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Nynorsk: Will you need to understand it for work in Norway?

Robin-Ivan Capar
Robin-Ivan Capar - [email protected]
Nynorsk: Will you need to understand it for work in Norway?
In this article, we will go through everything you need to know about the role of Nynorsk in the Norwegian workplace – and the two key factors that will likely play a role in whether you need to understand Nynorsk for work. Photo by sarah b on Unsplash

As you'll most likely find out during your first couple of Norwegian language classes, Norway has two official written languages, one being Bokmål and the other Nynorsk. While most Norwegians use Bokmål, will you also need to understand Nynorsk for work in Norway?


Norway has two official written languages that are taught in schools: Bokmål and Nynorsk. While the use of English in the workplace has seen a notable rise in Norway in recent years, you'll find it very hard to get along in the country without mastering Norwegian and at least one of its written languages.

While Bokmål is by far the most common form of written Norwegian in the country, with some estimates stating that around 85-90 percent of Norwegians use it as their primary written language, there are some areas of Norway in which Nynorsk is strongly represented.

Furthermore, there are specific industries and sectors that will likely require a working proficiency of Nynorsk.

In this article, we will go through everything you need to know about the role of Nynorsk in the Norwegian workplace – and the two key factors that will likely play a role in whether you need to understand Nynorsk for work.


Factor no. 1: Location

Before we dive into some interesting data, a short history lesson on Nynorsk is due.

Ivar Aasen, a Norwegian philologist, developed Nynorsk in the 1800s. He aimed to create a language that reflected the speech of rural people and was based on older Norwegian dialects prior to Norway's 16th-century incorporation into Denmark-Norway.

Nynorsk has undergone significant transformations since its inception, but Aasen's original work remains the foundation of the language.

Now, let's look at the data on the official use of Nynorsk.

According to the Lovdata organisation, as of 2020, 90 Norwegian municipalities have chosen Nynorsk as their official standard. On the other hand, 118 municipalities have opted for Bokmål, while 148 remained neutral.

Furthermore, three Norwegian counties have chosen Nynorsk as their official standard. These include Vestland, Vestfold og Telemark, and Møre og Romsdal.

As the data shows, the use of Nynorsk in Norway varies widely based on the region you live in. Nynorsk is often used in the western and northern regions of the country and rural areas, while Bokmål is more prevalent in the east and some of the larger cities.

So, if you're looking to work in the west or north of Norway, you might end up needing Nynorsk in the workplace.

While knowledge of only one of the two written languages may be sufficient in some parts of the country, always make sure to check the specific requirements for any position you are applying for.


Factor no. 2: Industry sector

A lot of professional environments in Norway will require knowledge of both Bokmål and Nynorsk. However, some industries, in particular, will have you working with Nynorsk on a day-to-day or weekly basis – especially in the west and north of Norway.

This is the case when it comes to government jobs, careers in education, culture and art, and – quite often – (local) media and publishing.

On the other hand, there are also industries in which Bokmål is the standard language, such as law and finance. Furthermore, if you intend to be based in Oslo it is unlikely that you will need Nynorsk for work. 

Regardless of the industry you work in (or want to work in), a high level of proficiency in both Bokmål and Nynorsk can significantly improve your job prospects and provide more opportunities for advancing your career.

Note that some employers will value the fact that you're proficient in both written languages, especially as an international worker, as it shows a deep level of cultural and educational commitment.


So, do you need Nynorsk for work in Norway?

The somewhat frustrating answer is – it depends. As we've stated, the region where you end up working and the sector or industry in which you work will be the deciding factors on whether you'll need Nynorsk for work.

If you choose to work with local governemnt in Ålesund, for example, you will need it. As an example, most private sector workers in eastern parts of Norway will not. 

However, while you might not need Nynorsk for work or in day-to-day life in Norway, remember that mastering this (written) language can be a major asset to boosting your career prospects and integrating into Norwegian society.

Note that there is still a debate in Norway on whether both written languages should be taught in schools, so the role and prestige of Nynorsk might change in the years ahead.

The fact that there are several institutions dedicated to promoting and safeguarding Nynorsk's role in Norwegian society – as well as media efforts to conserve and promote it (the most notable being the Norwegian national broadcaster's (NRK) decision to produce a part of their program in Nynorsk) – will also likely play a role in the future of Nynorsk in Norway.


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