Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Aasen, Ivar

  • NorwegianText editions
  • Social category:
    Scholars, scientists, intellectuals
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  • Title:
    Aasen, Ivar
  • Title2:
    Aasen, Ivar
  • Text:

    Ivar Aasen (Ørsta, Møre og Romsdal district, 1813 – Oslo 1896), Norwegian linguist and founder of the Nynorsk (“New Norwegian”) language, grew up on his family’s small farm. He received no formal education, but had access to private libraries in the district, first as a primary-school teacher, later as house tutor to a local vicar. In 1836 his language interests led him to write an essay, Om vort Skriftsprog (not published during his lifetime), outlining what was to become his language project: to build “our national language from the farmers’ cottages”, not based on one single dialect, but on a collation of several rural dialects. Aasen had read and was strongly influenced by the comparative linguistics of Rasmus Rask, Franz Bopp and Jacob Grimm, and applied this method to the comparative study of dialects.

    With the support of the bishop of Bergen, who took an interest in a small dialect grammar Aasen had written, Aasen received funding from the Royal Scientific Society in Trondheim which enabled him to do dialectological fieldwork in mid- and south Norway between 1842 and 1846. Aasen subsequently settled in Oslo and published the results in the grammar Det norske Folkesprogs Grammatik (1848) and the dictionary Ordbog over det norske Folkesprog (1850). In these works Aasen argued that the Norwegian dialects constituted a separate language alongside Danish or Swedish: “Norwegian”. That taxonomy and the nomenclature “Norwegian” challenged the common attitude that the language of the Norwegians was a locally inflected form of Danish. Aasen himself called his language Landsmaal (Landsmål in the later orthography: “the country’s language”).

    Both a researcher and a language planner, Aasen also developed a unified standard for Landsmaal, presented with its final adjustments in the new editions of the grammar (Norsk Grammatik, 1864) and the dictionary (Norsk Ordbog, 1873). Aasen also gained popularity as a poet with the collection Symra (“Wood anemone”, 1863); his song Nordmannen (“The Norse Man”) became an unofficial anthem for the growing language movement.

    Repeated offers of a professorship at the University of Oslo were refused. From 1851 to his death in 1896 Aasen was salaried with a state pension in recognition of his research – although his language planning programme became increasingly controversial, meeting with resistance among the upper social classes and the urban population. Indeed, Aasen had based his standards on rural (west coast) dialects, excluding demotic urban dialects, and privileging forms showing continuities with Old Norse. Although this historicism carries the hallmark of Romantic nationalism, Aasen’s language planning was also motivated by ideas of Enlightenment vintage, such as democratization and public utility.

    Word Count: 418

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  • Bull, Tove; “Special linguistic developments in 19th-century Norway”, in Bandle, Oskar; Elmevik, Lennart; Widmark, Gun (eds.); The Nordic languages: An international handbook of the history of the North Germanic languages (2 vols; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2002-05), 2: 1468-1475.

    Haugen, Einar; Language conflict and language planning: The case of modern Norwegian (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1966).

    Walton, Stephen J.; Farewell the spirit craven: Ivar Aasen and National Romanticism (Oslo: Det Norske samlaget, 1987).

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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Hoel, Oddmund L., 2022. "Aasen, Ivar", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 20-04-2022, consulted 29-11-2022.