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INTERVIEW: 'Nynorsk brings local pride for thousands of Norwegians'

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
INTERVIEW: 'Nynorsk brings local pride for thousands of Norwegians'
Jon Fosse's Nobel win is incredibly significant for Nynorsk, an official written form of Norwegian. File photo: Jon Fosse attends the 73rd National Book Awards at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. playwright in Europe. (Photo by Dia DIPASUPIL / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Norway's Jon Fosse was recently honoured with the Nobel Prize in Literature. His win is significant for Nynorsk, the minority form of written Norwegian in which he chooses to write his works, an expert tells The Local.


Jon Fosse recently became the first Norwegian for 95 years to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His work is celebrated for its direct, minimalistic and innovative style, where what is not said is often more revealing than what is.

Another reason his work is championed is because the author and playwright writes his works in Nynorsk, one of two official written forms of Norwegian. 

Even though it is taught in schools and is used as the official language of many local authorities in Norway, only 10-15 percent of the population uses Nynorsk. 

READ ALSO: What foreigners in Norway need to know about Nynorsk?

What the win means for Nynorsk

Nynorsk lends itself to Fosse's signature writing style, according to James K Puchowski, a lecturer in Norwegian at the University College London. 

"Fosse is simply a giant in Nynorsk literature, although his style of writing and stream-of-consciousness aesthetic may not be to everyone's taste. That Fosse has committed to Nynorsk in his writing is probably related to the style of his work — the Nynorsk written standard is intended to represent everyday speech, and many of the formalisms we find in Bokmål are actively avoided." He said. 

"Bokmål can be written rather conservatively and with echoes of Danish written style, whereas Nynorsk will allow many writers to be more radical, creative and personal in their works," Puchowski added.


The lecturer, whose specialism is in Nynorsk and discourse about language in Europe, said that the Nobel win could serve as encouragement for writers who chose to use the minority form of written Norwegian. 

"Winning the Nobel Prize will be some encouragement for the many authors and writers who make the active choice to use Nynorsk even if it might seem risky to write in a minority language today," he said. 

He told The Local that he hoped the win would also bring more interest to Norwegian worldwide, especially given it is a polynomic language – meaning there is more than one written form. 

"My own personal opinion is that Nynorsk remains important for Norwegian in that it is a reminder that there is no one single way to speak Norwegian either. Nynorsk is in many ways a homage to dialectal diversity in Norway and how it will represent local identity and local pride for hundreds of thousands of Norwegian people," he said. 

Despite the spotlight that Nynorsk has received in light of Fosse's Nobel win, not enough is being done to champion Nynorsk, with many choosing to teach Bokmål only. 

"I don't think, however, that enough is being done to really hammer down the point that Nynorsk is Norwegian. There is far too much pressure on educators both in Norway and abroad to teach Norwegian through — and only through — Bokmål to achieve learning objectives and also to parallel how other mainstream languages are taught," Puchowski said. 

What is Nynorsk? 

Nynorsk came to the fore in the 1800s when Norway was under Swedish rule but still allowed to operate semi-independently. 

Around this time, many Norwegians found it problematic that Danish was so prevalent in Norway and began a linguistic reformation, pivoting from Danish to Norwegian. 

A linguist called Ivar Aasen created a written standard based on regional dialects in rural areas, as he felt those would be closer to Norwegian. In 1853, he published a written standard based on these dialects and called it landsmål. This would later become what is known as what is known as Nynorsk today. 


This happened around the same time riksmål was formed, another attempt to pivot the language from Danish towards Norwegian. Riksmål would become Bokmål, the dominant form of written Norwegian. Both would receive status as official languages.


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