Danish/Swedish/Norwegian/Dutch: mutual intelligibility

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by alexandro, Aug 12, 2006.

  1. alexandro Member

    Italy, italian
    hallo, i would like to know wich of these germanic language is better to learn to understand or to learn faster the others.

    example if i learn danish can i ll learn faster norwegian and then swedish?? or what is better to learn first?
  2. GoranBcn Senior Member

    Barcelona (Spain)
    Catalan, Spanish, Croatian/Serbian
    I asked the same question in another site similar to this one and I've got this answer. This person is from Norway

    Another person told me this:

    "Norwegian is Danish spoken in Swedish" :)

    Norwegian + phonology - vocabulary = swedish

    Norwegian - phonology + vocabulary = danish

    I guess this helps a bit. ;)
  3. vuelta Member

    Swedish, Sweden
    I would not recommend you to try to learn Swedish. It´s really hard to learn if you´re not raised with it. I´m from Sweden myself, and everyday I find out more stupid things with our language. The grammar is with thousands of exceptions, so there´s no idea to learn the "rules".
    I like my language, but it´s hard for foreigners to learn.

    Interesting that statistic about the Scandinavian languages...
  4. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    I would recommend Swedish, because the spelling is much more faithful to the pronunciation (and the opposite is also true, obviously). Danish is somewhat like English in this regard. And I also like the two Swedish tones.

    I cannot say anything about Norwegian, unfortunately, only that I don't have a problem with it when it's written, especially Bokmål, which indeed looks very much like Danish.
  5. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Yes, they differ about as much from each other as Castellano does from Valenciano. Pronounciation-wise and acoustically I also think that Swedish will be the easier one. They have a very distinct pronounciation. What seem a bit funny to you is the intonation. Danish on the other hand is more monotonous.
  6. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
    I would recommend Norwegian (Bokmål) first, Swedish second. If you learn Bokmål you will be able to understand most written Danish, and, then if you listen to Danes enough (enough=a lot!) you might even be able to catch on to some spoken Danish.

    I had studied Norwegian a bit before the first time I ever sang in Danish, and, foolish me, it was in front of an audience that had real Danes in it. One elderly gentleman came up to me afterwards and commented "Ah, you sang Danish with a Norwegian accent, you had clear sounds!". That's the trouble with that "gentle, muffled language" (a famous compliment of that language): it seems to have few clear sounds!

    Over the last ten years I have gotten used to singing in Danish and, although I do not do it well or very accurately, it is a noble struggle because of the many wonderful songs in that language which have enriched my repertoire and my life. Hardly anyone sings them (or even knows them) except Danish singers. But I'm still glad I started with Norwegan.

    Also, if you learn Norwegian and even come across a bit of Nynorsk (the "other" main dialect) you will have a little more luck with at least written Icelandic should you want to go to Iceland, a trip I would definitely recommend--a most fascinating country and culture.

    Dutch I cannot speak about.....or speak in, or even sing in.
  7. robbie_SWE

    robbie_SWE Senior Member

    Trilingual: Swedish, Romanian & English
    I would recommend that you start with Swedish (I promise that I'm not bias :D ). Here are my reasons:

    1. Swedish is the biggest/most spoken language of all of the Scandinavian languages (spoken by over 9 million people in Sweden and appr. 1 million in Finland).

    2. I've been to Norway and Denmark and Swedish has helped me countless times (Norwegian is easier to learn if you know Swedish, Danish is much harder but if you speak Swedish in my dialect [“Skånska”] it’s much easier!).

    3. Last but not least, Swedish grammar isn't that hard as people think that it is. The verbs are very easy to learn, because they only have one form in the present (and all other forms too by the way ;) ). But pronunciation is hard!!! That will take you a while to learn, you may even have to live here :) .

    So, that's my opinion. Hoppas ingen från Norge eller Danmark tar illa upp!!!:D


    :) robbie
  8. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    You are probably right if you are talking about the Eastern regions of Denmark - because there they are used to hearing that dialect. But I don't think you would find many people in Jutland that would understand more than about 10%. (Many Swedes have trouble too). However, I aggree that it probably makes easier for you to understand Danish.

