Norwegian dialects

Norwegian dialects

The Norwegian dialects are commonly divided into 4 main groups, North Norwegian (nordnorsk), Trøndelag Norwegian (trøndersk), West Norwegian (vestnorsk), and East Norwegian (østnorsk). Sometimes Midland Norwegian (innlandsmål) is considered a fifth group.

The dialects are generally mutually intelligible, but differ significantly with regards to accent, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. If not accustomed to a particular dialect, even a native Norwegian speaker may have difficulty understanding it. Dialects can be as local as farm clusters, but many linguists note an ongoing regionalization, diminishing or even elimination of local variations.

Normalized speech, following the written languages Bokmål and Nynorsk or the more conservative Riksmål and Høgnorsk, is not in common use, except in parts of Finnmark (where the original Sami population learned Norwegian as a second language), in certain social groups in the major urban areas of Norway, in national broadcasting, and in courts and official decrees.


Dialect groups


Owing to geography and climate, Norwegian communities were often isolated from each other till the early 20th century. As a result, local dialects had a tendency to be influenced by each other in singular ways while developing their own idiosyncrasies. The community of Oppdal, for example, has characteristics in common with coastal dialects to the west, the dialects of northern Gudbrandsdalen to the south, and other dialects in Sør Trøndelag from the north. The linguist Einar Haugen documented the particulars of the Oppdal dialect, and the writer Inge Krokann used it as a literary device. Other transitional dialects include the dialects of Romsdal and Arendal.

On the other hand, newly industrialized communities near sources of hydroelectric power have developed dialects consistent with the region but in many ways unique. Studies in such places as Høyanger, Odda, Tyssedal, Rjukan, Notodden, Sauda, and others show that creolization has effected the formation of new dialects in these areas.

Similarly, in the early 20th century a dialect closely approximating standard Bokmål arose in and around railway stations. This was known as stasjonsspråk ("station language") and may have contributed to changes in dialect around these centers.

Social dynamics

Till the 20th century, rural dialects were considered an attribute of the uneducated provincial class in Norway. Social mobility involved conforming speech to standard Riksmål, a pattern that persists to this day in certain urban areas. Studies show that speakers of dialect tend to change their usage in formal settings to approximate the formal written language.

This has led to various countercultural movements ranging from the adoption of radical forms of Oslo dialects among political radicals to movements preserving local dialects. There is widespread and growing acceptance that Norwegian linguistic diversity is worth preserving.

The trend today is a regionalisation of the dialects causing smaller dialectal traits to disappear and rural dialects to merge with their nearest larger dialectal variety.


There are many ways to distinguish among Norwegian dialects. These criteria are drawn from the work Johnsen, Egil Børre (ed.) (1987) Vårt Eget Språk/Talemålet. H. Aschehoug & Co. ISBN 82-03-17092-7. These criteria generally provide the analytical means for identifying most dialects, though most Norwegians rely on experience to tell them apart.

Grammars and syntax

Infinitive forms

One of the most important differences among dialects is in the form the verb takes in infinitive forms. There are five varieties in Norwegian dialects, constituting two groups:

One ending (western dialects)

  • Infinitive ending with -a, e.g., å vera, å bita, common in southwestern Norway, including areas around Bergen and Stavanger
  • Infinitive ending with -e, e.g., å være, å bite, common in Troms, Finnmark, areas of Sogn og Fjordane and Møre og Romsdal, Southern counties, and a few other areas.
  • Apocopic infinitive, where no vowel is added to the infinitive form, e.g., å vær, å bit, common in certain areas of Nordland

Two different endings (eastern dialects)

  • Split infinitive, in which the verb will end either with -a or -e, e.g., å væra, å bite, common in Eastern Norway
  • Split infinitive, with apocope, e.g., å væra (værra/vårrå/varra), å bit, common in some areas in Sør-Trøndelag and Nord-Trøndelag

The split distribution of endings is related to the syllable length of the verb in Old Norse. "Short-syllable" (kortstava) verbs in Norse kept their endings. The "long-syllable" (langstava) verbs lost their (unstressed) endings or had them converted to -e.

