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EXPLAINED: What exactly is Kebabnorsk?

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: What exactly is Kebabnorsk?
Kebabnorsk originated in Oslo, pictured below. Here's what you need to know about it. Pictured is a skyline shot of Oslo. Photo by Barnabas Davoti on Unsplash

You may have heard it spoken by young people in Oslo or seen it mentioned as part of a broader public discourse in Norway, but what does the term ‘Kebabnorsk' really mean?


The term Kebabnorsk was coined in 1995 by master’s student Stine Aasheim to describe how non-western immigrants in Oslo spoke Norwegian. Soon, the word would make its way to the wider public and become a source of debate. 

Bente Ailin Svendsen, Professor of Multilingualism and Second Language Studies at the University of Oslo, told The Local that the language could be best described as a contact-based speech style that has emerged in multilingual areas of Norway’s largest cities, but particularly in Oslo. 

“Kebabnorsk is first and foremost Norwegian, with a distinct intonation, slang words, and perhaps some alterations of grammar, a speech style that young people use in in-group conversations,” the professor said. 

In that sense, Kebabnorsk is similar to Kanak Sprak from Berlin, Perkerdansk from Copenhagen, Multicultural London English, Rinkeby Swedish, and Straattaal from Rotterdam. These speech patterns are referred to as multiethnolects. 

Kebabnorsk borrows “loan words” from other languages. This is when words and phrases from other languages are woven into sentences. This is also why some may wrongly attribute it to a mix of two separate languages. However, as Kebabnorsk draws loan words from so many languages it can't be a combination of any two languages.  

Such is the breadth of loan words and sayings used by those who speak Kebabnorsk; there is even an online glossary of common terms used by speakers of it

Those who speak Kebabnorsk may do so because no direct translation exists for what they wish to say, or they feel that the loan words allow them to express themselves better. Oftentimes the use of these words and their placement in sentences can break from traditional Norwegian grammar.


There is no standardised way of writing in Kebabnorsk, as the spelling and grammar rules may change from user to user. However, it is used in messages between users but wouldn’t be used in more formal communications.

Furthermore, several books have been published that make use of Kebab Norwegian. The most famous of these is Alle utlendinger har lukka gardine (all foreigners have closed curtains). The critically acclaimed book is told from the prospective of a girl growing up in the multicultural Romsås area of Oslo.

While some have pushed for Kebabnorsk to be classed as a Norwegian dialect as a reflection of diversity and togetherness, there isn’t enough research on its use and development to currently class as more than a speech style used among predominantly young people, the professor at the University of Oslo said. 

Some people assume that Kebabnorsk is used by speakers in all settings and contexts, such as job interviews. 

This is wrong, according to Svendsen, with the professor using the example of when PR guru Hans Geelmuyden of publishing house GK caused outrage in 2020 for claiming that Kebabnorsk was unacceptable in the workplace.


Geelmuyden apologised and stepped down from his position, while trade union umbrella LO and IKEA cut ties with the firm. 

“Another misconception about Kebabnorsk is the belief that young people speak Kebabnorsk in all contexts as if they also will speak it in job interviews and at the workplace. That misconception has been vivid for many years. And if the young people showed their connection to a multilingual neighbourhood at work, what would that matter? As long as they have the necessary qualifications,” she said. 

Is the term problematic? 

When Kebabnorsk entered the public debate, it didn’t do so in a positive light. Much of the discussion centred around whether it was negatively impacting the Norwegian language as a whole. 

“For many years, journalists and the general public wanted to know if and how Kebabnorsk influenced or even ‘ruined’ the Norwegian language. Gladly, those questions are becoming rarer. Due to the relatively low number of users, and its use in in-group contexts, there are no chances that “Kebabnorsk” will influence the Norwegian language in general,” Svendsen said.


When asked by The Local whether Kebabnorsk was a problematic term, Svendsen said that was probably the case initially. 

“When we explored linguistic practices in eastern Oslo in city areas with a large proportion of inhabitants with an immigrant background, starting in 2005, many of the young people took a stance against the term. (They would say) ‘what has kebab to do with it?’ The practice of labelling language in terms of food and other evaluative terms is quite common and reflects our attitudes and ideologies towards language, language variation, standard languages, and its purported speakers,” Svendsen said. 

“Kebab in itself is not a negative label, but when it is constantly construed (by the media and in public discourse) as something that hinders and even blocks career opportunities as well as entering the job market, it becomes valued, and loaded with negative connotations and associations linked to its supposed speakers, namely young men and boys with an immigrant background,” she added. 

However, Svendsen did say that the term has become somewhat neutralised, and it isn’t loaded with as many negative connotations today. Although, she added that whether somebody found the term offensive would depend on who was asked and in what context. 


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