Danish/Swedish/Norwegian/Dutch: mutual intelligibility

frugihoyi

Senior Member
English - USA, Portuguese - Brazil
I can tell you that I learned Danish first and then Norwegian and it was very easy to learn Norwegian. If I had learned Norwegian first, I know I would have had a hard time with Danish. The pronunciation is quite different, but written it's almost the same.
 
  • Tjoaben

    New Member
    Gronings, Nederlands
    If you want to learn the scandinavian languages, it's probably best starting with Norwegian. However, if you have a specific ''thing'' for one of the three languages, it's best to choose that one I suppose. Dutch (my language) is not a scandinavian language but has a lot of similarities with, let's say, Danish. I've been to all three countries and I find it pretty easy reading Danish and Norwegian. I've noticed reading in Swedish is actually a little bit more difficult for a Dutch person. Things are different when it's spoken. Spoken Norwegian is ''kind off'' understandable for a Dutch (especially when they speak slowly), on the second place Swedish (because they speak more ''crisp&clear'') and Danish is definitely the most difficult because they talk with their mouth shut (perhaps the same way as we Dutchies). I am btw from the north (Groningen) of the Netherlands. We talk with a ''regional language'' called Grönnegs and during my stay in Denmark I read quite some words which are the same as in Grönnegs...so, I suppose a Dutch from the west/south, with no knowledge of Grönnegs, has more problems reading ''scandinavian''.
     

    Encolpius

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    I was reading a text here and it says at the end : Norwegian Bokmål and Standard Danish are asymmetrically intelligible. Speakers of Norwegian can understand Danish better than vice versa. The reason for this is uncertain.
    Do you have any idea why the reason is uncertain? tahnks.
     

    JohanIII

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    Encolpius, it's from the reference [4].
    For TL;DR :) jump to page 15 (p.459), and read on, to answer that particular question.

    The whole thing is good reading for this thread!
     

    infirmier_qc

    New Member
    Français-Québec
    To me it is far from uncertain that this is due to political and historical reasons. The Danish language was forced on the Norwegian political/educational systems for centuries. The Danish language spelling form used in Norway, though very similar to the spelling used in Denmark, is in fact pronounced quite differently (pronounced almost in a Swedish manner). The Norwegian people, in those days at least, made the effort of understanding the Danes and their language and pronounciation, while the opposite, I assume, would not be true.

    It would be similar to my own language/dialect of Quebec French, though for different reasons. A Quebec French speaker understands any European French speaker without difficulty or special studying, while the opposite is usually not true. Quebec French has not been historically and politically dominant, while France has been, or at least was dominant.
     

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    To me it is far from uncertain that this is due to political and historical reasons. The Danish language was forced on the Norwegian political/educational systems for centuries. The Danish language spelling form used in Norway, though very similar to the spelling used in Denmark, is in fact pronounced quite differently (pronounced almost in a Swedish manner). The Norwegian people, in those days at least, made the effort of understanding the Danes and their language and pronounciation, while the opposite, I assume, would not be true.
    This is not entirely true. Danish, Swedish and Norwegian was one language 800 years ago, and even 3-400 years ago, they were much more similar than they are today. The Danish language was not forced on Norwegians. There was no written standard of Norwegian at the time, and the Danish standard was probably close enough for the purpose. Written Danish at the time did not reflect how people actually spoke. It was the jargon of the upper crust in Copenhagen, and perhaps Norwegians found some of it a little odd, but so did the people of Jutland and Schleswig. Even as late as 200 years agao, when the Dano-Norwegian union was split up, the languages were far closer than they are today. It was not until after 1814 that Danish and Norwegian became estranged.
     

    infirmier_qc

    New Member
    Français-Québec
    Thank you for clearing this up. It is amazing that a common language underwent such a rapid split, passing from the dialectal to separate languages. A Swedish co-worker of mine told me that altough a Swede will technically understand the sounds and the words spoken by a Norwegian, what they understand often sounds "silly" (her words, not mine) to Swedish ears. She gave me as example : n - kringkaste, s - utsända, d - udsende. She said also that though the Danish words look more similar to the Swedish form, they usually are incomprehesible, the Danish phonology being more ''outlandish''. To a Norwegian, is Swedish or Danish easier to understand?
     

    AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    -
    Swedish
    A Swedish co-worker of mine told me that altough a Swede will technically understand the sounds and the words spoken by a Norwegian, what they understand often sounds "silly" (her words, not mine) to Swedish ears. She gave me as example : n - kringkaste, s - utsända, d - udsende. She said also that though the Danish words look more similar to the Swedish form, they usually are incomprehesible, the Danish phonology being more ''outlandish''.
    I would think that there are Norwegians and Danes who think the same about the Swedish language, that it sounds "silly" and are "outlandish". Is your co-worker from Stockholm or the east coast of Sweden? In that case she's probably haven't had that much contact with people from Norway and Denmark, as I who have lived on the west coast of Sweden have had more contact with both Danish and Norwegian languages have no problems understanding them. The closer the contact between the countries are, the easier it is to understand each others. The same can be said for some Swedish dialects, I know that the first summer I worked on the island of Gotland I had difficulties understanding some people who spoke the local dialect, even if it was a variant of Swedish, it sounded more Danish than Swedish to my ears.
     

    Cerb

    Senior Member
    Norwegian - Bokmål
    Thank you for clearing this up. It is amazing that a common language underwent such a rapid split, passing from the dialectal to separate languages. A Swedish co-worker of mine told me that altough a Swede will technically understand the sounds and the words spoken by a Norwegian, what they understand often sounds "silly" (her words, not mine) to Swedish ears. She gave me as example : n - kringkaste, s - utsända, d - udsende. She said also that though the Danish words look more similar to the Swedish form, they usually are incomprehesible, the Danish phonology being more ''outlandish''. To a Norwegian, is Swedish or Danish easier to understand?
    Danish tends to be easier to read while Swedish is easier to understand than Danish when spoken. Labels written on products sold in the Scandinavian countries will typically have Danish and Norwegian lumped together.

    Swedish appears to have more words unique to Swedish, but most Norwegians will know at least enough to get by. This does not seem to be the case nearly as often for Swedes in regard to Norwegian (or Danish). Personally I believe the TV adaptions of Astrid Lindgren's works in particular (Pippi Longstocking etc.) have had a huge impact here.
     

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    It is amazing that a common language underwent such a rapid split, passing from the dialectal to separate languages
    There was no such thing as a common Norwegian language. It was a dialect continuum. No one spoke Norwegian per se - only some idiosyncratic version of it. Even today, if you start at the German border and walk up through Denmark, into Southern Sweden (Scania) and up the west coast of Sweden into Norway, you will be hard pressed to tell where the one "language" ends and the next begins. In preliterate society, this was even more fluent, and it was not until Danes, Swedes and Norwegians made a conscious effort to create "national" languages, and educate the masses, that the three languages emerges. This process did not really start until the early 19th Century.

    However, this is not unique in any way. In 1850, only 15% of people living in France actually spoke French. The rest spoke Occitan, Picard, Normand, Gallo, Lorrain, Breton, German, Basque, Catalan and Provencal. It was only when the school system in France was developed that people started identifying their language as "French".

    To a Norwegian, is Swedish or Danish easier to understand?
    Written - Danish. Spoken - Swedish. The fact that Danish is hard to understand for other Scandinavians, is a fairly recent phenomenon (1850s and onward). During the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807, we have evidence that the Danish and Norwegian sailors in the navy had no problem communicating with each other, and as late as in 1905, when the Danish prince Carl became king of Norway (as Haakon VII), he spoke a form of 'high Danish' (probably slightly old style) that was fully intelligible for Norwegians.
    Danish has actually moved further away from the two other Scandinavian languages through its altered pronunciation than Swedish/Norwegian has moved from Danish.
     

    Sabaton

    New Member
    Swedish
    In Sweden, I grew up with a couple of danes but they spoke danish at home only. As a teenager, when I first visited Köpenhamn (Copenhagen) I could see signs of "Tilbud" in the stores when I traveled around by bus. I couldnt believe it. Now, tillbud is an old swedish word for accident (olycka). At first I thought something bad at happened, but it would be impossible to have so many accidents at the same time as I was traveling around by bus. I then asked what it meant and they told me it means "Sale", or Rea in swedish.

    And I think this story is the key: learning the key words in each other languages will get you far, the rest will just come natuarally after a short period of time. Like myself, I worked for a danish company and it took a week or two before I was able to pick up the pronunciation of the danish language aswell as the special numeral system pronunciation. Using slang is a big no no of course.

