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The Norwegian dialects are commonly divided into 4 main groups, North Norwegian (nordnorsk), Trøndelag Norwegian (trøndersk), West Norwegian (vestnorsk), and East Norwegian (østnorsk). Sometimes Midland Norwegian (innlandsmål) and/or South Norwegian (sørlandsk) are considered fifth or sixth groups.
The dialects are generally mutually intelligible, but differ significantly with regards to accent, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. If not accustomed to a particular dialect, even a native Norwegian speaker may have difficulty understanding it. Dialects can be as local as farm clusters, but many linguists note an ongoing regionalization, diminishing or even elimination of local variations.
Normalized speech, following the written languages Bokmål and Nynorsk or the more conservative Riksmål and Høgnorsk, is not in common use, except in parts of Finnmark (where the original Sami population learned Norwegian as a second language), in certain social groups in the major urban areas of Norway, in national broadcasting, and in courts and official decrees.
Owing to geography and climate, Norwegian communities were often isolated from each other until the early 20th century. As a result, local dialects had a tendency to be influenced by each other in singular ways while developing their own idiosyncrasies. The community of Oppdal, for example, has characteristics in common with coastal dialects to the west, the dialects of northern Gudbrandsdalen to the south, and other dialects in Sør Trøndelag from the north. The linguist Einar Haugen documented the particulars of the Oppdal dialect, and the writer Inge Krokann used it as a literary device. Other transitional dialects include the dialects of Romsdal and Arendal.
On the other hand, newly industrialized communities near sources of hydroelectric power have developed dialects consistent with the region but in many ways unique. Studies in such places as Høyanger, Odda, Tyssedal, Rjukan, Notodden, Sauda, and others show that creolization has effected the formation of new dialects in these areas.
Similarly, in the early 20th century a dialect closely approximating standard Bokmål arose in and around railway stations. This was known as stasjonsspråk ("station language") and may have contributed to changes in dialect around these centers.
Until the 20th century, upward social mobility in a city like Oslo could in some cases require conforming speech to standard Riksmål. Studies show that even today, speakers of rural dialects may tend to change their usage in formal settings to approximate the formal written language. This has led to various countercultural movements ranging from the adoption of radical forms of Oslo dialects among political radicals in Oslo, to movements preserving local dialects. There is widespread and growing acceptance that Norwegian linguistic diversity is worth preserving.
The trend today is a regionalisation of the dialects causing smaller dialectal traits to disappear and rural dialects to merge with their nearest larger dialectal variety.
There is no standard dialect for the Norwegian language as a whole, and all dialects are by now mutually intelligible. Hence, widely different dialects are used frequently and alongside each other, in almost every aspect of society. Criticism of a dialect may be considered criticism of someone's personal identity and place of upbringing, and is considered impolite. Not using one's proper dialect would be bordering on awkward in many situations, as it may signal a wish to take on an identity or a background which one does not have. Dialects are also an area from which to derive humour both in professional and household situations.
There are many ways to distinguish among Norwegian dialects. These criteria are drawn from the work Johnsen, Egil Børre (ed.) (1987) Vårt Eget Språk/Talemålet. H. Aschehoug & Co. ISBN 82-03-17092-7. These criteria generally provide the analytical means for identifying most dialects, though most Norwegians rely on experience to tell them apart.
One of the most important differences among dialects is which, if any, ending verbs have in the infinitive form. In Old Norwegian, most verbs had an infinitive ending (-a), and likewise in a modern Norwegian dialect, most of the verbs of the dialect either have or would have had an infinitive ending. There are five varieties of the infinitive ending in Norwegian dialects, constituting two groups:
One ending (western dialects)
Two different endings (eastern dialects)
The split distribution of endings is related to the syllable length of the verb in Old Norse. "Short-syllable" (kortstava) verbs in Norse kept their endings. The "long-syllable" (langstava) verbs lost their (unstressed) endings or had them converted to -e.
The original Germanic contextual difference between the dative and accusative cases, standardized in e.g. modern German and Icelandic, has degenerated in spoken Danish and Swedish, a tendency which spread to Bokmål too. Ivar Aasen treated the dative case in detail in his work, Norsk Grammatik (1848), and use of Norwegian dative as a living grammatical case can be found in a few of the earliest Landsmål texts. However, the dative case has never been part of official Landsmål/Nynorsk.
It is though present in some spoken dialects north of Oslo, Romsdal, south and northeast of Trondheim, and in all genuine Germanic varieties in northern Norway and Sweden. The grammatical phenomenon is highly threatened in the mentioned areas, while most speakers of genuine languages have been highly influenced by the national standard languages, using only the traditional accusative word form in both cases. The difference in meaning between the dative and accusative word forms is thus lost, and one must add more words to specify what is actually meant, or one will inevitably lose information.
While speakers of e.g. modern German or Icelandic have a natural sense for the difference between the dative and accusative cases, few people in Scandinavia really understand the contextual difference, even if they have studied e.g. German for several years.
There are regional variations in the use of future tense.
