Monday, February 22, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Norway

In last week's country profile, we looked at the languages of Turkmenistan, a country in Central Asia. Today we'll be moving across the globe to look at the linguistic landscape of Norway in Scandinavia.

The Official Languages

Preikestolen, Norway
It should come as no surprise that one of Norway's official languages is Norwegian, a Germanic language. Approximately 95% of Norwegians speak Norwegian as a native language, which equals over 4.5 million people. Interestingly, Norwegian has two standard written forms that are both officially recognized and used in education, media, government, and other areas of daily life. The most popular of the two is Bokmål, which is based on Danish-influenced Norwegian. It is used by somewhere between 80 and 90% of Norwegians, while the rest use Nynorsk, which is based on rural spoken Norwegian.

The Sami languages, which are spoken by the indigenous group of the same name that primarily lives throughout the northernmost parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, also have official status in Norway. Three Sami languages, all of which belong to the Uralic language family, are spoken in Norway. The most spoken Sami language is North Sami, with about 20,000 native speakers. There are also around 500 native speakers of Lule Sami and about 300 speakers of South Sami, both of which are endangered. Pite Sami, a nearly extinct Sami language with less than 50 speakers remaining, used to be spoken in Norway, but is now only spoken along the Pite River in Sweden.

The Recognized Regional Languages

Norway's government also recognizes three regional languages: Kven, Romani, and Scandoromani. There are thought to be over 2,000 native speakers of Kven in Norway, though it is still considered to be endangered since it is primarily used by older generations. While it is sometimes classified as a language, most linguists seem to agree that Kven is technically a dialect of Finnish since the two are mutually intelligible.

Finally, there are the Romani and Scandoromani languages. Norway is home to about 500 native speakers of Vlax Romani, the most widely spoken Romani language in the world. Scandoromani, on the other hand, is spoken by an unknown number of Norwegians belonging to the ethnic minority group known as Norwegian Travellers.

While Norway may not be incredibly linguistically diverse due to this short list of languages, it is great to see that all of its native languages have some form of official recognition from the government!