North Germanic language of the West Scandinavian branch, spoken by some five million people in Norway and the U.S. Old Norwegian became a separate language by the end of the 12th century. Middle Norwegian became the tongue of most native speakers about the 15th century. Modern Norwegian has two rival forms. Dano-Norwegian (Bokmål, or Riksmål), the more popular, stems from written Danish used during the union of Denmark and Norway (1380–1814; see Kalmar Union). It is used in national newspapers and most literary works. New Norwegian (Nynorsk), based on western rural dialects, was created by Ivar Aasen (1813–96) in the mid-19th century to carry on the tradition of Old Norse. Both languages are used in government and education. Plans to unite them gradually in a common language, Samnorsk, were officially abandoned in 2002.
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