Like Swedish, Danish and Icelandic, Norwegian is a Germanic language derived from Old Norse. There are, however, two ways of writing Norwegian – bokmål and nynorsk. This division of Norwegian has a historical explanation: Bokmål is based on written Danish, which was the official language of Norway for more than four hundred years (1380–1814). Nynorsk was created in the 1850s, and is a compilation and combination of mostly Western Norwegian regional dialects.
Officially, bokmål and nynorsk have been accorded equal status. The languages are not very far apart, but do reflect large regional differences. Bokmål is widely used in the larger cities. Nynorsk is used by about 10–15 per cent of the population – mostly on the west coast.
Generally, if you understand one of the two languages, you can understand the other fairly easily. The Sami languages are, on the other hand, completely different from Norwegian. Nevertheless, Northern Sami has been established as an official language equal to Norwegian. It is mostly used by the indigenous Sami people in Troms and Finnmark – two regions in Northern Norway.
The fairly complex language situation in Norway can help explain our quite unique acceptance of dialects. The same word can be pronounced in a hundred different ways across Norway – and still no dialect is considered to have more worth than another.
The vast majority of Norwegians speak English in addition to Norwegian – and generally on a very high level. Many university degree programmes and courses are taught in English.