Brief History of the Norwegian Language
A summary of 1500 years
1500 years is a long time, and during that period the Norwegian language
has gone through many stages and undergone many changes. Modern Norwegian
has borrowed countless words from German, English, French, Latin,
Danish and Swedish, and here’s the story of how it all happened.
The words were extremely long and complicated. Five syllables was the normal length of a word.
The Vikings travelled a lot. They pillaged and plundered, but peaceful trade occurred too. The Norwegian Vikings and the Englishmen could communicate without problems. Many Vikings settled on the British isles and their language influenced English a great deal. For instance the word “bag” comes from the Norse “baggi”, and, in strange twist, “bag” has recently found its way back to modern Norwegian.
Missionaries from the Catholic church introduced the Latin alphabet to the Norwegians around the year 1000. With the missionaries and their alphabet came many Greek and Latin words which are still used in Norway today (so-called loanwords).
Despite the introduction of the Latin alphabet, the runic alphabet was
still in use and increasing numbers of Vikings were learning to use it.
Runes would be used for another 400 years.
Many well-off Norwegians settled on Iceland, where much of the Norse literature has been found. With their settling on Iceland the Norse people exported their language, a language which is extremely close to the language on Iceland today. In fact, a Norwegian from the 13th century and a modern Icelander would probably be able to read and understand the same text. They wouldn't understand each other's spoken language because the pronunciation has changed too much.
Shortly after the plague, the Swedes took over rule of the nation, then some years later the Dano-Norwegian Kingdom was founded. The Danish and Swedish rule of Norway influenced the Norwegian language heavily. In the larger town, such as the town of Bergen on the west coast of Norway, many Hanseatic merchants came to trade goods and hence the local dialect of Bergen was influenced by German. The dialects of all major cities that received visitors from abroad picked up foreign words.
Most of the traditional Norwegian fairy tales come from this period. People were superstitious and many of the folktales sought to explain natural phenomena with trolls and witches. The folktales were written down in the mid 19th century. (See also: Trolls)
Danish was taught in schools: the children had to speak and write Danish as long as they were at school. The children faced a problem when they had to describe the Norwegian nature in Danish - the Danes simply didn’t have the adequate words. For instance, at that time, there wasn’t any Danish words for tall mountains, the closest one was hill.
The union with Denmark came to an end in 1814. On the 17th of May Norway got it’s own constitution. Shortly after, the nation started a union with Sweden again.
1. Keep the Danish.
Option no 1 was rejected, but the two others were both set into practice.
The Norwegianized Danish would later be known as “Bokmål” (or Dano-Norwegian) and the other as “Nynorsk” (or New-Norwegian). (See also: Dano - and New-Norwegian)
The solution the two gentlemen came up with was this: They wrote the
stories in a rather radical form of Danish, making the sentence structure
more Norwegian and keeping culture specific words. Their work soon became
a huge part of the work to Norwegianize the Danish. Keeping the culture-
specific words was also important to rebuild Norwegians cultural identity
- of which after 400 years of Danish rule there was little left.
Image of the Runic Alphabet: ©Kunnskapsforlaget
Image of creature covered with runes: ©Kunnskapsforlaget
This creature is completely decorated with runes.
Author unknown; translation by Ivar Mortensson-Egnund
|© 1998 ThinkQuest team 18802|