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Bergensk, or the Bergen dialect, is a dialect of Norwegian used in Bergen, Norway. It is easy for Norwegians to recognise, as it is more distinguishable from other dialects in Hordaland than for example the Stavanger dialect is from the dialects of Rogaland and the Trondheim dialect is from Trøndelag dialects.

The development of Modern Norwegian

Proto-Germanic, the common ancestor of all Germanic languages, in the 1st millennium BC evolved into Proto-Norse and later Old Norse. This subsequently developed into Western Norse and finally Old Norwegian about 1300. From 1350 to 1525, Norwegian went through a Middle Norwegian transition toward Modern Norwegian, partly fuelled by the devastating impact the Black Death had on Norway.

Early influence from Low German and Danish

Bergen's strong foreign influence, such as Hanseatic League merchants in the period from about 1350 to 1750, has had a profound impact on the Bergen dialect. The Hanseatic merchants spoke variations of Low German. Also, Bergen being the major Norwegian city during the Dano-Norwegian union from 1536 to 1814, Bergensk absorbed more of the Danish than other Norwegian dialects. Being the origins of the written language and thus having higher status, Danish continued to have an impact on Bergensk into the 20th century, and a Dano-Norwegian koiné sociolect, resembling Riksmål, is still spoken, although it in recent decades has become much more similar to Bokmål. Some originally Low German words found their way to the Bergen dialect through Danish. The long history of multi-lingual coexistence in Bergen has made the dialect more susceptible to simplifications, in order to ease communication. The influence of Danish and Low German are apparent in the modern Bergen dialect's phonetics.

Many, but not all, influences from these languages since spread from Bergen to parts of or the whole of Norway.


It is one of two dialects in Norway with only two grammatical genders, the other being the dialect spoken in Lyngen[citation needed], all others have three (excepting sociolects in other Norwegian urban areas). The feminine gender disappeared in the 16th century. One theory is that this was partly fuelled by an influence from Danish[citation needed], which became the written language and already had abolished the feminine gender[citation needed], and as a simplification to ease communication between Norwegians and Germans or between people from Bergen and other parts of Norway.[1]

The Old Norse -n ending was retained in the Bergen (Old Norse hon > hon), but lost elsewhere (hon > ho). The -nn ending was simplified to -n everywhere. Since the feminine definite articles were -in and -an in Old Norse, while the masculine ending was -inn, another theory is that the retention of -n, combined with an earlier reduction of unstressed vowels, caused the masculine and feminine genders to merge.[2] In other dialects -in and -an lost the final -n, underwent nasalization and developed into -a in a majority of the modern Norwegian dialects (other variants include -e, -i and -o) whereas -inn developed into -en.

Definite form of given names

In Norwegian, common nouns may be indefinite or definite, while proper nouns are always indefinite. In the Bergen dialect, however, proper nouns of persons' given names are often definite, giving a less formal tone. For example, Kåre Willoch may be called Kåren (or Kåre'n, no written convention exists) or Willochen in bergensk, whereas this would be considered incorrect elsewhere in Norway, excepting only some rural dialects in the proximity of Bergen. The reason for this emerging in Bergen is thought to be that titles, which are common nouns, were more or less used the same way as names, since in Bergen, formerly Norway's megapolis, there were many people with the same given names, but a wide range of titles. For example, "Alexander Skomaker" (in English "Alexander Shoemaker"). As titles gradually were perceived as names, and could be in the definite form (as they were common nouns), after some time, by assimilation to the titles as names, surnames and eventually given names were also used in the definite form.

Uvular trills

The "r"s are Uvular trills, as in French and Danish. It probably spread to Bergen (and Kristiansand) some time in the 18th century, overtaking the Rolled rTemplate:Disambiguation needed in the time span of about 2-3 generations. Until recent decades' developments in neighboring rural dialects, this was an easy way of distinguishing them from the Bergen dialect.

Recent developments

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the literacy rate improved, which gave a strong influence from Riksmål, and later Bokmål. (Nynorsk, Norway's other written language, was considered rural and thus unprestigeous, and has not had a strong influence on the dialect). Subsequently, large parts of the German-inspired vocabulary unique for Bergen disappeared. Plural endings are used less frequently, for example huser (houses) has become hus, which is correct Bokmål. Also, pronunciations have shifted slightly towards standard East Norwegian (Standard Østnorsk), probably as a result of the shift of power towards Oslo. For example, "pære" (pear), which was formerly pronounced as péræ, is now pronounced pæræ.

Modern Bergensk compared to Bokmål and Nynorsk

Like almost all Norwegian dialects, Bergensk cannot be said to be either Bokmål or Nynorsk. While the vocabulary shows traits of both Bokmål and Nynorsk, it has characteristics that are not covered by any of these written languages. Also, Bokmål is often associated with Eastern Norwegian Standard Østnorsk pronunciation - although no official affiliation exists. This gives the claim that oral Bergensk "is" partly Bokmål ambiguities.

Although Nynorsk (Neo-Norwegian) has its stronghold in western Norway and the areas surrounding Bergen, most of the inhabitants of Bergen itself write Bokmål.

English verbs

When English verbs are used as substitute for Norwegian verbs, in the past tense they are given an -et ending, like walket and drivet. This is different from the other Norwegian dialects, most of which use an -a ending.[3]

See also


  • Nesse, A., Slik ble vi bergensere - Hanseatene og bergensdialekten, Sigma Forlag, 2003. ISBN 82-7916-028-0.

Further reading

  • Kerswill, Paul (2002). "A dialect with ‘great inner strength’? The perception of nativeness in the Bergen speech community". In Daniel Long and Dennis Preston. A handbook of perceptual dialectology 2. Amsterdam: Benjamins. pp. 155–175. 

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