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 Legal framework


Judicial rights concerning Norwegian may roughly be divided into:

  • the right to use either of the Norwegian variants bokmål and nynorsk
  • the right to use Norwegian when communicating with authorities in the other Nordic countries



Institutional body with the responsibility  for developing, implementing, and controlling linguistic legislation


Two official languages

Norway has two official languages, Norwegian and Sami. Sami is used by the Norwegian indigenous population, whereas Norwegian is used by the majority of the population.

What makes the language situation so diverse is that the two major variants of Norwegian, bokmål and nynorsk, are both used, as well as a number of the Sami languages. Mainly three different Sami languages are used in Norway: Southern Sami, Lule Sami and Northern Sami.

Different rules and laws regulate the development, usage, implementation and control of these languages.


The governmental use of bokmål and nynorsk is regulated by lov om målbruk i offentleg teneste (the Language Act). This law establishes among other things that private individuals have the right to receive answers from the State in their own language variant, and that governmental bodies must vary the use of language variants in their public information to ensure that none of the variants are represented by less than 25%.

The Ministry of Culture supervises the carrying-out of the rules concerning the use of language in the public sector. The Language Council has since 1994 been supervising all governmental bodies below ministry level. The Ministry of Culture supervises the other ministries.

Sami languages

Lov om Sametinget og andre samiske rettsforhold (the Sami Act) establishes that Sami and Norwegian are equal languages and that they are equal within the administrative area for Sami languages according to certain rules. The language rules incorporated in the Sami Act provide the Sami people with language rights towards public bodies. These rules constitute a minimal requirement and are applicable concerning translation of rules, extended use of Sami within the judicial system, health care and the right to education in Sami, to mention but a few examples.

Public bodies are encouraged to fulfil the languages rules incorporated in the Sami Act beyond the minimal requirement.

The Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation has administrative responsibility for the Sami Act.

National minority languages and sign language

In addition to the two official languages, Norway has three recognised national minority languages on level II in The European Charter for regional or minority languages (The Language Charter). The three languages are Kven, Romanes and Romany.

Norwegian sign language is a natural part of the language diversity that holds a special status in Norway. Norwegian sign language is defined as a minority language and is a part of the Norwegian cultural heritage.

A particular responsibility for working with and raising the profile of the national minority languages and sign language has in recent years been transferred to The Language Council, under The Ministry of Culture. The Language Council also works with newer minority languages.



Legislation relating to language use by the authorities, especially in communication with citizens


The regulations for the use of bokmål and nynorsk in the public sector are to be found in The Language Act. The regulations for the use of bokmål and nynorsk in the educational system are to be found in The Education Act. The regulations for the use of Norwegian when communicating with the authorities in other Nordic countries are to be found in The Nordic Language Convention.

Act relating to language usage in the civil service [The Language Act]
The Language Act gives detailed regulations for the use of bokmål and nynorsk in the public sector, and general principles for the use of bokmål and nynorsk in municipalities and counties. These are the main principles:

Both variants must be present in written publications, both on paper and in digital media

Citizens addressing the state have the right to be answered in their own variant.

The Norwegian Language Council supervises the use of the two variants in the central government.

We know that many citizens sometimes experience that their rights are violated. Most often it is the use of nynorsk that is under-represented and not used according to the law.

These are the most important regulations in The Language Act:

  • The government should answer your enquiry in the same Norwegian variant that you use
  • Municipalities can choose which variant they want the government to use in their communication.
  • Material that concerns a particular geographical area should be communicated in the variant used by the majority in that area.
  • Central government is language neutral. Government communication should vary between nynorsk and bokmål. None of the variants should be represented by less than 25%.
  • When local and regional authorities communicate, they should use their service variant, determined according to the majority variant in the area.
  • Forms should be available in both variants.

There are central, regional and local authorities. Central authorities cover the whole nation; regional authorities cover a certain geographical area; local authorities cover the municipality. Most  governmental bodies are central.

