Languages of Norway

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Languages of Norway
OfficialNorwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk)
MinorityKven Finnish
ForeignEnglish (>80%)
SignedNorwegian Sign Language
Keyboard layout
Norwegian QWERTY
KB Norway.svg

There are many languages spoken in Norway. Of these, the Norwegian language is the most widely spoken and the main official language of the country.


The most widely spoken language in Norway is Norwegian. It is a North Germanic language, closely related to Swedish and Danish, all linguistic descendants of Old Norse. Norwegian is used by some 95% of the population as a first language. The language has two separate written standards: Nynorsk ("New Norwegian", "New" in the sense of contemporary or modern) and Bokmål ("Book Language/Tongue/Speech"), both of which are official.

Norwegian language struggle[edit]

The Kingdom of Denmark-Norway until 1814.

Known as Språkstriden in Norwegian, the Norwegian language struggle is a movement rooted in both Norwegian nationalism and the 400 years of Danish rule in Norway (see Denmark-Norway). The koiné language (mixed language) known as Dano-Norwegian (Dansk-Norsk) which developed in Norwegian cities was the result of Danish replacing Norwegian as the language of the upper classes in that country (Danish was used in the courts of law and by the ruling class, and after the Lutheran Reformation of 1536 it replaced Latin as a liturgical language). The adoption of Norwegian orthography into the Danish language gave rise to the written standard of Riksmål, which later became Bokmål. Nynorsk, a new standard of Norwegian based upon the spoken language in rural Norway, was acknowledged by the parliament in 1885, and in 1892 it was first possible to use Nynorsk as a language of primary instruction. By 1920, Nynorsk was being used widely in western Norway and the mountain valleys, where it still has its stronghold, and Bokmål was used in the more populous areas of the country. Later, attempts were made to reconcile the two standards into Samnorsk, or "Common Norwegian", although this never came to fruition.


Bokmål, the written language of 80-90% of the Norwegian population,[1] is based on Riksmål, although it differs in terms of genders, lexicon, counting system, a tendency to permit concrete noun endings in abstract situations and diphthongs versus single vowels. Riksmål was officially changed to Bokmål in 1929.


Nynorsk was developed by the linguist Ivar Aasen in the 1850s, based on rural, spoken Norwegian, rather than the cultured, Danish-influenced Norwegian spoken in cities. Its first official codification was in 1901, was given the name Nynorsk in 1929, and has been used officially (alongside Bokmål) since 1938. Its usage, however has declined: in 1944 it was used by 34.1% (the highest recorded number), in 1971 by 17.5% of the population, today, some 15% of schoolchildren are taught Nynorsk as their written language, and Nynorsk is reportedly used as the main form of Norwegian by around 7.4% of the total population, whereas an additional 5% switch between Bokmål and Nynorsk.[1]


A more conservative variation of Nynorsk exists, called Høgnorsk. It has few active users, but is supported by the Ivar Aasen-sambandet organization, founded in 1965 in response to the samnorsk policy of the government at the time.

Sami languages[edit]

Geographic distribution of the Sami languages: 1. South Sami, 3. Pite Sami, 4. Lule Sami, 5. Northern Sami

The Sami people are indigenous to Northern Scandinavia,[2][3] and though they have largely adopted Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, or Russian—due in no small part to official assimilation policies,[4]— some still speak their indigenous Sami languages. Sami languages, like Kven and Finnish, belong to the Uralic language family. By far the most spoken form of Sami in Norway is North Sami (spoken by around 15,000 Norwegian Sami). The others are Lule Sami (spoken by around 500 in Norway), Pite Sami (which is nearly extinct) and South Sami (which has around 300 speakers in Norway). Sami and Norwegian are the official languages of Norway, and Sami is protected by the constitution.[5][6][7]


The county of Finnmark
The county of Troms

Spoken by the Kven people, the Kven language is a Finnic language, closely related to Finnish, and spoken by some five to eight thousand people in northeastern Norway, particularly in Tromsø (in the county of Troms), Troms og Finnmark and Finnmark. Mirroring the situation of Meänkieli in Sweden, Kven is sometimes considered to be a dialect of Finnish, and has a large degree of mutual intelligibility with the language.


