“What language is spoken in Norway?” sounds like a freebie question asked during the warmup round of your local bar’s trivia tournament. But while it wouldn’t be wrong to say “Norwegian” if you had to keep your answer short, there’s a lot more nuance to the linguistic topography of Norway.
Not only does the Norwegian language have a complex history (and two written standards used by contemporary Norwegians), but also it coexists with other indigenous tongues and immigrant languages.
In short, Norway’s official languages include Norwegian — with two written standards that are both officially recognized — as well as Sami, an indigenous language protected by the constitution.
What Language Is Spoken In Norway?
Norwegian is the main official language spoken in Norway, spoken by approximately 95 percent of the population.
Norwegian is a North Germanic tongue that descended from Old Norse, together with Swedish, Icelandic, Danish and Faroese. Though Norwegian developed its own writing system in the 11th century, its literacy rate was diminished by the black plague in the 14th century. Soon after, Norway united with Denmark, elevating the status of the Danish language. In the 1800s, Norway declared its independence again. Due to the long period of Danish rule, there was no written standard for Norwegian at the time, which led to the eventual creation of the two written standards used today.
The written standards are called Nynorsk and Bokmål. Nynorsk (formerly known as Landsmål) is considered the official language of four counties in Western Norway, but its prevalence is in decline. Even though learning to write it is mandatory for schoolchildren, only a small sliver of the population uses it as a primary means of communication. In contrast, 80 to 90 percent of Norway’s population uses Bokmål as its written standard.
Due to the complex nature of Norway’s history, you’ll find that few Norwegians speak the way they write. An abundant mix of spoken dialects exists in Norway.
Sami is a Uralic language spoken by the indigenous Sami people, and there are several varieties of it spoken in Norway, including North Sami, Lule Sami, Pite Sami, Ume Sami and South Sami. Though the Sami languages have official protected status in Norway thanks to the Sami Act and creation of the Sami Parliament in 1989, most Sami people today no longer consider Sami to be their first language.
Immigrant And Minority Languages
Norway is home to immigrant populations of Swedes, Finns, Russians and Romanis (among many others), all of whom speak their mother tongues. Romani, in particular, is a relatively large minority language in Norway, with about 500 speakers of Vlax Romani and 6,000 speakers of Tavringer Romani.
The Norwegian Traveller language, or Rodi, is spoken by the Norwegian Traveller population, a nomadic indigenous minority group (not to be confused with wandering groups with Romani heritage that also exist in Norway). The language is related to Norwegian but has Northern Romani and German Rotwelsch lexical influences.
Kven is a dialect of Finnish spoken by a small population of people in the northeastern part of the country. It’s more similar to Tornedalen Finnish than Standard Finnish, but they’re generally mutually intelligible, minus some differences in vocabulary.
As it’s the most popular foreign language taught in school, nearly 90 percent Norwegians are also fluent in English by the time they’re teenagers. Norway is one of the top five countries in the EF English Proficiency Index.
Norway is also home to sizable populations of Bosnian, Danish, Iranian Persian, Lithuanian, Polish, Somali, Spanish, German, Latvian, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese speakers.