All Scandinavian languages: Mutual intelligibility/Difficulty

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by COF, Oct 7, 2006.

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  1. COF Junior Member

    English - Wales
    Firstly, how hard is Swedish/Danish/Norwegian for an English speaker? Any harder than French/Spanish? Someone told me their infact easier. Also, if you speak one of the 3, how much of the other 2 will you be actually able to understand - will you be able to converse fully?
     
  2. Namakemono

    Namakemono Senior Member

    Galicia, España
    Español, gallego (España)
    I'm sure you'll find Danish pretty easy. It's more similar to English than German (especially the phonetic). The grammar is very simple too. I don't know about the other two languages, but I heard they're not very different.
     
  3. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    This thread and the links in it may also be of interest to you.
     
  4. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    I've found Swedish the easiest, mostly because I hear Swedish here in Finland every day (although it's pronounced in a little different way).
    Norwegian is even easier to pronounce than Swedish, at least for a Finn. Instead, I find Danish very difficult to pronounce and to understand.
    On the other hand, for me translating from Danish has been easier than translating from norwegian.
    An English speaker may see these thing differently.
     
  5. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    This is the first time I've heard anyone say English and Danish are close phonetically.. although it's true that it's not too hard for Danes to pronounce English properly, it rarely works that way in the opposite direction.. do you find it easy to pronounce?
     
  6. Hakro

    Hakro Senior Member

    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish - Finland
    I agree 100%
     
  7. Tino_no Senior Member

    Sinaloa
    Español mexicano
    Yeah, I've heard Danish is a very difficult language to pronounce, actually I speak spanish but I'm almost fluent in English and I think scandinavian languages are very difficult to me to pronounce correctly. :(
     
  8. Namakemono

    Namakemono Senior Member

    Galicia, España
    Español, gallego (España)
    Absolutely not. But it has some similarities with English phonetically. I've always considered English phonetic to be one of a kind until I started to study Danish. The Danish pronounciation of a, e, and i is similar to that of English. Also, you have a tendency to pronounce double consonants with a soft sound (like the American pronounciation of "better").
     
  9. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    I am a native Norwegian and Danish sounds like Schwa all the way :p
    I can't understand it even though they look very like:

    N: Jeg elsker rød grøt med fløte
    D: Jeg elsker rød grød med fløde
    E: I love red thick soup with thick milk

    (I don't know the English words, if you have any :p )

    Danish pronounce the R a bit liek German, but not completely.
    and the D is really weird, I don't even know how to describe it :p
     
  10. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    There's nothing weird about the soft d. It's the same as the voiced th in English.
     
  11. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    I think it sounds like you don't even touch anythijng in the mouth when saying f.ex. "hvad"
     
  12. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    How accurate would native speakers of Danish and Norwegian say this article is?
     
  13. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    I only skimmed it, but it looks like an ok breakdown.. I'm not sure about Danish being 'incomprehensible' though.. and in my experience Norwegians are very good at learning to pronounce Danish. They seem to have an advantage in understanding and learning both Swedish and Danish, apparently it's easier to move in both directions from Norwegian.
     
  14. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    That probably has more to do with the general tendencies of Danes to mumble than with the language itself. In case of 'hvad' (what) it can really be pronounced in three ways, all three with a distinctly pronounced v-sound. The most correct includes a clearly pronounced voiced th at the end. The two regularly pronounced alternatives have a more explosive beginning, no voiced th at the end, and employ either an open or a closed 'a' depending on dialect.
     
  15. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    I was always mad at you Danes, that you ruined our language (roughly said) ...
    But it is kind of cool to listen to, but I find it hard to understand when talking normally... Or maybe not? I don't hear Danish often... only on the series "Anna Pihl" hehe.

    And I think that article looked quite accurate I must say ;) But I don't think that any western dialect do understand Danish more than the rest... the only simolarity is that the R is almost similar and that the dialects there in some areas only have two noun genders.
     
  16. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    What do you mean the Danes ruined your language? As far as I know the Norwegians adapted Danish as Norway was under Danish rule. It could just as well be said that Norwegians 'ruined' Danish, which of course is complete nonsense.

