmål. Norway, which was at the time independent from Sweden, acknowledged the two languages as national official languages at the end of the 19th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century, riksmål was renamed bokmål and landsmål, nynorsk. After a fruitless attempt at reuniting the two languages halfway through the century, the two regional varieties were granted the same status and are now both used in public administration, schools, churches, in the media and in literature.
Classification by family
Indo-European languages > Germanic languages>Scandinavian languages> West Scandinavian languages> Norwegian
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