Ivar Aasen
Ivar Aasen 1871Foto: C. C. Wischmann

Ivar Aasen

Ivar Andreas Aasen, linguist, language founder and literary figure. He changed the future of language in Norway, shaped the Nynorsk written language on the basis of spoken variants from across Norway, and wrote beloved Norwegian songs, such as “Nordmannen” (“The Norwegian”).

Aasen was born in Ørsta on 5 August, 1813, and died in Kristiania on 23 September, 1896. After a few years itinerant schooling, two years of private tuition and seven years as a tutor, he in 1842 commenced the project which would result in a Norwegian written language Landsmål (later Nynorsk), based on Norsk Grammatik (Norwegian Grammar, 1864) and Norsk Ordbok (Norwegian Dictionary, 1873).

In his project of providing samples of spoken language from across the country, Aasen visited half of the presently existing Norwegian municipalities, and travelled as far north as Tromsø. His main emphasis was not, however, on spoken language in the rapidly growing cities and towns. He travelled nearly 27000 kilometres, and for a period of 24 years, he spent a third of each year on travel.

Aasen produced texts in the new written language within a number of genres, had 95 poems published and wrote some of the most widely beloved Norwegian songs. He published 150 articles and prose texts. He wrote 39 books and pamphlets, among the books are two dictionaries with altogether 69 000 entries. Not many today could equal his lucid and precise definitions of word.

He lived in Kristiania from 1847 until his death, except for a year in Sunnmøre from late summer 1850. In Kristiania, he developed an extensive network of contacts, and was a de facto one-man research institute. He would in time know ten languages: Icelandic, Old Norse, Swedish, Danish, English, French, German, Latin, Greek and Nynorsk.

In 1871, he was awarded a gold medal by king Karl 4. for the linguistic study of the Norwegian popular language, and two years later, Aasen was made a knight of the Order of St. Olav for services to literature.

His Collected Works was published in three volumes 1911-12 (reprinted in 1996 in a single volume), and in two volumes in 1926. Works. A selection was published in 1976, and Reidar Djupedal published Aasen’s letters and diaries in three volumes 1957-1960. In the period 1992-2002, the Ivar Aasen society published ten volumes in two series, mostly formerly unprinted language samples collected by Ivar Aasen as preparation for his Norwegian Dictionary.

At his childhood home, the farm Åsen in Ørsta, there has been a museum since 1898; from 2000, this has been the site of the of the Ivar Aasen Centre, a national centre for the experience and documentation of Nynorsk written culture.


Growing up in a literary environment

Several roads to a Norwegian written language

The journeys through the language

The farmer’s son who became a millionaire

Everyday life in the capital

The first language council

Foundational texts for a new language

In the heat of the battle

The literary figure

External impulses

“This most curious little creature”


Growing up in a literary environment

Ivar Aasen was the youngest of nine siblings; he lived longer than any of them and grew to be one the country’s greatest.

His parents lived on the farm Åsen, situated equidistant between the churches of Ørsta and Volda in Sunnmøre. His father was a tenant farmer; tenants, however, had the same social status as farmers owning their farms at this time and place.

He was christened Iver Andreas in Ørsta church three days after his birth, and confirmed in Volda church in 1828. He did not begin using the ‘Ivar’ form of his first name until 1846; letters, however, he mostly signed “I. Aasen, and most of his poems and songs were published anonymously.

His mother died when he was three years old, and his father when he was 13. His closest family connection for the following years would therefore be his brother Jon and his family.

The stories which tend to be told about other creative figures have been applied to Ivar Aasen also: escaping farm work whenever possible, hiding away to write, and being recognized as something special from an early age. Much of this is hindsight, and based on pre-existing traditions. To some extent, he also encouraged the idea in parts of his own writing. Still, in a little record of childhood memories from1833, he emphasized that his father had allowed him to “engage in bookish pursuits”.

A few kilometers south of Åsen lies the farm Ekset, at the Volda fjord. The farmer and lensmann (local official) Sivert Aarflot had from around 1800 transformed this ancient site of court gatherings into a general centre for the development of written culture. Aarflot was a part of the 18th century tradition of popular enlightenment, and from he bought the place in 1797 until he died in 1817, he established a library, a printing press, a weekly newspaper, a Sunday school and a post office at Ekset.

The basis of what would become a free library was his personal collection of 84 volumes. This was dominated by secular literature, and the collection grew quickly. As early as in 1813, the library consisted of 550 volumes. The literary milieu in Ivar Aasen’s neighbourhood was part of a strong intellectual tradition in Sunnmøre. Some local farmers there had writing skills as early as in 16th and 17th century. In the second half of the 18th century, the local vicar Hans Strøm strengthened this tradition of learning, building on rationalist, pre-romantic educational ideals. It was this tradition which was developed further by Aarflot, and which Ivar Aasen became a part of from an early age.

Ivar Aasen’s fascination with writing began at an early age. It was his big sister Brite who helped him crack the reading code. Sivert Aarflot had had no more than 22 days of schooling in all. Aasen did after all get ten school days a year. “Not without avidity”, he read everything he came across, and at home he found both the Bible in a Danish version from 1744 and Hans Strøm’s collection of sermons from 1792.

He was not exceptional in being able to write, but he used this ability in other ways than was common. At twelve he wrote the poem “A God-fearing Soul’s Prayer”, and at the same time he also began making a written record of the birds he caught, neatly sorted and arranged, before selling them as food. Ivar Aasen was one of these personalities who like to collect, arrange, compare and systematize. All in all, this may be what he did best: documenting, analyzing, finding the patterns which he suspected must be in there. Today, he would be referred to as a nerd.

In what he would later refer to as “a to me personally unpleasant period of five years”, he was a farm worker on the family farm and also a road worker, until he became an itinerant country teacher in his local community, at the age of 18. He worked as a teacher for two years, during which the big library at Ekset served as an important place of learning in his free time. The short distance to the library and the printing press made it easier for him to make the passage into the public eye: at 19 he made his debut as a writer, publishing two broadsheet ballads. Later, three more Aasen texts were printed at Ekset.

At twenty, he moved to Herøy, where the dean Hans Conrad Thoresen took him into his house and provided tuition. From this point on, Aasen would never again live permanently in Ørsta. His time under the dean’s tutelage would be short; after two years, in 1835, he was employed as a tutor to the children of Captain Ludvig J. Daae at Solnør. Aasen remained here for seven years. This period made him a learned man according to the standards of his times, with solid knowledge within many languages, largely obtained through informal learning processes, as long had been the norm among common people. At this point, he read Old Norse, Danish, English, French, German and Latin.

It remained for him to discover and learn the most important language of all: his mother tongue.


Several paths to a Norwegian written language

By the early 19th century, Norway had become a nation of individuals with writing skills. The ability, not just to read, but also to write, had become general. The democratisation of Norway, which was picking up speed at this point, received an impetus from the written culture which had become pervasive and ever more dominant. The common people began to write their way into this culture, and through this they also wrote their way towards a democratisation of knowledge and society. One of the main roads to democracy went precisely through the language: spoken, written, printed.

