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North Germanic languages

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

North Germanic
EthnicityNorth Germanic peoples
Northern Europe
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
Proto-languageProto-Norse, later Old Norse
  • East Scandinavian
  • West Scandinavian
ISO 639-5gmq
Lenguas nórdicas.PNG
North Germanic-speaking lands
Continental Scandinavian languages:

Insular Nordic languages:

  Norn (†)

The North Germanic languages make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages, along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages. The language group is sometimes referred to as the "Nordic languages", a direct translation of the most common term used among Danish, Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish scholars and laypeople.

In Scandinavia, the term "Scandinavian languages" refers specifically to the generally mutually intelligible languages of the three continental Scandinavian countries and is thus used in a more narrow sense as a subset of the Nordic languages, leaving aside the insular subset of Faroese and Icelandic. Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are also referred to as Scandinavian or Nordic languages, while Faroese and Icelandic are grouped together as Insular Nordic languages. The term Scandinavian arose in the 18th century as a result of the early linguistic and cultural Scandinavist movement, referring to the people, cultures, and languages of the three Scandinavian countries and stressing their common heritage.

The term "North Germanic languages" is used in comparative linguistics,[2] whereas the term "Scandinavian languages" appears in studies of the modern standard languages and the dialect continuum of Scandinavia.[3][4]

Approximately 20 million people in the Nordic countries speak a Scandinavian language as their native language,[5] including an approximately 5% minority in Finland. Languages belonging to the North Germanic language tree are also commonly spoken on Greenland and, to a lesser extent, by immigrants in North America.

