The official languages of Norway are Norwegian with two forms, Bokmål and Nynorsk. Additionally, Sami is recognized as an official language in certain municipalities. The two forms of Norwegian are products of two different policies in the process of establishing a language that could support an independent Norwegian nation after the secession from Denmark in 1814. Bokmål developed by using the Danish written language as a basis and adapting it for Norway according to the norms of urban upper-class speech, while Nynorsk developed on the basis of a comparative study of Norwegian dialects of the (self-taught) linguist Ivar Aasen (1813-1896). Nynorsk received official recognition through a parliamentary resolution in 1885. The two forms of Norwegian are quite close, and easily understood by Norwegians.
There are 428 municipalities in Norway (2015). A total of 113 of these have chosen Nynorsk as their official language and approximately 157 municipalities have opted for Bokmål, while the rest are “neutral”. Neutrality, however, usually means that Bokmål is the chosen form. Today 10-15% of the population use Nynorsk.
From the eighth grade of primary school, both forms of Norwegian are compulsory for all pupils – one of them as a main language, the other as a “second language”, which is the personal choice of each student. Learning a compulsory second language is often met with resistance and is continually discussed. Students with a foreign-language background (including Sami) may choose their own language as their primary or second language in addition to one of the Norwegian forms.
The main goal of the linguistic policy has been to protect and strengthen the two forms of the Norwegian language so that both Bokmål and Nynorsk can survive as equally important languages.
In a 2008 Report on Language Issues to the Parliament, the Norwegian government states that the Norwegian language has decreased its relative position in the Norwegian society, particularly in relation to the Anglo-American linguistic influence. This is considered to be a big problem because national languages are one of the most important forms of cultural expression. Thus, as a cultural nation, the Norwegian government has an obligation to maintain and develop Norwegian as a language for future generations. The overall goal of the linguistic policy must be to safeguard the Norwegian language’s position as a full, community-supported language in Norway.
More than 95% of the Norwegian population use one of the Norwegian forms as their primary language, with the Sami languages (North Sami, Lule Sami and South Sami)being the most important national minority languages. Responsibility for the Sami language is seen as an important part of Norwegian cultural policy. Some operational tasks are allocated to the Sami parliament (Sametinget / Sàmediggi), including a Sami language council. The Act on Sami requires that public information that is particularly relevant to the Sami people is translated into Sami (i.e. laws and regulations, promulgations and forms).
Norway has signed the European Charter for Regional orMinority Languages, and has accepted certain obligations in respect to the minority languages in Norway. The Charter covers the languages of Sami, Kven, Romanes and Romani. After a request from the European Council, Norway clarified the status of Kvensk in 2005, which is now recognised as a language in its own right and not as a dialect of Finnish.
The plural language situation in Norway is manifested in the Place Names Act. The Act provides rules for the use of multilingual place names in the multilingual parts of the country. Place names in the areas where Sami and Kvensk are spoken must generally be used by public authorities on maps, signposts, registers, etc. Porsanger, for example, is a municipality in the northern part of Norway that has three official names, Porsanger (Norwegian), Porsáŋgu (Sami) and Porsanki (Kvensk).
The increase in immigration has led to a growth in the number of pupils who speak minority languages, and there is broad political consensus that schools should cater to the needs of these minorities to help enable them to pursue an education and a career. Under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers, a Nordic collaboration has been established for the education of pupils who speak minority languages.