    From the wiki article:

     
  17. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    If you hadn't taken us into your country, we would still have talked a bit "older" and we would have owned the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Shetland and the Orkney islands, which actually should have been ours!
     
  18. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    Umm.. riiight.

    Anyway, as noted, Danes did not 'ruin' Norwegian. Norwegians spoke something else way back when, and that wasn't 'ruined', only suppressed. If you want to complain about Danish hegemony hundreds of years ago, go ahead, but saying that Danes 'ruined' current Norwegian (bokmål) is inaccurate.
     
  19. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    It didn't ruin the current one :p That's the result of the ruining hehe
    But forget that ;)
     
  20. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    Nymål isn't particularly popular in Norway, is it? It's also my impression that it was chosen rather arbitrarily and isn't particuarly representative for ancient Norwegian (if one can speak of such, given how many version were spoken in the separate communities)..
     
  21. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    Nynorsk*
    What do you mean?
     
  22. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    Yes, nynorsk, sorry. It's my impression that nynorsk isn't particularly representative for the vast number of variations of 'Norwegian' that was spoken in Norway before Danish became dominant there.
     
  23. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    No, and that's not the purpose either ;) Nynorsk is a mix between the current dialects ;)
     
  24. nsv Senior Member

    Silkeborg, DK
    Danish
    To get back to the original question - danish is difficult to learn, because you have to master a good pronounciation. We are not used to hear our language incorrectly pronounced and despite the best intentions we often don't recognize a word when pronounced with a foreign accent. And there are no clear rules as how to deduct a pronouncation from the spelling. In this case finnish is really much easier - and that is all that is easy about finnish!!!

    How we understand each other mutually in Scandinavia is varying. In DK we have some heavy dialects that make things quite complicated for foreigners. I suppose it is the same in S and N.

    In my job we have a lot of negotiations and meetings with people from Göteborg, and I hate to say that we have to speak english. That ought not be necessary, but then a lot of my collegues speak the local dialekt from Jutland that can be difficult to understand. I don't know if the dialect from Göteborg is difficult, but i find them hard to understand, even though I have heard and sung a lot of Fredmans Sångar och Epistlar and read "Nils Holgersons underbara Resa..." in swedish.

    I've noticed, that S/N's understand each other much better that S/DK's and N/DK's.

    Sweedish as spoken by finns from eg. Vaasa is easily understood by danes.

    And then we have our numbers!! It always fun to see the face of a norwegian when we start with our syvogtres (=67) or otteoghalvfjerdsindstyvende (78th) and they stare at us eyes wide open before they run off screaming...


    NSV
     
  25. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    Haha, you are right, NSV :p
    We were paying for a little ferry in Denmark and the lady said something like
    "fem og halv fjers"
    I don't know how to write it, but it sounded like that ;) I think it was 75kr she said, but dad just gave her 100kr
    Hehe
     
  26. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    Is Nynorsk part of the standard curriculum in schools in Norway?
     
  27. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    Yes ;) But I don't think it will last for very long...
     
  28. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    Is the pronounciation the same as Bokmål?
     
  29. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    Yes ;)
    I have a link here, where you can hear the differences (though the bokmål lady talks very old ... )
    nordisk-sprakrad.no/nsr_ligheter.htm
     
  30. duckie

    duckie Senior Member

    Copenhagen
    Denmark
    Cool link - people interested in the differences should take a look there! Too bad they didn't include the Danish soundbite though..
     
  31. Aleco Senior Member

    Råde, Norway
    Norwegian
    Yeah, I know :S
     
  32. Agarina Junior Member

    Oklahoma, U.S.
    United States; English
    Mod note: This thread has been merged with another one with a similar theme.

    I'm learning Danish, and I'm thinking about learning the other Nordic languages after that. But I was wondering how closely related all of them are. What I mean is, my cousin speaks Swedish but says he can understand Finnish as well because they're so closely related. But he says Swedish and Danish aren't enough alike for that to be true. And a thread here says bokmål is a lot like Danish. And I've heard Icelandic isn't related closely to any other language, which is what makes it so hard to learn. But anyway, any thoughts on the matter? I was wondering both from simple curiosity and to help me make decisions as to which order to learn them in.

    Thanks!
     
  33. novenarik New Member

    American English
    Are you sure you don't have that backwards? That maybe he said Swedish and Danish are so closely related, and Finnish isn't?