Dative case

The original Germanic contextual difference between the dative and accusative cases, standardized in e.g. modern German and Icelandic, has degenerated in spoken Danish and Swedish, a tendency which spread to Norwegian Bokmål too. Nynorsk does not use much of the difference either.

It is though present in some spoken dialects north of Oslo, Romsdal, south and northeast of Trondheim, and in all genuine Germanic varieties in northern Norway and Sweden. The grammatical phenomenon is highly threatened in the mentioned areas, while most speakers of genuine languages have been highly influenced by the national standard languages, using only the traditional accusative word form in both cases. The difference in meaning between the dative and accusative word forms is thus lost, and one must add more words to specify what is actually meant, or one will inevitably lose information.

Some people have the opinion that the difference between dative and accusative is old-fashioned, while others, especially speakers of modern German or Icelandic, have a natural sense for it. Few people in Scandinavia really understand the contextual difference, even if they have studied e.g. German for several years.

Future tense

There are regional variations in the use of future tense.

  • Han kommer/kjem til å reise
  • Han blir å reise
  • Han blir reisan
  • Han skal reise


Syntax can vary greatly between dialects, and the tense is important for the listener to get the meaning. For instance, a question can be formed without the traditional "asking-words" (how, where, what, who..)

ex. the sentence Hvor mye er klokken? (literally: "How much is the clock?") i.e. "What time is it" can be put in the following forms: E klokka mykje? (Is the clock much?) (stress is on "the clock"), E a mytti klokka? (Is it much, the clock?) (stress on "is"), "Ka e klokken?" (literally: "What is the clock?")

Accent and pronunciation

Eliminating r in the plural indefinite form

In some areas, the r is not pronounced in all or some words in their plural indefinite form. There are four categories:

  • The r is retained – most of Eastern Norway, the South-Eastern coast, and across to areas north and east of Stavanger.
  • The r disappears altogether – Southern tip of Norway, coastal areas north of Bergen, and inland almost to Trondheim.
  • The r is retained in certain words but not in others – coastal areas around Trondheim, and most of Northern Norway
  • The r is retained in certain words and in weak feminine nouns, but not in others – one coast area in Nordland.

"R" variants

Most dialects use an alveolar flap (IPA [ɾ]) or alveolar trill (IPA [r]) for "r". However, for the last 200 years the uvular approximant (IPA [ʁ]) has been gaining ground in Western and Southern Norwegian dialects, with Kristiansand, Stavanger, and Bergen as centers. The uvular R has also been adopted in aspiring patricians in and around Oslo, to the point that it was for some time fashionable to "import" governesses from the Kristiansand area. In certain regions, such as Oslo, the flap has become realized as a retroflex flap (generally called "thick L") (IPA /ɽ/), which exists only in Norway, a few regions in Sweden, and in completely unrelated languages. The sound coexists with other retroflexions in Norwegian dialects. In some areas it also applies to words that end with "rd," for example with "gard" (farm) being pronounced /ɡɑːɽ/. The uvular R has gained less acceptance in eastern regions, and linguists speculate that dialects that use retroflexes have a "natural defense" against uvular R thus will not adopt it. However, the dialect of Arendal retains the retroflexes, while featuring the uvular R in remaining positions, e.g. rart [ʁɑːʈ]


Old Norse had the diphthongs /au/, /ei/, and /øy/, but the Norwegian spoken in the area around Setesdal has shifted two of the traditional diphthongs and innovated four more from long vowels.

/ei/ > /ai/

/øy/ > /oy/

/iː/ > /ei/

/yː/ > /uy/

/uː/ > /eu/

/oː/ > /ou/

West Norwegian dialects have also innovated new diphthongs. In Midtre you can find the following.

/aː/ > /au/

/oː/ > /ou/

/uː/ > /eʉ/


The Old Norse diphthongs /au/, /ei/, and /øy/ have experienced monophthongization in certain dialects of modern Norwegian.

/ei/ > /e/

/øy/ > /ø/

/au/ > /ø/

This shift originated in Old East Norse, which is reflected in the fact that Swedish and Danish overwhelmingly exhibit this change. Monphthongization in Norway ends on the coast west of Trondheim and extends southeast in a triangle into central Sweden. Some Norwegian dialects, east of Molde, for example, have only lost /ei/ and /øy/.