The understanding of Norwegian language as a distinct entity and as different from Danish, had emerged before 1800. The existence of a connection between Old Norse language and the dialects of the day was accepted knowledge. What created disagreement was the question of what consequences should be drawn from this knowledge. The question would come to be whether the Danish written language should be Norwegianised (if this was at all possible), or whether a new Norwegian written language should be made. Many of the participants in the debate were impatient men in their twenties: Laurents Hallager from Bergen, Gregers Fougner Lundh from Gudbrandsdal, Peter Andreas Munch from Oslo, Henrik Wergeland from Kristiansand – and Ivar Aasen. A few older men had also strong opinions on the matter.

In 1802, the medical doctor Hallager published his Norwegian Glossary with about 7000 entries. This was the largest glossary to be published in Norway between 1646 and 1848. He did not wish to challenge the Danish language through a resuscitation of the old Norwegian language, but would rather “replenish and extend the Danish language”. Lundh, an economist argued for a completely different approach. In a document from 1806 he claimed that the Norwegian dialects were so rich in words and expressions that they should be collected in a new language.

It was Hallager’s line of replenishing Danish which received wider support in the following years. As early as in 1807 the officer Hans Morten Winsnes wrote that public officials should listen carefully to the language and idioms of the common people. He emphasized the language variation and the great linguistic differences within the Dano-Norwegian kingdom. Sivert Aarflot had a clear idea of a connection between contemporary spoken language and Medieval Old Norse written language, but expressed no clear opinion on what conclusion should be drawn from this. In the periodical Saga, however, Jacob Aall, owner of an iron works, and clergyman Johan Storm Munch had definite ideas on this point. They wanted to get rid of “the foreign weeds”, and reinforce the Danish written language with Norse material from contemporary spoken variants.

In 1814, the Storting (the Norwegian parliament) had written it into the constitution that the Danish written language used in Norway was to be known as Norwegian. Whatever its name, many Norwegians would,in the decades to come, want to cling to this language, preferably unaltered.

In the 1830s, a new debate emerged. The question was now mainly what the basis for a real Norwegianisation of Danish should be. The Storting representative Jonas Anton Hielm wanted a committee of knowledgeable Norwegians to create a dictionary and a grammar for “the real language of the country”. ‘No thanks’ replied historian Peter Andreas Munch the following year: “rather than in the present manner abominably to muddle and patch together our dialects in a complete mish-mash,” one should rather base oneself on one dialect and compare this with Old Norse. The poet Henrik Wergeland claimed in 1832 that there at least could be no doubt that Norway needed “an independent written language”, and that it would have to be in place before the end of the century.

Wergeland’s article was not printed until three years later, in the magazine Bondevennen. Ivar Aasen read this magazine while he worked as a tutor at Solnør. In the winter of 1836 he wrote a conjectural reply to Wergeland, but he never sent the manuscript. It was first printed in Syn og Segn in 1909, then entitled “Om vort Skriftsprog” (“On our Written Language”). As the custom was, he wrote in Danish.

This was Ivar Aasen’s personal language political manifesto. Just as Norway belonged to the Norwegian people, the people’s language would have to be the country’s main language, Aasen thought. Through the many centuries of foreign domination, the ancient mother tongue – or as he called it “our fathers’ tongue’ - had been lost. It was still not too late to win back the ancient language, but then one would have to turn to the common people, not the upper class or public officials. “The common countryman has the honour of being the saviour of our language; his speech is therefore one to which one should listen” Aasen wrote.

Aasen did not want to select one dialect and make this the foundation for Norwegian. It was not enough to map each dialect in isolation. It was important to find and make visible the uniform system which existed within the vernacular. Therefore, he wanted to compare the dialects and use them all as a foundation. Glossaries, including grammatical information, from all the countries’ regions would then be needed. He then wanted a committee of language scholars to use these glossaries to develop “a complete Norwegian dictionary with a corresponding grammar”. The grand idea was a written language built on the written norm dominating Norway before the 15th century. This would then be a common denominator of the many spoken variants which had not changed much from the 16th century, and a mark of unity and identity for the Norwegian nation. After 400 years under Danish regime, he would give Norway a unifying cultural element through the language.

This thought was not something Ivar Aasen would relinquish. What he would relinquish five years later was the idea that a committee should perform this work. In an article in the paper Bergens Stiftstidende in 1841, his tone was even more direct and action-oriented: “’Why, thought I, are not the Norwegian dialects treated like other languages? Are not our dialects – the ancient and genuine Norwegian language – worthy of a more thorough consideration?” Now, he himself wanted to see to it that something was done: “’Such a labour’ I thought, ‘can be performed only by one who is born and raised in a farmer’s cottage. I will attempt such a labour.’”

The established linguists in the first half of the 19th century tended to consider written language as possessing greater perfection than spoken language. Aasen had enough classical education not to discard this perception completely, but he was also sufficiently independent to balance speech against writing. The dominant view that writing possessed greater perfection meant that the distance between writing and speech had to be great. Written language should be systematic, elevated, elegant and courtly. Written language was not supposed to be for just anybody, but for those with enough knowledge to master it.

Ivar Aasen wanted to build on the spoken language of the common people, not that of the upper class or of the public officials. It was among the common people he would find features of the Old Norse language best preserved. A Norwegian language would therefore have to be built up from the bottom. The comparison of the various dialects would mean that no one would find everything of their own in the written language, but everyone would find something. Norwegian would be a language built up as a democratic common denominator. This was new and radical. No one had thought like this before. Or at least, no one had done this before.

The journeys throught the language

Ivar Aasen had said what needed to be done. Then he did it.

In the summer of 1841, he went to Bergen to approach persons who could facilitate his labours. He brought with him a collection of 509 plants and the manuscript for a grammar of the Sunnmøre dialect. Thus, he brought with him both the Age of Enlightenment and the Romantic Era. His collection of plants was lucidly and meticulously arranged according to the enlightenment ideas of Carl von Linné: Aasen possessed a shrewd eye for the distinction between plants. His draft for a grammar of the Sunnmøre dialect was a first embodiment ot the romantic idea of the people’s language, which – if you chose to regard it in this way – could be the basis of a common language.

With this, Aasen crosses the boundary between enlightenment and romanticism. Both Strøm and Aarflot had emphasized the natural sciences, and in his grammar, Aasen had included a one page introduction to botany according to Carl von Linnés classification system. Both as botanist and as linguist, Aasen had concentrated on a limited area: the grammar covered a single administrative district; the plants were collected from an even smaller area.

