Speak dialect, write english


I just had a discussion with a colleague  on the state of languages in Norway. Norway has two official languages bokmål and nynorsk, the first based on danish the second artificially created from dialects in the 19th century. Most people write bokmål whereas some 20% (my guesstimate) has nynorsk as their primary language in school. This said, the languages are quite close, and everyone can understand the other language.

So why not one written language? In the 60s it was tried to merge these into one written language called samnorsk. At the time it was not successful, and the merger failed. Since then however the languages have grown closer, and at the same time the use of English as a second language has become much more apparent. So why not try again?   

I’m a strong supporter of spoken dialects – and there are many of them in Norway (every valley has their own dialect). Because of this people are used to hear dialects constantly as well as swedish and other european languages. Dialects tells you where you’re from, and provide you with roots and belonging. With the globalization we are faced with the challenge that everything from children television to Internet are written in the most (read: affordable) language . In practice it means that english children TV series and movies are dubbed with Norwegian bokmål. The result is that children starts to speak a normalized bokmål that is quite far from their dialects. The result in a generation will be that we will loose the dialects and have one standardized Norwegian spoken language close to bokmål. At the same time everyone also gets to read and write english.

Globalization is inevitable and allows us all to speak together, however why should we loose our spoken dialects in the process. Wouldn’t it be  better if we all spoke our dialects (in addition to english as a second language) keeping our roots, and write english. We might lose our written languages (bokmål and nynorsk), but a written language is needed only to provide a common understanding – and english would be better in a globalized world anyway.

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2 thoughts on “Speak dialect, write english

  1. norheimd Post author

    I got a lot of comments on this post outside of the blogsphere itself. It was posted initially as a provocation. One comment I got was related to the facts in the article;

    Officially Norway has two languages, Norwegian and Samic. Norwegian has two “målformer” (not sure how to translate that – maybe written variants would be the right word) – bokmål og nynorsk.
    [http://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offisielt_språk]

    The work related to creating one common written language was started already in 1917, and was intensified in 1938 and created a ravel in the 50s. No political mobilisation in
    Norway has had a larger participation than “foreldreaksjonen mot samnorsk”, collecting
    more than 500.000 signatures at a time where Norway had 2/3 of the population as we have today.

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