What languages are spoken in Norway?

Norway on a map with a Norwegian flag pin

“What languages are spoken in Norway?” is something foreigners often ask, given the confusion about Bokmål and Nynorsk. Let’s make it clear in this blog post. Norwegian is the administrative language in Norway, with two written standards of equal value, Bokmål and Nynorsk.

In this post we have already discussed the difference between the written forms and explained that, contrary to popular belief, these are in fact not spoken languages. Today we want to dig a little bit deeper and share some more information about the languages actually spoken in Norway.

Two official spoken languages in Norway

One last time for posterity – Bokmål and Nynorsk are written standards; nobody speaks these per se. Some of the dialects are closer to one or the other, but that is what is spoken in the country – dialects. And many of them.

Language-wise, what do these people way up North actually speak then? Easy, they have two official spoken languages: Norwegian and Sami. So, while there are three official written standards, Bokmål, Nynorsk and Sami, there are only two official spoken languages, Sami and Norwegian.

Note: if you have official papers to sort out or deliver, most public offices accept English as well, so if you decide to study or move to Norway, remember that it’s enough to have your paperwork translated to English.

A few quick facts about the Norwegian language

The language spoken in Norway by the majority is Norwegian. It belongs to the North Germanic group of languages and it has approximately 5.5 million speakers mainly confined to the Kingdom of Norway.

Together with Danish and Swedish, as well as Icelandic to a much lesser extent, Norwegian forms a dialect continuum. It means that different dialects of these languages are mutually intelligible to a certain extent. We’ll dedicate a separate post to the dialects of Norway, but today we’re keeping it simple.

Who are the Sami people and what language do they speak?

Sami flag
Sami flag

Today, the Sami have the status of an indigenous people in Norway. Sami language therefore has stronger protection in the legislation than other minority languages. It wasn’t always so and the Sami people have a long and tumultuous history.

Sami and Norwegian have formal status as equal languages in Norway. However, Sami is actually not one single language, but a language family. In Norway, Northern Sami, Lule Sami, South Sami, Skolte Sami, Pites Sami and Ume Sami are traditionally used. Of these, Northern Sami is the largest, followed by Lule Sami and Southern Sami. The three other Sami languages have fewer users.

Other minority languages spoken in Norway

Other minority languages in Norway are Kven, Romanés and Romani. Like Sami, these are protected by the Minority Language Pact. Together with the Jews and the Forest Finns, the Kvens, Roma and Romani people are also considered national minorities in Norway. In addition, in 2009 Norwegian sign language was recognized as a full-fledged language in Norway. Many other languages are also used in Norway as a result of recent immigration.

To sum up, there are two official languages spoken in Norway: Norwegian and Sami. Bokmål and Nynorsk are written forms of the Norwegian language. In addition, there is a number of minority languages in Norway.

If you’re looking for more useful articles about learning Norwegian, check out our blog post where we discuss different tools and methods that will help you improve your pronunciation, or this one where you can learn some useful idioms. And as always, post your questions below if there’s anything you’re wondering about.

Leave a comment

300 most frequently used words in the Norwegian language

300 most used words in Norwegian
Sign up for the newsletter

Get the e-book for free!