The 28-year-old from Sunnmøre managed to get personal interviews with several of the foremost intellectuals in Bergen. It was a struggle to achieve this, but he was shrewd and tactical. He did not want to appear as a fortune hunter, but as one “who has, after all, achieved something”. He himself thought the natural sciences would be his way forward. His grammar would,however, prove to awaken more interest because the linguistic insights Aasen possessed were something the fledgling nation could use.

The young scholar made a particular impression on the bishop of Bergen, Jacob Neumann. The bishop asked Aasen to write a short autobiography, which Aasen handed over together with the draft grammar six hours later. After only a few days, the autobiography and an excerpt from the introduction to the Sunnmøre grammar were found on print in Bergens Stiftstidende. In a separate piece, the bishop appealed for someone to help “this extraordinary country boy”. All at once, Ivar Aasen had become both a public and a significant person.

In Trondheim, Fredrik Moltke Bugge chaired “Det kgl. Norske Vitenskapers Selskabs Vel” (The Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters). Besides the university in Kristiania, this learned society was the most important scholarly community in the country. The newspaper articles by and about Aasen made Bugge very interested, and made him take action directly. As early as in November 1841, he advised the directors of the society to provide a yearly “sum of support” for this “quite exceptional scientific, namely linguistic talent”. After a few months, most things were in place. The society would provide a grant for the purpose of examining the dialects of what is today Sogn og Fjordane and Hordaland counties. The scope of this brief was later extended both geographically and academically. The yearly amount paid was 150 Spesidalers.

“There is nothing like travel” Ivar Aasen wrote in his diary after the trip to Bergen. He would now become one of the greatest travelers in the country. With his yearly grant from Trondheim, Aasen was able to commence the project he had envisaged in 1836.

His travels through the language began on 29 September 1842. On that day he started out southwards along the West Coast. He set out to collect the basis on which to rebuild the country’s ancient language in a new form. This work of collection would last for 26 years, till he bought a two daler ticket with the steamer “Vestfold” from Skien and returned home to Kristiania in a cold northern wind on 18 September 1868. In the meantime, he had visited half of the presently existing Norwegian municipalities. During these years, he travelled at least 26900 km, and with more than 2700 days of travelling, he was on a journey on average every third day for 24 years.

Most of his travels happened during the summer months, but in the years 1842-46, he was on travel almost all the time, and put 4000 kilometres behind him. This period has therefore been called his long journey. His itinerary was: southwards along the West Coast, north through the East Norwegian mountain valleys, and onwards north to Helgeland, until he returned to Trondheim just before Christmas in 1846. There he worked on his manuscript until he moved to Kristiania in September 1847. In slightly more than three years he completed Det norske Folkesprogs Grammatik (The Grammar of the Norwegian Popular Language, 1848) and Ordbog over det norske Folkesprog (Dictionary of the Norwegian Popular Language,1850) with almost 24 000 entries. After this, he stayed in Ørsta most of the time from August 1850 until September 1851. Throughout the 10 years from 1852 to 1861 he went on collection journeys every summer, likewise from 1864 to 1868.

Some language material was sent him. He also came across material in a variety of written sources. Most of it, he collected in the course of his many journeys. In addition to his registration work in Sunnmøre from 1836 to 1841, he travelled to these areas:


1842 Nordfjord, Sunnfjord, Sogn

1843 Sogn, Nordhordland

1844 Nordhordland, Voss, Hardanger, Sunnhordland, Ryfylke, Jæren, Dalane, Lister, Setesdal

1845 Aust-Agder, nedre Telemark, Ringerike, Kristiania, Hallingdal, Valdres, Gudbrandsdalen, Dovre, Trondheim

1846 Nordmøre, Orkdal, Fosen, Helgeland, Namdalen, Innherad, Trondheim

1847 Trondheim, Gauldalen, Østerdalen, Kristiania

1850 Sunnmøre, Trondheim

1851 Lofoten, Tromsø

1852 Hallingdal, Sogn, Voss, Bergen, Nordhordland, Sunnfjord, Nord-Rogaland

1853 Nedre Telemark, Østfold, Akershus

1854 Setesdal, nedre Telemark, Hadeland, Toten, Sør-Gudbrandsdalen

1855 Telemark, Numedal, Valdres, Sogn, Nordfjord, Sunnmøre

1856 Våler, Østerdalen, Innherad, Gudbrandsdalen

1857 Toten, Valdres, Gausdal, Gudbrandsdalen

1858 Stavanger, Ryfylke, Vest-Agder, Vestfold

1859 Østerdalen, Trysil

1860 Sørlands-kysten, Vestfold

1861 Aust-Agder

1864 Hallingdal, Hemsedal, Sogn, Voss, Nordhordland, Bergen

1865 Vest-Telemark, Setesdal

1866 Hallingdal

1867 Våler, Østerdalen

1868 Vest-Telemark, Bamble


On the road, he would record a miscellany of what he came across: words and expressions, old traditions in the form of tales, songs and tunes, proverbs and much else to be heard among the common people. All this collection of traditional material would also make Aasen more assured in his own literary form as a writer.

He sought out many and diverse types of company, and was only able to achieve his goals through direct observation of informal, everyday communication. He used several methods to collect his language samples. His most important method was the use of informants. These had to have a certain level of education, Aasen thought, and among these, clergymen, teachers and farmers predominated. When he arrived in a new location, the vicar tended to be one of the first he sought out.

Aasen selected some locations which he called Mid Points. These were where he spent most time, and from these, he travelled through the surrounding areas to cover more of the dialect in question.

As well as conversations with and interviews with informants, Aasen made extensive records of what he could pick up around, whether it was the coachman or the baker who was talking. He listened to children, too, and thus became the first one to consider children’s language almost on par with adult language. In this way, he could capture the language as used in both formal and informal contexts.

He had a portable writing slope constructed to his own specifications, which contained everything he needed of writing equipment, and which could be opened quickly. That a stranger might come by and put down notes about the way you talked was anything but a routine occurrence around 1850. Only someone who won people’s trust, by his own demeanor and by recommendation from other trusted persons, could use such a method of observation. It was inevitable that he would meet with some resistance and hostility. “One is thus forced to counter a number of misconceptions and present your objective as convincingly as possible, prior to being able to gather the information required.”

Aasen is thought to have been a shy and diffident person. There is much to indicate that he was in fact so, in private. As language compiler and linguist, on the other hand, he was in a professional role, and a role can do something to even the most diffident person. Many contemporaries pointed out that Ivar Aasen was an excellent storyteller, and he may possibly have used this ability to establish a connection and win trust. He had something to share – he was not there only to observe: he was one of them.

The language compiler from Sunnmøre was both an observer and a participant. Only the social scientist Eilert Sundt may have known more of the everyday lives of Norwegians in the 1800s than Ivar Aasen did.

The farmer’s son who became a millionaire

Ivar Aasen lived in Kristiania for 49 years, and wrote all his most important works there.