    This is not meant to downgrade “Skånska” - I actually like that dialect. I have lived for several years in Copenhagen and even worked for a while in the town that even leading Swedish newspapers have elected "Sweden's most boring town". So you probably know which one I mean.
  9. optimistique Senior Member

    I have tried to learn Norwegian a bit, and en passant a bit of Swedish/Danish, but I can tell you that there is hardly any mutual intelligibility between these three languages and Dutch. Of course you see resemblances and especially in written Norwegian you can understand quite a lot, but the spoken languages sound so immensely different that I can assure you that learning Dutch will not help you really much learning these others.
    The only language for which Dutch will really be of much use, would be German, which is very similar to Dutch.
  10. alexandro Member

    Italy, italian
    sehr interessant...ich denke dass ich werde Swedisch lernen!! weil mehr Leute in Skandinavien (besonders in Finnland) Swedisch sprechen!!

    but in norway and danmark do they know swedish??
  11. Andreas_Jensen Senior Member

    First of all, what you should not start with is not Danish, even if it would satisfy my petty nationalist soul a great deal ;-). Danish pronunciation and spelling is extremely difficult for foreigners to learn, I guess especially for Italian and Spanish speakers who are used to much more transparency between written and spoken language (my Spanish girlfirend is currently trying to undertake the feat and she is NOT happy about it :)) .

    To me, swedish pronunciation is just as insane, if not more, although the spelling is easier.

    Norwegian bokmål on the other hand is easy to spell (as mentioned it's pretty much like Danish, just spelled as it's spoken!) and the sounds come closer to 'latin' pronunciation. I guess the intonation could be a bit diffucult, though.

    The grammar is pretty simple in all of the three.

    If your objective is to master all the three languages I would pick norwegian bokmål first, since this is almost an 'intermediate' between Danish and Swedish, and easier to learn (I would assume). Then you can proceed to whichever you want.

    If you want to just know one and improvise when you meet speakers of the other two (as we do here in Scandinavia, even if we often know English better :p ) I would probably recommend Swedish, since this is the bigger one. But since Denmark is the nicest country, maybe you should choose Danish :D

    The intelligibility between scandinavian languages and Dutch is, as mentioned, pretty non-existent.

    Og til slut en lille hilsen til alle mine skandinaviske brødre! ;)

    Andreas, Copenhagen
  12. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
    I am really pleased to find my opinions about learning bokmål first seconded by a real Dane. His Spanish girlfirend has my EVERY sympathy. As far as his "Denmark is the nicest country", I have too many friends in Norway to agree with this without being unkind to people who have been so kind to me.
  13. Brian P

    Brian P Senior Member

    When Norwegians, Danes and Swedes converse with each other do they normally do so in English, a language that I assume most educated people of these nationalities speak?
  14. Andreas_Jensen Senior Member

    When scandinavians meet we almost always start off in our respective languages. This can seem a bit pointless though, since most of us (young people) understand English better than other scandinavian languages, but for me it just seems stupid to speak english to a swede or a norwegian. If it's completely necessary, we could switch to English. I guess that, if I went to fx Stockholm (far from Denmark), not many people would understand me, and I would have to use English.

    In my student residence (dorm, kollegium) we have a couple of swedes and I know a norwegian living here. As far as I know they have all been speaking their own languages all the time they've been in Denmark, and this works just fine. In the beginning of course with some difficulty, but after some time (a month?) we get used to hearing eachother and they're no problems. After a longer time most swedes and norwegians here begin speaking a 'Danish-friendly' version of their languages (with some hard words changed, less slang, and maybe a modified pronunciation), and two of our swedes actually speak a pretty flawless Danish.
  15. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Alexandro, I hope you have realised by now that Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are closely related languages (somewhat like Italian and Spanish, or even like Spanish and Portuguese, from what I understand), but Dutch is a different matter. While all four languages are related, Dutch is much closer to German, or even English, than to the Scandinavian languages.

    One advantage of learning Swedish is that you can use it in parts of Finnland, too. On the other hand, Dutch is closely related to Afrikaans, which is spoken in South Africa. And some forms of Nowegian are very, very similar to Danish...

    Not an easy choice!
  16. alexandro Member

    Italy, italian
    Ja...dutch is really similar to german, i can understand few dutch reading!!

