Voices of Authority: Perceptions of ‘Dialect’ and ‘Standard’ among young Norwegians
2022-04-12, 12:00–12:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 1


In this presentation I discuss perceptions of ‘dialect’ and ‘standard’ among young Norwegians in light of Woolard’s (2016) model of linguistic authority. According to this model, linguistic authority may be found either in a variety’s authenticity or its anonymity. Whereas dialects typically are evaluated according to their degree of authenticity, standard varieties commonly receive their authority from a conception of anonymity. To be considered authentic, a variety must be ‘from somewhere’ in the consciousness of speakers, and thus its meaning is deeply local. Hence, the value and legitimacy of an authentic variety lies in its social and geographical rootedness and is tied to specific speakers and their individual voices. A spoken standard variety, by contrast, is supposedly socially and geographically neutral and can be acquired by anyone. Hence, it represents a general, neutral voice ‘from nowhere’.

As argued by Auer (2005), the dialect–standard constellations found in contemporary Europe range from diglossic situations where the status of the standard is generally accepted and naturalized as ‘the beyond doubt and debate best language’, to situations where the status of the standard is highly contentious and disputed. The dialect–standard situation in Norway clearly falls into the latter category. Dialects are used by people in all walks of life and within all social domains. People normally do not switch into an oral standard in formal situations, nor do schools teach children an oral standard (e.g. Jahr 2013; Røyneland 2009; Sandøy 2011). Nevertheless, some scholars refer to the high prestige variety spoken in and around the capital, Oslo, as “Standard Eastern Norwegian” (e.g. Jahr & Mæhlum 2009).

To what extent, then, do young people in Norway today perceive their own speech and the speech of others as dialect or standard? And how do they evaluate speech from different parts of the country with regard to degree of superiority and anonymity or solidarity and authenticity, and degree of belonging? To help answer these questions I draw on data from two questionnaires collected among high school students across the country in 2015 (N=584) and 2019/2020 (N=1532) and from a visual-verbal guise experiment (N=341). These data show that speaking a non-Oslo dialect does not affect evaluations of superiority along traditional measures such as intelligence and determination, but strongly affects evaluations of local belonging and ‘Norwegianness’ (Røyneland & Jensen 2020). Furthermore, we find substantial variation in how young Norwegians perceive their own speech. However, there is a clear divide between people residing in upper/middle class areas in the capital, Oslo, and virtually all others. Whereas most young Norwegians from outside of Oslo perceive their speech as “dialect”, people in affluent areas of the capital typically describe their speech as “Bokmål” (i.e. written standard), “neutral”, or “normal”. This view is partly shared by people outside the capital, yet without this variety being perceived as (more) authoritative. This suggests that the relation between authenticity and anonymity with respect to achieved linguistic authority is not always a clear-cut opposition.


Auer, P. 2005. Europe’s sociolinguistic unity, or: A typology of European dialect/standard constellations. In N. Delbecque et al. (Eds.), Perspectives on Variation. Trends in Linguistics 163, 7–42. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Jahr, E.-H. 2013. Dialect ecology: The case of Norway – history and background. In W. Vandenbussche, E. H. Jahr & P. Trudgill (Eds.), Language ecology for the 21st century: Linguistic conflicts and social environments, 189–205. Oslo: Novus forlag.

Jahr, E. H. & B. Mæhlum (eds.) 2009. Standardtalemål? Norsk lingvistisk tidsskrift. vol. 27 (1). Oslo: Novus.

Røyneland, Unn & B. Uri Jensen 2020. Dialect acquisition and migration in Norway – questions of authenticity, belonging and legitimacy. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2020.1722679

Røyneland, U. 2009. Dialects in Norway: catching up with the rest of Europe? International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 196/197, 7–31.

Sandøy, H. 2011. Language culture in Norway: A tradition of questioning language standard norms. In Kristiansen, T. & N. Coupland (Eds.), Standard languages and language standards in a changing Europe, 119–126. Oslo: Novus.

Woolard, K. 2016. Singular and plural: ideologies of linguistic authority in 21st century Catalonia. Oxford University Press.

Panel affiliation

European standard language culture. Comparative standardology in the 21s century: theoretical and methodological challenges

Professor of Scandinavian Linguistics and Deputy Director of MultiLing, Center for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan. My fields of expertise include dialectology, language attitudes and ideologies, language policy and planning, and digitally-mediated communication. My most recent research focuses on the ontological status and enregisterment of regional and standard varieties, dialect acquisition in migratory context, multilectal practices online, and online and offline propagation and contestation of multiethnolectal speech styles.