When Ivar Aasen was born in 1813, less than ten percent of the Norwegian population lived in towns and urbanized areas. At his death in 1896, almost 40% lived in such locations. Ivar Aasen was himself a part of this urbanization. At the age of 34, in the autumn of 1847, he moved to Kristiania. He had arrived at the conclusion that the impending work “could not be performed satisfactorily except in a major city.”

He lived in several locations in the city, but he never moved away from it, and through his last 25 years, he rarely crossed the city limits. There were three addresses in which he lived for lengthy periods: in Storgata 6 from 1 October 1851 to 31 August 1857, in Teatergata 6 from 20 April 1858, and in Holbergs Gate 35 (later renumbered 23) from 2 February 1880. A lithograph of his benefactor in Trondheim, Fredrik Moltke Bugge, was supposedly the only picture in his study in Teatergt. 6. At the time, the city centre was located further south and west, in what was referred to as ‘Kvartalene’. Even Grensen – now in the middle of the city centre – was a suburb. According to our standards, he lived in middle of the city, but at the time, he lived on the outskirts.

He gained contacts on many levels. He both sought out and was sought out by members of the Storting: he made overviews of who represented the various constituencies, and was often present when so called “farmers’ issues” were up for debate. In 1851, the Storting resolved to give Ivar Aasen a yearly grant. This made him the first holder of a direct academic government grant in Norway. The Storting representatives knew what they were doing. Aasen knew many of them, and had already used many of them as informants for various dialects.

For eight years, from 1842 to 1850, he received a grant from the Royal Society in Trondheim. This cooperation ended now, and this suited Aasen perfectly. This grant had given him independent and quite generous terms, but now he wanted to move on in his work with shaping the new language, which he himself gave the name ‘Landsmål’ precisely in 1851. Documentation and research was to be forged into praxis. Through the 1850s, Aasen’s expertise came to be much in demand, and there were many enough who would dearly like to plan and give advice on his next move. He, though, had more than enough to do with the grammar and the dictionary. Also, the practical work with the language had become more important to him than new scholarly projects.

As a government grant holder, he had a steady income, and Aasen was enough of a businessman to try to make money on the books he published. There was no lack of money, and he did not spend much on himself: not on good quality housing, certainly. Ivar Aasen lived cheaply, at times shoddily. In particular the dingy apartment in Teatergata 6 contributed to later myths of a pathetic and timid man.

The yearly grant from the Storting from 1851 was 300 Spesiedaler. This was the same as a University Research Fellow received, but low compared to eminent linguists in other countries. In 1857, the grant was increased to 400 Spesiedaler, and in 1874 to 600. When the Kroner replaced the Spesiedaler as currency in 1875, the Spesiedaler was converted to four Kroner. The grant then became 2400 Kroner. In 1884, Aasen received a final raise, as the grant was increased to 3500 Kroner a year.

Both Aasen’s wage level and the increases were far above what ordinary workers could expect. The yearly income of an industrial worker was in 1895 less than 8% of Aasen’s grant. He acknowledged the receipt with yearly reports to the Church Department (which was responsible for education and the university) – the last one for the working year 1887.

He had a more or less regular income for more than 60 years, from he began working as an itinerant teacher at 18. At that point he made 8 Spesidaler a year. He published several of his books himself, and he made gleeful entries in his diary when he thought he had made a good deal with the printers. For the second edition of his dictionary, he received as much as 380 Spesiedaler from the publisher. It was almost as much as his yearly grant. With his modest lifestyle he was a long way away from spending such sums. He therefore left behind a fortune of about 31 000 Kroner when he died in 1896. This corresponds to 2.1 million Kroner in today’s price levels.

Everyday life in the capital

Aasen knew that his project could only been completed in the capital, and he made use of the city’s resources, but he remained ambivalent towards urban society.

Even at the time when he settled in the capital in 1847, he was an easily recognisable person. His health remained for the most part good until the 1880s. With time, he developed a stoop: this was captured by caricaturists in early drawings of him in the 1880s and 90s. He was rarely photographed, and the first picture of him was taken as late as in 1871. This has helped form a geriatric image of a grey and stooping Aasen: this bears little resemblance to the energetic young man from Western Norway who first moved to the city.

Aasen gradually developed very regular routines for his life in the city. Most days, he would work on his writing every day, usually until 6 pm, with a break around 11.30 and dinner at 2 pm. If he finished a manuscript one day, even if it were one of his dictionaries, he would still be likely to start something new the next day. He lived in a tension between creative restlessness and a highly focused work ethic and drive, made even more intense by the merciless eye of a perfectionist pedant.

His academic network was extensive; his social network was limited; the women were few and usually distant. He was in love several times; at 21, he was engaged for about a year, but he never married. His thoughts on this subject can rarely be found in his letters and journals. Precisely to avoid the depression such thoughts could bring on, he preferred to “record the events of the day”. He did this in his diaries for 66 years, from 23 December 1830 until three days before his death in 1896.

He filled this annalistic diary with list-like entries, without a linking narrative. He would note down what he read, what he had written, in whose company he had been, where he had been, and often the weather of the latest month. He did not include everything: there are several examples of unmentioned events and actions.

He smoked all the time, mostly the cheep and light long-pipe tobacco “Petum Optimum” from Tiedemanns Tobak. Out on the town, he would often have a glass of beer, whether he visited a café or a salon, in which food and drinks would be served with entertainment on the side. He made use of the city and loved it: “The immediate surroundings are so beautiful and there are so many impressive building projects, which in particular during summer make daily progress, so that there is also something new to be seen,” he wrote as a newly established citizen of Kristiania. In the winter, he would often go for walks on the ice, and in May, he would eagerly anticipate the time for the first sea bath. If something particular happened, he would usually be among the spectators. When the first steam-powered train took off from Kristiania to Strømmen in 1853, Aasen was in the crowd. The opening of the railway line all the way to Eidvoll the following year was an event exactly to his taste. Such events were often described as “Grand” in his diary.

Ivar Aasen was a connoisseur of Kristiania: “There may be no more perceptive observer in the city” Verdens Gang wrote in 1886. For a long time, it was Kristiania of the dark winter months he knew best: the lighter months he used for his travels. From 1869, he stayed in the city all year. There were many things he did not want to miss.

Aasen saw more than 600 theatre performances, but only two Ibsen plays. He was less frequent in the concert halls, but in his diaries he has still made note of more than 200 concerts. In January 1849, he was one of the 1500 who attended the exceptional fiddler Myllarguten’s important concert in the Masonic Hall. His preference was for musical plays, vaudevilles, cabarets, reviews. The high, Aasen sought out mostly in church; the low, he found many places.

This interest in popular culture is reflected in his extensive collection of books, which eventually included 2800 volumes. This included a vast collection of books of proverbs, humorous traditional tales and folklore from many countries, making him one of the most knowledgeable persons within folklore and applied arts at the time. His collection contained books in at least 20 different languages, and of dictionaries alone he had more than a hundred. Aasen also preserved one or several issues of more than 600 volumes of more than a 100 different periodicals. In addition, he was a frequent user of libraries, in particular the University Library in Kristiania.