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Okay, so I've had a lot of requests for a video on the North Germanic languages. So today, I present to you a video on Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Finnish. [Crowd protestation] What? The North Germanic languages of the Nordic Nations And Finnish isn't one of them. Hello everyone. Welcome to the Langfocus channel and my name is Paul Today, I'm going to talk about the North Germanic languages of the Nordic Nations. That includes the scandinavian languages: Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. And I will also touch on the languages of Icelandic and Faroese. I wanted to call this video: the Scandinavian Languages because I just love the way that word sounds: "Scandinavian" But to the people of that region, the word "Scandinavian" only refers to Denmark, Sweden and Norway and not to the other countries that I want to talk about. So if I say the Nordic Nations, that also includes Iceland, the Faroe Islands as well as Finland. I want to talk about the North Germanic languages spoken in all of those countries. So I decided on the title: the North Germanic languages of the Nordic Nations. And please note that Finnish is not a North Germanic language. It belongs to a separate language family entirely. But there is a Swedish-speaking miniority in Finland. There are about 20 million native speakers of North Germanic languages. And that includes about 9 million speakers of Swedish, mainly in Sweden but also as a minority language in Finland. Six million speakers of Danish, mainly in Denmark but also as a minority language in the "Southern Schleswig" region of Northern Germany and in Greenland. 5 million speakers of Norwegian, mainly in Norway 320,000 speakers of Icelandic, mainly in Iceland 90,000 speakers of Faroese, about 2/3 of them living in the Faroe Islands and the rest mainly in Denmark The North Germanic languages are, as you probably guessed, a branch of the Germanic language family. All Germanic languages developed from Proto-Germanic, which was spoken around 500 BCE Proto-Germanic possibly originated in Scandinavia and different varieties of Germanic began to emerge with migration. Runic inscriptions from the 2nd century CE show us that, by that time, Proto-Germanic had began to separate into distinct Western, Eastern and Northern dialects. The northern dialect was spoken in Scandinavia and is today often referred to as Proto-Norse. And became the ancestor of all the North Germanic languages. Proto-Norse was spoken from around the 2nd century CE to the 8th century CE and, by the beginning of the Viking Era in the eighth century CE, It had evolved into the dialects that are collectively referred to as "Old Norse". During the next few hundred years, Vikings, seafaring norse people, explored much of europe by sea and river, conquering lands and establishing settlements and bringing their language with them. During this time, "Old Norse" was divided into three mutually intelligible dialects of "Old East Norse", "Old West Norse" and "Old Gutnish" "Old East Norse" was spoken in Sweden and Denmark, as well as their overseas settlements in Russia, England and in Danish settlements in Normandy. "Old West Norse" was spoken in Norway as well as its overseas settlements, the two most notable were Iceland and the Faroe Islands. But also Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man and Norwegian settlements in Normandy. Old Gutnish was mainly spoken on the island of Gotland, which is today part of Sweden as well as some overseas settlements to the East. These West, East and Gutnish varieties of Old Norse gradually developed into the modern North Germanic languages around the 14th century CE. The western branch of languages consists of Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese, as well as some other extinct languages. The eastern branch consists of Swedish and Danish. The Gutnish branch consists of only the Gutnish language, which is still spoken to some extent on the island of Gotland. But these days, the North Germanic languages are generally not thought of in terms of East, West and Gutnish. They are thought of in terms of continental and insular. The Continental languages are Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, and the insular languages are Icelandic and Faroese. These categories are based on the mutual intelligibility of the languages, rather than on the genetic root language that they come from. Norwegian is grouped with Swedish and Danish because, even though Icelandic and Norwegian developed from the same Old West Norse, Norwegian is today much more intelligible with Swedish and Danish. One reason for that is the political union of Denmark and Norway from 1536 to 1814. During this time, the written Norwegian language stopped being used and it was replaced by the written Danish language and this had a big impact on the spoken dialects of Norwegian, especially the central and eastern dialects. The Continental languages also underwent a lot of influence from Middle Low German, which is an influence that didn't affect Icelandic and Faroese. The three continental languages can be referred to as the "Scandinavian languages". When talking about the Scandinavian languages, it's important to note that there is a significant amount of dialectal variation within each language. In fact, the three languages are made up of a dialect continuum, that means if you travel in one direction, the dialects gradually change the further you go. That means for example that, if you are Norwegian living near the border with Sweden, you probably have an easier time understanding your neighbor just across the border in Sweden than you do a Norwegian from the other side of the country, even though you are supposedly speaking a different language from that Swedish person. This makes it kind of hard to determine at what point these dialects become different languages. Or if they are in fact different languages at all. The three languages are all more or less intelligible, depending on where the dialect lies on that continuum. And the written languages are almost entirely intelligible. Danish seems to be the odd man out, with its complex phonology that has come to be quite distinct from the written language. Swedes and Norwegians often say that Danish people sound like they're speaking with a potato in their mouth. I can't actually confirm if they do speak with the potato in their mouth. So, Scandinavians, can you let me know if that's true in the comments down below? I have Danish roots. So I'm allowed to make fun of Danes. From what I understand, Norwegians have the easiest time understanding the other two Scandinavian languages. Though, they understand Swedish better than Danish. Swedes can generally understand Norwegian but they have much more trouble understanding Danish, because of its pronunciation And Danes can more or less understand Norwegian and, to a lesser extent, they can understand some Swedish. From what I understand, Scandinavians will generally not speak the other person's language. They will speak their own language, while making an effort to understand the other person's speech. And maybe, they will slow down and clarify things when necessary. But, when they have significant trouble communicating, they might switch to English, which isn't that tough for them because Scandinavians are magical geniuses when it comes to learning English. In this kind of situation where you have three closely related languages that kind of blend together on a continuum, the languages are not defined by the spoken variety, but rather by the official standard language associated with that country or region. In Denmark, there is Standard Danish. In Sweden, there is Standard Swedish. And, in Norway, there is Standard Norwegian. Or wait, no, there are actually two Standard Norwegians. What? That's right, Norway actually has two official standard written languages: Bokmål and Nynorsk. Bokmål which means "book language", is a Danish-influenced standard language, which is very close to standard Danish but which uses Norwegian pronunciation. Nynorsk or "new Norwegian" is intended to be a purer version of Norwegian, based on Norway's more conservative Western dialects Which standard language Norwegians are educated in depends on the region they grow up in. But, despite having two official standard languages, Norwegians don't really speak them. Norwegians generally speak their own local dialect, whenever they are speaking. Even in formal situations and even when they're speaking to people from the other scandinavian countries. Because of this, Norwegians have to get used to understanding a wide variety of spoken dialects And that's probably part of what makes it easier for them to understand Swedish and Danish. But that, of course, is just my speculation. So, native speakers, you can confirm or disconfirm that. So let's take a look at the three continental languages and see just how similar they are. In English : "I love you" First in Swedish: Now in Norwegian : Now in Danish : As you can see, these sentences are very similar but with some differences in spelling and in pronunciation. In particular, the Swedish pronunciation is a little different than the other two. Listen to the first person pronoun again At the end the swedish one, you can hear a hard g sound. It is not also pronounced that way, it depends on exactly where the speaker is from. Another example : "Dogs are the best pets". First in Swedish: Next in Norwegian : And in Danish : Here we see some more noticable differences even though the sentences are still really similar. Notice the differences in the words for "dogs". The swedish word is pretty much pronounced as written. But in the Norwegian and Danish words, some letters are not pronounced. And notice the different words for "pets". The Swedish word is different from the other 2. And the Norwegian and Danish words are almost the same but a different initial sound and slightly different vowels. Another example Tomorrow I will go to Germany. In Swedish: And in Norwegian : And in Danish : In this case, the Norwegian and Danish sentences are basically the same, but the Swedish sentence is pronounced a little differently. Again we hear those hard g sound which aren't present in the Norwegian and Danish sentences. But again they're not always pronounced in Swedish either. One more example. In English: The party was fun because I liked the music. First in Swedish: Then in Norwegian : And in Danish : In these sentences, the word for fun is different in each language. The word meaning "because" is also different in Swedish. And in Norwegian and Danish, it's spelt the same but pronounced differently And "like" is expressed differently in all 3 languages. or "gillade" with a hard g sound, more as the voice in the recording. In Danish it is expressed with 2 words, the first one expressing "could". The phrase literally means "could suffer". And listen to the difference for the words for "music" In Norwegian and Danish. Listen how the k sound disappear in Danish. And listen to the pronounciation of this phrase again. The end of the second word seems to vanish. This could be part of that "potato phenomenon" discussed earlier. So you can probably see just how similar these three languages are. And you can probably see how - relatively speaking - they are easy for English-speakers to learn. They are all category 1 languages, according to the American Foreign Service Institute, which trains diplomats for their overseas assignments. None of the North Germanic languages are amongst the most widely spoken languages in the world. And people from the Nordic countries generally speak excellent English. So, is it a waste of time to learn a North Germanic language? Of course not! If you're interested in the cultures and the history of that region, then learning one of the languages could bring you immense joy. And because the three Scandinavian languages are so similar, learning one of them can unlock the doors to the other ones, especially of the written languages. And, if you're an avid traveler or you want to go backpacking around the world, then you will probably meet a surprising number of Scandinavians. And, knowing their language or even one of the other two languages will help you break the ice and get to know some wonderful and, possibly, highly attractive people. And if you are interested in the old Nordic cultures, then you might benefit from learning Icelandic. Since written Icelandic is still very similar to Old Norse. So don't hesitate to start learning one of the North Germanic languages, which could be your portal into a whole new world So the question of the day: Native speakers of North Germanic languages, what is your experience communicating with the speakers of other languages? Which of the other languages do you understand the most? And how do you bridge that communication gap? We'd like to know. And everyone else, jump in and leave whatever comment you want. Thank you for watching and have a nice day.


