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02/12/2005 Séberos de sa Retza - Norvegia e Limbas 

The Norwegian National Language 

de Ingar Holst

Ingar Holst 


A brief historical survey po respondere a totu sas preguntas

fonte: http://www.holst.no/Ingar.Holst.Publishing.Co/irregular-papers/irr1a.html


SINCE 1938 THE NATIONAL NORWEGIAN LANGUAGE has been banned. It is strictly forbidden to teach it in the government-run schools and universities (and since the private schools may be counted on one hand, and since they will have their permission to teach withdrawn if they teach the National Language anyway, that leak is effectively plugged); it is strictly forbidden to use it as a civil servant, it is strictly forbidden to speak it in the government-owned national broadcasting NRK (nation-wide broadcasts outside NRK were likewise effectively forbidden until the early eighties as for radio and until the early nineties as for television) and it is strictly forbidden to write it if the dispatcher is any government-run institution. The National Language, its culture and literature, is consequently muted to the generations growing up. 

Some definitions

National Language Riksmål 
Book Language Bokmål 
New Norwegian Nynorsk 
Countryside Norwegian Landsmål 
NRK Norwegian National Broadcasting 
State Language Council Sprogrådet [Språkrådet] 
The Norwegian Academy Det Norske Akademi For Sprog og Litteratur 

Background: The Danish Occupation and the Nature of Norwegian Class Struggle

THE BLACK DEATH (the plague) came to Norway in 1349 AD. One third of the population died in the course of two or three years. Being a contagious disease, the Black Death ravaged more seriously where population was dense, which was in the towns. The survivors were those living in isolated valleys, in mountainous areas and in far-off farms. The survivors mostly comprised agrarian people with little or no education. The victims of the plague on the other hand were highly educated city dwellers; the clergy, the literati - the administrative classes of society. With this segment gone, the reminiscences of and traces to the rich Viking era; its language (Old Norse) and culture had been cut off; the latter which in its hey day had colonized Iceland, England, Normandy, Novgorod [including present-day Moscow] and New Foundland. The Black Death thus ended an era, and as we shall see, it also meant the end to Norwegian independence. When the Norwegian King Haakon VI died in 1380, his son, Olav, which through marriage earlier had taken over the Throne of Denmark, now became the king of both Denmark and Norway. This marked the beginning of various unions between the Scandinavian countries, Norway invariably being the weaker and exploited part. There was the Kalmar Union (1397-1521) as the most remarkable, and there were innumerable other ties through marriage and inheritance among the members of the church and the royal courts, which more and more recruited from abroad to compensate the vacuum which existed among the nobility and the landlords. From 1537 Norway was formally integrated into the Kingdom of Denmark as a province [lydrike]. Due to the Black Death, there was no body of state, no army, no administration to resist this course of history. Due to illiquidity the Danish king had already (in 1468 and 1469, respectively) sold off the Old Norse settlements the Orkney and Shetland Islands to the Scottish king. Two other Old Norse settlements, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands, have remained Danish to this day. The Danish occupation did not end until 1814. During the 400 year period of Danish administration and influence Danes migrated to Norway much in the way the Anglo-Saxons migrated to the New World or the Dutch colonized South Africa, i.e. they constituted a highly educated and influential bourgeoisie with a language of their own. In Norway, they concentrated in the cities. 

WITH THE DANISH MIGRATION to and settlement in Norway, the foundation for the present-day class division in Norway was laid down. The Norwegian bourgeoisie today exclusively trace their heritage back to immigrants from Denmark or Northern Germany (national boundaries in that area have varied through the centuries). The spoken dialects in the principal cities of Norway (Oslo, Bergen, Trondhjem) are Danish dialects, rather than peninsular Scandinavian dialects. 

SOME DIFFERENCES between class division in modern Norwegian society and some other countries should be noted: While Norway, the United States and Great Britain all are class societies, the bourgeoisie in each of these three countries have dissimilar foundations: From the point of difference in language and culture, there is hardly any class difference in the US, where social class is largely a question of economic affluence. In the UK, the bourgeoisie as a group is distinguished both in economic terms as well as in that they constitute a unique culture with a distinct language of their own. In Norway, more than fifty years of social democracy at its worst has effectively routed the economic foundation of the bourgeoisie. Aha, you may suppose, I am now going to state that the Norwegian bourgeoisie is defined solely by language! No. I am going to state that the Norwegian bourgeoisie is defined neither by their economic affluence nor by the distinctness of their language. As is going to be my point in this essay, the Norwegian Labor Party (Arbeiderpartiet) and the rest of the social democratic institutions have successfully combated both private ownership over the means of production as well as the language of the proprietary class. 