The first language council

Ivar Aasen’s lodgings in Kristiania became a one-man research institute for Norwegian language, and he himself became an individual language council, the first one in the country.

One of the first to seek his advice was Peter Chr. Asbjørnsen, the collector of fairy tales. The two met in Kristiania the very first autumn Aasen lived there, and Asbjørnsen, at this point a stylistically insecure communicator of folk tradititions, received extensive help in his work with the first complete edition of fairy tales issued in 1851.

It seems as if the whole alphabet came to call on the recent arrival from Sunnmøre: member of the Storting Maurits Aarflot, song book editor Olaus Alvestad; government minister and Aasen’s former pupil from Solnør, Ludvig L. Daae; author Jon Flatabø; feminist and painter Aasta Hansteen; clergyman-poet Anders Hovden; journalist Johan Mork, feminist Fredrikke Marie Qvam, textbook author Nordahl Rolfsen; lexicographer Hans Ross; poet Per Sivle; essayist A.O. Vinje; teacher Petra Zwilgmeyer.

The social scientist Eilert Sundt and the linguist Ivar Aasen had both traversed Norwegian society, high and low, all around the country. Through the twenty-plus years they both lived in the capital, they had a lot to do with each other.

In the period when A. O. Vinje published the journal Dølen, from 1858 to 1870, Vinje and Aasen cooperated a great deal. Aasen frequently lent his assistance in the work with the journal, both with texts, proofreading and translation of advertising to Landsmål. Aasen also published a number of essays, articles and translations. Except for Vinje, no one wrote more frequently in Dølen than Aasen.

Most of these were professional contacts. Only a few persons were able to establish a closer personal contact with him. One of these was the philologist Carl Richard Unger, four years Aasen’s junior. They met in the autumn of 1847 and “were in each other’s company, frequently on a daily basis” for as long as they lived. Between them, advice was both given and received: academically, not many influenced Aasen more than Unger. From 1868, Aasen was a member of the so-called assessment committee for the Landsmål publishing house “Det Norske Samlaget”. This meant he was part of the process of selecting works for publishing. Unger was also a member. The committee often met in Aasen’s apartment.

Another close friend was the minister Johannes Belsheim. The two had become acquainted in 1855, and through the last twenty years, it was rare for many days to pass between each time they met. Belsheim was also with Aasen when he died.

Foundational texts for a new language

Ivar Aasen wrote all the foundational texts for the new written language.

The adult Ivar Aasen threw away hardly a single sheet of paper, and few days would go by without him writing something. What he wanted was to establish “a universal and genuine Norwegian written language”. His Norwegian grammar (1864) and Norwegian Dictionary (1873) marked the beginning of this new language system.

Paper was in short supply, and had to be made good use of. He therefore wrote in a minute and dense hand, with narrow margins. His method of work was influenced both by a strict focus on utility and an awareness of paper as a scarce resource. Whatever you did, it should be of use to someone – if to no one else, then at least to yourself. For something to be useful, it would have to be accessible. An accessible language and cultural tradition could likewise be useful in a wider context, that which represented democratization.

A newspaper debate on the language question in 1858 seems in particular to have caused a change in him. After this, he writes with greater authority, and following the publication of the great grammar, the situation was defined. After 1864, no one questioned Aasen’s scholarly authority. Many, however, disagreed with his opinions.

His first text to be published in Landsmål was the piece “A conversation between two farmers” in Morgenbladet on 5 January 1849. Few actual farmers would have the opportunity to read this: the paper had only 1850 subscribers, and most of these lived in the capital. If he did not reach the common people, he could at least be read by public officials and elected politicians.

In public, he expressed himself only in writing. Ivar Aasen never made a public speech. Written language was his form. His five most important books were Prøver af Landsmaalet i Norge (Samples of the Norwegian Landsmaal, 1853), Symra (The Anemone – a collection of poems: three editions 1863-75), Norsk Grammatik (Norwegian Grammar, 1864), Norsk Ordbog (Norwegian Dictionary,1873) and Norske Ordsprog (Norwegian Proverbs,1881).

The immediate reach of his publications was limited. First editions of his books would often have a print run of 500, and it would sometimes take a long time for this to sell out. It would take four years after his article in Morgenbladet before Ivar Aasen published the first book in Landsmål for a general audience. The greatest number of buyers and readers was achieved by the musical play Ervingen (The Heir) (1855). Within Aasen’s lifetime, this little book had a print run of at least 4500.

Those who wrote in Danish had all the patterns they needed. Those who wanted to attempt writing in Landsmål had hardly any. Just like the common people who learnt to write had to appropriate preexisting genres and make them their own, so the new written language had to find its form in a variety of disparate text types. Aasen provided the common people with assistance on this point: as much in the form of inspiration, as in the form of direct patterns. He thus shaped texts in many genres: poems, proverbs and sayings, stories, plays, speeches, articles, essays, expository writing, reference works.

Aasen knew how to seize the most accessible opportunity. He gave written form to oral traditions in the form of myths and verses, descriptions and stories: material already familiar to many. To these were added short expositions and reflections. However, the sort of everyday prose ordinary people probably needed the most when letters and contracts were to be set up was absent from the little book from 1853. Someone else would have to see to this.

In his private communications, he continued for the most part to use Danish, as he had learnt in school. On the occasions when he wrote such texts in Landsmål, they tended to be addressed to people from his home community. In 1856, future Member of the Storting Niels Juel, a descendant of a Danish noble family, wrote the first private letter in Landsmål. The letter was addressed to Ivar Aasen, who would write his first letter in Landsmål in 1861.

His use of Danish may have been partly tactical. By writing in Danish, Aasen prevented anyone from rejecting his work with the claim of not understanding it. He stood out through the subject matter of what he wrote, not through the language in which he wrote it. After hundreds of years of the common people being trained in writing Danish, Aasen represented a linguistic high point. “Ivar Aasen writes Danish better than anyone in this country” wrote Arne Garborg in 1888, with a tart sideswipe at contemporary authors Alexander Kielland, Henrik Ibsen and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.

In 1848, he published Det norske Folkesprogs Grammatik (The Grammar of the Norwegian Popular Language) and Ordbog over det norske Folkesprog (Dictionary of the Norwegian Popular Language). These books were to be considered interim editions: in 1864, the final edition Norwegian Grammar was published, and in 1873 Norwegian Dictionary. This edition had far more precise and full word definitions than the 1850 dictionary. With 45 000 entries, the 1873 edition was also almost twice the size, and the geographical origin of the words were much more evenly distributed. In the 1873 edition, 31 % of the entries had origins in Western Norway, 46 % from Eastern Norway, 8 percent from Trøndelag and Northern Norway both, and 7% from the South. Morphologically, Aasen probably based Landsmål primarily on West-Norwegian forms, but regarding vocabulary, he covered the whole country.

