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Teaching minority languages in schools: Bokmål versus Nynorsk

Anne-Marte Denk Ravnestad

Areas where Norwegian is spoken, including North Dakota (0.4% of the population speaks Norwegian there) and Minnesota (0.1% of the population) (Data: U.S. Census 2000).Norwegian (Norsk) is a North Germanic language spoken primarily in Norway (but also in the USA, as the map on the left shows). Together with Swedish and Danish, Norwegian forms a continuum of more or less mutually intelligible local and regional variants.

Norway is unusual because the majority (and official) language, Norwegian, has two written forms that are equally recognised by law: Bokmål and Nynorsk (Lovdata, 1981). The two forms have different geographical origins, and which form you use still depends a lot on where you live.

I write Nynorsk which is only a majority language in four out of nineteen counties (Språkrådet, 2011). Nynorsk closely resembles my spoken dialect, and I feel comfortable using it for that reason. There are often strong links between identity and language, and this is crucial to the understanding of minority language users' feelings about their language situation. Although have no issue with being identified as “Nynorsk”, I’m still aware that,

language varieties (…) can trigger beliefs about a speaker and their social group membership. (Garrett, 2010:33)

In my case, the social group I am likely to be identified with is “uneducated country folk”, and while I might not feel that this is problem, I understand that other Nynorsk users may not feel the same way.

A map of the official language forms (målform) of Norwegian municipalities as of 2007

Norwegian law requires that pupils learn both written forms of the language at school – and it has been hotly debated whether we should change this practice. Bokmål users have claimed that it is difficult to include both forms in school.  I believe – both as a teacher and a Nynorsk user – that we should maintain this practice, not only because we would lose some of our cultural heritage if we didn’t, but also because of the effect it would have on Nynorsk users’ self-esteem, potentially further weakening Nynorsk’s position in society.

Teaching additional languages in school is both a challenge for teachers and an opportunity for them to think about their teaching methods. In the case of Nynorsk, it’s important for teachers to create awareness of this living language through showing examples of it in literature, newspapers and other media.

In my opinion the most important thing, when it comes to government-regulated additional language teaching and learning, is the teacher’s attitude towards the language. This attitude will be reflected in the pupils' motivation to learn and will ultimately determine the success of their learning experience. I believe languages reflect the huge variety of people and cultures in the world, and I want to pass my enthusiasm for that variety on to my pupils.


Garrett, P. (2010). Attitudes to language. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Lovdata Mållova (1981). Lov om målbruk I offentleg teneste [målbrukslova] (Law about language use in governmental services). [Internet] Oslo, Lovdata. [Accessed 21 October 2011].

Språkrådet (2011). Språkstatistikk – nokre nøkkeltal for norsk (Language statistics – some key numbers for Norwegian). [Internet] Oslo, Språkrådet. [Accessed 21 October 2011].

References (2)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    There are many languages all over the world, for an example.the people of the America use various languages to communicate each other. The Germanic language is also available in the U.S
  • Response
    The people of the Norway speak their mother tongue languages, but some people are using the German language. The school teachers face some difficulties to provide the knowledge in both languages.

Reader Comments (4)

Since writing her blog posting, Anne-Marte has commented:

I'm now working in a "bokmål"-school and I do face some challenges because of my language. I have to write things for the kids in "bokmål" so it's really good that I know it.

I've said all the other information and communication from me will be in "nynorsk", and so far there hasn't been any objections. The kids sometimes have trouble understanding my dialect (only one parent was worried about my spoken language) but we manage quite well when I modify some words. It's interesting!

Because it's really hard for me to give up on my dialect as it is such a great part of my identity... but I do see the advantages of giving it up in some situations. (I actually tell my year 7s that we'd better speak English in class because they probably understand me better in English than Norwegian!).

September 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterRachel Wicaksono

I myself am a user of Bokmål, and I find it fascinating how many other Bokmål users regard the mandatory teaching of Nynorsk as a chore they would rather be without. I have no trouble with this, but I can see how many students would think that it is tedious to have two tests in Norwegian ( separate Bokmål and Nynorsk tests), and I really think this is where the core of the problem is.

I can see how the continued practise of teaching both Bokmål and Nynorsk should be in effect, as Anne-Marte stated. Even if Nynorsk is a 'minority' language it is still used by a fair amount of Norwegians, and it really wouldn't be fair to exclude so many people. And by working in schools in Bokmål using areas, it would seem Anne-Marte could help spread enthusiasm for Nynorsk among Bokmål using pupils, and that can be nothing but promising.

February 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterMartin Frandsen

The language details are very nice. The ( Academic writing help is creating the wonderful writing papers for the students.

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