Norwegian (norsk)

Norwegian is a North Germanic language with around 5 million speakers in mainly in Norway. There are also some speakers of Norwegian in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the UK, Spain, Canada and the USA.

Early Norwegian literature, mainly poetry and historical prose, was written in West Norse and flourished between the 9th and the 14th centuries. After that Norway came under Swedish and then Danish rule. Norwegian continued to be spoken but Danish was used for officials purposes, as a literary language and in higher education.

Norwegian at a glance

  • Native name: norsk [nɔʂk / nɔʁsk]
  • Language family: Indo-European, Germanic, North Germanic
  • Number of speakers: c. 5 million
  • Spoken in: Norway
  • First written: 11th century AD
  • Writing system: Latin alphabet
  • Status: official language in Norway

After Norway separated from Denmark in 1814, Danish continued to be used in schools until the 1830s, when a movement to create a new national language emerged. The reasoning behind the movement was that written Danish differed to such an extent from spoken Norwegian that it was difficult to learn, and because they believed that every country should have its own language.

There was considerable debate about how to go about creating a national language and two languages emerged - Landsmål (national language), based on colloquial Norwegian and regional dialects, particularly the dialects of western Norway, and Riksmål (national language), which was primarily a written language and very similar to Danish.

Landsmål was renamed Nynorsk (New Norwegian) in 1929 and Riksmål is now officially known as Bokmål (book language). A few people over 60 still use Riksmål, which is considered a conservative form of Bokmål and differs only slightly from it.

Today schools in Norway have to teach both variations of the language. Students have to learn both of them, only they can choose which one they would like to learn as a major language. Civil servants are expected to be able to use both forms.

For a while there was a movement to create a single standard language to be called Samnorsk (Union Norwegian). Politicians liked the idea of unifying the Norwegian language, while everybody else thought it a bad idea and a bit of a waste of time. The Samnorsk project was officially abandoned on 1st January 2002.

Norwegian alphabet (norsk alfabet)

Norwegian alphabet


A recording of the Norwegian alphabet

Hear Norwegian alphabet:

Norwegian pronunciation

There is much regional variation in how Norwegian is pronounced. The pronunciation shown here is is Urban East Norwegian or Standard East Norwegian (standard østnorsk), the unofficial standard for the pronunciation of Norwegian as spoken in and around Olso. It is the version of Norwegian often used for news broadcasts on radio and TV, and taught to foreign students.

Norwegian pronunciation


A recording of these sounds


Download an alphabet chart for Norwegian (Excel)

Sample text (Bokmål)

Alle mennesker er født frie og med samme menneskeverd og menneskerettigheter. De er utstyrt med fornuft og samvittighet og bør handle mot hverandre i brorskapets ånd.

A recording of this text by Magne Bergo

Sample text (Nynorsk)

Alle menneske er fødde til fridom og med same menneskeverd og menneskerettar. Dei har fått fornuft og samvit og skal leve med kvarandre som brør.

A recording of this text by Bard Esteland


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Mange takk to Anders Kvernberg, Haakon Krohn, Hilde Aas Nøst, Karl Sørensen, Heming Welde Thorbjørnsen, Kjell Ødegård, Charles Smith, Hugo Cesar, Knut Larsen, Bard Esteland and Magne Bergo for help with this page.

Sample videos in Norwegian

Information about Norwegian | Phrases | Numbers | Family words | Time | Tower of Babel | Learning materials


Information about the Norwegian language

Online Norwegian lessons

Learn a Language - Easy, Fast & Fun. As Seen on TV! - Learn Norwegian with Free Podcasts | Norwegian learning software
The Mystery of Nils: Norwegian Course for Beginners - Learn Norwegian - Enjoy the Story

Norweigian grammar execises

norskklassen - a virtual gathering place for Norwegian learners

A guide to Norwegian pronunciation (with soundfiles)

Norwegian phrases

Online Norwegian dictionaries

Online Norwegian radio

Online Norwegian news

Project Runeberg - a volunteer effort to create free electronic editions of classic Nordic (Scandinavian) literature:

Learn Norwegian with

Germanic languages

Afrikaans, Alsatian, Bavarian, Cimbrian, Danish, Dutch, Elfdalian, English, Faroese, Flemish, Frisian (East), Frisian (North), Frisian (Saterland), Frisian (West), German, Gothic, Gottscheerish, Gronings, Hunsrik, Icelandic, Limburgish, Low German, Luxembourgish, Mòcheno, Norn, Norwegian, Old English, Old Norse, Pennsylvania German, Ripuarian, Scots, Shetland(ic), Stellingwarfs, Swabian, Swedish, Swiss German, Transylvanian Saxon, Värmlandic, Wymysorys, Yiddish, Yola, Zeelandic

Languages written with the Latin alphabet

Page last modified: 07.09.23


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