Nynorsk writer wins Nobel literature prize

The winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature was someone who writes in Norwegian, Jon Fosse. That award is notable not just because Fosse is the first winner known best for his plays since Harold Pinter (2005). And not just because he is the first winner who writes in Norwegian since Sigrid Undset (1928). Fosse is the first winner ever who writes in Nynorsk—a form of Norwegian, used by only 10%-20% of the Norwegian population.

As I discussed on The Scandinavian languages – Language Miscellany, there are two forms of Norwegian:

  • Bokmål (book language), developed from a norwegianised form of Danish, and used by some 80%-90% of the population.
  • Nynorsk (new Norwegian), a codified form of western Norwegian dialects close to Old Norse.

For more on Jon Fosse, please see the announcement on the Nobel prize website at The Nobel Prize in Literature 2023 – Biobibliography

Translating Fosse

For an interview with a translator of Fosse’s work, please see Searls on Translating Fosse. : languagehat.com Among other things, the translator Damion Searls discusses things to consider in deciding:

  • when to translate the Nynorsk present tense into the English present tense and when to translate it into the English present continuous tense.
  • how to translate foreign names into English and how to deal with source-language words for, for example, street names, holidays or kinds of food.

As is often the case on languagehat.com the comments under the article discuss various interesting topics, relating more (or sometimes less) to the article itself. They include:

  • the nature and content of Fosse’s work.
  • whether Fosse uses a conservative form of Nynorsk.
  • how to pronounce his surname, and particularly the fact that his surname is pronounced with the second tone. Also, the development of word tone in Norwegian and Swedish and the partly related Danish phenomenon of stød (described briefly at Scandinavian language challenge day 1 – Language Miscellany)
  • whether it is easier for Swedes to understand Nynorsk or Bokmål, and whether one of them is easier for English speakers to learn.
  • the etymology of the surname Fosse.
  • how the initial consonant cluster /tw/ developed in German and English. Also, whether Polish twaróg ‘cottage cheese’ comes from Hungarian túró or from a Turkic language.

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