    Because Finnish is nothing like Swedish. Not saying there aren't a lot of folks who are fluent in the two -- but yeah, not even in the same classification.

    From Wikipedia (article: Swedish language):

    "Swedish is a North Germanic language (also called Scandinavian languages) spoken predominantly in Sweden and in parts of Finland, especially along the coast and on the Åland islands, by more than nine million people. It is mutually intelligible with two of the other Scandinavian languages, Danish and Norwegian. Along with the other North Germanic languages, Swedish is a descendant of Old Norse, the common Scandinavian language of the Viking Era."

    "Finnish, a Finno-Ugric language, is fundamentally different from Swedish in grammar and vocabulary, and they are not mutually understandable. However, there are a considerable amount of borrowings from Swedish in the Finnish language."
    (Emphasis added)

    Hope that's helpful!
     
  34. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    There seems to be a general confusion between the terms Nordic and Scandinavian, anyway. There are the Nordic Countries e.g. - this refers to Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. But here we are talking about a political entity (which however is gradually loosing importance) and this has little to do with the ethnic origins of their peoples.

    Although the name "Scandinavia" for some people refers the same countries, minus Iceland, and some not counting Finland either - at least culturally and geographically it is still a different thing, because Scandinavia is not a political entity.
     
  35. novenarik New Member

    American English
    Also, while I'm at it, some more cursory information from someone who is just fairly familiar.

    Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, Faroese, and Swedish are all descended from a common ancestor: Old Norse. Icelandic and Faroese do appear to be very unlike the other at first glance, but are actually very closely related. If you get into one or the other and another Nordic language you'll start to notice trends. One of the reasons Icelandic and Faroese appear to be so different is a matter of geography -- being so isolated from the continent, they weren't as influenced by the lower Germanic languages.

    Speaking from experience, I wouldn't say Icelandic is any harder to learn than another Nordic language, per se. It is a fully declined language, and gender plays a larger role than in say, Swedish. If anything Icelandic is probably a little more difficult to acquire because of a lack of instructors/classes/materials. Not to say there aren't any, but its not like popping into your local Uni and taking a summer course in German. Unless you have a Scandinavian studies program at your college, or have a chance to learn abroad, you'll most likely be teaching yourself.

    Finnish is an entirely separate beast. It is not a descendant of Old Norse, but is found in the Uralic family of languages.


    For more information on Bokmal, I would check out the article "Dano-Norwegian" on Wikipedia. (Edited, as I just noticed that rule about posting more than four lines of text from another website)
     
  36. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Headquarters
    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    As they've already told you, Finnish and Swedish aren't similar though centuries of close geographical proximity of course have left their marks. It's common enough mistake though as Swedish is spoken also in Finland, and Finland is counted among the "Nordic countries" that have had extensive political ties.

    Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible, to what extent depends on the individual's knowledge of the history of the languages/language features, exposure, knowledge of other languages etc. There are also many dialects that 'preserve' certain features that resemble the older, common language, which have faded away in the Standard language (at least this is true for Swedish; I believe speakers of certain dialects understand for example Norwegian, esp. nynorsk, better than the other Swedish speakers).

    Here are a bunch of threads where the topics've been discussed:

    How similar are nynorsk and bokmaal?
    Closest relative of Icelandic?

    Mutual intelligibility of the Nl
    Norse language
    Dutch/NL mutually intelligible? (Not really, btw.)
     
  37. polyglot_wannabe Junior Member

    Iceland, Icelandic
    In my experience, you can usually manage using Danish in Sweden and Norway. But using Swedish in Finland with people that don't speak Swedish (but it is an official language there also), that would really surprise me. Finnish and Swedish aren't of the same family (Finnish is in the Finno-Ugric family while Swedish is Germanic).

    It's also far from the truth that Icelandic isn't closely related to any other language. It is very closely related to the other Scandinavian languages and the grammar is, for example, pretty similar to that of German.
     
  38. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Headquarters
    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    Polyglot's completely right, although just hearing Icelandic, it isn't usually comprehensible for a Swedish-speaker (can't speak for Danes and Norwegians, but I've understood nynorsk-speakers may understand Icelandic better). Neither is it reading; I at least understand bits and pieces, but not enough as for being able to make clear sense of things. And it sounds, well, strangely familiar but without really being able understanding it. (Although they occasions I've had for listening to the language have been preciously few, so...)

