The Norwegian written language situation is unique. Norwegian has two written languages - Bokmål and Nynorsk. Norwegian school students are allowed to choose which writing language they want to use as their main language. Today, almost 90% of pupils have chosen Bokmål as their main language and just over 10 % have chosen Nynorsk. All students learn the second language as well, but read and write it to a lesser extent than the main language.
The background is historical. For 300 years, Norway was part of Denmark, and Danish was the official writing language in Norway. After its liberation in the early 1800s, the Norwegians wanted to create their own Norwegian written language. This happened with two competing methods. One method adjusted the Danish to replace Danish words with Norwegian and to a certain extent approached (eastern) Norwegian spoken language. The result was Bokmål. The second method created a whole new writing language that was based on the Norwegian dialects. The result was Nynorsk.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to writing Norwegian in two different ways. An advantage is that Norwegians can choose a written language that is close to the dialect each one has. One disadvantage is that the system becomes expensive and complicated, since all textbooks, public documents and other important information according to the target law must be published in both written languages at the same time. Both Bokmål and Nynorsk have devoted followers who have sometimes participated in a kind of language war. Some have tried to mediate and put forward suggestions on how to merge the two written languages into one. The result has often ended with even greater freedom of choice and confusion about how New Norwegian and Bokmål should actually be written. The Samnorsklinen, as this solution was called, is no longer official Norwegian language policy.
@asummers That’s the history of it, and is important to know. The differences is how the words are written and said. Some of the grammar can be different too. I’ll give you a text in both Bokmål, Nynorsk and the English translation!
Svensker, nordmenn og dansker forstår hverandre ganske bra. De har større problemer med islandsk, til tross for at islandsk ligner det skandinaviske språket man snakket for tusen år siden. Islandskens nærmeste slektning er færøysk, men språkene er ikke så like at en islending forstår en færing uten problemer.
Finsk minner om estisk, men det har også likheter med de samiske språkene. I både finsk og samisk kan man for eksempel lage lange ord ved å legge bøyingsendelser til ordstammen. Men når det gjelder lange ord, er grønlandsk i en klasse for seg. Der andre språk trenger en hel setning, holder det iblant med ett eneste (langt) ord på grønlandsk.
Svenskar, nordmenn og danskar forstår kvarandre ganske bra. Dei har større problem med islandsk, sjølv om islandsk liknar det skandinaviske språket som vart snakka for tusen år sidan. Færøysk er det språket som er nærast islandsk, men språka er ikkje så like at ein islending forstår ein færøying utan problem.
Finsk minner om estisk, men det har og trekk som liknar på dei samiske språka. Både i finsk og samisk kan ein til dømes laga lange ord ved å leggja bøyingsendingar til ordstamma. Men når det gjeld lange ord, er grønlandsk i ein klasse for seg sjølv. Der andre språk treng ei heil setning, er det iblant nok med eit einaste (langt) ord på grønlandsk.
Swedes, Norwegians and Danes understand each other quite well. They have bigger problems with Icelandic, despite the fact that Icelandic is similar to the Scandinavian language spoken a thousand years ago. Icelandic's closest relative is Faroese, but the languages are not so similar that an Icelander understands a Faroese without problems.
Finnish is reminiscent of Estonian, but it also has similarities to the Sami languages. For example, in both Finnish and Sami, long words can be created by adding inflectional endings to the word stem. But when it comes to long words, Greenlandic is in a class of its own. Where other languages need a whole sentence, it sometimes holds with a single (long) word in Greenlandic.
Most words are the same in Bokmål and Nynorsk, but there are many significant differences as well. In many cases there are multiple legal spellings in one or both of them. Except for a noticeably larger number of accent marks in Nynorsk, there is no difference in the fundamental orthographic structure, and the differences amount mostly to variation in vocabulary, use of different word forms (most commonly pertaining to suffixes and use and a greater use of monophthongs in Bokmål / diphthongs in Nynorsk) and occasionally a different associated pronunciation with similar or identical words, though both are technically strictly written standards.
The situation is complex and nuanced, but one way of looking at the differences is that they are two codified versions of Norwegian seeking to minimise dialectical variation in the written language. Many more differences between dialects that those legal in Bokmål and/or Nynorsk, involving both word variants and completely different inflections and even unrelated words. Many people do not use the written variant closest to their own dialect; Nynorsk is closest to the way most people speak, but far more people actually use Bokmål, and often do so with Bokmål forms which are closest ones to how they speak, either.
Some of the most common individual word differences: English / Bokmål / Nynorsk I / jeg / eg not / ikke / ikkje vote / stemme / røyst love / kjærlighet / kjærleik Monday / mandag / måndag Tuesday / tirsdag / tysdag
Common differences include the following patterns: Saturday / lørdag / laurdag autumn / høst / haust porridge / grøt / graut white / hvit / kvit why / hvorfor / kvifor who / hvem / kven
Differences which are not clear-cut include:
the "ei" diphthong never becomes "e" in Nynorsk, but often does in Bokmål
Nynorsk uses three genders, while many Bokmål users only use two
in Bokmål, verbs in the infinitive always end in "-e", while in Nynorsk they sometimes end in "-a"
"road" is "veg" in Nynorsk and "veg" or "vei" in Bokmål (and there are many other individual words which partially overlap in usage)