Modern languages and dialects

The modern languages in this group are:


Distinction from East and West Germanic

The Germanic languages are traditionally divided into three groups: West, East and North Germanic.[7] Their exact relation is difficult to determine from the sparse evidence of runic inscriptions, and they remained mutually intelligible to some degree during the Migration Period, so that some individual varieties are difficult to classify. Dialects with the features assigned to the northern group formed from the Proto-Germanic language in the late Pre-Roman Iron Age in Northern Europe.

At last around the year 200 AD, speakers of the North Germanic branch became distinguishable from the other Germanic language speakers. The early development of this language branch is attested through runic inscriptions.

Features shared with West Germanic

The North Germanic group is characterized by a number of phonological and morphological innovations shared with West Germanic:

  • The retraction of Proto-Germanic ē (/ɛː/, also written ǣ) to ā.[8]
    • Proto-Germanic *jēran ‘year’ > Northwest Germanic *jāran >:
      • North Germanic *āra > Old Norse ár; and
      • West Germanic *jāra > Old High German jār, Old English ġēar [jæ͡ɑːr]; vs. Gothic jēr.
  • The raising of [ɔː] to [oː] (and word-finally to [uː]). The original vowel remained when nasalised *ōn [ɔ̃ː] and when before /z/, and was then later lowered to [ɑː].
    • Proto-Germanic *geƀō ‘gift’ [ˈɣeβɔː] > Northwest Germanic *geƀu >:
      • North Germanic *gjavu > with u-umlaut *gjǫvu > ON gjǫf, and
      • West Germanic *gebu > OE giefu; cf. Goth giba (vowel lowering).
    • Proto-Germanic *tungōn ‘tongue’ [ˈtuŋɡɔ̃ː] > late Northwest Germanic *tungā > *tunga > ON tunga, OHG zunga, OE tunge (unstressed a > e); vs. Goth tuggō.
    • Proto-Germanic *geƀōz ‘of a gift’ [ˈɣeβɔːz] > late Northwest Germanic *geƀāz >:
      • North Germanic *gjavaz > ON gjafar, and
      • West Germanic *geba > OHG geba, OE giefe (unstressed a > e); vs. Goth gibōs.
  • The development of i-umlaut.
  • The rhotacism of /z/ to /r/, with presumably a rhotic fricative of some kind as an earlier stage.
    • This change probably affected West Germanic much earlier and then spread from there to North Germanic, but failed to reach East Germanic which had already split off by that time. This is confirmed by an intermediate stage ʀ, clearly attested in late runic East Norse at a time when West Germanic had long merged the sound with /r/.
  • The development of the demonstrative pronoun ancestral to English this.
    • Germanic *sa, , þat ‘this, that’ (cf. ON m., f., þat n.; OE se, sēo, þæt; Goth sa m., so f., þata n.) + proximal *si ‘here’ (cf. ON si, OHG , Goth sai ‘lo!, behold!’);
      • Runic Norse: sa-si, gen. þes-si, dat. þeim-si, etc., with declension of the 1st part;
    • fixed form with declension on the 2nd part: ON sjá, þessi m., OHG these m., OE þes m., þēos f., þis n.

Some have argued that after East Germanic broke off from the group, the remaining Germanic languages, the Northwest Germanic languages, divided into four main dialects:[9] North Germanic, and the three groups conventionally called "West Germanic", namely

  1. North Sea Germanic (Ingvaeonic languages, ancestral to the Anglo-Frisian languages and Low German)
  2. Weser-Rhine Germanic (Low Franconian languages)
  3. Elbe Germanic (High German languages)

Inability of the tree model to explain the existence of some features in the West Germanic languages stimulated the development of an alternative, the so-called wave model.

Under this view, the properties that the West Germanic languages have in common separate from the North Germanic languages are not inherited from a "Proto-West-Germanic" language, but rather spread by language contact among the Germanic languages spoken in central Europe, not reaching those spoken in Scandinavia.