    I have realised that swedish is most spoken in skandinavian countries, with norwegian i can understand more danish and swedish but it is not the more spoken, danish maybe at least of the three...
  17. Oh please... I learnt Swedish as a foreign language, that was my first Scandinavian language and I am still alive;) , believe it or not. I even did my studies in it. An d quite frankly, I am upset when I hear somebody being so critical of their own language:(. The pronunciation is difficult at times but not deadly, the Danish pron is far worse. (Icelandic not counted - that`s the worst of all!!) I think Norwegian would be the easiest, it combines the best features and is relatively fit for your poor articulation organs. Plus, you will understand Danish and Swedish better than if you know one of these and try to cope with other Scandinavian languages.

    For myself, I sometimes am baffled and speak Swedish in terms of vocabulary, but with Danish grammar and Norwegian pronunciation - i am therefore every Scandinavian`s worst nightmare!!;) I never managed to pick up the Danish pronuciation but then I haven`t worked so hard on it and Danes understand me anyway. I also know Icelandic but practically never speak it.
  18. panjabigator

    panjabigator Senior Member

    San Francisco
    Am. English
    So generalizing, Norwegian appears to be the safest bet.
  19. Lemminkäinen

    Lemminkäinen Senior Member

    Oslo, Norway
    Norwegian (bokmål)
    It of course depends on what you're planning to use it for (i.e. if you're moving to Sweden, Swedish will be the best choice ;) ), but learning Norwegian bokmål and the Eastern dialect, you'll have a good opportunity to also understand spoken Swedish (but perhaps not skånska :D ) and written Danish. So I don't think it's the worst choice you could take (biased? me? ;) ).

    Oh, and about Danish being incomprehensible, this clip can perhaps illustrate (performence by three of the best known comedians over here) ;)
  20. Anatoli Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Native: русский (Russian), home country: English
    When I was about 20 I had to learn Swedish fast (I had a reason then). I am Russian and I knew English and German. I was able to understand movies in a few weeks and I found Swedish and Norwegian extremely easy after German and English. I haven't used Swedish and Norwegian since but I think you are too hard on your language :)
  21. Christhiane Senior Member

    Well, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian are all part of a dialect continuum (a network of diaclets where neighbouring variants can be understood well, but those farther apart doesn't necciseraly have to understand each other).

    However, I'd also say Norwegian bokmål. Norwegian lies between Danish and Swedish, and it is my experience that foreigners who try to learn a variant of Scandinavian, usually sound the most Eastern Norwegian. I'd also recomend using an uvular 'r,' as you avoid some hard-to-pronounce retroflex sounds you'd have to use if you had a tap 'r'.

    But as far as written languages go, I'd say that any is just as good.
  22. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    It's a somewhat old thread, but another viewpoint: whatever you choose perhaps depends most on your intentions - you go live somewhere, you'll need that local language most... ;). But it is probably fair to say that Norwgian bokmål is a reasonable choice that will allow you to learn/understand Danish and Swedish as well. I'd say the languages are pretty intelligible amongst them, but not necessarily immediately. For one's ears to get used to the Danish pronounciation and distinguish what they say, it may well take some time. In personal dialogue, with efforts to be as understandable as possible, in my experience you can understand each other. But listening to others talk, I'd get very little. Norwegian on the other hand I tend to understand quite well.

    I believe I've heard both Danes and Norwegians say they can understand the Swedish spoken in Finland better than Sweden-Swedish varieties. Perhaps because many Swedish dialects in Finland have much in common with Danish and especially with Norwegian (nynorsk). On the other hand, the intonation of Swedish in Finland is often quite "flat" (which it's not in Swedish), and sounds are generally more "articulated" (ok, not a good explanation, I know).

    As for Dutch, or German, or English; if you speak any of these, you'll definitely find it easier to learn Scandinavian languages than if you're only acquainted with, say, Romance languages. But the intelligibility isn't very high. You may recognise many words, and some structures, between all these, but not get the meaning, and you definitely can't carry out a conversation in, say, Dutch and Norwegian if you don't know both languages. But learning them is way easier if one knows some other Germanic language.


    This is perhaps a bit exaggerated :p. Native Swedish speakers in Finland are not even a third of that. But most Finnish-speaking Finns have some level of Swedish knowledge, as it for long has been obligatory in education (this has changed a little recently).
  23. Nander Member

    Sweden, Swedish
    Yeah, that's right. Take the sentence: "Jag tog stegen uppför stegen på stegen" (yeah, it's a bit forced but you could say that :) ). In Finland you would pronounce "stegen" the same in all three places, while in Sweden we have three different pronunciations. :) Also, your "A":s sound a lot different than ours.

