On Windows, Nynorsk, Sami and Catalan

A shprakh iz a diyalekt mit an armey un MS Office

Letters Our recent-ish article Windows comes to Nynorsk, prompted a big response, mostly from Norwegians and Brits with a smattering of Catalans responding to our call to arms.

According to the old saw, a language is a dialect with an army and a navy, a criterion by which Nynorsk and Catalan are both found wanting. By the more modern yardstick - is there a local version of Microsoft Office? - Nynorsk, a Norwegian language will soon pass muster, but the six million-plus speakers of Catalan, have still to make the grade, as do the 56 million or so English English speakers, Reg Reader Chaz Bocock argues:

When will we get an English version of Windows? :((, Or do we have to live with "Favorites" and "Network Neighborhood", he asks.

Many Norwegians are pleased, but quietly, inwardly, by Microsoft's decision to produce a version of Windows for Nynorsk according to Paul Bamborough, who notes the lack of a "mention of the Office triumph in Firdaposten, my otherwise wholly reliable source of information for the West Coast of Norway and its hardcore Nynorsk speakers. Hot news is more of a shipwreck, salmon exports and the ongoing debate about the EU. But I expect that there is rejoicing tonight on the streets of Florö."

But wait, where there are two dialects, there is a fight waiting to break out, as V., a Norwegian, who describes Nynorsk as 'gibberish', reveals.

The concept of this new Norwegian is a total disgrace for norway. It has been revealed that a small group of fanatics who has cheated the N. government in order to get financial support by false reporting of members. This is also an indication in the truthfulness of their statistics. Truth is that kids are forced to have this gibberish in school & they hate it. Just as I did when I was forced to learn this bullocks in school. We got just over 4 mill people in this country. whats is the purpose or need for a 2nd lingo here??? If there is a need, we would cope just fine with english. After all it is spoken by quite a few more than there are norwegians. New norwegian is just a new example of howsome amazingly stupid squareheads has managed to fuck up a nation's educational system.


Did we say 'Variant?'

You probably don't want to know this, and the Norwegians have probably already said it, but Nynorsk isn't "a variant of Norwegian", it is one of the two official Norwegian languages. It derives from old local dialects, some of them still spoken, whereas the other Norwegian (called Bokmal, or book-tongue) is a derivative of Danish - and the two are very different. Nynorsk is commonly spoken in parts of Norway such as Bergen.

Bryan, Viking watcher

OK Bryan, we'll take your word for it... changed our mind. This contribution from Arve Bersvendsen sounds more plausible. And if it sounds right, it must be right, right?

just read your short piece on "Windows comes to Nynorsk", and feel some explanation is needed on exactly how and why I think Microsoft chose to translate Office to Nynorsk.

First of all: The two major "languages", Nynorsk and Bokmål (Bokmaal) are simply variations of the same language, and they are both essentialy written languages (you see, nobody actually speaks neither Nynorsk or Bokmaal, rather a dialect that bears most resemblance to one or the other).


The actual cause of this sudden MS generosity is not as simple as stated in the BBC story, about norwegian schools threatening a MS Office boycott.

It is actually an even more delicate matter, namely the *public funding* from several Norwegian counties and state ministries, of projects to translate the Arch-rival OpenOffice suite into both Norwegian language dialects. When this project is finished, it would of course lead to mass migration from MS Office to OpenOffice in norwegian schools, since they are by law required to favouritise educational tools which are provided in both Nynorsk and Bokmål.

That is, unless MS suddenly changed its mind and translated its Office suite to Nynorsk, something which Norwegian authorities has demanded for years. (but until recently, there were no alternatives)

Kristian Nessa, Haugesund, Norway

Some links (sorry, norwegian only :-( )

"Boycott, nay, threat of boycott, could be so much quicker and simpler than joining, say, a KDE language translation group."

that was the whole point, really -- there's a complete translation of both OpenOffice, KOffice and KDE to Nynorsk, and there's a law saying that the software used in schools SHOULD (not MUST, in RFC parlance) be available in both variants of Norwegian (for books, it's a MUST). so the schools really had no choice but to convert to free software -- until Microsoft reconsidered... schools may still convert -- there is some money to be saved, at least long term -- but Microsoft got themselves a little breather.

next up is the Sami language -- now _there's_ a minority language :-) Kjetil T.

Laplanders, your prayers are answered

Good to hear MS will do Nynorsk. With the resources at their disposal they can of course do better than that to preserve cultural diversity on the Net, if they really meant to.