North Germanic features

Some innovations are not found in West and East Germanic, such as:

  • Sharpening of geminate /jj/ and /ww/ according to Holtzmann's law
    • Occurred also in East Germanic, but with a different outcome.
    • Proto-Germanic *twajjôN ("of two") > Old Norse tveggja, Gothic twaddjē, but > Old High German zweiio
  • Word-final devoicing of stop consonants.
    • Proto-Germanic *band ("I/he bound") > *bant > Old West Norse batt, Old East Norse bant, but Old English band
  • Loss of medial /h/ with compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel and the following consonant, if present.
    • Proto-Germanic *nahtuN ("night", accusative) > *nāttu > (by u-umlaut) *nǭttu > Old Norse nótt
  • /ɑi̯/ > /ɑː/ before /r/ (but not /z/)
    • Proto-Germanic *sairaz ("sore") > *sāraz > *sārz > Old Norse sárr, but > *seira > Old High German sēr.
    • With original /z/ Proto-Germanic *gaizaz > *geizz > Old Norse geirr.
  • General loss of word-final /n/, following the loss of word-final short vowels (which are still present in the earliest runic inscriptions).
    • Proto-Germanic *bindanaN > *bindan > Old Norse binda, but > Old English bindan.
    • This also affected stressed syllables: Proto-Germanic *in > Old Norse í
  • Vowel breaking of /e/ to /jɑ/ except after w, j or l (see "gift" above).
    • The diphthong /eu/ was also affected (also l), shifting to /jɒu/ at an early stage. This diphthong is preserved in Old Gutnish and survives in modern Gutnish. In other Norse dialects, the /j/-onset and length remained, but the diphthong simplified resulting in variously /juː/ or /joː/.
    • This affected only stressed syllables. The word *ek ("I"), which could occur both stressed and unstressed, appears varyingly as ek (unstressed, with no breaking) and jak (stressed, with breaking) throughout Old Norse.
  • Loss of initial /j/ (see "year" above), and also of /w/ before a round vowel.
    • Proto-Germanic *wulfaz > North Germanic ulfz > Old Norse ulfr
  • The development of u-umlaut, which rounded stressed vowels when /u/ or /w/ followed in the next syllable. This followed vowel breaking, with ja /jɑ/ being u-umlauted to /jɒ/.

Middle Ages

The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century:   Old West Norse dialect   Old East Norse dialect   Old Gutnish   Old English   Crimean Gothic   Other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility
The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century:
  Old West Norse dialect
  Old East Norse dialect
  Other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility

After the Old Norse period, the North Germanic languages developed into an East Scandinavian branch, consisting of Danish and Swedish; and, secondly, a West Scandinavian branch, consisting of Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic and, thirdly, an Old Gutnish branch.[10] Norwegian settlers brought Old West Norse to Iceland and the Faroe Islands around 800. Of the modern Scandinavian languages, written Icelandic is closest to this ancient language.[11] An additional language, known as Norn, developed on Orkney and Shetland after Vikings had settled there around 800, but this language became extinct around 1700.[5]

In medieval times, speakers of all the Scandinavian languages could understand one another to a significant degree, and it was often referred to as a single language, called the "Danish tongue" until the 13th century by some in Sweden[11] and Iceland.[12] In the 16th century, many Danes and Swedes still referred to North Germanic as a single language, which is stated in the introduction to the first Danish translation of the Bible and in Olaus Magnus' A Description of the Northern Peoples. Dialectal variation between west and east in Old Norse however was certainly present during the Middle Ages and three dialects had emerged: Old West Norse, Old East Norse and Old Gutnish. Old Icelandic was essentially identical to Old Norwegian, and together they formed the Old West Norse dialect of Old Norse and were also spoken in settlements in Faroe Islands, Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Norwegian settlements in Normandy.[13] The Old East Norse dialect was spoken in Denmark, Sweden, settlements in Russia,[14] England, and Danish settlements in Normandy. The Old Gutnish dialect was spoken in Gotland and in various settlements in the East.

Yet, by 1600, another classification of the North Germanic language branches had arisen from a syntactic point of view,[5] dividing them into an insular group (Icelandic and Faroese) and a continental group (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish). The division between Insular Nordic (önordiska/ønordisk/øynordisk)[15] and Continental Scandinavian (Skandinavisk)[16] is based on mutual intelligibility between the two groups and developed due to different influences, particularly the political union of Denmark and Norway (1536–1814) which led to significant Danish influence on central and eastern[citation needed] Norwegian dialects (Bokmål or Dano-Norwegian).[4]


The North Germanic languages are national languages in Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, whereas the non-Germanic Finnish is spoken by the majority in Finland. In inter-Nordic contexts, texts are today often presented in three versions: Finnish, Icelandic, and one of the three languages Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.[17] Another official language in the Nordic countries is Greenlandic (in the Eskimo–Aleut family), the sole official language of Greenland.

In Southern Jutland in southwestern Denmark, German is also spoken by the North Schleswig Germans, and German is a recognized minority language in this region. German is the primary language among the Danish minority of Southern Schleswig, and likewise, Danish is the primary language of the North Schleswig Germans. Both minority groups are highly bilingual.

