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Bergensk: A beginner’s guide to the Bergen dialect

So, you've armed yourself with Norwegian language courses and have acquired some proficiency in Norwegian – but now you're heading to Bergen. Prepare to have your linguistic confidence shattered.

You should expect the transition to Bergensk to take a couple of months. Photo by Matti Tanskanen on Unsplash

Most people who want to move to Norway spend some time trying to learn the language. Or they move and take steps to learn the language to feel more settled in. 

They take Norwegian language courses, watch educational YouTube videos, download Duolingo, join groups of like-minded people, and – eventually – they succeed in reaching at least a rudimentary mastery of the language.

Armed with your newly-acquired language skills, you might think you’re now ready to impress the locals in most Norwegian cities with your linguistic prowess.

You’ve heard nice things about Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city. It has amazing nature, it’s an international student hub, and there’s a lot of history and culture to enjoy in the city. It’s not only a great place to live, work and study but also to live. 

Now you’re thinking you might just move to (or visit) Bergen and hit the ground running (that is, swiftly expand your social circle, get job interviews, and use your Norwegian language skills to sort out the day-to-day aspects of city life).

Nice plan you have there… Would be a shame if something got in the way.

The Bergen dialect – Bergensk

To start off with a quote from American filmmaker Woody Allen, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

If you’ve decided to make Bergen your home (at least for a while), you’ll be in for quite a surprise, especially if you’re moving to or visiting Bergen from eastern Norway.

Note that, in a number of foreign language schools (even those in Bergen), the Norwegian language taught is very close to the eastern, Oslo dialect.

There are stories of people investing more than 40,000 kroner in Norwegian language courses, reaching B1/B2, and then having trouble understanding basic conversation among Bergen locals after moving to the city.

There’s no need to feel depressed. Even Norwegians from other parts of the country can sometimes have problems understanding Bergensk. So don’t be too hard on yourself.

Don’t expect the locals to switch to another dialect, however – they’re quite proud of the Bergen one. Therefore, you should take the time to upgrade your Norwegian language skills accordingly.

What makes Bergensk different?

One of the key obstacles that can prevent you from making a smooth transition between the Oslo and the Bergen dialect is pronunciation.

The Bergen dialect is more similar to Nynorsk (one of the two written standards of the Norwegian language, along with Bokmål) in pronunciation.

As online language school Skapago points out, the dialect stands out due to the pronunciation of “r” and the kj-sound. As most grammar guides will let you know, in the Bergensk dialect, the “r” is pronounced as a uvular “r,” not with the rolling pronunciation you’ll find in eastern and northern Norway.

Furthermore, since only dialects with a rolling r-sound can have retroflex sounds (which entails “rd,” “rl,” “rn,” “rs,” and “rt” merging into one sound) the Bergensk dialect does not have any of those sounds.

Instead, Skapago notes, these letter combinations are pronounced separately, as well as the combination of “sl,” which is usually pronounced “sh+l” in Oslo. Elsewhere, it is pronounced “s+l”.

Another interesting aspect of the Bergensk dialect is the pronunciation of the kj-sound. Usually, in Norwegian, this combination of letters has a distinct pronunciation. However, in Bergensk, the sound has merged with the sounds “sj” or “skj,” and is pronounced “sh” in all instances.

The words “kjøtt” (meat) and “kjøpe” (buy) and “ikkje” (not/does not – the Bergensk and Nynorsk form of “ikke”) are pronounced “shøtt,” “shøpe,” and “ishe.” This pronunciation is becoming more common across the country and growing in popularity among young Norwegians.

Furthermore, the Bergen dialect is one of two dialects in Norway with only two grammatical genders – other dialects in the country have three grammatical genders.

You should expect the transition to Bergensk to take a couple of months and might even want to consider a local language course “booster” (especially one that focuses on the dialect) to make the entire process as painless as possible.

You can find a short primer on Bergen dialect slang, compiled by the Bergen Municipality, here (in Norwegian).

Some common expressions

Study Bergen, an organisation aiming to promote Bergen as a student city, has put together a list of common expressions in Bergensk that you’ll likely hear around town after relocating.

Here are a few of the expressions they shared:

Ke det gåri (in Bokmål: “Hva skjer?”): What’s up?

Den e’ brun (in Bokmål: “Den er grei”): That’s fine.

