Bergensk or Bergen dialect is a dialect of Norwegian used in Bergen, Norway. It is easy for Norwegians to recognise, as it is more distinguishable from other dialects in Hordaland, for example, the Stavanger dialect, from the dialects of Rogaland, and the Trondheim dialect, from Trøndelag dialects.
Development of Modern Norwegian
Proto-Germanic, the common ancestor of all Germanic languages, in the 1st millennium BC evolved into Proto-Norse and later Old Norse. This subsequently developed into Western Norse and finally Old Norwegian about 1300. From 1350 to 1525, Norwegian went through a Middle Norwegian transition toward Modern Norwegian, partly fuelled by the devastating effect the Black Death had on Norway.
Early influence from Low German and Danish
Bergen's strong foreign influence, such as Hanseatic League merchants in the period from about 1350 to 1750, has had a profound effect on the Bergen dialect. The Hanseatic merchants spoke varieties of Low German, and perhaps a pidgin in dealings with the locals. Bergen was the only major Norwegian city during the Dano-Norwegian union from 1536 to 1814, and the Bergensk absorbed more of language trends from abroad, such as from Danish, than other Norwegian dialects. The written standard of the time, was based on a Copenhagen variety of Scandinavian, and it continued to affect Bergensk well into the 20th century. A Dano-Norwegian koiné, resembling the non-standard Riksmål, is still spoken, although in recent decades has become much more similar to Bokmål.
Many Low German and German words found their way to Norwegian through the Bergen dialect, which makes up almost 35% of the basic Norwegian vocabulary. The long history of multi-lingual coexistence in Bergen has made the dialect more susceptible to simplifications, in order to ease communication, and the influence of Danish and Low German are apparent in the modern Bergen dialect's phonetics.
It is one of two dialects in Norway with only two grammatical genders, the other being the dialect spoken in Lyngen, all others have three (excepting sociolects in other Norwegian urban areas). The feminine gender disappeared in the 16th century. One theory is that this was partly fuelled by an influence from Danish, which became the written language and already had abolished the feminine gender, and as a simplification to ease communication between Norwegians and Germans or between people from Bergen and other parts of Norway.
The Old Norse -n ending was retained in the Bergen (Old Norse hon > hon), but lost elsewhere (hon > ho). The -nn ending was simplified to -n everywhere. Since the feminine definite articles were -in and -an in Old Norse, while the masculine ending was -inn, another theory is that the retention of -n, combined with an earlier reduction of unstressed vowels, caused the masculine and feminine genders to merge. In other dialects -in and -an lost the final -n, underwent nasalization and developed into -a in a majority of the modern Norwegian dialects (other variants include -e, -i and -o) whereas -inn developed into -en.
Definite form of given names
In Norwegian, common nouns may be indefinite or definite, while proper nouns are always indefinite. In the Bergen dialect, however, proper nouns of persons' given names are often definite, giving a less formal tone. For example, Kåre Willoch may be called Kåren (or Kåre'n, no written convention exists) or Willochen in bergensk, whereas this would be considered incorrect elsewhere in Norway, excepting only some rural dialects in the proximity of Bergen. The reason for this emerging in Bergen is thought to be that titles, which are common nouns, were more or less used the same way as names, since in Bergen, formerly Norway's megapolis, there were many people with the same given names, but a wide range of titles. For example, "Alexander Skomaker" (in English "Alexander Shoemaker"). As titles gradually were perceived as names, and could be in the definite form (as they were common nouns), after some time, by assimilation to the titles as names, surnames and eventually given names were also used in the definite form.
- /n, t, d, l/ are alveolar [n, t, d, l].
- As in Stavanger and Oslo, younger speakers of the Bergen dialect tend to merge /ç/ with /ʃ/.
The /r/ phoneme is realized uvularly, either as a trill [ʀ] or a fricative [ʁ]. The latter is the normal French pronunciation. It probably spread to Bergen (and Kristiansand) some time in the 18th century, overtaking the alveolar trill [r] in the time span of about 2-3 generations. Until recent decades' developments in neighboring rural dialects, this was an easy way of distinguishing them from the Bergen dialect. Nowadays, the uvular /r/ is a feature of a much larger area of the southwestern Norway than Bergen.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the literacy rate improved, which gave a strong influence from Riksmål, and later Bokmål. (Nynorsk, Norway's other written language, was considered rural and thus unprestigeous, and has not had a strong influence on the dialect). Subsequently, large parts of the German-inspired vocabulary unique for Bergen disappeared. Plural endings are used less frequently, for example huser (houses) has become hus, which is correct Bokmål. Also, pronunciations have shifted slightly towards standard East Norwegian (Standard Østnorsk), probably as a result of the shift of power towards Oslo. For example, "pære" (pear), which was formerly pronounced as péræ, is now pronounced pæræ.
Modern Bergensk compared to Bokmål and Nynorsk
Like almost all Norwegian dialects, Bergensk cannot be said to be either Bokmål or Nynorsk. While the vocabulary shows traits of both Bokmål and Nynorsk, it has characteristics that are not covered by any of these written standards. Also, Bokmål is often associated with Eastern Norwegian Standard Østnorsk pronunciation - although no official affiliation exists. This gives the claim that oral Bergensk "is" partly Bokmål ambiguities.
When English verbs are used as substitute for Norwegian verbs, in the past tense they are given an -et ending, like walket and drivet. This is different from the other Norwegian dialects, most of which use an -a ending.
- Kristoffersen, Gjert (2000), The Phonology of Norwegian, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-823765-5
- Nesse, Agnete (2003), Slik ble vi bergensere - Hanseatene og bergensdialekten, Sigma Forlag, ISBN 82-7916-028-0
- Vanvik, Arne (1979), Norsk fonetikk, Oslo: Universitetet i Oslo, ISBN 82-990584-0-6
- Kerswill, Paul (2002). "A dialect with 'great inner strength'? The perception of nativeness in the Bergen speech community". In Daniel Long and Dennis Preston. A handbook of perceptual dialectology. 2. Amsterdam: Benjamins. pp. 155–175.