    So, you're a Finlandswede (God, that sounds really wrong, but finlandssvensk), Jonquiliser? Didn't think I would meet someone here, there doesn't even seem to be that many Swedes here:) I'm born in Sweden, but I've spent a lot of time in Finland (both my parents are from Finland), and my Swedish is somewhat coloured by Finlandswedish. Which my friends love to point out to me... :)

    Sorry for going OT, but to the original poster I can say that you can't really go wrong with Swedish or Norwegian. I would suggest you stay away from Danish until you've learnt one of the other, though.
  24. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    Yup, I'm Finno-Swedish (also don't know how to say it, I know there's some standard word for it but..). There are a few Swedes aroundon the forums, but perhaps they have to be lured out? hehe. :D

    I do have to admit a difficulty of imagining the pronounciation of "Jag tog stegen uppför stegen på stegen" with three different pronounciations of "stegen"!! :confused: Mind you, I've worked on my rikssvenska accent ;) with the help of my Swedish cousins, but I don't get the difference here..!

    Perhaps foreigners should be advised to learn the Swedish of Finland, to avoid any hassle :p

    (Oh and Nander - welcome to the forum!!)
  25. Nander Member

    Sweden, Swedish
    Rikssvenskar would say something along these lines (a bit exaggerated, but just so you can get my point :) )

    Stegen (as in the steps) would sound something like steg-än
    Stegen (as in the ladder steps) would sound something like steg-en, going up at en
    Stegen (as in the ladder) would just be stegen, totally flat.

    Try saying that and you will notice how you sound just like a rikssvensk :)
  26. jimreilly

    jimreilly Senior Member

    American English
    As a Minnesotan whose knowledge of these languages and cultures is clouded by the fact that my acquantance is mostly through immigrant communities here, I find this thread quite interesting, especially the Finnish/Swedish references.

    Because there also a small Icelandic community here, I'd like to add one more slant, however, which the orginal poster perhaps did not consider. If one thows Icelandic (and even Faroese) into the mix, I think that tips the odds further in favor of learning Norwegian, espcially if one learns Nynorsk or some other Norwegian dialect still a little closer to Icelandic. Icelandic is far enough away from all the other Nordic languages not to have mutual intelligibility, but one will be a little closer to it in Norwegian than in Swedish.

    And Iceland is quite an amazing place, well worth visiting.....many Icelanders even seem to be quite happy to live there!
  27. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    Being a fan of the “mutual intelligibility discussions” on this forum I’d like to bring to the fore some remarks. They come in two parts.

    This is Part I:

    I think one should discuss either mutual intelligibility between Germanic languages in general (like there is one between Slavic languages) or – and that is a much better idea, and indeed the one carried out in this thread! – to concentrate on Scandinavian languages. In that case, Dutch has nothing to do in this discussion.

    For the sake of further thematic clarity we should perhaps indulge in a quick glance at the actual subject of the present discussion.

    The Germanic group of languages, according to linguistic conventions, is split into a Northern and a Southern group.

    The Southern group comprises Anglo-Frisian and German/Dutch.​
    The Northern group is also split into two sub-branches: West Nordic and East Nordic.​
    In the East Nordic group of Northern Germanic languages we find

    Danish, Norwegian and Swedish (in alphabetical order :D).​
    The linguistic classification is somehow blurred by the fact that “Norwegian” is not an unambiguous term as it includes both Bokmål and Nynorsk, the latter belonging historically to the West-Nordic group (together with Icelandic and Faroese).

    About mutual intelligibility in Scandinavia, questions like the following may crop up as relevant:

    ***Do Norwegians have a better understanding of Danish and Swedish because of their historical position as “underdogs” of both Danes and Swedes?

    434 years under Danish sovereignty in addtition to 91 years under Swedish may have inflicted some degree of “linguistic submission”... Eventually, they achieved full independence in 1905 being catapulted by a national romantic movement through which Nynorsk was born. And yet they ended up with the absurd situation of two national languages, one without a clear-cut dialect basis nor a clear-cut prestigious (administrative) centre, i.e. Nynorsk (formerly called Landsmål), and the other, Bokmål (formerly called Riksmål), a kind of “creolized Danish”, an imported written standard with a Danish literary tradition, but prone to survive in Norway because it was the language of the elite and that of the administrative centre. A delicate national dilemma to say the least!​
    ***Do centre and periphery play a role in mutual intelligibility?

