Norway’s geography and settlement patterns have given rise to a myriad of local and regional spoken dialects that continue to enjoy a strong position within society today. There are two official written versions of Norwegian, Bokmål (“Book Norwegian”) and Nynorsk (“New Norwegian”). Bokmål is based on Dano-Norwegian, and has been developed from written Danish adapted to the phonology of the general dialect spoken in eastern Norway. Nynorsk was devised by linguist Ivar Aasen in the 1850s, and is based on a compilation of various western Norwegian dialects.
Bokmål and Nynorsk have been accorded equal status officially, although Bokmål is somewhat more widely used in Oslo and the larger towns. Nynorsk is utilized by some 10-15% of the population, mostly on the Western coast, as well as in government texts, literature, dramatic art, public broadcasting and church services.
At present, some 20 000 individuals in Norway have the Sámi language as their mother tongue. Sámi is a member of the Finno-Ugric branch of languages, and its roots in Norway may extend as far back as Norwegian. North Sámi has been established as an official language on a par with Norwegian in the North-Norwegian districts of Kárášjohka-Karasjok, Guovdageaidnu-Kautokeino, Unjárga-Nesseby, Porsanger and Deatnu-Tana and Gáivuotna-Kåfjord.
Due to the number of immigrants and refugees whose first language is not Norwegian, there are currently approximately 110 different mother tongues represented in the Norwegian primary schools. Today, English is Norway’s most important foreign language for international use, followed by German and French. Moreover, approximately 4 000 hearing impaired persons utilize Norwegian Sign Language, which exists in two main versions stemming from Norway’s oldest schools for the deaf in Oslo and Trondheim.