One thing I have consistently been amazed about is the amount of linguistic variation and diversity in Norway. Not only is Norwegian easy to learn but its native speakers are also pretty forgiving in many respects.
For instance, the Teach Yourself Norwegian book that I am using to try to teach mysel…er, you get it…says this about gender:
All nouns belong to one of these [three] genders in Norwegian.
Don’t worry about the feminine gender because:
- most feminine nouns can be used as masculine
- there are not many feminine nouns
- in Norwegian literature, newspapers and formal speech, one seldom uses feminine gender.
For these reasons masculine and feminine nouns are grouped together and called the common gender.
Hold on just a second there, partner. You just wiped out an entire gender in the first lesson!
The amazing thing is that everyone just chalks up the differences to regional dialects and everyone is completely okay with this. Compared to almost any other language, the rules for Norwegian appear to be quite flexible. Obviously you cannot say anything and claim it is a regional dialect, but it’s almost that bad.
As another example, different dialects cannot even agree on how to say the word “I.” In the Oslo area, it is pronounced kind of like a “y” in “yawn” plus “I.” In the second largest city, Bergen, it is pronounced like “ee-eh-g” spoken quickly. In the third largest city, Trondheim, it is pronounced like the “a” in “cat.”
Finally, there are even two acceptable ways to say “Oslo.” It can be more like “Oshlo” or “Oslo.”
Because this is a blog in English, that’s likely to be the extent of the Norwegian I will use. The top question I get asked from fellow Americans when they hear(d) I either live in (was moving to) Norway is (was) some variation of the following:
“Man, don’t they speak some funny language over there?”
“How’s your Norwegian then?”
That being said, I am learning Norwegian, but in spite of a lot of cognates, it’s still a foreign language. After a month or so, I might have moved from “abysmal” to “like a toddler.”
To rub in my pain a bit more, a friend recently sent me the following link: “Why Norwegian is the easiest language for English speakers to learn.”
Not an easy language.
Not an easier language.
The easiest language.
Mithridates’ argument is pretty convincing (although I’m sure some folks wearing orange are ready for battle over it).
The gist of the argument is that Norwegian has a lot of cognates with English and shares a similar grammar with English.
With this knowledge, I now alternate between feeling emboldened that I stand a chance to learn the language and even more embarrassed that I can’t remember the difference in pronunciation between “o” and “u.” This latter fact amuses my fiancee to no end.