Knall i padden (in Bokmål: “Kjempebra”/”kult”/”veldig gøy”): It’s super fun!

Belite seg (in Bokmål: “Gi seg”): Give up or admit that you were wrong.

Hallaien (in Bokmål: “Hallo”/”hei”): Hello!

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For members


How Bergen puts its own spin on Norway’s May 17th traditions

Throughout Norway, May 17th is a highlight of the year, with millions celebrating Constitution Day. However, Bergen likes to do things a bit differently.

How Bergen puts its own spin on Norway's May 17th traditions

Bergen in western Norway, the country’s second-largest city, takes on an especially festive atmosphere for the May 17th celebrations.

Streets and houses are dotted with Norwegian flags as far as the eye can see, and the city, known for its rich cultural scene, transforms into a bustling hub of national pride and joyous celebrations. 

READ MORE: Why does Norway celebrate May 17th?

This sort of approach to celebrating Norway’s big day isn’t unique to Bergen – most cities in the country have a special program in place to mark the occasion.

However, Bergen puts its own unique spin on this special occasion, featuring an air show, fireworks, parades with organisations unique to Bergen, and much more.

How the festivities start

Bergen celebrates Norway’s Constitution Day with several distinct local traditions.

The festivities kick off bright and early, with an opening ceremony, followed by a festive salute fired from Skansen, a historic site in the Bergenhus district.

Simultaneously, the morning procession, featuring the Sandviken’s Youth Corps and Lungegaarden’s Music Corps, starts from Dreggen and concludes at Festplassen Square in the city centre.

A highlight of this procession is the inclusion of the buekorps – traditional neighbourhood youth organisations that march through the streets, a feature unique to Bergen.

READ MORE: How Norway’s biggest cities will celebrate May 17th this year

As the city awakens, main procession attendees gather around 10am at Koengen, an open-air concert venue in the city centre.

The main procession begins between 10 and 11am. It is central to the day’s celebrations, and the fact that Bergen natives call this parade a prosesjon instead of tog (a word used in the rest of Norway), just goes to show how important having a distinct tradition is to Bergen. 

At the same time, a flag parade departs from Festplassen. While the main procession makes its way through the streets, the flag parade heads in the opposite direction. Having two parades heading in opposite directions is something that sets Bergen apart from other parts of the country, like Oslo. 

Furthermore, a boat parade also embarks from Hilleren at a similar time.

Norway flag 1

Flags are a central feature of Norway’s May 17th celebrations, symbolizing national unity – you’ll see them everywhere you turn. Photo by Peter Hansen on Unsplash

Midday: Continued processions, speeches, music performances – and the Viking Ship stage

Midday brings a flurry of activities, including a race rowing procession from Kaigaten close to noon, followed by speeches and musical performances on the Viking Ship stage at Festplassen – a special stage used for this occasion – featuring the Krohnengen Brass Band and the Bergen Opera Choir.

There, you’ll likely be able to hear Nystemten (Udsigter fra Ulrikken), Bergen’s own city anthem, alongside Norway’s national anthem – a tradition that isn’t that common outside of Bergen, where people tend to stick to the national anthem.

Around 1pm, dancing livens up Torgallmenningen and Ole Bull squares, complemented by concerts at nearby landmarks like Den blau steinen and Musikpaviljongen.

Later in the afternoon, a spectacular air show takes place over Vågen/Byfjorden, which always attracts a crowd.

The air show is also a special experience that doesn’t take place in all cities.

Evening: Gospel, torch parade, and fireworks

As evening sets in, a gospel night organised by local congregations offers a musical pause in St. John’s Church.

The celebrations conclude with a torch parade from Bergenhus leading to Festplassen between 10 and 11pm, capped off by a grand fireworks display.

READ MORE: Key things you absolutely shouldn’t do on May 17th in Norway

Locals and visitors alike converge on Festplassen and other key viewing spots around the city to see the fireworks.

Families, friends, and neighbours come together, many having spent the day enjoying the various parades and performances (as well as a glass or two of alcohol) to watch the sky light up in a dazzling array of colours.

And there you have it! If you’re planning to spend May 17th in Bergen, you now know what to expect and the must-see activities to catch throughout the day that are exclusive to the city.

To learn more about how Norway celebrates the signing of its constitution in 1814, which declared the country’s independence, be sure to check out The Local’s in-depth guide to May 17th.