Language Reform 1907-1958

PRIOR TO 1907, the written language in Norway was Danish, though it was labeled Dano-Norwegian in Norway and Danish in Denmark. The discrepancy between the spoken language of the Norwegian bourgeoisie and this written norm was substantial and reform was needed. No-one today is able to refute this. After some time of debate in and outside the Parliament, that forum in 1907 passed a moderate language reform including both spelling and grammar bringing the written and spoken language closer to each other. One prominent educator pronounced that the aim of spelling reforms should be «to adjust the written language to the vernacular of the polite classes». This was a popular notion of the time and is the objective of the Riksmål movement today. The National Language was not anymore labeled Dano-Norwegian; it had acquired a status of a national language pertaining to Norway alone and was thus given the name Riksmål (directly translated «National Language»). In 1917 came yet another language reform, passed through parliamentary channels. The aim of bringing the written language adjacent to the spoken language of the educated classes had been completed. The name of this language was still Riksmål. With two or three adjustments, this is the norm of writing used by Riksmål-adherents today. 

IN THE MEANTIME the spoken dialects on the West coast of Norway had been bestowed attention on with a written standard of their own; Landsmål (directly translated «countryside language») by an act of Parliament just before the turn of the century. The Landsmål, which as a standard partly was founded on Old Norse and was closer to Icelandic and Faeroese than to Danish, also endured various spelling and grammar reforms prior to 1917. Until 1938 Norway thus had two written language standards; Riksmål and Landsmål. 

IN THE THIRTIES, Keynes economic thought had gained influence not only in the US (New Deal et cetera), but had also strongly given the Scandinavian socialists a theoretic pretext making parliamentary socialism (as opposed to revolutionary socialism) acceptable to a wide audience. The Labor Party gained control over Norwegian politics through a majority in the Parliament and was able to put to practice their various ideological stock-in-trade. One would not be surprised that this included a harsh economic leveling. However, the social democrats also absorbed ideas about linguistic class struggle, the politics of which was put into real life with the 1938 language reform, passed by the Parliament that year. (The same pacifist leftist parliamentary majority, by the way, which during the second half of the thirties disarmed the national defense so that the German occupational force in April 1940 met with no serious challenge when arriving uninvited.) 

THE 1938 LANGUAGE REFORM ACT served the heritage of the National Language the way Pol Pot served Cambodia; if the map and reality don't agree, then change reality. This is fairly common knowledge among Norwegians and outside Norway among linguists, so I won't dwell much upon it here. However, what is not generally reflected upon is the fact that the 1938 bill meant the end to Landsmål as well. This beautiful instrument of the lyricist and agent of revival of the Old Norse saga tradition was demolished by language bureaucrats, melted down and forced into a cast too narrow to encompass its minute syntactical framework and its blooming vocabulary often based on daring reinventiveness from raw material provided by the living West Coast dialects. The violent transformation of the two Norwegian languages was excessive both in direction and in extent. As for the direction, it was for the two languages Riksmål and Landsmål mutually opposite; they were redesigned to meet each other half way. Think about this for a few seconds: In Belgium there are French and Dutch. In Finland there are Finnish and Swedish. In Bulgaria there are Bulgarian and Turkish. What a challenge for the eager bureaucrat! To have free hands to plan a new language, suited to administrative purposes, so that the new planned hybrid language should deviate as little as possible from the two original languages stirred together in a pot and half of it thrown away. (It is odd to observe how the socialist bureaucrats today oppose DNA research and manipulation.) The aim of the time was that in the near future, there would be only one Norwegian language, and that this would be accomplished through repeated language reforms. The two languages Riksmål and Landsmål had now been altered to the extent that they were unrecognizable. I suspect it was because the language planners were proud of their work that they renamed the languages. The two languages changed names as follows: 

Original name After 1938 
(National Language) Bokmål
(Book Language) 
(Countryside Norwegian) Nynorsk
(New Norwegian) 

