How to say “I” in Norwegian
Norway has numerous local dialects that differ from each other in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. If you have learned some Norwegian, you have probably noticed this variation already. However, in this article, I will explain the differences in such a way that it becomes clearer also if you don’t speak any Norwegian.
Regional variation in the spoken language developed in a time when people could not easily move around. However, local dialects are still in use today, despite modern means of communication. In our time, more than ever, this variation is a sign of people manifesting their own identity – also in the way they talk about themselves. A very good example is the personal pronoun “I”. In Norwegian dialects, there are several ways of saying “I”, – in the illustration at the top you find seven different versions.
In the table below, you see the same sentence in four different dialects with four different ways of saying I: Jeg, ,eg, e and æ. You also find three ways of saying “not”: ikke, ikkje and itj. The literal English translation of this sentence is “I have not seen her today”.
Eg ha’ikkje sett hon i kveld
Æ hi itj sjett’a i kveill
E ha’kkje sett ho i kvell
Je’ ha’kke sett henne i kveld
The Oslo example is similar to Bokmål, except for the shortened words that are indicated by apostrophes.
Why all these dialects in Norway?
In every country, there is regional variation in how people speak. However, Norway is a special case because the traditional dialects are in use far more than in most other countries. Speaking dialect in every situation is normal and usually also accepted. In order to understand this, we need to know some Norwegian history.
For centuries, Norway was part of the Danish Kingdom. In 1814, Norway left the union with Denmark, but without having its own national language. Norwegian and Danish have much in common, but there are also differences in grammar and pronunciation. In the 19th century, several approaches to how to create a national language were discussed. Ivar Aasen studied the dialects to create a new written language, now called Nynorsk. Others started the work to reform Danish, resulting in what we now call Bokmål. Hence, there are two official standards of Norwegian, although the vast majority uses Bokmål.
More about the peculiar language situation in Norway:Bokmål and Nynorsk - Norwegian in two distinct versions
The lack of one clear standard is one of the reasons why people continued to speak dialect. But the position of the regional dialects has also been secured by the lawmakers. For more than a hundred years, it has been settled by law that teachers have to adapt their spoken language to the way the children speak. School children learn the official way of reading and writing – however they speak their own local dialect in class. Throughout Norway, it is common for people to feel uncomfortable with talking the way they write; they prefer to express themselves in their real mother tongue.
Dialects are spoken everywhere, all the time
Quite a few celebrities in Norway speak their own local dialect, although this may be less clearly pronounced once they move away from their place of birth. Still, you can easily hear that Crown Princess Mette Marit comes from Kristiansand on the southern coast, even after living in the Oslo area for many years. You can hear her in this interview (new tab).
Also former Prime Minister Erna Solberg has a distinct accent. She mainly speaks standardized Bokmål, but it is not difficult to tell that she comes from Bergen, the “capital” of western Norway.
If you study Norwegian as a foreign language, you might find this regional variation frustrating. However, this variation also gives you more freedom when it comes to how to speak the language. There are regional differences in intonation and pronunciation, and there is often more than one way to pronounce a word correctly.
Comparing some dialects
In order to help you understand the geography of Norway, I have created this map that shows you the places that are represented by music or sound files in this article. I also added the home town of the Crown Princess — Kristiansand. Kristiansund is a different place, situated in Møre og Romsdal county, just like Herøy. Sandnes in the south-west is the neighbour town of Stavanger.
In the following, you will hear dialects from some of the places that you find on the map. The transcriptions in this article are written according to standard Norwegian spelling rules, with some adaptations when necessary.
The English translation of the first sentence is “The old, angry man is coming to Stordalen tomorrow”. The transcription of the voice from Bergen is equal to Bokmål in this case.
Den gamle sinte mannen kommer til Stordalen i morgen
Dedenn’ gammel fuLkailln kjæm åt StordaL’n i mårrå
Deinn gamLe sinte main’n kommer te StordaL’n i morra
Deinn gamLe sinte main’n kjæm te StordaL’n i morro
The Bergen voice has a uvular r (in the throat). The other three have a slightly rolled r, however this is not always pronounced clearly. Sometimes the r (or the l) melts together with the next consonant to form a new sound. The speakers with a rolled r also use a so-called “thick l” when saying gamle/gammel. Two variations of the letter l are present in the pure dialect word “fuLkaill’n”.
