Literary Nobel Prize Spotlights Language Preservation

The Swedish Academy awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature Tuesday to Norwegian playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist Jon Fosse. Written in Nynorsk — one of two orthography standards of the Norwegian language — Fosse’s work has been translated into 50 languages, and his plays have been performed worldwide. In addition to writing original works, Fosse has also translated German poems and novels into Nynorsk.

Nynorsk is used by only about 10% of the Norwegian population and is most common in southwest Norway, where Fosse was born in 1959. Compared to the other written standard — Bokmål — which is similar to Danish, Nynorsk resembles 19th-century rural dialects more closely. 

Today, Bokmål is associated with urban culture and business, while Nynorsk is viewed as more traditional. Norwegian children learn one form in primary school and then study the other in secondary school. 

Fosse told Reuters news agency that he regards the Nobel prize as a recognition of Nynorsk and the movement promoting it and that he ultimately owed the award to the minority standard. 

The Nobel prize recognizes Fosse “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.” Fosse is known for his minimalist writing style and existential and spiritual themes. 

Nobel Committee for Literature 2023 Chair Anders Olsson said Fosse’s writing “touches on the deepest feelings that you have — anxieties, insecurities, questions of life and death — such things that every human being actually confronts from the very beginning. In that sense, I think there is a sort of universal impact of everything that he writes.” 

Fosse’s first novel was published in 1983, and his breakout play debuted in Paris in 1999. His most popular works include Aliss at the Fire, Morning and Evening, and Septology. Fosse’s translation efforts include Austrian poet Georg Trakl’s Sebastian in Dream and Bohemian novelist Franz Kafka’s The Trial.

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Cathy Martin
Cathy Martin is the newsroom editor for MultiLingual Media.

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