Norwegian (norsk) is a North Germanic language, developed from Old Norse (the language of the Vikings). It is very similar to both Swedish and Danish, to such an extent that Swedes, Norwegians and Danes can hold a conversation, each in their respective languages, with ease. It is estimated that there are around 5 million native speakers of Norwegian worldwide (with the vast majority found in Norway itself).
Norway, Sweden and Denmark were unified from the end of the 14th century, and from 1536 Norway was ruled by the Danes, leading to Danish being used as the language for official purposes and education until the 19th century.
Norway gained independence from Denmark in 1814 and several years later a movement developed to create a new national language. Unfortunately, this sparked great debate and in the end two languages emerged: Landsmål and Riksmål (both meaning national language), the first based on colloquial, spoken Norwegian and the latter primarily a written language and heavily influenced by Danish. These were later renamed Nynorsk (new Norwegian) and Bokmål (book language), respectively. Those working in the public sector are expected to know both languages whereas schools can choose which to use until students reach a certain age. Recently there have been attempts to unify these two variants into one “standard” Norwegian language, but these have now been abandoned.
The languages are regulated by the Language Council of Norway, part of the Norwegian Ministry of Culture. Their remit is to strengthen the status of the Norwegian language and protect the cultural heritage it represents.
The Norwegian alphabet has 29 letters: the same as English, plus æ, å and ø.
The majority of Norwegian vocabulary dates back to Old Norse, but more recently there have been an increasing number of loanwords from English, such as e-mail and juice. Sometimes these loanwords are spelled differently to reflect Norwegian pronunciation rules, but these versions can take a while to catch on (e.g. ‘jus’ is less popular than ‘juice’). German also heavily influenced Norwegian vocabulary and grammar, particularly from the late Middle Ages. English, in turn, has incorporated loanwords from Norwegian (or Old Norse), such as fjord, lemming and slalom.
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