In the following example, we will concentrate more on the differences in pronunciation of the letter r. The speakers from Bergen and Herøy pronounce it in two very different ways, while the two other speakers don’t pronounce it at all – their r melts together with the next consonant to form a new sound. Another interesting phenomenon is the way the Inderøy speaker pronounces the n.
Hon holder den svarte hunden i bånd
Ho helde den svarte honde i band
Hu heill svarthoinn’ i bainn
Hun holder den svarte hunden i bånd
The transcription of the Oslo voice is exactly like Bokmål. The English translation is “She keeps the black dog on a leash.”
The last sentence is a question that can be translated as “How do you think that you will do it?”
Kolles hi du tænkt dæ å gjørra’e?
Koss har du tænkt dæ å gjør det?
Kors’n ha du tænkt de å gjær det?
Kor du he tenkt de å gjere det?
Every dialect on the list has another question word (how), and the speaker from Herøy also uses another word order. In Bokmål, the same sentence would be “Hvordan har du tenkt deg å gjøre det?” For the sake of comparison, I also give you the Nynorsk version: “Korleis har du tenkt deg å gjere det?”
Norwegian music in dialect
Quite a few Norwegian musicians sing in dialect. Often they do so because they feel that it is the only way they can express themselves properly. Although they sing in their own dialect, these musicians still often manage to reach a larger audience all over the country. In the following, I have chosen some tunes in dialects that are clearly different from each other.
First I will show you an example from the south west of Norway – Haugesund. Here you can listen to Vamp’s “Natt” (night). Please note that you will hear the first lyrics after around 30 seconds.
The next piece of music is very different, and the music comes from another region. Namsos is a small town in Trøndelag (Central Norway). It is home to a few distinct musicians, among them Terje Tysland. Here, he sings “Heile livet for dæ” (the whole life for you).
A tour of Norway will not be complete without going north of the arctic circle. The Lofoten islands are famous worldwide for their natural beauty, and they are also home to some beautiful voices. Here comes Kari Bremnes, also called the queen of northern Norwegian music, singing “Glem ikkje” (don’t forget).
Do you want to hear more music in Norwegian. In that case, you should check out this blog post:A musical journey through Norway.
Do I need to speak like the locals?
Are you learning Norwegian, or are you planning to study it? Are you moving to an area where a broad dialect is spoken? In my opinion, there is no reason to worry. You don’t need to learn how to speak the dialect, but you do need to be able to understand it. My experience is that most non-native speakers manage this well after some time.
As mentioned earlier, there is a stronger acceptance for regional variation in Norway than in most other countries. However, also in Norwegian, these differences are becoming smaller. In some areas closer to Oslo, traditional speech is disappearing. Nevertheless, in large areas of the country, dialects still form the basis of everyday life – for people of all generations.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this introduction to the dialects of Norway. On this blog, you will find more articles about Norway and the Norwegian language. With norwegian.online, you can also take Norwegian language lessons. You will find more information on this website.
This is very interesting.
Learning how and why there is so much dialect in Norway. Good explanation.
im an american living in Inderøy. This was illuminating for me. I can hear certain accents….those in the north are easy to identify. But once you hit inderøy, heading south, its harder to hear, plus there are a lot of Swedes one runs into, which is an entire other way of speaking.
Nice to hear you liked my explanation. People in the north have an accent that may be easier to identify – it has another melody. And I hope you enjoy Inderøy, it’s one of my favourite areas of Central Norway.
I disagree with how you transcribed the Bergen dialect. Nothing major, just some small mistakes.
“Eg ha’kkje sett honn i kvell”. Double “n” to signify a hard stop, and “kvell” to be consistent with how you wrote the Vefsn dialect.
“Den gamle, sinte mann’n kommar til Stordalen i måren». «Mann’n» shows the «e» not being pronounced. «Kommar» would also since it is treated as a masculine word in Bergen.
«Honn holdar den svarte hund’n i bånn». “Holdar” is also a masculine word in Bergen. “Hund’n” has the same reason as “kommar”. And last: “bånn” to show the “d” not being pronounced.
Again mostly nitpicking. I’m just really interested in linguistics and dialect.
– Brage B.U.
Thank you for your comment. I wanted to write an article for “normal people” with limited knowledge of Norwegian. When people read the transcriptions while listening to the sound files, they can also more easily understand the differences and similarities between the dialects. Anyway, your feedback is useful, and I will take it into account when reviewing the whole article (that will happen soon).