In areas north of an imaginary line drawn between Oslo and Bergen, palatalization occurs for the n (IPA /nʲ/), l (/lʲ/), t (/tʲ/) and d (/dʲ/) sounds in varying degrees. Areas just south and southwest of Trondheim palatalize both the main and subordinate syllable in words (e.g., /kɑlːʲɑnʲ/), but other areas only palatalize the main syllable (/bɑlʲ/).


(Jamning/Jevning in Norwegian) This is a phenomenon in which the root vowel and end vowel in a word approximate each other. For example, the old Norse viku has become våkkå or vukku in certain dialects. There are two varieties in Norwegian dialects – one in which the two vowels become identical, the other where they are only similar. Leveling exists only in inland areas in Southern Norway, and areas around Trondheim.


Voiceless stops (/p/, /t/, /k/) have become voiced (/b/, /d/, /ɡ/) on the extreme southern coast of Norway, including Kristiansand, Mandal and Stavanger. The same phenomenon appears in Sør-Trøndelag and one area in Nordland.


The geminate /ll/ in southwestern Norway has become /dl/, while just east in southcentral Norwegian the final /l/ is lost, leaving /d/. The same sequence has been palatalized in Northern Norway, leaving the palatal lateral /ʎ/.


The second consonant in the consonant clusters /nd/, /ld/, and /nɡ/ has assimilated to the first across most of Norway, leaving /n/, /l/, and /ŋ/ respectively. Western Norway, though not in Bergen, retains the /ld/ cluster. In Northern Norway this same cluster is realized as the palatal lateral /ʎ/.

Vowel shift in strong verbs

In all but Oslo and coastal areas just south of the capital, the present tense of certain verbs take on a new vowel (umlaut), e.g., å fare becomes fer (in Oslo, it becomes farer).

Consonant shift in conjugation of masculine nouns

Although used less frequently, a subtle shift takes place in conjugating a masculine noun from indefinitive to definitive, e.g., from bekk to bekkjen (/becːen/, /becçen/ or /beçːen/. This is found in rural dialects along the coast from Farsund to the border between Troms and Finnmark.

The kj / sj merge

Many people, especially in the younger generation, have lost the differentiation between the kj (IPA /ç/) and sj (IPA /ʃ/) sounds, merging both as sj /ʃ/. This is considered to be a normal development in language change (although as most language changes, the older generation and more conservative language users often lament the "degradation" of the language. The functional load (the sum total of words that use this kj / sj distinction) is relatively small, and as often happens, sounds with small functional loads merge.

Tonemes and intonation

There are great differences between the intonation systems of different Norwegian dialects.


First person pronoun, nominative plural

Three variations of the first person plural nominative pronoun exist in Norwegian dialects:

  • Vi, (pronounced /viː/), common in parts of Eastern Norway, most of Northern Norway, coastal areas close to Trondheim, and one sliver of Western Norway
  • Me, or mi, in Southern and most of Western Norway, areas inland of Trondheim, and a few smaller areas
  • Oss, common in areas of Sør Trøndelag, Gudbrandsdalen, Nordmøre and parts of Sunnmøre.

First person pronoun, nominative singular

There is considerable variety in the way the first person singular nominative pronoun is pronounced in Norwegian dialects. They appear to fall into three groups, within which there are also variations:

  • E(g), æ(g), and æi(g), in which the hard 'g' may or may not be included. This is common in most of Southern and Western Norway, Trøndelag, and most of Northern Norway. Some places in Western Norway, it's common to say "Ej".
  • I (pronounced /iː/), in a few areas in Western Norway (Romsdal/Molde) and Snåsa in Nord Trøndelag
  • Je, jæ, or jæi, in areas around Oslo, and north along the Swedish border, almost to Trondheim, as well as one region in Troms