Traditionally, Danish and German were the two official languages of Denmark–Norway; laws and other official instruments for use in Denmark and Norway were written in Danish, and local administrators spoke Danish or Norwegian. German was the administrative language of Holstein and the Duchy of Schleswig.

Sami languages form an unrelated group that has coexisted with the North Germanic language group in Scandinavia since prehistory.[18] Sami, like Finnish, is part of the group of the Uralic languages.[19] During centuries of interaction, Finnish and Sami have imported many more loanwords from North Germanic languages than vice versa.

Language Speakers Official Status
Swedish 9,200,000*  Sweden,  Finland,  European Union,
Flag of the Nordic Council 2016.svg
Nordic Council
Danish 5,600,000  Denmark,  Faroe Islands,  European Union,
Flag of the Nordic Council 2016.svg
Nordic Council
Norwegian 5,000,000  Norway,
Flag of the Nordic Council 2016.svg
Nordic Council
Icelandic 358,000  Iceland
Faroese 90,000  Faroe Islands
Elfdalian 3,500
Total 20,251,500
* The figure includes 450,000 members of the Swedish-speaking population of Finland


The present-day distribution of the Germanic languages in Europe: North Germanic languages   Icelandic   Faroese   Norwegian (partially national boundaries)   Swedish (partially national boundaries)   Danish (partially national boundaries) West Germanic languages   Scots   English   Frisian   Dutch (partially national boundaries)   Low German (partially national boundaries)   German Dots indicate a few of the areas where multilingualism is common.
The present-day distribution of the Germanic languages in Europe:
North Germanic languages
  Norwegian (partially national boundaries)
  Swedish (partially national boundaries)
  Danish (partially national boundaries)
West Germanic languages
  Dutch (partially national boundaries)
  Low German (partially national boundaries)
Dots indicate a few of the areas where multilingualism is common.

In historical linguistics, the North Germanic family tree is divided into two main branches, West Scandinavian languages (Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic) and East Scandinavian languages (Danish and Swedish), along with various dialects and varieties. The two branches are derived from the western and eastern dialect groups of Old Norse respectively. There was also an Old Gutnish branch spoken on the island of Gotland. The continental Scandinavian languages (Swedish, Norwegian and Danish) were heavily influenced by Middle Low German during the period of Hanseatic expansion.

Another way of classifying the languages — focusing on mutual intelligibility rather than the tree-of-life model — posits Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish as Continental Scandinavian, and Faroese and Icelandic as Insular Scandinavian.[4] Because of the long political union between Norway and Denmark, moderate and conservative Norwegian Bokmål share most of the Danish vocabulary and grammar, and was nearly identical to written Danish until the spelling reform of 1907. (For this reason, Bokmål and its unofficial, more conservative variant Riksmål are sometimes considered East Scandinavian, and Nynorsk West Scandinavian via the West-East division shown above.)[20]

However, Danish has developed a greater distance between the spoken and written versions of the language, so the differences between spoken Norwegian and spoken Danish are somewhat more significant than the difference between their respective written forms. Written Danish is relatively close to the other Continental Scandinavian languages, but the sound developments of spoken Danish include reduction and assimilation of consonants and vowels, as well as the prosodic feature called stød in Danish, developments which have not occurred in the other languages (though the stød corresponds to the changes in pitch in Norwegian and Swedish, which are pitch-accent languages. Scandinavians are widely expected to understand some of the other spoken Scandinavian languages. There may be some difficulty particularly with elderly dialect speakers, however public radio and television presenters are often well understood by speakers of the other Scandinavian countries, although there are various regional differences of mutual intelligibility for understanding mainstream dialects of the languages between different parts of the three language areas.

Sweden left the Kalmar Union in 1523 due to conflicts with Denmark, leaving two Scandinavian units: The union of Denmark–Norway (ruled from Copenhagen, Denmark) and Sweden (including present-day Finland). The two countries took different sides during several wars until 1814, when the Denmark-Norway unit was disestablished, and made different international contacts. This led to different borrowings from foreign languages (Sweden had a francophone period), for example the Old Swedish word vindöga ‘window’ was replaced by fönster (from Middle Low German), whereas native vindue was kept in Danish. Norwegians, who spoke (and still speak) the Norwegian dialects derived from Old Norse, would say vindauga or similar. The written language of Denmark-Norway however, was based on the dialect of Copenhagen and thus had vindue. On the other hand, the word begynde ‘begin’ (now written begynne in Norwegian Bokmål) was borrowed into Danish and Norwegian, whereas native börja was kept in Swedish. Even though standard Swedish and Danish were moving apart, the dialects were not influenced that much. Thus Norwegian and Swedish remained similar in pronunciation, and words like børja were able to survive in some of the Norwegian dialects whereas vindöga survived in some of the Swedish dialects. Nynorsk incorporates much of these words, like byrja (cf. Swedish börja, Danish begynde), veke (cf. Sw vecka, Dan uge) and vatn (Sw vatten, Dan vand) whereas Bokmål has retained the Danish forms (begynne, uke, vann). As a result, Nynorsk does not conform the above model,[clarification needed] since it shares a lot of features with Swedish. According to the Norwegian linguist Arne Torp, the Nynorsk project (which had as a goal to re-establish a written Norwegian language) would have been much harder to carry out if Norway had been in a union with Sweden instead of with Denmark, simply because the differences would have been smaller.[21]