At Opera we will soon release a version of Northern (our italics - ed) Sami.

How's that for obscure languages? :-)

Vennlig hilsen/ Sincerely,
Pal A. Hvistendahl
Director Marcom
Opera Software ASA

Very good, Pal, but what about:

  • Opera for Lule Sami
  • Opera for Kildin Sami
  • Opera for Southern Sami
  • Opera for Inari Sami
  • Opera for Skolt Sami

As for me: I'm delighted that I know one Sami word already (two, if you include "Sami"): "Tundra"

Going Dutch (or is that Turning Bhutanese*?)

As a huge fan/user of "nynorsk", the news about Windows and Office being translated into Nynorsk came as a great, positive surprise last month. I find the importance of these news being spread to others working for the recognition of their own languages (be it those in Spain and France or those fighting for a Hebrew version of Mac OS) great, and therefore I am sad to see that an important fact is missing both in your article and the related BBC article.

One of the main reasons for Microsoft's sudden turn-around, was a Norwegian software firm, Nynodata, with their program Nyno, which helps translating "Norwegian" (in Norwegian: Bokmål, the name best translated as "a language for books", or "the language you can find in books"), into "New Norwegian", which in turn helps lowering Microsoft's costs of producing two different Norwegian versions from 12Mill. NKR down to 2-3Mill.In other words - there is more to it than just the pressure from Norwegian schools and the likes.

I don't know if Nynodata takes orders on similar versions for other language groups, but I think such software, or donations funding the expenses are the only ways to go.

Kjetil Høiby

*Windows comes to Bhutan

Homage to Catalonia (but not from Microsoft)

So why Nynorsk, and not Catalan?

Little chance of the Catalans getting their own language in Office... it's not a matter of economics, it's a matter of politics. Nynorsk is an "evolution" of Norwegian as far as I know, and M$ can hide behind the "Bright Shield of Progress" and getting some merit from the overall hack community. Catalunyan is really a political matter. Solved only with Madrid's approval ... First ask yourself if they teach Catalunyan in school, see if the government in Madrid approves of a Catalunyan version of the software (or would it be common-sense just to keep ALL offices Castillian and not create issues between versions), and then see if M$ would make money out of it. Basque is another thing altogether... :| (as well as Galician, Andaluzian etc...)

A Hebrew version is really the conundrum of "why not's" in my book. I'm stumped.

Paul Taylor


I've read your poignantly funny (article about Microsoft Office in Nynorsk. I couldn't help laughing out loud while reading the last paragraph, a sort of call to arms to us Catalans. Well, I'm happy to report you that we have been fighting to have a powerful, honestly-priced Office suite in our language, and we have succeeded indeed. Softcatala, a not-for-profit organisation that localises free software into Catalan and advocates its use (and to which I obviously belong), localised OpenOffice 1.0 to Catalan a few months ago in cooperation with Sun Microsystems, and recently distributed 70,000 CDs with it through a Catalan newspaper. As a result, the Education Department of the Catalan Government is looking very closely to OpenOffice to replace Microsoft Office in all schools throughout the country. So, surprise, surprise, despite all previous arguments and PR rubbish, Microsoft have promised the Catalan Government a localised version of Microsoft Office this year. Of course, we all know how strongly committed Microsoft Corporation is when it comes to minority languages. So we will keep releasing Catalan versions of free software, just to prevent their very strong moral fibre to be tested by the absence of competition. By the way, we'll be glad to give technical assistance to other organisations looking to translate OpenOffice or other free software to a "non-profitable language".

Òscar del Pozo Triscon

Dear Drew, Within 24 hours of your article "Windows comes to Nynorsk" being posted on the Internet, it received coverage in Catalonia. Thank you for raising the issue once again. Microsoft translated 1.0 versions of Windows 95 and 98, which they then failed to update. These versions were not introduced into their catalogue and were extremely hard to find in the PC corner shop. They also signed a third agreement with the Catalan government, this time without an exorbitant invoice attached to it, to produce a Catalan version of Windows XP. What they didn't say was that the vesion translated would be the network format, so it turns out out that the home user has been cheated! Nynorsk has achieved a version of Office, an area where Microsoft have entrenched themselves in refusing to produce a Catalan version. Good for Nynorsk speakers! More and more Catalans are turning to alternatives such as open code products, which www.softcatala.org distribute free of charge.

Best wishes,

Miquel Strubell MA (Oxon) MSc (Lond) Universitat Oberta de Catalunya Director del Programa d'Humanitats Estudis d'Humanitats ®

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