    Again, I think speakers of certain dialects may be in a better spot for understanding.
     
  39. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Novenarik,

    it is true what you say - N, DK and S are very similar and Icelandic is a pretty far shot away - although they all more or less have the same origin. The fact is the structure of N, DK and S is a lot simpler than that of Icelandic. A popular theory (how well researched it is I cannot tell) is that Icelandic has stayed at about the same level for almost a thousand years and the others have not - just like Nederlands and English have. But one thing is sure: The ancient Germanic language which was the origin of all these languages is very complex and similar to Icelandic. I have never heard any good theory about why most of the others grew that much simpler along the way.

    But it is a fact that they did - and Icelandic did not. High German is at a complexity level in between the two extremes.
     
  40. BoTrojan Senior Member

    New Wilmington, PA
    USA, English
    The linguistic relations between the three languages have already been adequately explained in this thread.

    To add my two cents on a related subject ...

    If you successfully learn Danish, you'll be able to read Norwegian almost without problem. Understanding spoken Norwegian is another matter, however. While Danes seem to be able to understand it easily, I never could (my Danish is fluent and I lived there for a number of years). Relative to Norwegian, the Swedish is more difficult to read and understand ... for me at least.

    God fornoejelse!
     
  41. Knut New Member

    Norway, Østfold, Askim
    Norway, Norwegian
    Weeelllll ... yes and no. You would probably have no problem with "bokmål". But there is also "nynorsk" which may cause some problems. And there are plenty of Norwegian dialects also almost impossible to understand for Norwegians themselves unless you are born in the region of the particular spoken dialect :)
     
  42. Knut New Member

    Norway, Østfold, Askim
    Norway, Norwegian
    My experience is different. You may manage with Norwegian in Denmark and Sweden :) When it comes to reading I find Danish easier to read than Swedish - although non of these languages are really hard to read and understand for a Norwegian as myself. When it comes to speaking I find Swedish easier to understand than Danish.

    By the way, here is a Norwegian made you-tube video that makes fun of how difficult spoken Danish may be youtube.com/watch?v=s-mOy8VUEBk
    (You have to cut and past as I am not yet allowed to post links)

    Enjoy.
     
  43. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    In his list of threads containing similar topics jonquiliser (#5) missed one. No wonder, the thread Danish/Swedish/Norwegian/Dutch: mutual intelligibility curiously ended up in the “Dutch forum” – see http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=209571. In my double posting #27-28 I ask some questions linked to the issue and try to provide some answers. I also propose a “stemma” showing the relationship between Germanic languages, and I discuss the notions of Scandinavian and Nordic.
    :) :)
     
  44. Agarina Junior Member

    Oklahoma, U.S.
    United States; English
    Thanks, this thread has been pretty interesting and informative.

    From what everyone has said, I'm sure my cousin actually said that he could understand Norwegian pretty well after learning Swedish, and I just heard Finnish. That also explains why Finnish isn't listed as one of the Nordic languages on this forum.

    As far as Icelandic, I've heard it's the hardest language to learn, but I've heard the same thing about Chinese, Portugese, and Japanese. Hearing that it's not that impossible is reassuring.:)

    And to Knut, thanks for the video. I almost died laughing.:D
     
  45. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    I have seen it too (found it by coincidence and thought for a while that it were a documentary). But in fact, the actors hit the sound of the language as spoken in certain parts of Greater Copenhagen very well. Especially the very open vocals and the rythm - if you are going to Copenhagen, this is the kind of accent to be prepared for. (Or speak in yourselves, if you can handle it).
     
  46. Lilla My Senior Member

    Hei !

    Jeg synes det er en særtrekk av den nordiske forumen at folk som ikke er native av språket svarer til spørsmål i dette språket (for eksempel en Nordmenn som svarer på et "svensk" spørsmål).
    Jeg synes det er litt forstyrende siden jeg ikke vet hvor mye jeg kan stole på svaret (selv om de ofte råder å vente på et svar fra en native). Og av og til blir tråden uklart fordi emnen skiftet fra et språk til et annet.
    Samtidig liker jeg å lære på denne måten forskjellene mellom de skandinaviske språkene, eller til og med etymologien :)). Og det hjelper også for at man ikke venter lenge til at en native ser og svarer på tråden (men der kommer problemet om påliteligheten til svaret ;)).