Ivar Aasen tried to follow several principles simultaneously in his development of the Landsmål. He regarded the dialects as variants of a common language system, and his goal was therefore that both the systems of sounds and inflection were to correspond to the system in the dialects. Furthermore, he stressed that words should be written in a form that made their historical origins clear. The verb hugse (remember) originated from the noun hug (mind), and should therefore be spelled with a gs, in spite of common pronunciations such as huse and huske.

He thus aimed to maintain the historical connection and to achieve a clear system at the same time as he considered what was actually in common use in his own time. This required compromise solutions. In addition, he had yet another principle: he would in no case assign a word a written form which did not exist in actual speech somewhere. As far as at all possible, he would avoid constructed compromise solutions.

As early as in 1852, Ivar Aasen had set up a long time plan with 19 “projected works to be published”. This plan would prove too ambitious, though he completed much, for example the introductory survey of the natural sciences Heimsyn (1875) and the collection of proverbs Norske Ordsprog (two editions in 1856 and 1881). Some projects remained unfinished: he struggled particularly with Dansk-Norsk Ordbog (Danish-Norwegian Dictionary). Some of the things he actually wrote were not included in his 1852 plans, e.g. Norsk Navnebog (Norwegian Book of Names) (1878). He stopped collecting plants when he received the grant from the Society of Sciences in Trondheim, but in 1860 he published Norske Plantenavne (Norwegian Plant Names) with more than 2100 entries.

One of the most important texts from Ivar Aasen’s pen was the preface to the Norwegian Grammar. Here, he sketched out the language historical motivation for the project. In addition, he provided a sociological, pedagogical and linguistic motivation for the new written language. He pointed out that it should not be necessary for the common people of a country to learn more than one language, and he thought that “the great and good of the country should then also learn the same”. It was a social injustice that the ordinary people, who had enough on their mind to begin with, also had to learn Danish in addition to the native language they brought with them from home. In his Norwegian Grammar, Ivar Aasen presented a norm for a new Norwegian written language, a norm which the linguist Kjell Venås has called ”the constitutional basis for Nynorsk.”

In the heat of the battle

Ivar Aasen defied both the traditionalists, who wanted to stay with Danish, and the reformists, who wanted to Norwegianise the Danish language in Norway.

There was no lack of contrary views and counterarguments against Aasen’s objectives and actions. He learned from such resistance, and he never went further than he thought his own findings could support. As a researcher, he was cautious; as a language user, he was a shrewd strategist.

Ivar Aasen fundamentally changed the direction of the discussion around the language in Norway. What in the early decades of the 19th century had been consequence-free conjecture was all at once deadly earnest. It was no longer just a question of opinions: it was now a question of winning control of the development of the language in Norway.

The traditionalists wanted to retain Danish written language, with no Norwegian intermixture, while the reformists wanted to change this written norm gradually, through a supplement from spoken Norwegian. Prominent among the not very numerous traditionalists was the theologian and philosopher Marcus Jacob Monrad. To him, the written language was already Norwegian, and he thus wanted only very limited further Norwegianisation, and only through so-called natural development, with no active promotion. Among the many reformists, the linguist Knud Knudsen was the real architect of what would eventually become Norwegian Bokmål, based on so-called educated daily speech: “the spoken language of the townspeople”, or “the non-regional Norwegian pronunciation”.

Around 1850, both traditionalists and reformist were challenged from a third position: that of Ivar Aasen.

Most likely, only Aasen himself knew what he had written in his unpublished manifesto from 1836. In the preface to the 1850 dictionary, he had expressed himself cautiously. Language- and cultural historian Reidar Djupedal claims that Aasen was more rebellious than his words indicated. Aasen would keep his grand project to himself until he knew he had the prestige to realize it.

He did not issue his challenge until in 1852. In that year, he published an article in which he touched on the relationship between the two languages, Danish and Norwegian. There, we find the sentence: “The relationship between the two languages is in general of such an unfortunate composition, that the only assured way out for us, would be to assume a completely Norwegian language form.”

Thus far, the debate on a Norwegian language had been relatively theoretical simply because it had been unclear what would be the difference between Danish and a Norwegian language. Ivar Aasen’s grammar and dictionary made this much more tangible and thus much closer to the bone. The third alternative had now been sketched out. He did this at a time when there was a lively discussion about which language actors should speak on the Norwegian stages, and what being Norwegian actually meant. A nation was to be built, and Aasen in a sense suggested an extensive remodeling before the building had been taken in use.

This would create conflicts. There were no personal attacks against Ivar Aasen as long as he lived. Ridicule and condescending criticism of what he wanted to do, on the other hand, was common. Even today, Ivar Aasen is the only Norwegian from the 19th century who is still able to create controversy, but the trend is towards increasing respect.

A literary figure

Almost half of what Ivar Aasen published was written in the 1840s. His most important poems and songs were written in the 1850s and -60s.

Very nearly all poems and other texts he composed originated in the capital. That is where he completed both the first- and second edition of his grammar and dictionary. He wrote poems, songs and plays mostly in the winter and spring, when he was not on one of his collection tours.

In 1833, at 19, he published his first poems, a print with two broadside ballads: A New Song about the Sad Event at the Farm Krøvel in Ørsten... As well as a Song of Comfort to an Afflicted and Grief-Stricken Soul. The subject was the sorrow caused by a fire in his home community in which three children lost their lives. The following year he wrote a beautiful memorial poem about his close friend who died at only 18: “At the News of the Death of the Young Sivert R. Aarflot”. After 1840, he hardly ever wrote poems in Danish. In the course of eight years he published three little pamphlets with altogether ten songs, all of them printed at Ekset. Five Songs in the Southern Sunnmøre Dialect came in 1843. The next year came Three New Songs and in 1851 Two New Songs.

In 1854, Det norske Theater (The Norwegian Theatre) presented the first play in Landsmål: I Marknaden (At the Fair) by Ivar Aasen. One performance was given specifically for the Members of the Storting. It was not an important piece, but it was the first and it introduced Landsmål to the stage. In the winter of 1855, he finished the musical play Ervingen (The Heir), a love triangle consisting of the heir Aamund, the bachelor Trond and the farmer’s daughter Inga. During the rehearsals, Aasen himself sang the songs to the conductor. The piece premiered on 29 April 1855, on which occasion the author entered in his diary “No rude noises. [Applause after some songs and at the conclusion.]”. The song “Dei vil alltid klaga og kyta” is from this play.

His main literary work was the collection of poems Symra (The Anemone). It came in three editions, in 1863, 1867 and 1875, with numerous changes from one edition to the next, but each time with 24 poems, plus introductory and concluding songs. In all, Aasen published 95 poems and translations of poems, and 105 articles and prose pieces. Some of the poems were a part of Ervingen, some were printed as single poems in magazines and newspapers; many, however, were never published during his lifetime. After 1896, a variety of publishers have published 202 poems and translations for the first time, some in excerpts and 212 articles and prose pieces – original and in translation. Add to this almost 400 letters, and we end up with more than 1000 published individual texts by Ivar Aasen.

