Norwegian is a North Germanic language with around 5 million speakers in mainly in Norway. There are also some speakers of Norwegian in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the UK, Spain, Canada and the USA.
Early Norwegian literature, mainly poetry and historical prose, was written in West Norse and flourished between the 9th and the 14th centuries. After that Norway came under Swedish and then Danish rule. Norwegian continued to be spoken but Danish was used for officials purposes, as a literary language and in higher education.
After Norway separated from Denmark in 1814, Danish continued to be used in schools until the 1830s, when a movement to create a new national language emerged. The reasoning behind the movement was that written Danish differed to such an extent from spoken Norwegian that it was difficult to learn, and because they believed that every country should have its own language.
There was considerable debate about how to go about creating a national language and two languages emerged – Landsmål (national language), based on colloquial Norwegian and regional dialects, particularly the dialects of western Norway, and Riksmål (national language), which was primarily a written language and very similar to Danish.
Landsmål was renamed Nynorsk (New Norwegian) in 1929 and Riksmål is now officially known as Bokmål (book language). A few people over 60 still use Riksmål, which is considered a conservative form of Bokmål and differs only slightly from it.
Today schools can choose to teach either Nynorsk or Bokmål and civil servants are expected to be able to use both forms. For a while there was a movement to create a single standard language to be called Samnorsk (Union Norwegian). Politicians liked the idea of unifying the Norwegian language, while everybody else thought it a bad idea and a bit of a waste of time. The Samnorsk project was officially abandoned on 1st January 2002.