Desbladet reports on how a perfectly good Norwegian counting system was hopelessly confused by bureaucrats to the point that “45 years after the reform we have two ways of pronouncing such numbers in Norwegian, and we never know for sure which one will be used.”


  1. The Scandinavians, as I understand, have five very closely related standard languages for only about 20 million people. (No, I’m not counting Finnish — Norway has two standard languages and as I understand neither one is quite the demotic). Seems terribly fussy and stubborn, but then some of us here (not naming any names) want as many languages as possible in the world.

  2. I’m astonished that they felt the need to “fix” their numbers in the first place. It’s really not that much of an obstacle to say numbers with the last digit before the tens, at least it works well enough for me (and anyone I know) in German, though I have to admit that I prefer phone numbers to be said one digit at a time.

  3. Five closely related languages? Svenska, dansk, bokmål, nynorsk, and… what?

  4. Faroese, Norn, Icelandic, or Jamska? I don’t know.

  5. I assumed Icelandic. (I have to admit I’d never heard of Jamska; now I know it’s the dialect of Jämtland, which I’d also never heard of.)

  6. Quote from the article: “Especially in non-formal everyday speech the “old” pronunciation is frequently used, both by old and young people.”
    In my experience, it’s the complete opposite – the “new” pronunciation is most used, especially by youths.
    I have a tendency of rambling, but I hope I’m excused this time – this is, after all, a blog about language, so it is relevant…sort of. Anyway, just to give more examples of the various pronounciations:
    20/24: tjue/tjuefire (“new”) – tyve/fir-og-tyve (“old”)
    30/33: tretti/trettitre – tredve/tre-og-tredve
    40/45: førti/førtifire – førr/fem-og-førr
    Other decals (I don’t know whether that’s the appropriate word, but I can’t find my dictionary – it’ll do) are similar in the old and new way, so eg. 67 is sekstisyv (-sju) in the “new” way and syv(sju-)-og-seksti in the “old” way.
    There was an incident, in the 50’s I think, when the company who directed phone calls (what do you call them in English again…switch board operators? In Norwegian, they are called sentralborddamer, or switch board ladies; kind of interesting) were instructed by the Storting (or should that be Stortinget, as it is in Norwegian? There was an excellent blog on this; I’ll have to look it up. Anyway, that’s the Norwegian parliament) to use this “new” method, but they were also told to use another version for saying 20 – toti, which matches the other words’ structure of first saying which number (to) that needs to be multiplicated with ten (ti) to get it. 22 would thus be totito, which of course sounds utterly ridiculous. I can’t quite remember how this revolution failed, but so it did, and that’s the essential thing, is it not?
    Regarding the number of languages; Nordisk Råd, or The Nordic Counsil, released a pamphlet in 1986 titled “Att förstå varandra i Norden” (“To understand eachother in the Nordic”), which summed up the language distribution like this (I’ve included the contemporary numbers in paranthesis):
    Danish: 5 million (5,5 million)
    Finnish: 4,5 million and 250 000 in Sweden (6 million)
    Faroese: 43 000 (80 000)
    Greenlandic: 43 000 (50 000)
    Icelandic: 230 000 (300 000)
    Norwegian: 4 million (4,6 million)
    Sami: 30 000 in Norway, Sweden and Finland (20 000)
    Swedish: 8 million and 300 000 in Finland (9,3 million)
    To sum it up: 8 languages, divided on 25,8 million people.
    I’m not sure which languages zizka were referring to; Norwegian nynorsk, Norwegian bokmål, Swedish and Danish are pretty sure, but I don’t know which is the last “very closely related” language. It could be Icelandic, but Iceland isn’t a Scandinavian country (though a lot of foreigners have problems with defining Scandinavia), and Icelandic doesn’t have a Scandinavian mutual comprehensibility (I, and a fair share of Scandinavians I guess, could understand an Icelandic text, but not verbal communication).
    He is wrong with counting nynorsk and bokmål as two languages when we’re talking about verbal communication – both are written languages, and you can’t speak either.
    For what it’s worth, there’s a good article (in Norwegian nynorsk) about mutual Nordic comprehension here:

  7. Thanks, and if all your ramblings are that informative, you’re welcome to ramble here any time!

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