Syntax can vary greatly between dialects, and the tense is important for the listener to get the meaning. For instance, a question can be formed without the traditional "asking-words" (how, where, what, who..)
ex. the sentence Hvor mye er klokken? (literally: "How much is the clock?") i.e. "What time is it" can be put in the following forms: E klokka mykje? (Is the clock much?) (stress is on "the clock"), E a mytti klokka? (Is it much, the clock?) (stress on "is"), "Ka e klokken?" (literally: "What is the clock?"), or "Ka klokka e?" (literally: What the clock is?)
In some areas, the r is not pronounced in all or some words in their plural indefinite form. There are four categories:
Most dialects use an alveolar flap (IPA [ɾ]) or alveolar trill (IPA [r]) for "r". However, for the last 200 years the uvular approximant (IPA [ʁ]) has been gaining ground in Western and Southern Norwegian dialects, with Kristiansand, Stavanger, and Bergen as centers. The uvular R has also been adopted in aspiring patricians in and around Oslo, to the point that it was for some time fashionable to "import" governesses from the Kristiansand area. In certain regions, such as Oslo, the flap has become realized as a retroflex flap (generally called "thick L") (IPA /ɽ/), which exists only in Norway, a few regions in Sweden, and in completely unrelated languages. The sound coexists with other retroflexions in Norwegian dialects. In some areas it also applies to words that end with "rd," for example with "gard" (farm) being pronounced /ɡɑːɽ/. The uvular R has gained less acceptance in eastern regions, and linguists speculate that dialects that use retroflexes have a "natural defense" against uvular R thus will not adopt it. However, the dialect of Arendal retains the retroflexes, while featuring the uvular R in remaining positions, e.g. rart [ʁɑːʈ]
/ei/ > /ai/
/øy/ > /oy/
/iː/ > /ei/
/yː/ > /uy/
/uː/ > /eu/
/oː/ > /ou/
West Norwegian dialects have also innovated new diphthongs. In Midtre you can find the following.
/aː/ > /au/
/oː/ > /ou/
/uː/ > /eʉ/
The Old Norse diphthongs /au/, /ei/, and /øy/ have experienced monophthongization in certain dialects of modern Norwegian.
/ei/ > /e/
/øy/ > /ø/
/au/ > /ø/
This shift originated in Old East Norse, which is reflected in the fact that Swedish and Danish overwhelmingly exhibit this change. Monphthongization in Norway ends on the coast west of Trondheim and extends southeast in a triangle into central Sweden. Some Norwegian dialects, east of Molde, for example, have only lost /ei/ and /øy/.
In areas north of an isogloss running between Oslo and Bergen, palatalization occurs for the n (IPA /nʲ/), l (/lʲ/), t (/tʲ/) and d (/dʲ/) sounds in varying degrees. Areas just south and southwest of Trondheim palatalize both the main and subordinate syllable in words (e.g., /kɑlːʲɑnʲ/), but other areas only palatalize the main syllable (/bɑlʲ/).
(Jamning/Jevning in Norwegian) This is a phenomenon in which the root vowel and end vowel in a word approximate each other. For example, the old Norse viku has become våkkå or vukku in certain dialects. There are two varieties in Norwegian dialects – one in which the two vowels become identical, the other where they are only similar. Leveling exists only in inland areas in Southern Norway, and areas around Trondheim.
Voiceless stops (/p/, /t/, /k/) have become voiced (/b/, /d/, /ɡ/) on the extreme southern coast of Norway, including Kristiansand, Mandal and Stavanger. The same phenomenon appears in Sør-Trøndelag and one area in Nordland.
The geminate /ll/ in southwestern Norway has become /dl/, while just east in southcentral Norwegian the final /l/ is lost, leaving /d/. The same sequence has been palatalized in Northern Norway, leaving the palatal lateral /ʎ/.
The second consonant in the consonant clusters /nd/, /ld/, and /nɡ/ has assimilated to the first across most of Norway, leaving /n/, /l/, and /ŋ/ respectively. Western Norway, though not in Bergen, retains the /ld/ cluster. In Northern Norway this same cluster is realized as the palatal lateral /ʎ/.
In all but Oslo and coastal areas just south of the capital, the present tense of certain verbs take on a new vowel (umlaut), e.g., å fare becomes fer (in Oslo, it becomes farer).
Although used less frequently, a subtle shift takes place in conjugating a masculine noun from indefinitive to definitive, e.g., from bekk to bekkjen (/becːen/, /becçen/ or /beçːen/). This is found in rural dialects along the coast from Farsund to the border between Troms and Finnmark.
Many people, especially in the younger generation, have lost the differentiation between the kj (IPA /ç/) and sj (IPA /ʃ/) sounds, merging both as sj /ʃ/. This is considered to be a normal development in language change (although as most language changes, the older generation and more conservative language users often lament the "degradation" of the language). The functional load (the sum total of words that use this kj / sj distinction) is relatively small, and as often happens, sounds with small functional loads merge.
