Linguistics and English Language

Language in context seminar

Speaker: James Puchowski (Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh)

Title: Mål means språk: Nynorsk activism and discourses of solidarity/allyship with Norway's Indigenous communities

Abstract: Language politics in Norway is often presented as an ideological debate between two orthographies of the Norwegian language – Bokmål (a successor to written Danish, reflecting urban educated speech), and Nynorsk (a newer style, rooted in more rural dialects and distinct lexis/grammar). Nynorsk is used by 15% of the population, whose activists have traditionally argued that Nynorsk represents dialect variation in Norwegian, encouraging tolerance for linguistic variation.

Norway is a far more multilingual society, however. There are Indigenous populations who underwent decades of forced cultural assimilation and on-going policy and advocacy aim to support minoritised speakers of the Sámi languages and Kven.

Interestingly, younger Nynorsk activists also engage somewhat in Indigenous language advocacy, including lobbying for public signage and educational resources in Sámi. Nynorsk and dialects are not always the focus of their work and public image.

In this talk, I will draw examples from over 5 years of ethnographic research with Norwegian Nynorsk activists. I describe how the activists construct a discourse which involves Sámi and Kven themes, namely, ideological narratives about linguistic tolerance for Norwegian dialects can be rhetorically expanded to tolerance for wider linguistic diversity. This has implications for the theoretical treatment of ‘language activism’ and ‘language activists’ in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology: in the modern political context, what do we mean by activism or advocacy, how is it adequately defined/should it even be defined, and to what extent is language activism centred on one language variety -- or even language itself?


If you would like any further information about the Language in Context Seminar Series, or have any recommendations or feedback you’d like to give us, you are warmly invited to contact either Stephen McNulty or Sarah Van Eyndhoven at:

To sign up to the mailing list, and be kept up to date with future events, please follow the link below, log in and click “Subscribe”:

Mailing list

If you have a Facebook account, come along, join the group, and introduce yourself! And also, introduce the group to any colleagues who might also be interested – the more the merrier!


To find out more about the Language in Context research group within the University of Edinburgh, you can visit the page below:

Language in context group

Upcoming talks

Upcoming events are listed on the LEL events page

We hope to see you very soon!

Stephen McNulty

Sarah Van Eyndhoven

Co-ordinators of LinC

Apr 23 2021 -

Language in context seminar

2021-04-23: Mål means språk: Nynorsk activism and discourses of solidarity/allyship with Norway's Indigenous communities

Online via link invitation