Variant subtag proposal: Høgnorsk variety of Norwegian

John Cowan cowan at
Sat Jan 2 01:41:48 CET 2010

Leif Halvard Silli scripsit:

> Norwegian is different from Serbo-Croatian. Or - Serbo-Croatian has
> some similarity to Nynorsk, actually. Serbo-Croatian was a language
> that [I believe] was supposed to cover both Serbian and Croatian
> dialects.

(Note: Hardly a word I say here has not been contravened by *somebody*,
so take it as just one person's opinion.  I avoid dates below, as
especially controversial.)

Actually, the cases are rather similar.  Serbo-Croatian was a case of
"one language, two standards", where both standards were pre-existing.
Of the two, the Serbian standard has throughout its development been
more expansive, allowing both alphabets and either Ekavian or Ijekavian
forms, and allowing some "Croatian" forms as part of the standard (more
at some periods than at others).  The Croatian standard has throughout its
development been more puristic, Latin-alphabet only, Ijekavian only.
It would be therefore fair (IMHO) to say that standard Serbo-Croatian
was a form of standard Serbian that was stretched to incorporate the
whole of standard Croatian, not just parts of it.

After the political breakup, standard Serbian and standard Croatian
reappeared in essentially the forms they had had before, allowing
of course for organic language change in the meantime.  A separate
standardization process since then has given us standard Bosnian and may
be about to give us standard Montenegrin.  Fishing and bawdy, meanwhile,
continue to be quite freely discussed over the whole of the South Slavic
area (except perhaps in the Slovene-speaking regions).

I trust the comparison to Norwegian, Bokmål, Nynorsk, and official
Norwegian is apparent.

> Anyway: Serbo-Croatian has been split into at least tree variants: 
> Bosnian, Serbian, Croat. This is a linguistic - more or less - split, 

There is no such thing as a standardization, still less multiple
standardizations, which is not political.  The standardization of American
English was defended on grounds of rationality and convenience, but would
hardly have caught on had not the U.S. become politically independent.

Another useful term is "pluricentric".  Norwegian, like Serbo-Croatian and
English, is pluricentric: there is no dominant variety of the language
which all aspire to use even if they do not succeed in doing so, as
is the case for French and the German of Germany.  What varieties are
and are not dominant, though itself a substantive fact rather than a
political claim, is the consequence of political actions in the past.

> from a previous linguistic unity. 

Insofar as there was a unity before, there is still one today.  Insofar
as there were separate standards before, there are separate standards now,
only more of them.

> But, it is just hypothetical to talk about what would happen if. The 
> fact, now, is that in Norway we are bound to live with our 
> macrolanguage situation. We are not like Jugoslavia, were they have 
> dissolved their macrolanguage situation.

As far as the written standard, they have.  The spoken language, however,
remains as unified as, say, English.

> > Macrolanguage codes are just administrative expedience, catering for
> > preexisiting codes in ISO 639-2. If language coding/tagging had
> > started with what is now ISO 639-3, I would guess there would be no
> > macrolanguage codes at all.
> I don't know if everyone agree with this. I believe macrolanguage tags 
> have a practical role to play. I believe the phrase macrolanguage 
> describes a reality that needs a subtag.

I agree.  The U.S. Library of Congress created the tags that have become
macrolanguage tags for sound reasons, representing a reality on the ground
that is not purely administrative.  Terms like "Chinese language",
"Arabic language", "Norwegian language", and even "Serbo-Croatian
language" legitimately mean something: they are not *merely* an attempt
to sweep variation under the rug.

He made the Legislature meet at one-horse       John Cowan
tank-towns out in the alfalfa belt, so that     cowan at
hardly nobody could get there and most of
the leaders would stay home and let him go      --H.L. Mencken's
to work and do things as he pleased.              Declaration of Independence

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