Which family does Norwegian belong to?
Norsk is a Germanic language of the Northern group, spoken primarily in Norway.
Until the XIV century the history of Norwegian coincides with the history of Norse in its Ancient, basically unified phase. The subsequent differentiation was complicated by the fact that, following the political events that led Norway under the domain of Denmark from the XV century to the XVIII century, Danish was imposed as the official and cultured language throughout the Norwegian territory; the local language was therefore relegated to dialectal status, accentuating the differences. Danish spoken in Norway ended up taking a different physiognomy as compared to that spoken in Denmark: so, when in the early XIX century the Norwegians regained their independence, they preserved that language, which was called Dano-Norwegian or Riksmål (the language of the state) and became, through a series of reforms, more and more specific to the use of Norway, especially in phonetics and vocabulary.
In the mid-XIX century, a nationalist movement, led by the philologist I. Aasen, promoted a new national language, more authentic and genuine, built on the basis of Western Norwegian dialects and named Landsmål (“national language”). That language had a rapid success and at the end of the century it was recognized as the official language (subsequently designated by the name of Nynorsk, literally, “New Norwegian”) beside Riksmål, which continued to be used. The two languages coexist today, both taught in schools and endowed with a rich literature, although the Riksmål is now designated by the name of Bokmål (literally “book language”). The dominant trend is to reduce the separation between them.
Where does Norwegian come from?
Norwegian literary history moves on the basis of a difficult and arduous process of linguistic unification, in which we can identify some basic steps, corresponding to many different literary moments. Thus we have, at the beginning, the so-called Norse literature, made up mostly from the Edda epic cycle, concerned with the twilight of the pagan gods and the affirmation of the new warrior divinities. Among the authors of these poems, at least Tiodolf or Hvini, Torbjörn, Hornklove and Guttorm Sindre are worth mentioning.
What are the main linguistic features of Norwegian?
Norwegian is a pitch accent language with two distinct pitch patterns. They are used to differentiate words with otherwise identical pronunciation. For example, in many East Norwegian dialects, the word bønder (farmers) is pronounced using tone 1, while bønner (beans or prayers) uses tone 2, just like in Danish. Though the differences in spelling occasionally allow the words to be distinguished in written language, this is not always the case in orality. In most cases the minimal pairs are written alike, since written Norwegian has no explicit accent marks.
There are significant variations in pitch accent between dialects. Thus, in most of Western and Northern Norway (the so-called high-pitch dialects) accent 1 is falling, while accent 2 is rising in the first syllable and falling in the second syllable or somewhere around the syllable boundary. The pitch accents (as well as the peculiar phrase accent in the low-tone dialects) give the Norwegian language a “singing” quality which makes it fairly easy to distinguish from other languages. Interestingly, accent 1 generally occurs in words that were monosyllabic in Old Norse, and accent 2 in words that were polysyllabic.
- Enciclopedia Grolier