    Norway was never a centre – except after they found oil in the North Sea.:D My point is: periphery would tend to understand the centre whereas generally the opposite does not obtain. Because of a high degree of linguistic anarchy due to lack of prescriptivism and two mutually intelligible Norwegian languages, Norway continued to remain in the periphery. I am not saying that prescriptivism is a linguistic desideratum, but it has proved worldwide to be a language policy desideratum. Favouring one standard is important for a small nation. However, such a policy could not be implemented in Norway because Nynorsk is considered, in wide circles, to be the national language as much as Irish is in Ireland. The irony is that both Nynorsk and Irish are artificial constructs kept alive inside the framework of a national romantic agenda.​
    ***Does compulsory teaching in school of both national languages, Bokmål and Nynorsk, favour comprehension of other Scandinavian languages (and dialects)?

    The corollary laissez-faire (if not “laissez-parler”) policy in national radio stations and television channels of all Norwegian dialects under the pretense that any dialect implicitly favours the cause of Nynorsk, may have a positive side effect: Every citizen in Norway – contrary to any other country in the world – is used to hearing every single day a wide range of dialects and not exclusively some elevated national norm. The British socio-linguist Peter Trudgill is full of praise of this unique situation, but would he ever recommend it for a country like China?... Norway can afford such a policy – most other countries can’t. It is possible that the Norwegian “linguistic schizophrenia” – an expression coined by the late Norwegian-American linguist Einar Haugen – is damaging national language endeavors, but favouring the comprehension of other Scandinavian idioms.​
    ***Are Swedes and Danes - as a result of “Scandinavian versions of the French jacobinisme républicain” favouring one prestigious dialect to the detriment of all others – disadvantaged in understanding other Scandinavian “dialects” than the one inculcated in school?

    For the sake of argument, this point is somehow exaggerated. It is a fact, however, that Danish language policy has shown a complete lack of clemency towards other[sic] Danish dialects than the one spoken in the capital (where I once upon a time was a student for a couple of years).​
    End of Part I.
  28. Spectre scolaire Senior Member

    Moving around, p.t. Turkey
    Maltese and Russian
    This is Part II:

    ***Did modernity – because of its early advent in “European” Denmark and in French influenced Bonapartic Sweden – cause a kind of “superiority complex” among the affected, a mentality which would later hamper the willingness to understand Scandinavian linguistic periphery, in casu [written] Nynorsk and [spoken] dialects?

    Norway was always a geographical cul-de-sac. A comparison with an area like today’s Turkey may be instructive. During all recorded history there is a va et vient of numerous civilizations in Anatolia. Norway is more like a backyard, not unlike Ireland; it has been the home of one single civilization – excluding the Sami population (mainly) in the North. If a person happened to arrive by boat – shipwreck, f.ex.:D - from somewhere in Europe, he’d either stay or he’d go back. As a matter of geography, a through fare was never on the agenda. If the chosen settlement became too crowded, you would have the “options” of either starving or emigrating to Iceland (or Normandy...), or later to America. Denmark and Sweden were never geographical diverticula to get trapped in (with the exception of extremely poor serfs in the Swedish countryside – but they were already there, and they would either starve or escape to America (if they could). Because of their quasi feudal immobility, these people only counted for the posterity in terms of producing a number of local dialects.​

    ***Do some special linguistic features among Scandinavian languages cause intelligibility disruption in oral communication?

    The Danish stød, a linguistic feature which is still unaccounted for in comparative linguistics, provides a definite impediment to understanding – unless you get conscientiously used to it. Neither Swedes nor Norwegians seem to be prepared for such a thing. What appears not to be taught in school – and this is somehow surprising! - is that there is a relatively strict correspondance between the Danish stød and the Norwegian and Swedish tonemes. There are exceptions galore, especially linked to Danish monosyllables, but the fact remains that Scandinavian mutual intelligibility would gain some terrain if children were actively taught how these correspondences actually operate. To learn Norwegian or Swedish tonemes on the basis of the Danish stød would work in principle, and vice versa, to learn Danish stød from a native Norwegian or Swedish standpoint (with the notable exception of those dialects, especially in Norway, which do not possess tonemes) is equally a matter of sorting out actively one’s own linguistic habits and get some additional ad hoc information about monosyllables. For non-Scandinavians, however, stød and tonemes are equally difficult to distribute correctly as neither of them is marked orthographically. (Anyway, the present discussion is not focused on foreigners learning Scandinavian languages but rather on how impeccably:D the Scandinavians intercommunicate).​