Currently, English loanwords are influencing the languages. A 2005 survey of words used by speakers of the Scandinavian languages showed that the number of English loanwords used in the languages has doubled during the last 30 years and is now 1.2%. Icelandic has imported fewer English words than the other North Germanic languages, despite the fact that it is the country that uses English most.[22]

Mutual intelligibility

The mutual intelligibility between the Continental Scandinavian languages is asymmetrical. Various studies have shown Norwegian speakers to be the best in Scandinavia at understanding other languages within the language group.[23][24] According to a study undertaken during 2002–2005 and funded by the Nordic Cultural Fund, Swedish speakers in Stockholm and Danish speakers in Copenhagen have the greatest difficulty in understanding other Nordic languages.[22] The study, which focused mainly on native speakers under the age of 25, showed that the lowest ability to comprehend another language is demonstrated by youth in Stockholm in regard to Danish, producing the lowest ability score in the survey. The greatest variation in results between participants within the same country was also demonstrated by the Swedish speakers in the study. Participants from Malmö, located in the southernmost Swedish province of Scania (Skåne), demonstrated a better understanding of Danish than Swedish speakers to the north.

Access to Danish television and radio, direct trains to Copenhagen over the Øresund Bridge and a larger number of cross-border commuters in the Øresund Region contribute to a better knowledge of spoken Danish and a better knowledge of the unique Danish words among the region's inhabitants. According to the study, youth in this region were able to understand the Danish language (slightly) better than the Norwegian language. But they still could not understand Danish as well as the Norwegians could, demonstrating once again the relative distance of Swedish from Danish. Youth in Copenhagen had a very poor command of Swedish, showing that the Øresund connection was mostly one-way.

The results from the study of how well native youth in different Scandinavian cities did when tested on their knowledge of the other Continental Scandinavian languages are summarized in table format,[23] reproduced below. The maximum score was 10.0:

City Comprehension
of Danish
of Swedish
of Norwegian
Århus, Denmark N/A 3.74 4.68 4.21
Copenhagen, Denmark N/A 3.60 4.13 3.87
Malmö, Sweden 5.08 N/A 4.97 5.02
Stockholm, Sweden 3.46 N/A 5.56 4.51
Bergen, Norway 6.50 6.15 N/A 6.32
Oslo, Norway 6.57 7.12 N/A 6.85

Faroese speakers (of the Insular Scandinavian languages group) are even better than the Norwegians at comprehending two or more languages within the Continental Scandinavian languages group, scoring high in both Danish (which they study at school) and Norwegian and having the highest score on a Scandinavian language other than their native language, as well as the highest average score. Icelandic speakers, in contrast, have a poor command of Norwegian and Swedish. They do somewhat better with Danish, as they are taught Danish in school. When speakers of Faroese and Icelandic were tested on how well they understood the three Continental Scandinavian languages, the test results were as follows (maximum score 10.0):[23]

of Danish
of Swedish
of Norwegian
Faroe Islands 8.28 5.75 7.00 7.01
Iceland 5.36 3.34 3.40 4.19


The North Germanic languages share many lexical, grammatical, phonological, and morphological similarities, to a more significant extent than the West Germanic languages do. These lexical, grammatical, and morphological similarities can be outlined in the table below.

Language Sentence
English It was a humid, grey summer day at the end of June.
Frisian It wie in stribbelige/fochtige, graue simmerdei oan de ein fan Juny.
Low Saxon Dat weer/was een vuchtige, griese Summerdag an't Enn vun Juni.
Afrikaans Dit was 'n vogtige, grou somer dag aan die einde van Junie.
Dutch Het was een vochtige, grauwe zomerdag eind juni.
German Es war ein feuchter, grauer Sommertag Ende Juni.
Swedish Det var en fuktig, grå sommardag i slutet av juni.
Danish Det var en fugtig, grå sommerdag i slutningen af juni.
Norwegian (Bokmål) Det var en fuktig, grå sommerdag i slutten av juni.
Norwegian (Nynorsk) Det var ein fuktig, grå sumardag/sommardag i slutten/enden av juni.
Icelandic Það var rakur, grár sumardagur í lok júní.
Faroese Tað var ein rakur/fuktigur, gráur summardagur síðst í juni.

Language boundaries

Given the aforementioned homogeneity, there exists some discussion on whether the continental group should be considered one or several languages.[25] The Scandinavian languages (in the narrow sense, i.e. the languages of Scandinavia) are often cited as proof of the aphorism "A language is a dialect with an army and navy". The differences in dialects within the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark can often be greater than the differences across the borders, but the political independence of these countries leads continental Scandinavian to be classified into Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish in the popular mind as well as among most linguists. The generally agreed upon language border is, in other words, politically shaped. This is also because of the strong influence of the standard languages, particularly in Denmark and Sweden.[25] Even if the language policy of Norway has been more tolerant of rural dialectal variation in formal language, the prestige dialect often referred to as "Eastern Urban Norwegian", spoken mainly in and around the Oslo region, is sometimes considered normative. The influence of a standard Norwegian is nevertheless less so than in Denmark and Sweden, since the prestige dialect in Norway has moved geographically several times over the past 200 years. The organised formation of Nynorsk out of western Norwegian dialects after Norway became independent of Denmark in 1814 intensified the politico-linguistic divisions.

