Learning to write in both of the Norwegian language’s two official forms (bokmål and nynorsk) boosts creativity and helps when learning other languages, a new survey shows. The two forms are different enough to be like learning two separate languages and confer the same benefits as being bilingual.
The survey results, however, were only welcomed by supporters of nynorsk because of ongoing disagreement among political parties over whether both forms should continue to be taught in all Norwegian schools. Nynorsk is used primarily in outlying areas of the country, and many students in the Oslo area see little point in having to learn it in addition to English and at least one other foreign language. City politicians have agreed, but efforts to drop nynorsk instruction are generally opposed by state officials.
The Norwegian language is relatively unique for having its two official and diverse written forms – bokmål (literally meaning “book tongue” and deriving from the Danish that dominated in Norway for hundreds of years) and nynorsk (literally, “new Norwegian,” rooted in the landsmål derived from regional dialects by language researcher Ivar Aasen in the mid-1800s).
Whereas most Norwegians speak their own dialect, 85-90 percent of the population writes in bokmål, and it is the standard most commonly taught to foreign students of the language.
Only a small section of the population (around 12 percent) actually use nynorsk for writing. It is, however, compulsory for students to learn both forms in all Norwegian schools, and to pass exams in both written forms. It is not always popular among the pupils to have to learn a written langauge that they may well never use.
Now the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norsk teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet, NTNU) in Trondheim has released the results of a new survey, in connection with the conference Language Day 2012 (Språkdagen 2012) held by the Language Council of Norway (Språkrådet) this week.
The results of the survey, carried out by the Language Acquisition and Language Processing Lab at NTNU, show that there are several benefits to learning to write in both written forms, and that these are similar to the benefits of learning two separate languages. Those who write in nynorsk can read quicker in bokmål, for example. Professor Mia Vulchanova of NTNU also told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “people who use both written forms are more creative and have greater language awareness. This makes it easier for them to then acquire foreign languages as well.” The same does not hold true for those who can only speak both forms.
The director of the Language Council of Norway, Arnfinn Muruvik Vonen, told NRK that the survey showed that those who can write in both forms derive the same benefits as people who use more than one language, and it is easier for them to catch different idioms.
“This survey underlines just how important it is for schools to inspire pupils to write in both of our language forms,” Vonen told NRK. “Reading alone is not enough.”
The survey was welcomed by the Liberal Party (Venstre). Party leader Trine Skei Grande said its results highlighted one of the key arguments that her party has been using all along for why school children should learn both written forms.
The Conservative Party (Høyre) is less pleased with the survey. Its parliamentary representative, Bent Høie, told NRK that the survey would not change his party’s recommendation that written examinaton in schools should be in just one of the language forms.
‘Bureaucratese’ catches flak
In other research conducted to coincide with Language Day 2012, more than 3,000 government employees were questioned for a survey about their own language use, particularly in relation to written communications to the general public, which should ideally be easy to understand.
The results, as reported by newspaper Aftenposten, showed that 65 percent of those questioned thought it was “less important or not important” to master both bokmål and nynorsk, even though both these forms are supposed to have equal status as written languages.
The survey also revealed that whereas 90 percent of government employees believe that their own writing is “good enough,” around 1 million Norwegians have a problem understanding what they are trying to say.
Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay
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