‘Nynorsk’, the minority Norwegian language in which Nobel Prize winner Jon Fosse writes | Culture

In Norway there are two official languages ​​(not counting that of the Sami people, inhabitants of Lapland, to the north). The majority, bokmål (literally, book language), considered by many too similar to Danish and not very Norwegian, and the nynorsk (literally, new Norwegian), minority, which tries to preserve the essences of the local dialects. Only around 12% use the latter. There is a long controversy between the defenders of both that involves aspects such as national identity, the history of the country, the differences between the countryside and the city (the nynorsk is more common in rural areas of the West) and even issues of social class (the nynorsk is of fundamentally peasant roots).

Jon Fosse, the Nobel Prize winner in Literature who receives the award from the Swedish Academy this Sunday in Stockholm, writes in this minority language, of which he is a great defender. Many therefore consider him something of a national hero: none of the above nobels Norwegians wrote in nynorsk.

Last Tuesday, on a trip financed by the Norwegian Embassy in Spain, we met with the writer at Kaffistova, a cafeteria in the center of Oslo where members of the movement demanding nynorsk. The Bondeheimen hotel and the Det Norske Teatret theater, adjacent to the café, are also often associated with this trend; In fact, a theater festival dedicated to Fosse is held in the latter: before triumphing in the novel, he had become one of the most important playwrights in Europe. The writer’s Oslos home is not too far away: a state residence, known as Grotten, on the outskirts of the Royal Palace, which the government grants to an author for life. The brand new nobel It has occupied it since 2010, when the composer Arne Nordheim died.

—Is this Nobel Prize also a prize for nynorsk?

—The Swedish Academy does not argue that way. But I do. For me, this award, and all the others I have received, are dedicated to nynorsk—Fosse responds.

—Why do you write in that language?

—It’s my language, the one I learned at school. If I had grown up in Oslo I would probably write in bokmål. And, well, the nynorsk It is a minority, and when you are a minority you have to fight for your rights. We must fight for the existence of this language. That’s why I dedicate all the awards to him.

Jon Fosse, during an interview with EL PAÍS on December 5.
Jon Fosse, during an interview with EL PAÍS on December 5.PACO PUENTES

He nynorsk (first called landsmålin Spanish national language) was the second standard of the Norwegian language, created by the philologist and naturalist Ivar Aasen in the 19th century, based on dialects from different rural areas. These were times of construction of national identity and, as often happens in these processes, a purely Norwegian language was needed: many considered that the bokmål It was merely Danish with a Norwegian accent. And, in fact, the bokmål It comes from Danish, because both countries were part of the same kingdom for about 400 years, until 1814, when Denmark lost Norway as a result of its involvement in the Napoleonic Wars.

But Norway’s desire for independence would take time to become effective: after a brief war, the country was annexed to Sweden, with which it shares a long border, until 1905. Traditionally, the bourgeoisie in the cities used to speak Dano-Norwegian (from that comes from bokmål), while peasants in other regions used their local dialects. During the period of union with Sweden, the language from Danish was the one that was established as the language of the State.

“The entire s. XIX in Norway is about the search for identity, it is a time of rise of nationalisms throughout Europe, also here,” says Spanish-Norwegian Cristina Gómez Baggethun, translator into Spanish, together with her mother, Kristi Baggethun, of much of Fosse’s work. “Although Norway became dependent on Sweden, cultural dependence on Denmark remained. The cultural capital was still Copenhagen. And despite not being independent, Norway already had a Constitution, Parliament or a National Theatre, something that, by the way, was widely commented on in the Catalan magazines of the time.

In that breeding ground, between 1843 and 1846, Ivar Aasen traveled around the country collecting the characteristics of the different dialect varieties to create the new language. He generated a grammar and a dictionary, as well as translations of Shakespeare or Schiller, literary works or compilations of names of people or plants (Fosse has also dedicated himself to the translation of the classics into new Norwegian). For this he had the support of parliament in his investigations, and in 1885 the nynorsk as an official language, along with bokmål. There are those who cite Aasen as an inspiration for Pompeu Fabra, who normalized the Catalan language through a grammar, a spelling and a dictionary at the beginning of the 20th century.