The Nordic Council has on several occasions referred to the (Germanic) languages spoken in Scandinavia as the "Scandinavian language" (singular); for instance, the official newsletter of the Nordic Council is written in the "Scandinavian language".[26] The creation of one unified written language has been considered as highly unlikely, given the failure to agree upon a common standardized language in Norway. However, there is a slight chance of "some uniformization of spelling" between Norway, Sweden and Denmark.[27][28]

Family tree

All North Germanic languages are descended from Old Norse. Divisions between subfamilies of North Germanic are rarely precisely defined: Most form continuous clines, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and the most separated ones not.

Germanic languages division including West and East Scandinavian languages and dialects
Germanic languages division including West and East Scandinavian languages and dialects

Classification difficulties

The Jamtlandic dialects share many characteristics with both Trøndersk and with Norrländska mål. Due to this ambiguous position, it is contested whether Jamtlandic belongs to the West Norse or the East Norse group.[30]

Elfdalian (Älvdalen speech), generally considered a Sveamål dialect, today has an official orthography and is, because of a lack of mutual intelligibility with Swedish, considered as a separate language by many linguists. Traditionally regarded as a Swedish dialect,[31] but by several criteria closer to West Norse dialects,[29] Elfdalian is a separate language by the standard of mutual intelligibility.[32][33][34][35]

Traveller Danish, Rodi, and Swedish Romani are varieties of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish with Romani vocabulary or Para-Romani known collectively as the Scandoromani language.[36] They are spoken by Norwegian and Swedish Travellers. The Scando-Romani varieties in Sweden and Norway combine elements from the dialects of Western Sweden, Eastern Norway (Østlandet) and Trøndersk.

Written norms of Norwegian

Norwegian has two official written norms, Bokmål and Nynorsk. In addition, there are some unofficial norms. Riksmål is more conservative than Bokmål (that is, closer to Danish) and is used to various extents by numerous people, especially in the cities and by the largest newspaper in Norway, Aftenposten. On the other hand, Høgnorsk (High Norwegian) is similar to Nynorsk and is used by a very small minority.