ALL THE SCHOOLS immediately started to teach the Book Language. The NRK started to use it in their broadcasts. Street signs went down in every city. New ones with the new spelling came up. Let me give you a few examples of how some words changed: 

Riksmål Bokmål English 
torv torg square 
gaten gata street 
piken jenta girl 
utdannelse utdanning education 
ansøkning søknad application 
tilskudd tilskott grant 
sprog språk language 
efter etter after 
sne snø snow 
nu nå now 
mellem mellom between 
syd sør south 

A KEY WORD TO THE NEW ERA was AN-BE-HET-ELSE. These were suffixes and affixes in Riksmål derived from Danish. Out they went! Teachers in the primary schools eagerly corrected the pupils every time they used any word containing AN, BE, HET or ELSE. (Remember, 99% of all the primary schools were state-run, so the state could do pretty much as it pleased. The few private schools that existed depended on having their curriculum approved by a state commission.) In this way, many abstract words were banned. Danish and Riksmål were languages suited for philosophy; rich in abstracts, rich in nuances, and Riksmål depended on its various suffixes to identify an abstract from a concrete. It was like if you should remove from English suffixes like -ISM, -ABILITY, -NESS or the like. Another feature of the Book Language was the introduction of widespread use of the feminine gender. In the National Language (Riksmål), the feminine gender existed to add flavor to the spoken tongue; it indicated vulgarism, humor and informality. Just like one in English may say «to sit on one's ass» instead of «one's behind» among friends if you are drunk and watching a blue movie, but you would never dream of writing it in a research paper or use it towards elderly people. The latter was precisely what happened when one used the Book Language in the way it was designed to be used. 

IN THE FIFTIES, a large scale reaction occurred against the further twisting of the Book Language in direction of New Norwegian among parents of grammar school students. The movement was named Parents Movement Against Linguistic Unification and gained quite some momentum. Partly due to this popular movement, partly due to widespread dissatisfaction elsewhere in society, yet another language reform act was passed by Parliament in 1958. This act was partly a reversal of the 1938 act. Many forms previously banned when Riksmål turned into Bokmål were now again allowed as optional side forms. The reaction had won a great victory. New minor scale acts were subsequently passed in the beginning of the eighties, allowing greater freedom in the use of the optional side forms. The attitude of the teaching profession was nevertheless hostile. I attended senior high school in the years 1978-1980, and when reviewing my essays and papers for Norwegian classes from that time, I am astounded to see the red marks underneath what the teacher saw as erroneous spelling and grammar; forms that I today, after having spent considerable time at university dwelling upon elder literature, know at a period was regarded proper Riksmål language. The reason I used these forms at high school, when being an unenlightened, was of course that these forms felt natural to me and that they were an inseparable part of my tongue as taught me by my mother. 

The Situation Today

AFTER THE 1938 REFORM, the adherents of the National language (Riksmål) revived the Norwegian Academy For Language and Literature as a bastion of resistance. The Norwegian Academy in years to follow reprinted a six-volume unabridged dictionary of the National Language from an edition dating back to the thirties, and in the eighties edited yet a smaller one-volume desktop dictionary with newer terms from science and technology incorporated. The biggest newspaper in Norway, Aftenposten, follows a more or less consistent Riksmål standard. Elsewhere, the situation is pretty much as outlined in the overview at the beginning of this essay. The Parliament appoints members to sit in the State Language Council, a forum where the Norwegian Academy is represented, though they constitute a minority. The Council regularly passes revisions to the Book Language and to New Norwegian. In practice, the Norwegian Academy has no say. To indicate what the majority of the Council do for a living, I mention the following revisions: 

New way of counting. In Riksmål one counts like in German; two-and-sixty, four-and-twenty, three-and-thirty et cetera. Now the official Book Language way of counting is like in English and Swedish; sixty-four, twenty-four, thirty-three et cetera. 
New way of reading some numerical notations. In Riksmål, «1/3» and «1/4» are read «one third part» and «one fourth part». Now the official Book Language way of reading is supposed to be «one three part» and «one four part». 
I COULD LIST INNUMERABLE other more or less bizarre manipulations to my mother tongue, but I won't, because it is outside the scope of this essay and it makes me depressed. In grief I end here.

Copyright © 1995 Ingar Holst 

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