The Romani people are a traditionally travelling people with roots/heritage from India, and today are spread across all of Europe.

The Romani language, an Indo-European, Indo-Aryan language (related to other languages spoken in India today), is split into a great number of dialects. Two of these, Tavringer Romani and Vlax Romani, are spoken in Norway, by populations of 6,000 and 500, respectively.

Scandoromani is another Romani dialect indigenous to Norway, as well as Sweden. It is spoken by Romanisæl (Tater) Travellers. Because of the wandering nature of the Romani people, there is no geographic stronghold of the Romani language in Norway.

Norwegian Traveller (Rodi)[edit]

Spoken by the Indigenous Norwegian Travellers, a traditionally Itinerant population who almost exclusively inhabit Southwestern and Southern Norway which have admixture from Romanisæl, also known as Tater (Norwegian & Swedish Romani) and Yeniche (German Traveller) populations.

The Norwegian Traveller language, also known as Rodi, is based on Norwegian, but has heavy lexicon borrowing from Romani and German Rotwelsch. Rotwelsch lexicon has entered through the Yeniche, and Romani lexicon has entered both from the Scandoromani spoken by the Romanisæl (Tater) Travellers of Norway and the Sinti-Romani dialect, as German Rotwelsch has Sinti influences.

Despite the lexicon of Romani and German Rotwelsch origin, the syntax, grammar and morphology of Rodi is entirely Nordic. Despite intermarriages and admixture from Yeniche Travellers and Romanisæl Travellers, Indigenous Norwegian Travellers have retained their own distinct culture, history, traditions, identity and history.

There is no estimate on how many Norwegian Traveller speakers there are in Norway, but it is known that the language is alive.

Foreign languages[edit]

Residents of Norway by language (2012, estimation)[8]
Language No. of speakers
Serbo-Croatian 12,250
Arabic 11,489
English 11,130
Somali 10,904
Kurdish 7,100
Tigrinya 5,552
Dari 5,212
Russian 5,062
Persian 4,929
Albanian 4,535

In 2013, there were approximately 4.5 million people in Norway who were capable of conversing in English to some extent, out of a population of 5.1 million.[9] The country currently scores in the top 5 of the EF English Proficiency Index along with its Nordic neighbours.[10]


  1. ^ a b Almenningen, Olaf (1996). "Nynorsk i Noreg i dag" (PDF). Norsk Språkråd. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 2009-10-10.
  2. ^ Sammallahti, Pekka, 1990. The Sámi Language: Past and Present. Arctic Languages: An Awakening. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Paris. ISBN 92-3-102661-5
  3. ^ Sammallahti, Pekka, 1989. A Linguist Looks at Saami Prehistory. Acta Borealia 2-1989.
  4. ^ Minde, Henry. 2005. Assimilation of the Sami - Implementation and Consequences. Gáldu Čála: Journal of Indigenous Peoples Rights No. 3. Kautokeino. ISBN 82-8144-012-0
  5. ^ Vikør, Lars S. (2017-10-17). "språk i Norge". Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian).
  6. ^ Norges grunnlov, § 108 (Constitution of Norway, article 108, mention the Sami language specifically)
  7. ^ kirkedepartementet, Kultur- og (27 June 2008). "St.meld. nr. 35 (2007-2008)".
  8. ^ "Vedlegg 6. Opptelling av antall språk fordelt på talere. Kilder: KOST, DUF og internett registreringer (UDI). 2012". Statistics of Norway. pp. 54–60. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  9. ^ "Norwegian English: a fusion language". March 7, 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
  10. ^ "EF ENGLISH PROFICIENCY INDEX". EF Education First. 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2015.

External links[edit]

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the CIA World Factbook document: "2006 edition".