"no" vs. "nb" and "nn"

Vidar Larsen vi_larsen at yahoo.no
Tue Mar 18 12:36:05 CET 2008

On 18. mars. 2008, at 10.05, Michael Everson wrote:

> At 17:22 -0700 2008-03-17, Karen_Broome at spe.sony.com wrote:
>> It seems to me that "no" should be used when the language is  
>> spoken. The
>> written forms should use "nb" or "nn."
> I shouldn't think so. I speak Danish and I can tell you that  
> speaking with a Nynorsk speaker and speaking with a Bokmål speaker  
> are very different activities.

An interesting twist about the different official variants, is that  
while they may sound very different to foreigners (including Swedes  
and Danes) they are mutually intelligible between speakers of one or  
the other. This, I think, is in large part due to the fact that both  
forms (at least up until the present day) has been thought in schools,  
that the state-owned broadcasting corporation (NRK) has a mandated  
percentage original content in Nynorsk, and that public servants are  
obliged to respond to correspondation in the same form as the original  
request thus necessitating training. And of course, as Kent pointed  
out, that the dialect structure is more detailed, with some overlap of  
both official forms.

Bokmål is a normalizing of Riksmål, which is heavily based on the  
Danish heritage from when Norway was under Danish rule, while Nynorsk  
was "constructed" from dialects that was deemed "least tainted by  
Danish" some 150-200 years ago. So the "common ancestry" between  
Bokmål and Nynorsk is rather thin, I would say... In fact, there has  
been a long history of heated debate and separatism up through the  
last century, even outside the academic community.

Given the fact that the forms are mutually intelligible warrants the  
use of "no" as a collective code, even though both forms may not in  
fact be intelligible (on the same level) to foreigners. "no" serves  
the purpose of tagging Norwegian well, and I would hate to see it  
obsoleted. I would argue that in cases where the particular form is  
not important, "no" would be the best choice. Given my current  
perception of the different camps, I would assume that a writer of  
Nynorsk may take care in tagging the material "nn", while a Bokmål  
user simply would use "no".

A Norwegian searching for documents in Norwegian would not be  
surprised, and would probably want, to see both forms in the results.

There are talks now about reducing the requirement to teach both forms  
in schools, and in a few decades we may see more Norwegians being  
unaware of, and untrained in, Nynorsk. At that time, this discussion  
should be revisited, with a stronger need for separating the forms.

(disclaimer: I have no formal linguistic training; just expressing my  
opinion as a Norwegian...)

/Vidar Larsen

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