There are great differences between the intonation systems of different Norwegian dialects.
Three variations of the first person plural nominative pronoun exist in Norwegian dialects:
There is considerable variety in the way the first person singular nominative pronoun is pronounced in Norwegian dialects. They appear to fall into three groups, within which there are also variations:
|Nynorsk||Eg||Du||Han||Ho||Det||Vi, me||De, dykk, dokker||Dei|
|South Eastern Norway||Jé, jè, jei||Du, ru, u||Hæn, hænnom (dative)||Hun, ho, hu, ha, a, henner||Det||Vi, oss, øss, æss, vårs||Dere, ere, døkk, dø||Dem, rem, 'rdem, em, døm, dom|
|Most of Western and Southern Norway||Eg, e, æ, æg, æi, æig, jeg, ej, i||Du, dø, døø, døh,||Han, an, ha'an||Hun, ho, hu, hau, hon, u||Det, da, d'||Vi, me, mi, mø||Dere, då(k)ke, dåkkar, dåkk, de, dåkki, dikko(n), deko,||De, dei, dæ, di, di'i|
|Trøndelag and most of Northern Norway||Æ, æg, i, ig, jæ, e, eg||Du, dæ, dø, u, dæ'æ||Han,Hanj, hin, hån||Hun, hu, ho, a||Det, da, dæ, e||Vi, åss, oss, åkke, me, mi||Dåkk, dåkke, dåkker, dåkkæ, dere, ere, dykk, di||Dei, dem, dæm, 'em, di, r'ej|
|Bokmål||Min, mi, mitt||Din, di, ditt||Hans||Hennes||dens, dets||Vår||Deres||Deres|
|Nynorsk||Min, mi, mitt||Din, di, ditt||Hans||Hennar||Rarely used. When used: dess||Vår||Dykkar||Deira|
|South Eastern Norway||Min, mi, mitt, mø||Din, di, ditt||Hans, hannes, hanns, hass||Hennes, henners, hun sin, hos, hinnes||Dets, det sitt||Vårs, vørs, vår, 'år, våres||Deres, døres,||Dems, demmes, demma, demses, dem sitt, dommes|
|Most of Western and Southern Norway||Min, mi, mitt||Din, di, ditt||Hans, hannes, høns, hønnes||Hennes,hons, hos, høvs, haus, hennar, hen(n)as||nonexistent or dens, dets||Vår, 'år, våres, våras, åkkas, åkka, aokan(s)||Deres, dokkars, dokkar, dåkas, dekan, dekans||Demmes, dies, dis, deisa, deis, daus, døvs, deira, deira(n)s|
|Trøndelag and most of Northern Norway||Min, mi, mitt, mæjn||Din, ditt, dij, dej'j||Hans, Hannjes, hanses, hannes, hanner, hånner||Hennes, hunnes, huns||Dets, det sitt||Vår, våkke, vår', våres, vårres||Deres, dokkers, 'eras||Dems, demma, dæres, dæmmes, dæmmers|
The Norwegian word for the English not exists in five main categories:
Examples of the sentence I am not hungry in Norwegian (with dialects and one example of Nynorsk) Ikke: Jeg er ikke sulten (Bokmål) Ikkje: Eg er ikkje svolten (Nynorsk)/I e ikkje sulten (Romsdal) Ittj: Æ e ittj sulten (Trøndersk)
Some common interrogative words take on forms such as:
|Bokmål||hvem||hva||hvor||hvilken||hvordan, hvorledes, åssen||hvorfor||når|
|Nynorsk||kven||kva||kor, kvar||kva for ein/ei/eit||korleis, koss, hoss(en)||kvifor, korfor||når, kortid|
|South Eastern Norway||hvem, åkke, åkkjen, høkken, håkke||hva, å da, å, hø da, hå, hæ||hvor, hvorhen, å hen, å henner, hen, hørt, hærre||hvilken, åkken, åssen, hvem, hø slags, hæsse, håssen. håleis, hådan||hvordan, åssen, høssen, hæsse||hvorfor, åffer, å for, høffer, hæffer||ti, å ti, når, hærnér|
|Most of Western Norway||kven, ken, kin, kem, kim||kva, ka, ke, kæ, kå||kor, kest, korhen/korhenne, hen||kva, ka, kvaslags, kaslags, kasla, kallas, kalla, kass, kvafor, kafor, kaforein, keslags, kæslags, koffø en||kordan, korsn, korleis, karleis, koss, koss(e)n||korfor, koffor, kvifor, kafor, keffår, koffø||når, ti, kati, korti, koti, kå ti|
|Trøndelag and most of Northern Norway||kæm, kem, kånn, kenn||ka, ke||kor, korhæn/korhænne, kehænn||kolles, koss, korsn, kossn, kasla, kass, kafor, kafør, kåfår, kess, kafla||kolles, koss, kess, korsn, kossn, kordan, korran, kelles||korfor, kafor, kafør, koffer, koffør, koffår, kåffår, keffer||når, når ti, ka ti, katti, kåtti|