Norwegian belongs to the western subbranch of the North Germanic languages. The Germanic languages form a top-level constituent of the Indo-European language family.
From 1380 on Norway was annexed by Danmark. In the 16th century Norwegian was replaced by Danish as official and written language. Spoken Norwegian, however, lingered and followed its own course. In 1814 Norway entered a political Union with Sweden. In 1905 Norway became independent.
Norwegian has two official varieties: a) Bokmål and Nynorsk. In modern Norway 80% of the education is performed in Bokmål, the rest in Nynorsk. Nynorsk is more archaic and stays closer to Old Norse than Bokmål. Consequently Nynorsk has more morphological variation than Bokmål.
Ivar Aasen (1813-96) created a standard language based on conservative Western Norwegian dialects. This language was called Landsmål, the ancestor of present-day Nynorsk.
Knud Knudsen (1812-95) integrated the Danish standard into Norwegian and created a written standard language called 'almindelige Bogsprog' ("common literary language") or 'Riksmål', which later on developed to the present-day Bokmål.
Two spelling reforms ocurred in the 20th century, which had the major objectives of a) reduction of Danish traits in Bokmål and Nynorsk, and b) the levelling of the differences between Bokmål and Nynorsk.
Norwegian vocalism is characterized by distinctive vowel length, a significant feature of the the consonant inventory is the presence of retroflex consonants.
Most native words have stress on the first syllable. Low German loan words are stressed on the second syllable. There are loanwords with stress on the penultimate or ultimate syllabe, as well. Polysyllabic words have a tonal opposition between steadily rising tone and delayed rising tone. Monosyllabic words don't have a tonal opposition.
Nouns are inflected for number (singular and plural), gender (male, female and neuter in Nynorsk, common and neuter in Bokmål) and definiteness. Definiteness is marked by a suffixed morpheme. Indefiniteness is expressed by an indefinite article preceding the head noun phrase. There is also a preposed definite article. The single remaining case marker on nouns is the genitive suffix -s.
Personal pronouns exhibit morphologically distinct subject forms and object forms. There is no morphological distinction between subject and object elsewhere in the system.
Adjectives have two major inflectional paradigms: strong vs. weak inflection. These two can be subdivided into various inflectional subclasses. Comparison is performed by synthetic and analytic means.
Verbs have few inflectional categories, number and person are not morphological marked. There are two synthetic tenses, past and non-past, a number of compound tenses, such as future and perfect, exist as well. Present and past tense are not inflected for person, number or aspect. Remnants of an optative occur in some highly marked contexts. An imperative exists, as well. The present tense is often used to denote the future. In the past tense there is a distinction between weak and strong verbs: weak verbs form the past tense stem by adding a dental suffix to the root, strong verbs use vowel alternation to form the past tense stem. The weak form are mostly regular and productive, whereas the strong forms are irregular and not productive any more. Bokmål strong verb paradigms are characterized by analogical levelling and a significant influx of Danish forms. The weak conjugation has spread more in Nynorsk than in Bokmål.
The verb has several infinite forms: an infinitive, present and past participles, and a supine. Nynorsk uses inflected participles in verbal constructions, Bokmål uses uninflected supines.
Norwegian word order is complex, governed by discourse-pragmatical principles. The verb usually occupies the second position in the clause.
Adjectives precede the head noun and show no agreement. Object forms of pronouns normally follow the verb, the possessive adjective precedes the verb.
Relative clauses follow the head noun phrase. An invariant particle marks the begining of relative clauses.
The major part of the present-day Norwegian vocabulary can be traced back to Old Norse. Bokmål still has many Danish loans. In the Middle Ages Norwegian received many Low German loans due to the contact with the Hanseatic League. After the reformation High German loans entered the language through Danish. During the Danish rule Norwegian virtually became extict as written language and the word stock of spoken Norwegian was influenced heavily by Danish.