    Note I: Scandinavia is both a geographical and a linguistic term. Scandinavian languages are not only Germanic languages spoken in Norway and Sweden, but also in Denmark which is not a part of the Scandinavian peninsula, but rather a small geographical excrescence of the North-European continent. From an historical linguistic point of view, there is a continuum between German and Danish. Certain Danish dialects of Central Southern Jutland – not to mention a peripheral dialect like the one in Thyborøn (NW Jutland) – are incomprehensible to Danes from Copenhagen. Danish is also spoken in a limited area of Schleswig-Holstein (Germany). The existence of this (historical) continuum should not interfere, however, in a discussion of mutual intelligibility between Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. As for Swedish in Finland, it has already received some attention. Notable features due to a Finnish substratum include non-aspirated p/t/k.

    Note II: As far as Icelandic is concerned, it belongs to the strange coinage of “Nordic languages” – in which even Finnish is included! This concept has nothing more to do with linguistics than “Nordic ski” – except when talking about West and East Nordic languages of Northern Germanic languages. There is a Nordic Council, a cultural-political catalyst of internal cooperation, which also works on mutual intelligibility in the, eh, Nordic countries.

    Note III: For obvious reasons, Gothic may remain where it is – as an extinct language of an Eastern group of the Northern Germanic languages.

    I’d suggest that Dutch be skipped from this thread thus concentrating on Danish, Norwegian and Swedish – which, in fact, is already implemented in practice.;)

    Danish/Swedish/Norwegian/Dutch: mutual intelligibility.

    It is, however, a curious fact that Danish has traditionally been the first Scandinavian language to be learned by the Icelanders. (The island formerly belonged to Denmark!) There are many Icelanders living in Denmark where they communicate with Danes in a strange idiom which has some phonetic ressemblance to Norwegian and definitely less to the phonetically awkward-to-learn Danish. They would tend to skip the infamous stød – who woudn’t! - exaggerate the Danish loose fricative pronunciation of intervocalic /d/ making it blend with Icelandic /ð/, and pre-aspirate (before p/t/k) as they please – equally an Icelandic substratum.

    But Icelandic is not a Scandinavian language...
    :) :confused:Dutch/Icelandic:confused: :)
  29. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    More importantly, would he ever recommend it for the U.K.?
  30. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    I am an Englishman with a very good knowledge of German and an inaccurate but functional knowledge of both Dutch and Afrikaans. It took me a few weeks with an ancient secondhand Hugo's "Norwegian in Three Months without a Teacher" to learn to read it fairly well, in fact with greater ease than I read Latin which I studied up to Advanced Level G.C.E. several decades ago. It is the easiest written language I have ever come across. Reading a text in Norwegian is like looking at German in a distorting mirror at a funfare - no disrespect to Norwegian intended, which I find to be a fine language. One gets used to recognising the shared Germanic roots of the words that are often very different in Scandinavian from the German but still, with a bit of effort, vaguely familiar. When the resemblance dawns on you and you realise what a new word means, it feels like meeting an old friend in disguise.
    And if a particular word does not have a close or distant cousin in German, then it may have in Dutch (although this idea was denied above) or in English itself which was once under considerable Viking influence.
    I can also work Danish out and to a lesser extent Swedish but only the written language. With practice, I think I could soon get used to spoken Norwegian but I would despair of oral Danish. However, although there are many Scandinavians down here on the Costa del Sol, they all speak excellent English anyway.:)
  31. Noline New Member

    the netherlands, Dutch
    Ho before you skip Dutch let me say that when I hear Norwegian (I'm Dutch) it sounds a bit like German/English/Dutch mixed, I can even understand some of it.

    Ok, skip Dutch.

  32. Vejrudsigt

    Vejrudsigt Member

    United States; English
    Very true.

