Egil Gabrielsen
National Centre for Reading Education and Research, University of Stavanger

Language and Literacy

Norwegian is Norway’s main language. It includes different dialects and two forms of written Norwegian—Bokmaal and Nynorsk—both of which have been official languages since 1885. The two are mutually intelligible, and most Norwegians will have no problem reading either form.

During the 2015–2016 school year, 88 percent of students in primary school wrote Bokmaal and 12 percent wrote Nynorsk. The numbers are comparable in upper secondary school, at 94 percent Bokmaal and 6 percent Nynorsk.1 Both varieties of the written language are taught in school, and instructional materials such as textbooks must be available in both forms of the language. Municipalities decide which should be the main language form under their administration and in schools. Parents have a certain influence on the choice of language form.

The Sami population (0.4 percent) of Norway speaks and writes three distinctive Sami languages, with most of them (90 percent) speaking North Sami. In 2014, 915 students in primary school spoke one of the Sami languages as their first language, and 1,201 spoke Sami as a second language.2 By law, Sami students have the right to be educated in their own language in compulsory schooling.

Most Norwegians have a reasonably good understanding of English, as it is taught in school starting in Grade 1. Since Swedish and Danish are similar to Norwegian, communicating among these three languages is quite easy.