Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Knudsen, Knud

  • NorwegianText editions
  • Social category:
    Scholars, scientists, intellectuals
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  • Title:
    Knudsen, Knud
  • Title2:
    Knudsen, Knud
  • Text:

    Knud Knudsen (Holt, Tvedestrand 1812 – Oslo 1895), teacher, linguist and founder of the Norwegian Bokmål language was born as the son of a small farmer and school teacher. After some years as a teacher in his home district, Knudsen’s talent earned him sponsored studies at the University of Christiania/Oslo; he graduated in philology in 1840 and from then on worked as a teacher at Kristiania katedralskole, the leading gymnasium in Oslo.

    Knudsen’s language project rested on the principle of orthophony – the idea that written characters should correspond as closely as possible to sounds in speech – which he took from the Danish lingust Rasmus Rask (who had argued for orthophonic reforms in the spelling of Danish) and Rask’s Norwegian adept Maurits Hansen. In his first article (1845) Knudsen emphasized that a orthophonic reform would made the Danish written language (then still in official use in Norway) easier to learn for Norwegians.

    Knudsen’s most important theoretical developement in Norwegian language planning was to combine orthophony with nationalism, as expressed in his Om Norskhed i vor Tale og Skrift (“On Norwegian identity in our speech and writing”, 1850). Against the official status of Danish he stated that the nation-wide koinè dialect in Norway (which he termed dansk-norsk, “Dano-Norwegian”) should be regarded as a separate language. In his view, the most realistic way to a separate Norwegian language was gradual language reform of Danish based on this dialect. In 1856 Knudsen published a grammatical handbook of Dano-Norwegian, Haandbog i dansk-norsk Sproglære, and in countless publications he agitated for language reforms, chiefly in Det norske målstræv (“The Norwegian language movement”, 1867) and Den landsgyldige norske Udtale (“The proper Norwegian pronuniation”, 1876). Knudsen also was an enthusiastic purist and published a dictionary, Unorsk og norsk (“Non-Norwegian and Norwegian”, 1879-81), to promote Norwegian dialect words replacing loanwords. In his lifetime Knudsen’s language project already had to face the competition of Ivar Aasen’s more radical programme to promote a new Norwegian written language based on the rural dialects.

    Knudsen’s campaign was bolstered by the fact that his reforms were heeded by the prestigious theatre in Bergen, Det Norske Theater, which wanted to oust Danish from the Norwegian stage. For a while Ibsen and Bjørnson used Knudsen’s guidance for a literate-spoken Norwegian for the stage – which did not, however, carry over into their writing (which reverted to Danish spelling). Ibsen and Knudsen were the Norwegian representatives at the Scandinavian Orthographic Congress of 1869. This effected only a very minor spelling reform. A previous reform within Norway (1862) had reflected Knudsen’s orthophonic principles.

    More salient was the growing tendency to use Norwegian words and word-forms in lieu of Danish ones; this increased into the 20th century and also affected government-approved school textbooks. Knudsen’s main principles and propositions became official language policy and were implemented during the language reforms of 1907 and 1917, which established modern Bokmål (“book language”, initially called Riksmål, “language of the realm”), today’s majority language in Norway. Knudsen’s expectation that his and Aasen’s language models would in due course merge into a common Norwegian language has not, however, materialized.

    Word Count: 521

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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).

    Johnsen, Egil Børre; Unorsk og norsk: Knud Knudsen, en beretning om bokmålets far (Tvedestrand: Bokbyen forlag, 2006).

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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. "Knudsen, Knud", 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.