    Hva synes dere forum-brukere om det ?


    I think it's one peculiarity of the Nordic forum that someone who's not a native of a language answers a question in this language (for example a Norwegian answering a "swedish" question).
    I think it can be troubling because I don't know if I can trust the answer (even if they often say to wait for a native). And sometimes the thread turns fuzzy because the original language shifted to an other.
    But I do like to learn the differences between scandinavian languages in this way. And it also allows not to wait to much until a native see and answer the question (but it brings the question of trusting the answer ;)).

    What do you think of it ?
     
  47. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Headquarters
    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    I'll take it in English then ;).

    As I'm one of the people to answer questions about Danish or Norwegian from time to time, I thought I better explain myself..! The thing is, I can understand a great deal, so I feel fairly confident to sometimes give a translation to English from either of the languages (the times I do understand, obviously). The other way around I can't, as I quite literally don't speak either.

    I guess it can be troubling for non-native speakers of N, Dk or S to get answers in one of the languages they haven't learnt/studied. As a native Swedish speaker however, I think discussions in multiple of these languages are fine, and actually enriching. I hope it could be like that for learners as well, I think many people pretty quickly get able to read and understand the others once they get the hang of the first one they're learning.

    Have a nice weekend!
     
  48. Lugubert Senior Member

    Göteborg
    Swedish
    For Interscandinavian, I'm lucky. My father had his roots in Skåne, so I had from an early age a certain feeling for Danish. I have lived in the Göteborg area for most of my life, so Norway is not much further away than 'just around the corner'. Moreover, I inherited some genes useful for languages from especialy my maternal grandpa and my paternal grandma.

    I translate professionally from Danish and Norwegian, among others, into Swedish. Those two normally come quite easily to me, but before the advent of the Internet, when I encountered a problem, there was a HUGE PROBLEM. For most cases, my dictionaries for other languages helped, but it's not easy to find good and current volumes for Danish and Norwegian.

    Anyway, most Danish and Norwegian dialects are more comprehensible to me (and vice versa) than for example the supposedly "Swedish dialect" Älvdalsmål. And count me out when it comes to our officially recognized minority languages, like assorted Saami languages, Meänkieli (a very Northern Swedish variety of Finnish), or Finnish itself. I understand more of Yiddish (also included in that group).

    Once, in a Copenhagen café, I heard two people speaking at an adjacent table. Totally incomprehensible to me, and the language nut that I am, I concentrated to guess the language. After a while, I picked up a short word or two that sounded almost Scandinavian. Concentrating even more, I finally came to the conclusion that they spoke Icelandic, but I still understood nothing whatsoever from it.
     
  49. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Headquarters
    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    What regards Icelandic, I have the same feeling. Often when I hear it (though I don't hear it often!), I get a feeling it sounds familiar, and every once in a while there's a word or a short phrase I understand, so I get the impression it might be Norwegian. But no matter how much effort I put into it, I understand near to nothing. Just a strange sense of familiarity in the way it sounds...
     
  50. Tjahzi

    Tjahzi Senior Member

    Umeå, Sweden
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    Interesting anecdote from the café there Lugubert. However, are you sure, as in, did they confirm it, that they were speaking Icelandic? I don't speak it myself, but I've studdied and listened to it a bit and I think it's quite easy to recognize due to the characteristic stress (on the first syllable). Faroese, on the other hand, sounds...well, at least to me, apart from being less comprehensible, less Scandinavian.

    I don't mean to question your ability to distinguish Icelandic from Faroese, but since I personally find Icelandic relatively easy to recognize, it surprised me you didn't, so to me it would make more sense if those people had been speaking Faroese, which is also, given the connection between Denmark and the Faroese island, slightly less likely I would say. Anyone else has any experience or oppinions of which is easier/hard to recognize/understand of Icelandic and Faroese for a continental Scandinavian?

    Maybe a too useless of a point to raise, but please forgive me in that case.
     
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