Personal pronouns

Regions I You He She It We You They
Bokmål Jeg Du Han Hun Det Vi Dere De, dem
Nynorsk Eg Du Han Ho Det Vi, me De, dykk Dei
South Eastern Norway Je, jæ, jæi Du, ru, u Hæn, hænnom (dative) Hun, ho, hu, ha, a, henner Det Vi, oss, øss, æss Dere, ere, døkk, dø Dem, rem, 'rdem, em, døm, dom
Most of Western and Southern Norway Eg, e, æ, æg, æi, æig, jeg Du, dø, døø, døh Han, an, ha'an Hun, ho, hu, hau, hon, u Det, da Vi, me, mi Dere, då(k)ke, dåkkar, dåkk, de, dåkki, dikko(n) De, dei, di, di'i
Trøndelag and most of Northern Norway Æ, æg, i, ig, jæ, e, eg Du, dæ, dø, u, dæ'æ Han,Hanj, hin, hån Hun, hu, ho, a Det, dæ, 'e Vi, åss, oss, åkke, me, mi Dåkk, dåkke, dåkker, dåkkæ, dere, ere, dykk, di Dei, dem, dæm, 'em, di, r'ej

Possessive pronouns

Regions My Your His Her Its Our Your Their
Bokmål Min, mi, mitt Din, di, ditt Hans Hennes dens, dets Vår Deres Deres
Nynorsk Min, mi, mitt Din, di, ditt Hans Hennar Rarely used. When used: dess Vår Dykkar Deira
South Eastern Norway Min, mi, mitt, mø Din, di, ditt Hans, hannes, hanns, hass Hennes, henners, hun sin, hos, hinnes Dets, det sitt Vårs, vørs, vår, 'år, våres Deres, døres, Dems, demmes, demma, demses, dem sitt, dommes
Most of Western and Southern Norway Min, mi, mitt Din, di, ditt Hans, hannes, høns, hønnes Hennes, hos, høvs, haus, hennar, hen(n)as nonexistent or dens, dets Vår, 'år, våres, våras, åkkas, åkka Deres, dokkars, dokkar, dåkas, dekan Demmes, dies, dis, deisa, deis, daus, døvs, deira, deiras
Trøndelag and most of Northern Norway Min, mi, mitt, mæjn Din, ditt, dij, dej'j Hans, Hannjes, hanses, hannes, hanner, hånner Hennes, hunnes, huns Dets, det sitt Vår, våkke, vår', våres, vårres Deres, dokkers, 'eras Dems, demma, dæres, dæmmes, dæmmers

The word "not"

The Norwegian word for the English not exists in five main categories:

  • ikke – Oslo, Kristiansand, most of Finnmark, Vestfold and low-land parts of Telemark, and some cities in Nordland.
  • ikkje – most of Southern, Northern and Western Norway.
  • ittj – Trøndelag
  • itte, or ittje – areas north of Oslo, along the Swedish border
  • inte, ente – Mostly along the Swedish border south of Oslo in Østfold

Question words

Some common question words take on forms such as:

Regions who what where which how why when
Bokmål hvem hva hvor hvilken hvordan, hvorledes, åssen hvorfor når
Nynorsk kven kva kor, kvar kva for ein/ei/eit korleis, koss, hoss(en) kvifor, korfor når, kortid
South Eastern Norway hvem, åkke, høkken, håkke hva, å da, å, hø da, hå hvor, hvorhen, å hen, å henner, hørt, hærre hvilken, åkken, åssen, hvem, hø slags, hæsse hvordan, åssen, høssen, hæsse hvorfor, åffer, å for, høffer, hæffer ti, å ti, når, hærnér
Most of Western Norway kven, ken, kin, kem, kim kva, ka, ke, kæ, kå kor, kest, korhen/korhenne, hen kva, ka, kvaslags, kaslags, kasla, kallas, kalla, kass, kvafor, kafor, keslags, kæslags, koffø en kordan, korsn, korleis, karleis, koss, koss(e)n korfor, koffor, kvifor, kafor, keffår, koffø når, ti, kati, korti, koti, kå ti
Trøndelag and most of Northern Norway kæm, kem, kånn, kenn ka, ke kor, korhæn/korhænne, kehænn kolles, koss, korsn, kossn, kasla, kass, kafor, kafør, kåfår, kess, kafla kolles, koss, kess, korsn, kossn, kordan, korran, kelles korfor, kafor, kafør, koffer, koffør, koffår, kåffår, keffer når, når ti, ka ti, katti, kåtti

See also

  • Kebab Norwegian

External links

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