PhD Research School in Linguistics and Philology

Margunn Rauset

Phraseological differences between the written standards of Norwegian. Surveying and adapting lexicographically the set phrases of Bokmål and Nynorsk

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My Ph.D.-project explores the Norwegian phraseology with qualitative and quantitative methods. Norwegian has two written varieties of the same language: Bokmål and Nynorsk. Phraseology and idiomaticity have not been systematically explored in Norwegian, but it is not unusual to hear Norwegian linguists and lexicographers claim that the two varieties differ more from each other in set phrases than in other forms of language use. This project’s aim is to find out how and to which extent they differ. 

The subject of study is multiword units which are nonliteral and noncompositional, particularly idioms (be left holding the baby/bag), fixed similes (be like cat and dog) and proverbs (idle hands are the devil's helpers). Most set phrases are the same or have only minor differences in the written standards of Norwegian. My hypothesis is that in cases where they differ, this mainly has to do with 1) orthography (in example a: øye vs. auge), 2) morphology (example b:  hornene vs. horna) and 3) syntax (example c: apostlenes hester vs. apostelhestane).  Category 4) different vocabulary/lacunas in the vocabulary in one of the two standards (example b: tyren vs. oksen, both meaning ‘the bull’) is less frequent, but nevertheless very interesting:

a)Bokmål:øye for øye

Nynorsk: augeforauge

English: an eye for an eye


b)Bokmål: ta tyren vedhornene 

Nynorsk: ta oksen ved horna 

English: take the bull by the horns


c)Bokmål:brukeapostlenes hester


Translation:‘usethe Apostles’ horses

English: ride/use Shanks's pony


The material consists of about 1500 set phrases from six different sources. The strategy is to use idiom dictionaries and bilingual dictionaries with Bokmål and/or Nynorsk as either source or target language to decide which phrases to include in the research. The next step is to check if the set phrases are included in the monolingual dictionaries and register the form they are given. Later I’m going to compare the set phrases and register similarities and differences, and hopefully treat this material statistically. Finally I want to compare the way the dictionaries treat this material to the ways Norwegians use it (in corpora etc.).