 Legislation relating to language use in education


The Education Act (Act relating to language usage in the educational system) is about rights and duties concerning education and schooling in Norway. Several of the chapters in the Act deal with language education.

This is an overview of the most important regulations concerning bokmål and nynorsk in education.

  • The municipality decides whether the education language in the schools is to be bokmål or nynorsk.
  • Parents can choose the language variant for teaching material variant up to 8th grade, but Norwegian educational books must follow the school’s chosen variant. Pupils can choose the variant they want to use from 8th grade.
  • Pupils changing school between 1st and 4th grade have a right to continue using the variant the already use.
  • If one quarter of the citizens in the municipality with the right to vote or a majority in the municipal council demands it, an advisory referendum concerning the variant chosen for the schools must be held.
  • In the last two years of primary and secondary school the pupils are to be taught both Norwegian variants.
  • Pupils have a right to educational books in their own Norwegian variant.

    Teaching foreign languages within the education system

    Teaching foreign languages within the education system

    Lov om grunnskolen og den vidaregåande opplæringa
    (the Education Act), in addition to several other regulations, governs teaching in and of other languages than Norwegian. The Education Act specifies separate rights for separate language users.

    Languages other than Norwegian

    Sami-speaking students are entitled to primary and lower secondary education in and of Sami. Sign-language students are entitled to primary and lower secondary education in and of sign language. All students must learn Norwegian (as a first or secondary language) and English, and for sign-language students BSL (British Sign Language) is an alternative to spoken English. Education in other foreign languages is also possible.

    Students with Kven-Finnish background at primary and lower secondary schools in Troms and Finnmark are entitled to education in Finnish as a second language. Students whose first language is neither Norwegian nor Sami are entitled to first-language education, bilingual vocational training or both, until they have sufficient Norwegian language skills.

    In the school year 2013/2014 some students were given education in Romany. The right to education in Romany is incorporated in several of the international conventions Norway has ratified, i.e. in the Language Charter, but is not implemented in the Education Act.

    Foreign languages and language specialisation


    Primary and lower secondary education

    The Education Act establishes that primary and lower secondary education must include foreign languages. The instruction to the Education Act states that students in lower secondary education shall receive training in another foreign language in addition to English or language specialisation in English or Norwegian/Sami.

    The alternative of specialisation must be as demanding as the other second language and represent a true specialisation.

    Students of Sami as first or second language are exempt from the requirement of foreign language training or language specialisation. They are nevertheless entitled to education in foreign languages or language specialisation in English, Norwegian or Sami.

    Students with education in Finnish as second language, Norwegian sign language or individual language training may apply for exemption from the demand of foreign language or language specialisation. Students exempt from the requirement of foreign language training or language specialisation shall receive intensive training in English, Norwegian, Sami, Finnish or another language of which the student has basic knowledge.

    Students shall be offered foreign language training in at least one of the four languages (German, French, Spanish or Russian), in accordance with the curriculum at that particular school. The schools may offer other languages as well. Schools are well advised to offer training in Sami, Urdu, Arabic or sign language as foreign languages if teaching competence is available in the municipality.

    Upper secondary school

    In the upper secondary school students may keep the same foreign language as they had in primary and lower secondary school, or they may start with a new foreign language. Students who did not receive foreign language training in lower secondary school must be taught at both level I and II of the curriculum when they begin foreign language training in upper secondary school.

    Students receiving education in Sami as first or second language, Finnish as second language or Norwegian sign language are exempt from the requirement of foreign language training.

    Folder in English about education in Norway:

    Language rights concerning sign languages

    From the late 1990s, children using sign language have had the right to be educated in and receive

     Principal legal provisions in force concerning the use of regional


    Languages recognised as regional or minority languages in Norway are:

    • Sami
    • Kven
    • Romanes
    • Romany

    These languages are protected by The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.


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