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Chapter 3: Intangible Heritage

What do I mean by "intangible heritage"?

Intangible heritage consists of the cultural traditions, skills, knowledges, and rituals that are passed from generation to generation. They include everything from stories to songs to language to rites to crafting. It is the part of culture that you cannot necessarily pick up and look at, like a cultural artifact in a museum. Rather, it is all the knowledge and tradition that has been passed down throughout a culture's history, and transmits these narratives of both perseverance and change that the culture has endured. For a wonderful article on intangible cultural heritage and the need to preserve it, please visit UNESCO if you want to learn more.

  • To view the markers individually or see them in comparison to each other, click on the lines next to the marker name in the key to toggle it on or off on the chart. Hover over the bubbles to see the counts of the marker for that year. Check out the Glossary to get more information on the translations/meanings of each marker!

Markers of Intangible Heritage explored in the literature:

  • folkeeventyr
  • troll
  • stalo
  • yngling
  • heimskringla
  • folkeminne
  • riksmål
  • bokmål
  • landsmål
  • nynorsk
  • kebabnorsk
  • norrøn
  • norrønt
  • dugnadsånd
  • vidunderlig
  • koselig/koseleg
  • tidsklemma
  • joik/yoik
  • svartmetall
  • laling
  • ateisme
  • noaidi
  • noaide
  • sagn/segn
  • springar
  • janteloven
  • saklig/sakleg
  • nisselue
  • syttende mai
  • kjerringa med staven
  • norrøn mytologi
  • mjølner

What interesting things do I see from this chart?

There is a lot to see with this category of markers - as you can see, there are many markers from different aspects of intangible heritage such as language, literature, folk songs, dance, and folk stories. There are, however, a few that stand out to me as especially prominent markers of intangible heritage that serve to help define Norwegian national identity. In the first chart, it is clear to see that "nynorsk" is at the top of the list, followed quite closely by Norway's other official written language, Bokmål. This is not too surprising, as language is a very important indicator of identity. Bourdieu (1997) focuses especially on the role of language and the symbolic power it holds, and that there is a special relationship between a speaker of a language and the language itself; it is difficult to separate the two from each other and from this there is a certain value ascribed to that relationship. In this case for Norway, that develops into a marker of national identity, that one who speaks Norwegian IS Norwegian. We even see this prominence of language connecting to the past, in the case of the prominence of "norrøn", or Old Norse, and its variants. This language has embedded meaning connecting Norway's past to the present, as this language was the forerunner of modern-day Norwegian. So in a way, this language, Old Norse, is a marker of the making a connection with the past, and forming that aspect of Norway's identity through its historical language use (Smith 2009).

A few other interesting markers that stand out: "troll" finds a certain prestige in these counts from the corpus; but with the multitude of troll statues around Norway, this is not really a surprise! Norwegian folktales, especially those by the famed Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, connect many Norwegians to the stories of their past. They also formed an important part of the evolution of the Norwegian language, being part of the sources for the development of different writing forms of Norwegian. In the bottom chart, we can see the high counts of several famous "hard to translate" words that describe Norwegians and the general personality of the Norwegian: "vidunderlig", "saklig", and "koselig". While each of thse terms is deserving of their own paper, each of these terms, roughly translated as "something incredibly beautiful and wonderful", "objective, matter-of-fact, practical, unbiased", and "coziness, a feeling of warmth, togetherness, comfort" respectively, features prominently in the literature, starting as early as the 1920s. Thus, perhaps we can say that these descriptors have a place that is quintessentially Norwegian.

Why is this group of markers important to national identity?

Intangible heritage is a category from which many markers of Norwegian identity come, and much of this is related to aspects of Norwegian folk culture and folk heritage, alluding to that part of national identity that has roots in the rural and nostalgia for the past before urbanization. Gudleiv Bø (2011) examines the role of folk culture and the influence of nineteenth century ideas of European nationalism and politics in inspiring Norway to explore its own national identity through the country’s past, namely through the nostalgia for the rural, isolated way of life of which the urban elite became enamored. This endeavor, however, was more than acts of cultural preservation and nostalgia; the folk culture and folklore of Norway’s past represented a distinctiveness of identity for Norway, one that separated the nation from those other powers, namely Denmark and Sweden, which had dominated them from the mid-1300s to 1905 (Bø 2011:175). Out of this resurgence in national literature and rural tradition, Norwegian politics and the people found a sense of cultural and social identity. Bø particularly emphasizes the importance of this folklore in nation building in Norway, and giving Norway a unique identity in an increasingly globalized world. Different aspects of Norwegian culture have featured importantly to illustrate this uniqueness of Norway as a distinct culture with a distinct heritage, of which nostalgia for oral tradition and folk culture, particularly those folktales gathered and recorded by Norwegian folklorists Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, becomes a prominent marker for defining Norway as specifically Norwegian (Bø 2011; Eriksen 2011:33, Heggli 2000; Nedrelid 1991).

These different markers which constitute different aspects of Norwegian intangible heritage form a very large part and, arguably, an important part of the foundation of Norwegian national identity. The fact that so many markers - almost twice of my other categories - find their place within aspects of intangible heritage in Norway indicates the importance of these markers in Norwegian identity.

Where can you read about intangible heritage in Norway?

  • The folktales of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe
  • The Heimskringla
  • Samisk bibliografi : utgivelser i Norge 1945-1987, by Anders Løøv, Eva Akselsen
  • Gaski, Harald, ed. 1996 In the Shadow of the Midnight Sun: Contemporary Sami Prose and Poetry. Alta, Norway: Davvi Girji.
  • Heggli, Gry 2000 Orality in Norwegian Folklore Studies Past and Present Perceptions. Nordic Yearbook of Folklore 56: 79-96.