    The orthographic connections between Dutch and the Scandinavian languages are commonly overlooked. In the following examples, notice how the Dutch -> Danish/Norwegian/Swedish progression is more readily discernible than the German -> Danish/Norwegian/Swedish counterpart:

    German Zeit -> Dutch tijd -> Danish/Norwegian/Swedish tid

    German heissen -> Dutch heten -> Norwegian hete -> Danish hedde -> Swedish heta

    German krank -> Dutch ziek -> Norwegian syk -> Danish syg -> Swedish sjuk
  33. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    A most revealing list, Vejrudsigt.

    German krank for sick is obviously unconnected, but there is Sucht in modern German meaning sickness, disease, epidemic and gelbsüchtig meaning jaundiced ("yellow -sick").
    In English too, we have tide as in "five pounds will tide me over" i.e. that will last for sufficient time, and tidings meaning news, cognate of German Zeitung (newspaper), deriving from Zeit (time) for obvious reasons.

    Even "he heyte Absoloun" turns up in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" with the meaning of "he was called Absolon", though this does not appear to have survived anywhere in modern English, any more than its Middle English synonym yclept. But to call which has survived, is itself connected with the synonymous Danish kalde.
  34. jonquiliser

    jonquiliser Senior Member

    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    It might be interesting to consider "dialects" as well, they are often revealing of old connections between languages. I believe some dialects of Swedish (or simply older forms) talk about "krank" as "a little sick" (i.e., not disease, but a slight feeling of being ill). :)
  35. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    Even in English there is "cranky" which is a little sick in the head.
  36. kirsitn

    kirsitn Senior Member

    Oslo, Norway
    Norway, Norwegian
    And when I hear Dutch, it sounds like a mixture of German and English with some really weird sounds in between... :-D

    As for "krank", it exists in Norwegian too. According to my dictionary it comes from lower German (is that the correct English term for Niederdeutsch?) via Norse "krankr".
  37. Arrius

    Arrius Senior Member

    English, UK
    lower German (is that the correct English term for Niederdeutsch?) via Norse "krankr". (kirsitn)
    I think that Niederdeutsch = Plattdeutsch= Pla(tt)dütsch= Low German (not Lower). Please correct me anybody that thinks otherwise.
  38. floridasnowbird

    floridasnowbird Senior Member

    Germany/ Florida (winter)
    Germany German
  39. María Madrid

    María Madrid Banned

    Madrid, Spain
    Spanish Spain
    Being a native Spanish speaker with Swedish family background I beg to disagree. Castillian and Valencian language are a lot more similar than Swedish and Norwegian.

    On the other hand I was really surprised to read all those funny percentages quoted by GoranBcn.

    ALL Norwegians understand exactly 88% of Swedish? ALL Swedes understand exactly 48% of Norwegian?

    Wow! I wonder who (and especially how) made those extremely accurate calculations, considering that understanding is not measurable as weight, it depends on the subject (weather is not the same as engineering) and varies for each individual. Very very surprising approach! Saludos, :)
  40. Lugubert Senior Member

    Brilliant advice on the uvular 'r'! People immigrating to Sweden should start in the South. Not only is there the uvular [R], like in Paris, and parts of Germany, in some Dutch speakers and like the Arabic ghayn and, I think, modern Hebrew 'r', their handling of the tones (the 'stegen' example - but my practically Standard Swedish uses only two different pronunciations, not three) is easier to learn.

    As has been pointed out numerous times in the thread, it is quite possible to regard DA, NO, SV as dialects of a common Scandinavian language. In fact, the difference between southern Swedish 'skånska' and Copenhagen Danish is less than between skånska and most varieties of northern Swedish.

    On Dutch, a young Swede interested in languages, knowing English and German and working in the Netherlands, can go from scratch to very good working knowledge of Dutch in less than two months.
  41. mtc2300 New Member

    Copenhagen S

    I'm new on this forum, and found it via Google and this thread.

    When I hear Dutch, as a native Dane, I pickup half a sentence in English, German or Danish. That way I can always piece together what is said or written in Dutch.

    And for choosing Scandinavian language to learn, go for Norwegian. Danish is very hard to learn because one thing is how a word is written. Another thing how it's pronounced.

    An example:


    Spelled: Kaffe
    Pronounced: Kaff'
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2009
  42. hanne Senior Member

    Hi mtc,
    Welcome to the forums. May I suggest you check the date of a post before replying to it? ;)
    This one was written more than one and a half years ago...

    (and I'm ot now, sorry about that, feel free to delete)
  43. mtc2300 New Member

    Copenhagen S
    Thanks for the welcome.

