Before this project even began, I was deadset on learning Norwegian. I had never studied any Germanic language before (and I’m surprised I haven’t received any flack for why I haven’t included German). I was all ready to learn, especially after reading this blog that spelled out how easy it is for Americans to learn the language.
And then I stopped.
As I explained here, my love of all things Scandinavian was outweighed by a more pressing desire to learn more about the world through another culture completely unfamiliar to me. While I had never been to Norway or speak Norwegian, I didn’t think it was fair to exclude so many other global possibilities. So, it’s not the first time I’ve encountered the Nordic language.
Norsk, as its known in its native tongue, can be traced back to the days of when Norway, Denmark and Sweden used to be one big kingdom. Although Norway had a rich history self-sufficiency and exploration, it was isolated by the rest of medieval Europe because it was slow to embrace Christianity. Norway eventually became part of the Kalmar Union in the late-late 1300s, which united Norway’s throne with the thrones of Sweden and Denmark. Sweden left the pack after 200 years while Norway remained connected to Denmark an additional 300 years.
Norway’s progress during this period suffered because everything was focused in Copenhagen, which served as the gateway to the rest of Europe. The light at the end of the tunnel wouldn’t be visible until the 1810s, when Great Britain attacked Denmark-Norway, which led to famine. After Denmark lost, it had to give up Norway to Sweden as declared by the Treaty of Kiel in 1814. Norway, however, took this as a sign to form its own constitution and was mostly autonomous, until 1905, when it was the first European country to gain independence in the 20th century.
Since that point, Norway has turned into one of the world’s most peaceful, wealthiest and healthiest (hey that rhymed!) nations. Norwegian is spoken by five million citizens along with a healthy number living in Sweden and Denmark. Because of Norway’s rule by Denmark and to a smaller degree, Sweden, Norwegian is highly influenced by its neighborly languages. In further detail, most Norwegians speak two forms of Norsk called Bokmål, which is adapted from written Danish and Nynorsk (literally meaning New Norsk), a reation to Bokmål that’s purely Norwegian-inspired. Bokmål is extremely similar to modern Danish and, along with Swedish, reaches the point of mutual intelligibility. Some would dare say that Bokmål is merely another dialect of Danish, although this can be seen as problematic by many.
Norwegian (and by default, Danish) uses the Roman alphabet. It’s like English, but there are three extra letters:
æ – a as in ash (also called an “ashe” in the International Phonetic Alphabet)
ø – an “uh” sound (no similarities in English)
å – o as in pot
Nynorsk tends to use diacritics for certain words, specifically the acute and grave accent marks and the circumflex (the little upside-down carrot). These change the meaning of the word, but not the sound.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: I was addicted to learning Norwegian and could not be convinced to turn away from it several months ago. However, a friend from Norway told me that while the language may not be hard, there are a lot of dialects Norwegians use, which could make learning colloquialisms hard. Also, Norwegian has a tendency to be Germanic with sort of long words, which throws me for a loop. I infer that written Norwegian would be easier than spoken Norwegian because of this. But that still doesn’t scare me away from my love for Scandinavia.
By the way, can I just say that Norway, like its Swedish neighbor, cranks out some great music? Annie, a major pop star there and elsewhere in Europe can testify: