What are the languages of Norway?

Letter languagePhoto: Raphael Schaller

Have you ever wondered what language is spoken in Norway? Multiple languages are regularly used in the country – and we’re presenting them to you with a complete linguistic lowdown on Norway.

Language is magic. When hominids began to communicate through multi-tiered languages (whether it was thousands of years ago or millions of years ago, however, is up to debate), major transformations went down. 

Thinking on a hike
One of the many perks of language is also the human knack to overthink. Photo: Anthony Tori / Unsplash

Communication and thought processes became quite complex with the help of language, which gives us the ability to reflect, plan, think abstractly, makes sense of reality, and more.

The languages of Norway

Many of the languages used in Norway today grew from the Indo-European and Uralic language families.

Language tree
The Indo-European and Uralic language family trees. Photo: Minna Sundberg

The Old Norse language belonged to the Indo-European North Germanic branch of languages and was prevalent across the Nordic region from around the 9th century to the 12th century.

It’s the parent language of Norwegian. Sámi languages, on the other hand, belong to the Finnic branch of the Uralic languages.

Norway’s official languages

Today, Norway (which has a population of about 5.4 million) has two officially recognized languages: Norwegian and North Sámi.

Norwegian (Norsk), Norway’s national language, is used by around 5.2 million people in the country and approximately 100,000 outside it. So, Norwegian has a total of about 5.3 million users.

What about the Norwegian alphabet?

Norwegian is written in the Latin script. But it does have two written standards: Bokmål Norwegian and Nynorsk Norwegian. Bokmål is used by up to 90% of the Norwegian population, while Nynorsk is used by around 10%. After the 12th century, Old Norse developed into an East Scandinavian branch (with Danish, Swedish, and other dialects and varieties) and West Scandinavian (with Norwegian, Faroese, Icelandic and other dialects and varieties). 

Bokmål is closer to East Scandinavian and Nynorsk to West Scandinavian, where it’s used more.

Norway alphabet
The Norwegian alphabet. Photo: Florida International University

North Sámi (Sámegiella) is an official provincial language used by around 20,000 people in Norway and 5,700 outside of it. The world has, then, about 25,700 users of North Sámi total. 

North Sámi has official status in Troms og Finnmark Country. It’s written in the Latin and Cyrillic scripts.

Educational languages of Norway

Educational languages are learned through official educational institutions and sustained beyond one’s home.

School education
Language learning in the Norwegian educational system begins in early elementary school. Photo: Element5Digital / Unsplash

English (Engelsk) is spoken by 4,348,000 people in Norway (of which 28,000 are native speakers). English is taught to children in Norway from primary school, and many Norwegians are fluent in the language.

French (Fransk) is spoken by 344,100 people in Norway (of which 12,100 are native speakers). 

English and French are written in the Latin script.

Developing languages of Norway

Developing languages are those that are becoming more and more widespread, but are not yet sustainable, though they are used across generations.

Vlax Romani (Rom) is used by 500 people in Norway and around 545,000 outside of it. Vlax Romani is written in the Latin and Cyrillic scripts, depending on the dialect.

Estimates for the use of Norwegian Sign Language (Norsk Tegnspråk) in Norway vary, but the most-used estimate is 5,000. 

Threatened languages of Norway

Threatened languages are those with less than 1,000 users total, worldwide, but still have users of child-bearing age.

Lule Sámi is spoken by 500 people in Norway and around 1,000 people worldwide.

South Sámi is spoken by 300 people worldwide – and they’re all in Norway.

Lule Sámi and South Sámi are experiencing a decline in transmission from generation to generation. However, both still have users of child-bearing age, so revitalization is still possible.

Dying languages of Norway

Dying languages’ only fluent users are older than child-bearing age, which makes it almost impossible to revitalize them through transmission in the home. 

Four languages are considered dying in Norway, from least-threatened to most-threatened: Kven (a Finnic language), Norwegian Traveller (a language using elements from both Norwegian and Romani), Pite Sámi (which is nearly extinct).

Ume Sámi is dormant, with no known native speakers remaining in Norway. The language has around 20 elderly users in Sweden.

Other languages of Norway

There are many additional unestablished languages used in Norway by migrant populations and native populations. All of the languages used in Norway also, of course, have dialects.

A little bit about language

It’s not just about communicating

Language, apart from communication, has many transformative functions. We’re covering some of the most interesting roles of language for you.

Communication – language is a means of getting information across to other people.

Description and classification of reality – language helps us create mental images of the world and explain reality.

Social interaction – from persuasion and deception to entertainment and care, we can apply desired behaviors through language.

Expressing feelings – one of the most important functions of language.

Arousing feelings – language can arouse strong feelings; for example, when it’s said as a prayer, chanted, sung, recited…

Music and dancing at a concert
Hearing meaningful language, or lyrics in the form of music can cause strong emotion – happy or sad. Photo: Vonecia Carswell / Unsplash

Identity expression and identity construction – language is a key part of our self-presentation to others, whether it’s calculated (using fancy words to impress someone, for example) or unintentional (showing others where we’re from through our accents, for example).

Reality control – language can both control and change reality. For example: when a sentence is given in court, a person’s life and reality can change.

Shaping thoughts – language probably, to some extent, shapes our thoughts. Though this is debated by some scientists, many believe that users of different languages can perceive reality differently.

Language doesn’t discriminate

All the languages of the world are equally valuable. Therefore, the items below are irrelevant in linguistics and should not be used to value languages in any way.

The number of users – no language is more important than another by size, whether it has three million users or three.

Its geographic spread – whether it’s used in a geographically isolated community or across multiple continents doesn’t matter.

Its prevalence throughout time – in linguistics, all languages, both living and extinct, matter.

The existence of an accompanying state – it doesn’t matter whether a language is any state’s official language or not. Most nations are multilingual, and language itself knows no borders.

Its social “prestige” – for example, today, English has prestige, and it’s widely used; in the past, this was Latin in some areas of the world. The prestige (or lack of it) a language is given in society does not value it. 

The existence of a corresponding alphabet – whether a language is used in written form doesn’t give it value. Every human community has language – but not necessarily written language. Most of the languages in the world, in fact, did not have a script but rather obtained one through the influence of cultures that had one.

The perception of its users’ cultural achievements – how “advanced” the users are in writing, technology, and other factors deemed achievements does not value the importance of the language nor its users.

How many languages exist?

There is no definitive consensus as to how many languages exist in the world, mainly because there are varying definitions of what constitutes a language.

For example, scientists can argue between classifications as a language or as a dialect. So, various numbers are given, from 3000 languages to 10,000+. The most-often cited number of languages used in the world today is between 6000 and 7000, however. Many of the world’s current languages are considered at risk for extinction.

Language doesn’t necessarily have to be spoken. Non-spoken sign languages are prevalent worldwide, too.

In any case, language is generally used with nonverbal communication like body language, distance, eye contact, facial expressions, posture, blinking, and more (many of which, like nodding, can vary in meaning across cultures).

In Norway, when meeting someone (even if you don’t know the language), you won’t go wrong with a firm handshake and friendly smile. 

Source: Norway Today

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