RegionNorthern Norway
Era18th–19th centuries
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)

Russenorsk (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈrʉ̂sːəˌnɔʂk]; Russian: руссено́рск, [rʊsʲɪˈnorsk]; English: Russo-Norwegian) is an extinct dual-source "restricted pidgin"[1] language formerly used in the Arctic, which combined elements of Russian and Norwegian. Russenorsk originated from Russian traders and Norwegian fishermen from Tromsø (northern Norway) and Kola (north-western Russia).[2] It was used extensively in Northern Norway for about 150 years in the Pomor trade. Russenorsk is important as a test case for theories concerning pidgin languages since it was used far away from most of the other documented pidgins of the world.

As is common in the development of pidgins and trade languages, the interaction of fishermen and traders with no common language necessitated the creation of some minimal form of communication. Like all pidgins, Russenorsk had a rudimentary grammar and a restricted vocabulary, mostly composed of words essential to Arctic fishing and trade (fish, weather, etc.); however, Russenorsk was used outside of fishing and trade context during the off-season as it was not uncommon for Russians to remain in Norway during the winter.[2]


Barter existed between Russians and Norwegians for 150 years in Troms and Finnmark counties. This barter was supported by the Norwegian government, and King Christian VII conferred city status to several settlements, such as Tromsø, to facilitate it.[3] Norwegians mainly traded fish for flour and wheat from Russians. The trading went on throughout the sunny months of the year and was beneficial to both sides; Norwegians had access to cheap fish in the summer, whilst Russians had surplus wheat.[4] Traders came from the areas near Murmansk and the White Sea, most often to Vardø, Hammerfest, and Tromsø, occasionally further south to the Lofoten islands.[5][4][6]

The earliest recorded instance of Russenorsk was in 1785.[7] It is one of the most studied northern pidgins; many linguists, for example, Olaf Broch, studied it. Unlike equatorial pidgins, it was formed from only two languages, Norwegian and Russian. Furthermore, these languages are not from the same branch of Indo-European languages. Also unlike equatorial pidgins, Russenorsk was formed from one social class.[8]

Until 1850, Russenorsk was socially acceptable for all social classes. In 1850, Russenorsk became more limited to Norwegian fishermen, whereas Norwegian traders learnt Russian through exposure in Archangelsk and Russian trade centers,[1] often formally studying the language to the extent that they could communicate in rudimentary Russian.[4] This increase in Russian study caused the devaluation of Russenorsk in terms of social status.[5]

In 1917, Finland's declaration of independence from Russia caused the Russian–Norwegian border to decrease significantly. In 1919, the border disappeared completely.[7] Furthermore, the Soviet Union limited international contact significantly, decreasing the need for the common language between Norwegians and Russians. The last such Norwegian–Russian trade occurred in 1923.[7]


Russenorsk uses many of the phonemes common to both Norwegian and Russian, altering phonemes only used in one.[7][9][10] Pronunciation depended on the language background of the speaker.[1]

Consonants in Norwegian Russenorsk
Labial Dental/
Postalveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Fricative f s ʂ ç
Approximant ʋ l j
Flap ɾ
Consonants in Russian Russenorsk
Labial Dental/
Postalveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Affricate ts
Fricative f v s z ʂ
Approximant l j
Trill r

More is known about the Norwegian variety of Russenorsk due to the fact that most of the texts in Russenorsk were written by Norwegians. In the few Russian records of the language, there are examples of both /z/ and /ts/ in the words презентоме (prezentome, 'to give') and принципал (printsipal, 'captain'), for which the Norwegians used /s/. The Russian affricate /tɕ/ in words such as чай (chaj, 'tea') was substituted by the Norwegians with the fricative /ç/.

  Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ə o
Open a


Corpora of Russenorsk consist of lists of individual words and phrases as well as records of dialogues compiled by linguists such as Just Knud Qvigstad. The corpora include c. 400 words, about half of those only appear once in the records (so-called hapax legomena),[4][11] therefore, the vocabulary contained only 150–200 core words.[5]

The origin of its vocabulary is generally held to be approximately 40% Russian and 50% Norwegian, with the remaining 10% from Dutch, Low German, French, English, Sami, and Swedish. [7][12]

Many words in Russenorsk have a synonym from the other primary language.[9]

Some words can be etymologically traced to both Norwegian and Russian, for example, vin (Norwegian) and вино (Russian). Some words have an unclear etymology; for example, tovara or vara could have come from Russian, Swedish, or Finnish.[9]

Some Russenorsk words survive in the dialect of Vardø:[4]


One of the characteristics differentiating the pidgin from jargon is its grammar; however, Russenorsk did not go through tertiary hybridization.[13][4] Russenorsk is mainly influenced by Norwegian grammar, leading some to conclude that it is a variant of Norwegian with some Russian influence.[14]