See also


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "North Germanic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Language Family Trees Indo-European, Germanic, North. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International
  3. ^ Scandinavian Dialect Syntax. Network for Scandinavian Dialect Syntax. Retrieved 11 November 2007.
  4. ^ a b c Torp, Arne (2004). Nordiske sprog i fortid og nutid. Sproglighed og sprogforskelle, sprogfamilier og sprogslægtskab. Moderne nordiske sprog. In Nordens sprog – med rødder og fødder. Nord 2004:010, ISBN 92-893-1041-3, Nordic Council of Ministers' Secretariat, Copenhagen 2004. (In Danish).
  5. ^ a b c Holmberg, Anders and Christer Platzack (2005). "The Scandinavian languages". In The Comparative Syntax Handbook, eds Guglielmo Cinque and Richard S. Kayne. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Excerpt at Durham University Archived 3 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Leinonen, Therese (2011), "Aggregate analysis of vowel pronunciation in Swedish dialects", Oslo Studies in Language 3 (2) Aggregate analysis of vowel pronunciation in Swedish dialects]", Oslo Studies in Language 3 (2); Dahl, Östen (2000), Språkets enhet och mångfald., Lund: Studentlitteratur, pp. 117–119; Lars-Erik Edlund "Språklig variation i tid och rum" in Dahl, Östen & Edlund, Lars-Erik, eds. (2010), Sveriges nationalatlas. Språken i Sverige.Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets historie och antikvitets akademien, p. 9
  7. ^ Hawkins, John A. (1987). "Germanic languages". In Bernard Comrie (ed.). The World's Major Languages. Oxford University Press. pp. 68–76. ISBN 0-19-520521-9.
  8. ^ But see Cercignani, Fausto, Indo-European ē in Germanic, in «Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung», 86/1, 1972, pp. 104–110.
  9. ^ Kuhn, Hans (1955–56). "Zur Gliederung der germanischen Sprachen". Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum und deutsche Literatur. 86: 1–47.
  10. ^ Bandle, Oskar (ed.)(2005). The Nordic Languages: An International Handbook of the History of the North Germanic Languages. Walter de Gruyter, 2005, ISBN 3-11-017149-X.
  11. ^ a b Lund, Jørn. Language Archived 15 August 2004 at the Wayback Machine. Published online by Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Version 1 – November 2003. Retrieved 13 November 2007.
  12. ^ Lindström, Fredrik; Lindström, Henrik (2012). Svitjods undergång och Sveriges födelse. Albert Bonniers Förlag. ISBN 978-91-0-013451-8., p. 259
  13. ^ Adams 1895, pp. 336–338.
  14. ^ Article Nordiska språk, section Historia, subsection Omkring 800–1100, in Nationalencyklopedin (1994).
  15. ^ Jónsson, Jóhannes Gísli and Thórhallur Eythórsson (2004). "Variation in subject case marking in Insular Scandinavian". Nordic Journal of Linguistics (2005), 28: 223–245 Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 9 November 2007.
  16. ^ Heine, Bernd and Tania Kuteva (2006). The Changing Languages of Europe. Oxford University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-19-929734-7.
  17. ^ The Nordic Council's/Nordic Council of Ministers' political magazine Analys Norden offers three versions: a section labeled "Íslenska" (Icelandic), a section labeled "Skandinavisk" (in either Danish, Norwegian or Swedish), and a section labeled "Suomi" (Finnish).
  18. ^ Sammallahti, Pekka, 1990. "The Sámi Language: Past and Present". In Arctic Languages: An Awakening. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Paris. ISBN 92-3-102661-5, p. 440: "the arrival of a Uralic population and language in Samiland [...] means that there has been a period of at least 5000 years of uninterrupted linguistic and cultural development in Samiland. [...] It is also possible, however, that the earlier inhabitants of the area also spoke a Uralic language: we do not know of any linguistic groups in the area other than the Uralic and Indo-Europeans (represented by the present Scandinavian languages)."
  19. ^ Inez Svonni Fjällström (2006). "A language with deep roots" Archived 5 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine.Sápmi: Language history, 14 November 2006. Samiskt Informationscentrum Sametinget: "The Scandinavian languages are Northern Germanic languages. [...] Sami belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family. Finnish, Estonian, Livonian and Hungarian belong to the same language family and are consequently related to each other."
  20. ^ Victor Ginsburgh, Shlomo Weber (2011). How many languages do we need?: the economics of linguistic diversity, Princeton University Press. p.42.
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b "Urban misunderstandings". In Norden this week – Monday 01.17.2005.The Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers. Retrieved 13 November 2007.
  23. ^ a b c Delsing, Lars-Olof and Katarina Lundin Åkesson (2005). Håller språket ihop Norden? En forskningsrapport om ungdomars förståelse av danska, svenska och norska. Available in pdf format. Numbers are from Figure 4:11. "Grannspråksförståelse bland infödda skandinaver fördelade på ort", p.65 and Figure 4:6. "Sammanlagt resultat på grannspråksundersökningen fördelat på område", p. 58.
  24. ^ Maurud, Ø (1976). Nabospråksforståelse i Skandinavia. En undersøkelse om gjensidig forståelse av tale- og skriftspråk i Danmark, Norge og Sverige. Nordisk utredningsserie 13. Nordiska rådet, Stockholm.
  25. ^ a b Nordens språk – med rötter och fötter
  26. ^ Hello Norden newsletter's language of publication is described as skandinaviska (in Swedish)
  27. ^ The Scandinavian Languages: Their Histories and Relationships
  28. ^ Finlandssvensk som hovedspråk (in Norwegian bokmål)
  29. ^ a b Kroonen, Guus. "On the origins of the Elfdalian nasal vowels from the perspective of diachronic dialectology and Germanic etymology" (PDF). Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics. University of Copenhagen. Retrieved 27 January 2016. In many aspects, Elfdalian, takes up a middle position between East and West Nordic. However, it shares some innovations with West Nordic, but none with East Nordic. This invalidates the claim that Elfdalian split off from Old Swedish.
  30. ^ Dalen, Arnold (2005). Jemtsk og trøndersk – to nære slektningar Archived 18 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine. Språkrådet, Norway. (In Norwegian). Retrieved 13 November 2007.
  31. ^ Ekberg, Lena (2010). "The National Minority Languages in Sweden". In Gerhard Stickel (ed.). National, Regional and Minority Languages in Europe: Contributions to the Annual Conference 2009 of Efnil in Dublin. Peter Lang. pp. 87–92. ISBN 9783631603659. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  32. ^ Dahl, Östen; Dahlberg, Ingrid; Delsing, Lars-Olof; Halvarsson, Herbert; Larsson, Gösta; Nyström, Gunnar; Olsson, Rut; Sapir, Yair; Steensland, Lars; Williams, Henrik (8 February 2007). "Älvdalskan är ett språk – inte en svensk dialekt" [Elfdalian is a language – not a Swedish dialect]. Aftonbladet (in Swedish). Stockholm. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  33. ^ Dahl, Östen (December 2008). "Älvdalska – eget språk eller värsting bland dialekter?" [Elfdalian – its own language or an outstanding dialect?]. Språktidningen (in Swedish). Retrieved 16 May 2013.
  34. ^ Zach, Kristine (2013). "Das Älvdalische — Sprache oder Dialekt? (Diplomarbeit)" [Elfdalian — Language or dialect? (Masters thesis)] (PDF) (in German). University of Vienna.
  35. ^ Sapir, Yair (2004). Elfdalian, the Vernacular of Övdaln. Conference paper, 18–19 juni 2004. Available in pdf format at Uppsala University online archive Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  36. ^ LLOW – Traveller Danish


External links

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