The poems and songs are poetry of wisdom, having much in common with the proverbs he published. Aasen’s poetry differs sharply from the emotional tone and the overblown melancholy which characterized contemporary romantic poetry. Such ego-centric poetry was alien or rhetorically uninteresting to Aasen. Criticism of the romanticism it represented appears both on and between the lines. He wrote of people in a landscape, and he depicted the people as reliable, hard-working, stoic and small: in his poems and songs, people are at work.

The linguist and Aasen-scholar Terje Aarset has called the collection Symra and its poem-songs ‘the mother of all Nynorsk song books’. For Ivar Aasen, poems were texts for singing: he used ‘Songs’ as subtitle to Symra. It was this type of song and poetry he himself liked to seek out in performances.

Aasen laboured intensely over both structure and content in Symra, which is carefully composed. In all three editions, “Nordmannen” (“The Norwegian”) was situated as the third poem, after “Fyrestev” (“Introductory Song”) and “Gamle Norig” (“Ancient Norway”). As the fourth poem came “Dei Gamle Fjelli” (“The Old Mountains”). Thus, Aasen locates the song about his own people between history in “Ancient Norway” and nature in “The Old Mountains”. These first songs in the book make up a separate section about the role of humans in history and nature.

”Nordmannen” is not the most important of Aasen’s writings, but it is his most frequently used poem, and his most popular and beloved creation. The poem is a history of Norway in miniature, a history which, unlike that in “Ja, vi elsker” (the national anthem), is possible to understand even today. The wealth of living dialect words Aasen collected were put aside in favour of words from the common core of vocabulary and idioms. The poem tells the story about how the country was taken in use and settled, how decisive the sea has been for the development of Norway, and ends with a justification for why this is a good place to live. The patriotism from the nation building phase is there, but without pathos and bombast. The national bard Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson described it as ‘the most exquisite goldsmith’s work’.

12 years it took to make what would become the one song about Norway which everyone knows. There was no poem he laboured over more than this. The opening lines fell quickly into place: the rest took time. The poet wrote at least 15 different stanzas, 11 of which were printed in some context or other, until the fifth and final version appeared in the last edition of Symra in 1875. In the same year, Jakob N. Kobberstad made an appendix with music for this edition.

In 1870, Ludvig M. Lindemann wrote the melody which has contributed to this quicly becoming a general national favourite. Melodies for Aasen’s lyrics have been composed both before and after this, and Aasen himself composed several melodies. Some of these are no longer in use, but even today people sing “Dei vil alltid klaga og kyta” and “Gamle grendi” to his own melodies.

Lindeman’s music for “Nordmannen” has never been challenged. Time and again it has appeared that many people know not only the opening lines or the first stanza, but all the five stanzas of the poet’s final version. In 1995, the popular radio-show Nitimen in NRK radio 1 challenged the listeners to vote for the nation’s favourite song. “Du ska få en dag i mårå” by Alf Prøysen won, with “Nordmannen” in second place. In the autumn of 2009, the poem made up the entire text for the TV-advert Made in Norway from the Aker consortium, seen by 2,5 million TV- and film viewers.

Impulses from abroad

Ivar Aasen was one of the four greats in European linguistics in the 19th century, besides the Dane Rasmus Rask and the German brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm.

Many had written about language in Norway before Ivar Aasen. He was, however, the first modern linguist in the country. His grammar is still a standard work in many disciplines, e.g. in morphology. His word definitions in his dictionaries are exemplary for lexicographers even today. He laid the foundations for comparative dialectology, and with Peter Andreas Munch he was a pioneer in the study of Norwegian personal names.

Ivar Aasen was intimately familiar with international linguistics, and through a number of translations, he made works of world literature available in the new written language. This was a strategy for developing the new written language and enhance its status. In all, Aasen translated works of more than a dozen foreign authors. For the magazine Dølen, he translated approximately 1860 prose texts of miscellaneous kinds, including a Speech from the Throne.

Thus, Aasen collected impulses from abroad both as a poet and as a linguist. He never visited other countries, but his library contained many of the most important writings in contemporary international linguistics. Of particular importance to him were the Dane Rasmus Rask and the German Jacob Grimm. He also had some communication with the Swedish linguist Johan E. Rydqvist. What Aasen did to establish a Norwegian language had many parallels with the establishment and normalization of other European languages, such as Faroese, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, Slovene, Czech and Ukrainian.

His dictionaries were in practice Norwegian-Danish dictionaries, with entries in Landsmål and all explanations in Danish. He also planned to publish a Danish-Norwegian dictionary. He worked with this over several periods, mostly in the years 1880-83. At the point at which he gave this up, his manuscript contained almost 11 000 entries. This remained unpublished until year 2000.

In 1855, he translated Martin Luthers central hymn ”Vaar Gud er oss so fast ei Borg” (”A mighty fortress is our God”), revised in 1869. In 1858, he published Fridtjofs Saga from Old Norse. This was the first work of fiction in Nynorsk. He translated “The Song of the Bell” by Friedrich Schiller in 1870, and a short excerpt from Miguel Cervantes’ great novel in 1873, as “Den raadville Riddaren don Quixote av La Mancha”. In addition to several Old Norse poems, Ivar Aasen also translated the English writers Lord Byron, George Eliot, Thomas B. Macaulay, William Shakespeare, the Irish-English Richard B. Sheridan, the Germans Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander von Humboldt and Karl Rotteck, the Dano-Norwegian Ludvig Holberg and the Finn Johan Ludvig Runeberg.

Ivar Aasen had clear ideas of his objectives, and he knew they would provoke conflicts. For this reason, he wanted to wait as long as possible with introducing Landsmål in the religious sphere. “Within one sphere one is, however, sure to encounter resistance, namely the religious one:” he wrote as early as in 1852, “one could, however, as a consequence delay this until the concepts pertaining to this matter can be brought to greater clarity.” Here, the language of the heart and deep-lying feelings would be concerned, feelings which he did not want to challenge too early.

On this point, Ivar Aasen was proven wrong. As early as in 1868, the theologian Elias Blix published a booklet of hymns in Landsmål. These were not authorized for use in church until 1892, but Blix was such a good hymnist that he could not be overlooked. In 1881, the Storting for the first time granted money to support the publication of books in Landsmål. Det Norske Samlaget received 1000 Norwegian Kroner for a trial translation of parts of the New Testament. Blix accepted the commission on the condition that Aasen also took part. After 25 sessions of varying length in Aasen’s apartment, the translation was completed in February 1882.

It was only a question of time before a complete translation of New Testament into Landsmål would be realized. Johannes Belsheim, Matias Skard and Elias Blix shared the work between themselves, and they knew who to go to for advice. In his diary, Aasen made note of 150 visits only from Elias Blix during the seven years it took to translate the whole New Testament into Landsmål, a work which was completed in 1889. This was the last important project in which Aasen took part.

