After the dissolution of the union with Denmark in 1814 Norway had no national language of their own, that is the written language was Danish, while the verbal language consisted of numerous dialects - that to some extent were not mutual intelligible. The new union partner Sweden had a different language, Swedish, and there was a fear that if no measures were taken, their language would be imposed upon the Norwegians.
Hence, prominent Norwegians promoted a Norwegian language, incl. Henrik Wergeland and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson based on the legacy of the Danish language used in Norway by the upper class in Christiania. The person that made this effort was Knud Knudsen, a school teacher, that had experienced that the school children struggled with the Danish language they were thought, it was very different from the verbal language they were used to. However, as late as in 1883 the Danish intellectual Georg Brandes stated that the language in Norway was Danish, the Norwegians did not have a language of their own.
Knud Knudsen presented his Norwegian language in several works from the 1850s until his death in 1895, while the term Riksmaal (aa is a contemporary way of writing å) was first proposed by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1899 as a name for the Norwegian variety of written Danish as well as spoken Dano-Norwegian. It was borrowed from Denmark where it denoted standard written and spoken Danish. The same year the Riksmål movement became organised under his leadership in order to fight against the growing influence of Nynorsk, eventually leading to the foundation of the non-governmental organisation Riksmålsforbundet in 1907. Bjørnson became Riksmålsforbundet's first leader until his death in 1910.
Riksmål became the chosen language for Norweigian pupils from the latter part of the 19th century, and Norwegian newspapers adapted to the language. However, many Norwegian authors, such as Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Knut Hamsun, did not and continued using Danish. Riksmål got an official writing norm in 1907, and in 1917 a new reform introduced some elements from Norwegian dialects and Nynorsk as optional alternatives to traditional Dano-Norwegian forms. This was part of an official policy to bring the two Norwegian languages more closely together, intending eventually to merge them into one. These changes met resistance from the Riksmål movement, and Riksmålsvernet (The Society for the Protection of Riksmål) was founded in 1919. They have later been the purist protectors of the traditional riksmål, in opposition to Bokmål and Nynorsk, and especially Samnorsk.
In the 1938 reform of Bokmål introduced more elements from dialects and Nynorsk, and more importantly, many traditional Dano-Norwegian forms were excluded. This so-called radical Bokmål or Samnorsk (Common Norwegian) met even stiffer resistance from the Riksmål movement, culminating in the 1950s under the leadership of Arnulf Øverland. Riksmålsforbundet organised a parents' campaign against Samnorsk in 1951, and the Norwegian Academy for Language and Literature was founded in 1953. Because of this resistance, the 1959 reform was relatively modest, and the radical reforms were partially reverted in 1981 and 2005.
Currently, Riksmål denotes the moderate, chiefly pre-1938, unofficial variant of Bokmål, which is still in use and is regulated by the Norwegian Academy and promoted by Riksmålsforbundet. Riksmål has gone through some spelling reforms, but none as profound as the ones that shaped Bokmål. A Riksmål dictionary was published in four volumes in the period 1937 to 1957 by Riksmålsvernet, and two supplementary volumes were published in 1995 by the Norwegian Academy. After the latest Bokmål reforms, the difference between Bokmål and Riksmål have diminished and they are now comparable to American and British English differences, but the Norwegian Academy still upholds its own standard.
The daily newspaper Aftenposten is notable for its use of Riksmål as its standard language. Use of Riksmål is rigorously pursued, even with regard to readers' letters, which are "translated" into the standard.
The latest writing reform of bokmål, made official in 2005, moved bokmål back to its roots in riksmål, in such a way that the two language forms are more or less the same. Currently, riksmål or bokmål in a moderate form is the preferred language for about 90% of Norwegians. It could be said that after more than a century's language struggle, the purists in the Norwegian Academy has prevailed.
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