Cristina Gómez Baggethun, Spanish translator of Jon Fosse's books, at the Det Norke Teatret, on December 6.
Cristina Gómez Baggethun, Spanish translator of Jon Fosse’s books, at the Det Norke Teatret, on December 6.PACO PUENTES

To put an end to linguistic controversies, in the mid-20th century the government tried to create a unified language, halfway between both, the samnorsk… but received rejection from both parties. In the course of this controversy, even more conservative versions of the bokmål (he riksmål either national language, supported by another Nobel Prize winner, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson) and nynorsk (he høgnorskeither high Norwegian). Organizations such as Noregs Mållag, with 15,000 members and more than 200 affiliated groups, are currently dedicated to promoting the use of nynorsk In a society dominated by bokmål”, just as they describe it. One of their struggles, for example, is the dissemination of nynorsk in nursery schools or in teaching for foreigners, who usually learn bokmål. All children in Norwegian schools learn nynorskbut only 10% as their main language.

“He nynorsk It is a fundamentally written language, no one speaks it exactly as it is written: the dialects of each area are spoken, and then, when writing, that language is used. new Norwegian”explains Gómez Baggethun. He nynorsk It is used in official documents, the media or in education, in certain places. The movement of nynorsk It is closely related to the vindication of the traditional, the rural, the peasant, against the urban world, also with the defense of the rights of minorities; so sometimes the movement through the nynorsk It has been seen as something progressive, although other times also as something reactionary.

There are also efforts to build a literature on nynorsk that gives strength to the language, and that is where the brilliant figure of Fosse comes in, but also of publishers like Samlaget, which publishes the work of the now Nobel Prize winner and which is dedicated exclusively to nynorsk, in all types of literary genres. “Samlaget has been Fosse’s publisher since it started 40 years ago,” says editor Cecilie Seisness during a meeting at the label’s headquarters, “he often says that it is the longest relationship of his life ”. The creators of it consider the company “one more tool for the linguistic struggle,” explains editorial director Håkon Kolmannskog. They also believe that we are experiencing a very sweet stage for the nynorsk, a complete success, especially in the field of fiction, a phenomenon that may be even more favored by the award to Fosse. “Many people see the nynorsk as a more poetic language for literature,” adds Kolmannskog.

The publishing house was founded in 1868, “when Norway was colonized by Sweden and the written language was Danish,” explains Edmund Austigard, general director of Samlaget, “there was a strong demand to establish our language, which had only survived orally.” . If the pioneer Aasen proposed a grammar and a dictionary, from that original Samlaget they began to offer the literature necessary to establish a language, also translations of classics such as Homer or Dante, a path that ends this Sunday with the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Fosse.

The beginning of Jon Fosse’s Nobel acceptance speech, in Spanish, Nynorsk and Bokmål

“Då eg gjekk på ungdomsskulen, skjedde det brått. Læraren bad meg om å lesa høgt. Og som frå ingenstad kom brått ei redsle over meg som heilt overvelda meg. Eg liksom forsvann inn i redsla og var berre der. Eg reiste meg og sprang ut or klasserommet”.

“GIE JEG GIKK På UNGDOMSSKOLEN, SKJEDDDE DET BRåTT. Læreren Bad meg ig Å lese høyt. Og som fra ungensteds kom brått in redsel over meg som som HET Overveldet Meg. Jeg Liksom Forsvant Inn I Redselen Og VAR BAR BAR BARE Der. ut av klasserommet”.

“It happened suddenly when I was going to school. The teacher asked me to read aloud. And like out of nowhere, a fear suddenly appeared that completely invaded me. It was as if I disappeared inside that fear and it was just there. I got up and I ran out of class.”

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