Dialects first began to interest me when I moved to Norway from the UK. I had previously studied ‘bokmål’ as an additional language; bokmål being the more widespread of the two official written forms of Norwegian. I very quickly discovered that my knowledge of the official ‘bokmål’ form meant very little – in Norway, regional dialects are used with pride and the degrees of mutual intelligibility between them vary. I slowly but surely began to understand the differences between them, largely thanks to Norwegian media outlets: for many years, radio and television presenters on all main channels have been encouraged to use their own dialects.
In 2009 this acceptance of linguistic variety was further extended when Ingerid Stenvold became the first newsreader to be allowed to speak her own dialect when presenting Dagsrevyen, the evening news programme shown on the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s main channel. In spite of the support for Norwegian dialects in the media, those responsible for news broadcasts had maintained that all presenters should speak a ‘standard’ version of one of the two official language forms. The decision to allow Stenvold to speak a ‘non-standard’ form aroused some criticism, though she received widespread support from viewers for reasons eloquently expressed by Norwegian linguist Ernst Håkon Jahr,
A national radio and television channel should nurture our common culture; our common language. As anchorwoman on a television news programme, Ingerid Stenvold represents us all. She ought to feel both pride and a sense of duty to speak our common language. (Jahr, 2009, translation my own)
Stenvold’s success came as little surprise in a country where dialects are a sign of national, regional and individual pride. Nevertheless, I remain sceptical as to whether attitudes towards linguistic variety in the UK will enjoy the same success – whilst journalists and newsreaders such as Stenvold enjoy the freedom of speaking their own variety of Norwegian, I fear it may take time for the social judgements brought about by the ‘monolithic myth’ to be dispelled in the UK. The BBC may have moved slightly away from the traditional Received Pronunciation English on radio stations aimed at young people and light-hearted entertainment programmes, but only when this move extends to more serious broadcasting will other varieties of English be taken equally as seriously.
References: Jahr, E.H. (2009). Dialekter forteller hvor du er fra og det er viktig. Agder, University of Agder. [Last accessed 29 October 2011].
Jahr, E.H. (2009). Dialekter forteller hvor du er fra og det er viktig. Agder, University of Agder. [Last accessed 29 October 2011].