One of Ivar Aasen’s last wishes was that the songs in Symra should not be translated into Danish. Even so, this was done, and the first ones of these were performed only two months after his death. The first translation of a poem into English took place as early as in 1881, namely “Nordmannen”. Kjetil Myskja has translated all of Symra into English, and all in all, there exist more than 120 translations of 36 poems and five prose texts into eightlanguages.

“This most Curious Little Creature”

Ivar Aasen was the greatest linguist to which Norway has given birth, and a unifying figure for those who wanted to promote the Landsmål.

He was also the person to go to for the many who struggled with language related matters and needed advice. Through the 1880s, he withdrew more and more from public life: his confidence in himself was crumbling and his health deteriorated. For much of his life, he suffered from claudicatio intermittens. This is a calcification that narrows the arteries in the legs, which therefore get less blood. The symptoms are felt mostly when walking, as the feet need more blood then. Claudicatio intermittens results in a limping walk and pain in the calf muscles.

Ivar Aasen had criss-crossed the country, at foot and with various means of transport, and made great strides for the development of the Norwegian language. In old age, he had to be satisfied with tiny steps. In spite of his health problems, he grew to be a very old man. A man born in 1813 could expect a life of approximately 60 years. Ivar Aasen grew to be 83.

“So then, no more shall anyone see Ivar Aasen come tripping down the street. Now he has lain down to rest, and spoken his last farewell” wrote the afternoon newspaper Dagbladet on the front page Wednesday 23 September 1896. Aasen had died on the same day, about 1pm, of heart failure. Dagbladet had cleared the front page for the obituary, probably written by journalist Peter Rosenkrantz Johnsen. “He will be carried to the grave in silent awe and with unostentatious solemnity – this most curious little creature ever to thread Norwegian soil, who, after the completion of a long life, leaves behind as many question and as much wonder as when he stood forth to perform the labour to which he had been called.”

Ivar Aasen was buried at Vår Frelsers cemetery in Kristiania on 29 September 1896, at 2pm, on the day 54 years after he had left Ekset in Volda on the first of his many journeys through the Norwegian language. The floral tributes were many, the eulogies emotional, the crowd was large. They were there all: the government ministers, the professors, the teachers, the artists, the students. The following day, the paper Verdens Gang wrote: “One of the most touching tributes was to see paupers, whom Aasen so frequently had assisted, stand teary-eyed on the graves along the way along which the lengthy funeral cortege advanced.”

Less than twenty years after Aasen had published his first grammar, authors had published hymns, books of poetry, plays, collections of short stories, novels and textbooks in Landsmål, and the first magazine in the language had both started up and folded. Ivar Aasen himself published two dictionaries with altogether 69 000 entries, two grammars, he wrote more than 300 poems and just slightly above 300 prose texts now published, and approximately 400 letters known today.

Ivar Aasen did not invent a language. He did not create a language. He did not make a language. Ivar Aasen discovered a language.

He discovered a pattern in the spoken variants used across the country around the middle of the 19th century. He showed the connections between these spoken varieties, demonstrated a centuries-old connection from Old Norse, and made it crystal clear that Norwegian was an independent language, in the same way as Danish and Swedish.

The whole process took less than 50 years. In 1836, he had the idea, but kept it to himself. In 1852, he expressed the idea plainly and publicly. As long as things are as they are, Ivar Aasen wrote, the only sure way out was to establish a “purely Norwegian language form”. In 1864, the written language he had discovered was established, and in 1885, the Storting decided to put “The Norwegian Popular Language” (today Nynorsk) on equal footing with “Our Common Written- and Printed Language (today Bokmål).

He was a far-sighted strategist who gave the Landsmål its form and direction by building directly on the uninterrupted vernacular tradition through a thousand years. Ivar Aasen was the point of no return in the development of the Norwegian language.



John Ole Askedal and Ann-Berit Aarnes Breder (eds.): Ivar Aasen – vandreren og veviseren. Oslo 2002

Tove Bull: «Ivar Aasen», Norsk biografisk leksikon, vol. 10. Oslo 2005

Dansk-norsk ordbok av Ivar Aasen. Edited by Jarle Bondevik, Oddvar Nes og Terje Aarset. (Skrifter frå Ivar Aasen-selskapet, series A, volume 10) Bergen 2000

Reidar Djupedal: Noko om Ivar Aasen i åra 1840–1860. Særleg arbeidet hans med landsmålet. Unpublished Cand. Phil. thesis. Oslo 1950

Reidar Djupedal: «Etterord» in Ivar Aasen: Symra og andre dikt. Oslo 1963

Ottar Grepstad: Viljen til språk. Ei nynorsk kulturhistorie. Oslo 2006

Ottar Grepstad: Historia om Ivar Aasen. Oslo 2013

Idar Handagard: Ivar Aasen. Oslo 1944

Geir Hjorthol (ed.): Forteljingar om Ivar Aasen. Aasen-resepsjonen i fortid og notid. (Skrifter frå Ivar Aasen-instituttet nr. 2) Volda 1997

Jostein Krokvik: Ivar Aasen. Diktar og granskar, sosial frigjerar og nasjonal målreisar. Bergen 1996

Kristoffer Kruken and Terje Aarset: «Innleiing», in Ivar Aasen: Ordbog over det norske Folkesprog. Oslo 2000

Kristoffer Kruken and Terje Aarset: «Innleiing», in Ivar Aasen: Norsk Ordbog. Oslo 2003

Knut Liestøl: Ivar Aasen. Oslo 1963

Magne Myhren (ed.): Ei bok om Ivar Aasen. Oslo 1975

Namnesamlingar av Ivar Aasen. Edited by Jarle Bondevik, Oddvar Nes and Terje Aarset. (Skrifter frå Ivar Aasen-selskapet, series A, volume 9) Bergen 2006

Jan Inge Sørbø: «Portalen til nynorsk-lyrikken». Syn og Segn 1996

Kjell Venås: Då tida var fullkomen. Ivar Aasen. Oslo 1996

Kjell Venås: Ivar Aasen og universitetet. Oslo 2000

Stephen J. Walton: Ivar Aasens kropp. Oslo 1996

Terje Aarset: Ivar Aasen. Dikting på vers. Ein bibliografi. Volda 1993

Terje Aarset: «’Nordmannen’», Møre-Nytt 21.9.1996

Terje Aarset: Den nynorske songskatten. Bergen 2009

Ivar Aasen: Symra og andre dikt. By Reidar Djupedal. Oslo 1963

Ivar Aasen: Millom bakkar og berg. I utval ved Magne Myhren. Oslo 1980

Ivar Aasen: Skrifter i samling. Oslo 1996





Author: Ottar Grepstad
Translated by Kjetil Arve Myskja