Nynorsk (literally "New Norwegian") is one of the two official Norwegian standard languages, the other being Bokmål. Just above 10% of the Norwegian population use Nynorsk as their primary written language. In Norwegian, Nynorsk also often covers the modern Norwegian dialects, upon which the standard language is based.
Spoken Norwegian, Swedish and Danish form a continuum of mutually intelligible dialects and sociolects, linguistically speaking, forming a common continental Scandinavian language. Nynorsk is the smallest of the four major standard languages within this broad speech community alongside Norwegian Bokmål, Swedish and Danish.Nynorsk standard language is nevertheless used in broadcasting, on stage, and by a few individuals. Bokmål has a much larger basis in the middle-class urban speech, especially that found in the eastern part of Southern Norway. However, most Norwegians do not speak this so called Standard Østnorsk, but Norwegian dialects. These dialects are the spoken basis for Nynorsk, and many Nynorsk supporters regard them as the standard way to speak Nynorsk, even if the majority of dialect speakers use Bokmål in writing. As such, Nynorsk is not a minority language, though it shares many of the problems that minority languages face.
Each municipality can declare one of the two languages as its official language, or it can remain "language neutral". 27% of the municipalities making up 12% of the population have declared Nynorsk as their official language while 40% has chosen Bokmål. The main language used in primary schools normally follows the official language of its municipality, and is decided by referendum within the local school district. The number of school districts and pupils using primarily Nynorsk has decreased since the top in the 1940s, even in Nynorsk municipalities., fewer than 14% of pupils in primary school are taught in Nynorsk.
The prevailing regions for Nynorsk are the western counties of Rogaland, Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane and Møre og Romsdal, in addition to the western/northern parts of Oppland, Buskerud, Telemark, Aust- and Vest-Agder, where an estimated 50% of the population writes Nynorsk. The usage in the rest of Norway, including the major cities and urban areas in the above stated areas, is scarce.
In Sogn og Fjordane county and the Sunnmøre area of Møre og Romsdal, all municipalities have stated Nynorsk as the official language. In Hordaland, all municipalities except three have declared Nynorsk as the official language. There is a vast majority of municipalities that has chosen a Neutral or Nynorsk stance over the Bokmål language form (It should be noted, however, that many of these are major urban areas where pupils are taught in Bokmål).
The first systematic study of the Norwegian language was done by Ivar Aasen in the mid 1800s. In the 1840s he traveled the country and studied the dialects. In 1848 and 1850 he published the first Norwegian grammar and dictionary, respectively. New versions detailing the written standard were published in 1864 and 1873.
Aasen's work is based on the idea that the dialects had a common structure that made them a separate language alongside Danish and Swedish. The central point for Aasen therefore became to find and show the structural dependencies between the dialects. In order to abstract this structure from the variety of dialects, he developed basic criteria, which he called the most perfect form. He defined this form as the one that best showed the connection to related words, with similar words, and with the forms in Old Norse. No single dialect had all the perfect forms, each dialect had preserved different aspects and parts of the language. Through such a systematic approach, one could arrive at a uniting expression for all Norwegian dialects, what Aasen called the fundamental dialect, and Einar Haugen has called Proto-Norwegian.
The idea that the study should end up in a new written language, marked his work from the beginning. A fundamental idea for Aasen was that the fundamental dialect should be Modern Norwegian, not Old Norse. Therefore he did not include grammatical categories which were extinct from the dialects. At the same time, the categories that were inherited from the old language and were still present in some dialects, should be represented in the written standard. Haugen has used the word reconstruction rather than construction about this work.
See main article: Norwegian language struggle.
From the outset, Nynorsk has been met with resistance. With the advent and growth of the mass media, the exposure to the standard languages has increased, and Bokmål's dominant position has come to define what is commonly regarded as "normal". This may explain why negative attitudes toward Nynorsk are common, as is seen with many minority languages. This is especially prominent in school, which is the place most Bokmål using Norwegians first and most extensively need to relate to the language.
Some of the agitators against Nynorsk have been quite outspoken about their views. For instance, during the 2005 election, the Norwegian Young Conservatives made an advert that included a scene where a copy of the Nynorsk dictionary was burned. After strong reactions to this book burning, they chose not to show it.