Kessen, kesst, keffer

Dialects invading Norwegian TV and radio

News journalist Eline Buvarp Aardal working at her computer

Photo: Eline Buvarp Aardal/Flickr
News journalist Eline Buvarp Aardal thinks the most important thing about language is being understood, but she thinks she is a better communicator in her native Trøndelag dialect.

Asker, Norway

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) radio and TV announcers and program hosts were long required to speak only official Norwegian bokmål or nynorsk. No more. Dialects are now permitted. 

In the daily evening news program “Dagsrevyen,” you will now hear popular anchor Eline Buvarp Aardal speaking in her native Trøndelag dialect.

“The most important thing is to be understood, but I am a better communicator in Trøndelag,” said Aardal.

But sometimes the words vary greatly from standard bokmål from Østerdalen dialect as spoken by Lars Os, NRK’s man in Washington, D.C.

English word > bokmål word > Østerdalen dialect word:
what/which? > hvilken? > kessen?
how? > hvordan? > kesst?
why? > hvorfor? > keffer?

The situation is quite noticeable, as the dialect words are not yet in bokmål or nynorsk dictionaries. That aspect led to Norwegian dialects being the topic of a two-page feature in the April 30, print edition of Aftenposten, as well as its online version.

That coverage in the media reflects the prominence of dialects in Norwegian linguistic history. While neighboring Scandinavian countries Denmark and Sweden have one standard language each, Norway has two standard languages. It might have had just one, had history not happened as it did.

From 1397 to 1523, the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were joined in a union under a single monarch. The union had been agreed upon at Kalmar, a coastal city in southeastern Sweden, for which it was named the Kalmar Union.

In the 16th century, Norway entered into a union with Denmark, the Oldenburg monarchy, which became known as the Dano-Norwegian realm. Danish and German were the official languages of that realm, used in its administration and spoken in its cities. With time in Norway, the official Danish language evolved to a Dano-Norwegian lingua franca, used in writing and gradually spoken by urban elites. Unaltered Norwegian remained the lingo of the rural districts.

Then in 1814, the writing of the Norwegian Constitution ended the union with Denmark. That left Norway with two varieties of its language: Dano-Norwegian and various amalgamations of the dialects of its mostly rural regions. In 1926, those two varieties were officially designated bokmål (literally “Book Tongue”) and nynorsk (“New Norwegian”).

So, both bokmål and nynorsk were the results of dialectical processes working over time. In turn, this suggests that the invasion of dialects into Norwegian TV and radio is not a new happening but rather merely a phase in the ongoing evolution of the Norwegian language.

This article originally appeared in the June 4, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.