What is Noregs Mållag?
Noregs Mållag [‘The Norwegian Language Society’] is the leading member based organisation promoting Nynorsk in Norway. Noregs Mållag has about 10 300 members and consists of approximately 200 local groups. The organisation is involved in a lot of cultural and political activities. It also takes part in several other institutions and organisations.
Trond Sæbø Skarpeteig
The first Nynorsk associations were formed as early as 1868. Noregs Mållag was formed in 1907 as the leading political instrument for promoting Nynorsk in all fields of Norwegian society.
The main office of Noregs Mållag is placed in Oslo and the organisation is active in all parts of Norway. However, the organisation has most of its members in the core area of Nynorsk.
Nynorsk itself was created in the middle of the 19th century as an alternative to Danish, the written language in Norway at that time.
In the Middle Ages, the language of Norway was Old Norse. This language had a rich literary tradition. However, from the middle of the fourteenth century there were a series of political and demographic changes which changed the status for Old Norse. Norway was involved in a political union with Denmark from 1380 and became later a part of Denmark. Gradually, Danish became the written language of Norway. (The people continued to speak their Norwegian dialects.)
After 400 years of Danish colonial rule in Norway, Norway seceded from Denmark in 1814. Danish continued to be the written language in Norway. This meant that Norwegians had to write in a language that was not their mother tongue. From the 1830s to 1880s, the great linguist Mr. Ivar Aasen (1813–96), conducted extensive research on the spoken Norwegian language. He gathered material from different dialects in all of Norway and made a comparison of the linguistic structures of these dialects. On this basis he created a norm for written Norwegian.
Mr. Aasen’s view was that Norway had become a nation of its own and since language was the main symbol of a nation, Norway needed a language of its own. The Norwegian people needed a written language that was familiar to them, and which also make it easier for people to participate in public life.
This written language is today called Nynorsk (New Norwegian/New Norse), while the originally Danish written language is named Bokmål (which literally means the language of books). There has been a lot of language struggle between Nynorsk and Bokmål.
Today, approximately 600 000 Norwegians use Nynorsk as their primary language. (At school, about 15% of the pupils are using Nynorsk as their main language of instruction.)
Noregs Mållag aims at promoting the use of Nynorsk in all areas of society. Noregs Mållag also want to change the language situation so that more Norwegians use Nynorsk as their primary language.
Norway has never been a homogenous country regarding culture and language. Norwegians, Sami, Finns and other groups has lived here together for centuries and even millennia, and new groups have arrived more recently. To be Norwegian has been a variety of local identities from different parts of Norway. These days new Norwegian identities have also evolved due to immigration from other parts of the world.
The main reason why Bokmål never managed to become the norm of all Norwegians, and that there is no real established common spoken variety, is due to the Nynorsk language and the popular organisations fighting for it. Through Nynorsk, Noregs Mållag wants to strengthen identities based on plurality, not homogeneity.
The struggle for language is one way of building democracy. We do not believe that it is possible to mobilise people to become active citizens only based on a common citizenship and taxation system. To create a wish for active participation in society, as opposed to being mere spectators, a common cultural frame of reference is needed. We believe The Norwegian language is the most important symbol of Norwegian culture, and the best platform for building a common Norwegian identity. In this way, anyone who wants to, can get and have an identity as a Norwegian – no matter where you come from.
There are lots of language movements all over the world. Noregs Mållag is a part of a global movement for cultural plurality. By working for Nynorsk and Norwegian dialects, we are supporting the lingual plurality of the world. Even if Norwegian language and culture is put under pressure by the Anglo-American culture, it is not the language and cultural symbols from Hollywood or London that is threatening Norwegian culture: It is only the people of Norway that can decide what language we shall be using in the future.
If we give up our own language, Nynorsk, we will lose one of our greatest heritage. If our ways of expression, our words or our songs disappear, we also lose knowledge about our past. Our language, and the Nynorsk language, is the main anchor for our local and national identity, and that‘s why people love their own language!
We can take care of our language heritage through using it! And that’s why we ask people to join in and become members of our organisation!