Let’s learn about Norway!–Jennifer geeks out about bokmål

It’s safe to say that I’m a pretty nerdy person.

I geek about a wide variety of things: Doctor Who, microbiology, Muse, extremophiles, the Beatles, Doctor Who, interesting microbes, anything science-related, food, etc.

I had a mini-geek-out fest on Saturday night, shockingly not about Doctor Who, music, or microbiology.

I was doing the reading for this week’s lecture in Norwegian Life and Society. Yes, I was doing homework on Saturday night. I’m really behind on my work, okay?! I promise I’ll be more social/have a normal life in the future. If I ever get caught up on my work, which right now is looking doubtful.

Anyway, the reading for this week was on Norwegian literature. The first part was about Norse mythology, and I started geeking out when I learned that Norse mythology is reflected in the days of the week (in Norwegian). Basically, some of the days of the weeks are named after gods of Norse mythology–tirsdag (Tyr’s day), onsdag (Odin’s day), torsdag (Tor’s day), and fredag (Frøy’s day).

I’m not entirely sure why, but I thought that was really cool.

It would only get better, however.

I then moved on to the section about folk tales.

But first, I need to impart knowledge to you so that you understand what I’m talking about. There are two official forms of written Norwegian–bokmål (Book Language) and nynorsk (New Norwegian). Here’s the deal–Norway was for many years in a union with Denmark. This union started off as a union at first, meaning that both countries were approximately equal. As the years passed, however, the balance of power in the union shifted, and Norway ended up turning into a Danish province. Danes held the important positions in Norway and since they were in power, they used Danish as their written language. People from Norway who were educated went to Copenhagen to do so, where they of course learned Danish. This resulted in a gradual shift from written Norwegian to written Danish as the main written language. Eventually Danish became the official written language, and written Norwegian disappeared.

Fast forward to 1814, when the union between Denmark and Norway is no more. At this point Norway was now technically in a union with Sweden, but that’s not important for this time. I’ll share the story later though because I think part of it is pretty funny. Anyways, nationalism and romanticism was fervent in Norway at this time since they were almost independent. Norwegians no longer wanted to have Danish as their written language, since language is such a huge part of one’s identity and culture.

This was the point at which the two written forms of Norwegian were created. Nynorsk isn’t particularly relevant to this story since I’m not actually sure how it was created (I’ll read that chapter in the textbook eventually), but I find the creation of bokmål fascinating.

Okay, not an awkward transition at all, but back to folk tales!

Folk tales were quite widespread in Norway, and as is the case for most folk tales, they were spread orally. In the 1800s, two Norwegians, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, went around Norway and collected folk tales to write them down and preserve them. They had a dilemma, though. Asbjørnsen and Moe wanted to retell the folk tales in the original language of the people, which of course was Norwegian. There was no written Norwegian though. The only language educated Norwegians could read was Danish. Problem? Yes.

So Absjørnsen and Moe mutilated Danish. Okay, that sounds a bit harsh. Basically they started with the Danish written language, but they added spoken Norwegian vocabulary and structured the sentences using spoken Norwegian syntax. This made the written language closer to what was actually spoken by the people, but it would still be understood by educated people who could read Danish.

And thus, bokmål was born!

The language continued to change over the decades, but that was how it began.

I had a major geek-out session over that. I just think it’s so fascinating that a written form of a language started because of folk tales. How cool!

There you go, now you know a little bit about Norway.

Fun facts about my life:

1. The past three nights my showers have all been cold. Apparently there was some problem with the heated water supply to my student village. Thankfully they fixed the problem today, because showering in cold water is miserable.
2.  I’m travelling this weekend! Unlike previous weekends, however, this time I’m not travelling just for the sake of travelling. This time I’m travelling in order to do a fun activity. A fun, dangerous activity. The chances of me living are slim, so I’ll say all my goodbyes before I leave. Hopefully I will live to update my blog again, but no promise 😉
3. Related to number two, I’ll be updating my blog again before I leave at least once, but after Thursday night no more posts until Sunday. It’s looking like the chances of me having a computer and Internet access and time during the weekend is, well, non-existent.
4. IT SNOWED TODAY. Then it was foggy for the rest of the day. BUT IT SNOWED. I can now go skiing again! Really, really excited for that.
5. Oh wonderful, they’re plowing the parking lot right now. I would like to point out that it is in fact almost 2 AM here. So that’s great.
6.  I bought a pizza from the grocery store and it was SO GOOD.
7. Occasionally people will ask me what common American food is. My response is always, “Uh… I don’t know… hamburgers? French fries? Stuff we steal from other cultures?” Today I finally figured out a good answer to the question! After class I went to the grocery store with my friend. I haven’t had peanut butter in a while so I was on a mission to buy it. My friend, who is from Germany, asked, “How do you eat your peanut butter? I’ve heard some people eat it with strawberry jam and I think that’s just strange.” It hit me–peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! The staple of basically every American’s childhood! I told her about our love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which evidently are not common in Germany. So there we go, now I know of a common American food. Oh also, mac and cheese. So good.
8. Somewhat random, but I always think it’s crazy when people dream in other languages. My German friend always dreams in German unless during the day she’s had a conversation with somebody in English and that person is in her dream. Then that person in her dream will speak to her in English, and she’ll reply in German. That’s so cool!
9. My German friend was speaking in German to another person during the break today. She then turned to me to ask me a question… in German. I just looked confused then she realized what had happened and switched to English.

I was just kidding about number two. I’ll live, I’m sure 🙂

Okay, bed time!


4 responses to “Let’s learn about Norway!–Jennifer geeks out about bokmål

  1. My fiance is Danish and we regularly visit Denmark. I have completely fallen in love with this country, but it’s one of my wishes to visit Norway as well. Thanks for sharing this information about the Norwegian and Danish language! I am a bit of geek when it comes to linguistics!

    • You’re welcome! Yeah it’s cool because Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian are all pretty similar–when I went to Sweden I recognized some words that were similar to Norwegian, which was very helpful when ordering food 🙂 I have a Danish friend and she has no problems understanding Norwegian, so if you visit Norway with your fiance he should be able to understand signs and talk to people!
      I imagine you’ve been to Copenhagen? If so, what do you think of it?

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