    Yes. I found out, that this is a very old thread indeed, but we had a serious debate regarding the issue last night, so I replied and didn't check the date. I'm sorry.
  44. infirmier_qc New Member

    Montréal, Canada
    I myself am very much interested in learning Danish. Though its pronunciation is highly unfaithful to its spelling, I find it to be very soft-sounding, while keeping with its germanic efficiency. I am Canadian and a native French-speaker; I am bilingual, meaning fully proficient in English and French - both of which are also, like Danish, languages that have a pronunciation that is very unfaithful to its spelling. I am only an amateur, but I have to say, Danish seems to be the closest language to English, both in phonology, grammar and to some extent vocabulary. I know that English is considered to be West-Germanic and genetically more closely related to Plattdeutsch, Dutch and Frisian, but the more I learn Danish, the more I find strong commonality with the English language. Anybody out there agrees?
  45. timtfj

    timtfj Senior Member

    Northwest England
    UK English
    Which one do you have most opportunity to use? Which do you most want to read? I started Norwegian partly because I already knew some Norwegians on Twitter.

    However, I had a lot of trouble finding any good tutor books in English, or a good up to date Norwegian--English dictionary, so I've had to use a grammar reference, Bokmålsordboka (the Language Council's official Bokmål dictionary for Norwegians), and one or two other resources to help me along. I'm happy learning that way. But if I wanted to follow a tutor book, I think I'd begin with Swedish for availability reasons.

    The situation might be different for Norwegian--Italian materials. For some reason it seems to be assumed that English people only want to learn Swedish, not Norwegian. I can't think of any good reason for that, unless maybe it's because Sweden is in the EU and it's therefore easier to go and work there than Norway.

    So I think you should investigate the available learning materials as well as investigating the languages. The obstacle might not be the language itself, but the available materials.

    As for intelligibility, all I can really say is that after a year of learning Bokmål, I can read quite a bit of Danish, rather less Swedish, and next to no Dutch. (And most of the Dutch that I can read comes from knowing German, not from the Bokmål.)

    Another point with Norwegian is that it seems to be next to impossible to find any material about Nynorsk that's not in Norwegian. The books all say "foreigners mostly learn Bokmål", but to be honest, that's all we're really given the chance to learn.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2012
  46. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Swedish usually has a more distinct pronounciation than Danish. Pronounciation is the tricky Part of Danish. Once you know one other Germanic language well, it is the only major problem. I`d suggest Swedish. The grammar is very close to Danish or English grammar. On some points simpler, on some it is not. Besides, it is spoken by a lot more people.
  47. timtfj

    timtfj Senior Member

    Northwest England
    UK English
    I can only answer from the point of view of learning Bokmål (the version of written Norwegian that's derived from Danish, as opposed to Nynorsk which tries to represent the dialects). But when I first started learning, I was startled how similar to English the word order is. Because so many words are related to German ones, I kept wanting to put things in German word order then realising they should be inthe same order as in English.
  48. bicontinental Senior Member

    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    Hi infirmier,
    Soft-sounding’ is usually not a modifier appended to the Danish language, whose gurgling sounds are more frequently likened to those of a throat disease or some speech impediment! :) But I suppose it’s all very subjective. Personally, I don’t find there’s much phonetic overlap between English and Danish, but I do agree that there are some similarities in syntax/grammar and vocabulary. In general, none of the three Scandinavian languages are particularly useful outside of Scandinavia, as I’m sure you know, so I wouldn’t let that be a factor in choosing one Scandinavian language over another.

    Good luck with your continued studies!
  49. Eskil Member

    Oslo, Norway
    No they do not start in English, but with their respective language. But it depends a little on where in Scandinavia you meet. In Oslo for instance, you will hear Swedish spoken everywhere because of the great number of Swedish workers here. This means that Norwegians are very used to hearing - and understandig - Swedish. More Swedes would understand Norwegian today, compared to 20 years ago. Dansih is more difficult, but I will at least still start with Norwegian when I am in Denmark.
  50. timtfj

    timtfj Senior Member

    Northwest England
    UK English
    This also matches what I see on Twitter if a conversation is taking place that's assumed not to be of interest to the English-speakers. It's quite common to see one person tweeting in Norwegian and the other replying in Danish (indeed I've occasionally been the one tweeting in Norwegian). And in fact there are a few threads on here where the same thing happens.

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