A lack of metalinguistic awareness amongst Russenorsk speakers may have led them to believe they were speaking the language of their interlocutor; that is, that Russians believed they were speaking Norwegian and vice versa.[14]

There are no clear verb conjugations. The main indication of a verb is the suffix -om, for example, kapitan på kajuta slipom (the captain is asleep in his cabin). Nominative nouns usually end with -a.[14] Conjunctions used to make compound sentences or dependent clauses are ja, i, and jes. Kak is used as an interrogative word. The general word order is SVO, with some alterations for questions and sentences with adverbs.[9]

is used as the only preposition for the oblique case:[7]


Russenorsk does not have extensive morphology, but has some unique characteristics. The ending -om does not come from Russian nor Norwegian, but it may come from Solombala English.[4] The ending -mann, from Norwegian, is used to indicate nationality or profession, for example russmann ('Russian'), burmann ('Norwegian'), or kukmann ('trader'). Other morphological features are reduplication, such as morra-morradag ('after tomorrow'), and compounding, such as kua ('cow') and sjorta ('shirt') to kuasjorta ('cowhide').[7]


One characteristic syntactical attribute of Russenorsk is the tendency to move the verb to the final position when the sentence has adverbs. This is found in neither Russian nor Norwegian.[4] Another is that the negator (ikke, njet) precedes the verb, but can be separated from the verb. This is unlike negation in either Russian or Norwegian, but it may have come from Finnish, in which this syntax was probable.[9] Moreover, the use of barter-focused language established frequent use of interrogative speech in sentences.[1]


R marks Russian origin, N marks Norwegian.

Moja tvoja.
моя́R N
my in your
'I speak in your language.'
Kak sprek? Moja njet forsto.
какR språkN моя́R нетR forståN
how speak? my no understand
'What are you saying? I don't understand.'


Moja på tvoja. I'm talking in your language.
Kak sprek? Moja njet forsto. What are you talking about? I don't understand.
å råbbåte work
kleba bread
Ju sprek på moja kantor kom You said that you would come to my office.
Tvoja fisk kopom? Will you buy fish?
Saika kopom i på Arkangelsk på gaf spaserom I'll buy pollack and we'll swim in Arkhangelsk.
Kak pris? Mangeli kosta? What is the price? How much?
Eta grot dyr. Værsegod, på minder prodaj! It is very expensive. Please lower the price!

See also

Notes and references


  1. ^ /po/ in both languages happens to mean 'in' when referring to speaking in a language, though they are pronounced slightly differently.


  1. ^ a b c d Hasselmo, Nils (1983). ""Russenorsk — et pidginspråk i Norge. (Tromsø-studier i Språkvitenskap III.) Oslo: Novus, 1981. Pp. 164"". Language in Society. 12 (3): 405–410. doi:10.1017/S0047404500010125. S2CID 145283995.
  2. ^ a b Velupillai, Viveka (2015). "The verb phrase and prediction" In Pidgins, Creoles & Mixed Languages edited by Miriam Meyerhoff and Umberto Ansaldo. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 388–431. ISBN 978-90-272-5271-5.
  3. ^ "Port of Tromso". Retrieved 2014-11-08.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Bandle, Oskar; Braunmüller, Kurt; Jahr, Ernst Håkon; Naumann, Allan Karker Hans-Peter; Teleman, Ulf (2005). The Nordic Languages: An International Handbook of the History of the North Germanic Languages. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH. p. 1538. ISBN 3-11-017149-X.
  5. ^ a b c Jahr, Ernest Håkon (1996). On the pidgin status of Russenorsk." In Language Contact in the Arctic: Northern Pidgins and Contact Languages edited by Ernest Håkon Jahr and Ingvild Broch. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 107–122. ISBN 978-3-11-081330-2.
  6. ^ "Pomor trade". Retrieved 2011-11-01.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Russenorsk – A Language Sketch" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-01-08. Retrieved 2011-11-02.
  8. ^ Broch, Ingvild; Jahr, Ernst Håkon. "Russenorsk". Archived from the original on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 2011-11-02.
  9. ^ a b c d e Belikov, Vladimir. "Some Fragments of Russenorsk Grammar". Retrieved 2011-11-01.
  10. ^ "Pidgin – Russisch – Am Beispiel von Russenorsk". Archived from the original on 2012-11-27. Retrieved 2011-11-01.
  11. ^ Atlas języków: Pochodzenie i rozwój języków świata. Poznań: Oficyna Wydawnicza Atena. 1998. p. 146. ISBN 83-85414-31-2.
  12. ^ Serk-Hansen, Karoline. "Руссенорск". Retrieved 2011-11-01.
  13. ^ Velupillai, Viveka (2015). "Theories on the formation processes of pidgins" In Pidgins, Creoles & Mixed Languages edited by Miriam Meyerhoff and Umberto Ansaldo. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 132–169. ISBN 978-90-272-5271-5.
  14. ^ a b c Kortlandt, Frederik. "On Russenorsk" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-11-01.