Danish, Norwegian, Swedish: Jeg skjønte ikke bæra!

serbianfan

Senior Member
British English
I wonder if you (Scandinavians or non-Scandinavians) have ever been in a situation where you didn't understand one word (that's what the title means, roughly) when you heard other people speaking (a dialect of) your own language. Norwegian is supposed to be difficult because of all the dialects, but I've never been in a situation where I couldn't understand a word of what people were saying, or anything approaching that. Whereas with English, I find it really difficult to understand two people with a thick Glasgow accent talking together and in Belfast once, there were two people sitting in front of me on the bus talking for about five minutes, and I honestly didn't understand one word! (and they weren't speaking Irish!). I would guess that there are some Danish dialects that are hard (impossible?) to understand for a Dane who's never lived in that area, probably less so with Swedish and Norwegian.
 
  • AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    Swedish, Finnish
    The two Swedish dialects (or you could perhaps call them own languages) that are most difficult to understand is älvdalsmål and gutamål, as they are both old variants of Swedish. I remember my first summer on Gotland, I got a call at work, and the man on the phone had such a distinctive dialect that I had to ask a collegue to take over the call, as I couldn't understand him. Ididn't have ant problems with the "ordinary" dialect, gotländska, there were some words from gutamål in it, but it was possible to learn what those mean.
     

    raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Norwegian is supposed to be difficult because of all the dialects, but I've never been in a situation where I couldn't understand a word of what people were saying, or anything approaching that.
    I agree. There are sometimes individual words or expressions that I don't understand, but I understand the general meaning.

    I have heard the Swedish älvdalsmål, which AutumnOwl mentions, and I agree that it is quite incomprehensible.
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    It's difficult to know (or to measure) whether the linguistic difference between standard southern English and 'thick' Glaswegian or Northern Irish is greater than that between 'standard' Oslo Norwegian and a 'strong' dialect from Trøndelag or Sunnmøre, but the point about Norwegian dialects is that people are much more exposed to them on radio and television than in the UK. Not to mention Nynorsk, which most Norwegians learned to write at school, and which contains a number of words you will find in dialects around the country.
     

    MattiasNYC

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    I wonder if you (Scandinavians or non-Scandinavians) have ever been in a situation where you didn't understand one word (that's what the title means, roughly) when you heard other people speaking (a dialect of) your own language.

    In actual real life? No, not really. But the two mentioned Swedish dialects are pretty much incomprehensible to me. Some words I can pick up but not enough of them to make it make sense.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    In Denmark there aren't many dialect speakers left that would not be understood in other parts of the country - with two exceptions: People from the island of Bornholm and pepole from Sønderjylland (which is the part of Jutland from the present German border up to where the German Border used to be. Our dialect is hard to understand for all people from outside of the region, so we practicall all are brought up with three languages: Sønderjysk, Standard Danish and High German.
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    So it seems that there are a small number of pretty much incomprehensible dialects in Danish and Swedish, but none in Norwegian. This lays to rest the myth that Norwegian dialects are so "difficult" (sorry, "challenging") because of "all the mountains and valleys". There are no mountains and valleys in Glasgow or Belfast, or indeed in the Netherlands, where apparently there are also dialects that are very hard to understand.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    So it seems that there are a small number of pretty much incomprehensible dialects in Danish and Swedish, but none in Norwegian. This lays to rest the myth that Norwegian dialects are so "difficult" (sorry, "challenging") because of "all the mountains and valleys". There are no mountains and valleys in Glasgow or Belfast, or indeed in the Netherlands, where apparently there are also dialects that are very hard to understand.
    Oh, there is one. I usually refer to it as "Norwegian".

    Or expressed more seriously: Historically it hasn't been such a long time that Norwegian is considered a language of its own - or Norway a country of its own for that matter.
     

    winenous

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Or expressed more seriously: Historically it hasn't been such a long time that Norwegian is considered a language of its own - or Norway a country of its own for that matter.
    Even so, is Norwegian really so hard for Danes to understand?

    At least most of the consonants have distinct sounds. Unlike some, er, other dialects of Danish ;)
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    You can argue about the difference between “a language” and “a dialect” until the cows come home, but it’s important to realise that the difference is often more political than linguistic.

    If Bornholm declared independence from Denmark, and then eventually started using Bornholmsk in official documents, school textbooks, etc., Bornholmsk would be “a language”. If they continued using Danish in writing, Bornholmsk would remain “a dialect”.

    It may seem very silly to outsiders that e.g. Bosnian and Croatian are now called different languages, as you could easily write a whole page which would look exactly the same in both languages, but if you self-identify as Bosnian or Croatian, it may be very important to you to feel that your community has its own language.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    You can argue about the difference between “a language” and “a dialect” until the cows come home, but it’s important to realise that the difference is often more political than linguistic.

    If Bornholm declared independence from Denmark, and then eventually started using Bornholmsk in official documents, school textbooks, etc., Bornholmsk would be “a language”. If they continued using Danish in writing, Bornholmsk would remain “a dialect”.

    It may seem very silly to outsiders that e.g. Bosnian and Croatian are now called different languages, as you could easily write a whole page which would look exactly the same in both languages, but if you self-identify as Bosnian or Croatian, it may be very important to you to feel that your community has its own language.

    Yes, that is in fact silly. What should be wrong with speaking a language that is also spoken next-to-identical in another country. Look at how many countries have a population that speaks High German. I count at least 5 other than Germany. And look at the Netherlands and Belgium that aggreed on a common language standard. OK, there are differences, but not so important that they cannot have a common grammar and pronunciation that is easily understandable for both nationalities. Here and there they have differnt words. So do Germans and Austrians. Still High German.
    But with Danish and Norwegian it is different. At the time they separated themselves there must have been huge differences between the various dialects. Besides, they did not have a standard for spelling. So many words that even sound the same are spelled differently. Language in old law books was pretty much the same I think, but not the way they spoke. And there were important differences in grammar, even in the dialects that were spoken inside what is Denmark today. The system of the use of articles is one significant difference between standard Danish and Jutland dialects - today still present in South Jutlandisch and standard Danish.
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    By the way (as the cows haven't come home yet) you might like to know that Norway has (at least) five native languages: Bokmål, Nynorsk, Northern Sami, Southern Sami and Lule Sami. The Sami themselves prefer to call the varieties "languages" rather than "dialects". If you include Sweden, Finland and Russia, there are at least ten Sami languages :)
     
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