    Every swede understand norwegian (bokmål) from birth. Some dialects can be hard though, even for norwegians. I truly wished we had a common scandinavian TV-channel in our respective state owned television. That would truly help to promote the scandinavian languages further and keep it on top.
     

    Sabaton

    New Member
    Swedish
    Oh, and I just love when norwegians crawl on the floor through the supermarkets here in Sweden looking for the low prices. But they are more then welcomed to Sweden to save some money on their expensive groceries back home. In return, young swedes are going to Norway for work.
     

    Stoggler

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Written - Danish. Spoken - Swedish. The fact that Danish is hard to understand for other Scandinavians, is a fairly recent phenomenon (1850s and onward). During the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807, we have evidence that the Danish and Norwegian sailors in the navy had no problem communicating with each other, and as late as in 1905, when the Danish prince Carl became king of Norway (as Haakon VII), he spoke a form of 'high Danish' (probably slightly old style) that was fully intelligible for Norwegians.
    Danish has actually moved further away from the two other Scandinavian languages through its altered pronunciation than Swedish/Norwegian has moved from Danish.
    This is interesting that spoken Danish has changed significantly in the last century or so. Language change is not a constant and there is historic evidence from a number of languages that there can be periods of rapid change.

    With regard to spoken Danish, may I ask if it's changed much in the last 50-70 years? When Danes watch old films do they notice much of a difference in their language?

    The reason for asking is that I recently watched Day of Wrath/Vredens Dag from 1943. I'm fairly familiar with the sound of modern Danish having lapped up Borgen, Forbrydelsen and Broen/Bron here in the UK along with some Dogme 95 films. To me, the language in Vredens Dag seemed easier (for me) to catch what was being said than modern Danish. Whether this is because of the painfully slow pace of the film was also represented in the way the dialogue is delivered I do not know, but it did seem as though 1940s Danish differed to 21st century Danish (to my less-than-educated ears at least).
     

    Cerb

    Senior Member
    Norwegian - Bokmål
    While I'm not a native speaker, I believe there is a point to be made here about the time Vredens dag was filmed in. I had a look at some scenes and as I suspected the performances are, literally speaking, a lot more theatrical than we're used to in movies nowadays. Actors trained to perform in plays tend to overplay on film as they don't take into account that the viewer is up close rather than spectating from a distance. This is very common in older movies (and in bad soap operas.. ).

    While there might be a lot more to your question, I think this might play a big part in why the spoken Danish in Vredens dag is easier to understand than the one in Borgen, Forbrydelsen and so on.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    To the two previous posters I can say, yes, Danish language has changed a lot the past 50-70 years. The change that has taken place may not so much be the one you recognize by comparing film made in the 40es and modern day television drama. What HAS changed a lot is that very distinct dialects have almost disappeared. You will hardly find anyone under the age of 30 still speaking a dialect that they wouldn't understand all over the country. However, if you find one I'd expect he would have grown up somewhere in the southernmost part of Jutland.

    But you are not likely to get to hear any distinct dialects except those out of upper class Copenhagen, when you watch movies made in the 40es. On top of that, usually spoken by actors trained to play theatre without PA equipment, let alone headset microphones.
    As if this was not bad enough: Danish Radio had a socalled microphone test that all people who were to talk or perform in any way on air, had to pass. To pass it they were required to stick to certain pronounciations that ruled out any out of Copenhagen dialect or working class sociolect. So basically, if you spoke the way about 70-80% of the Copenhagen population did, you were not were not allowed on Danish radio. Pretty odd for a country that usually had Socialdemocrat governments, I should say.
     

    JohanIII

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    Swedish radio had the same type of tests.
    Part of it was that you should be distinct in your pronunciation, so that the radiola speakers even of mediocre quality could reproduce an intelligible sound. I miss that today (I missed it sorely when driving forklift - noisy environment).

    And for Swedish films of the 40's (pilsnerfilmer), speech could very much be described as the Danish ones above.
    Clearer; crisper. Though sometimes with a very distinct Stockholm-dialect (i.e. not the standard Swedish of the times). And we had the bigger-than-life Edvard Persson with the Scanian dialect (he was very popular in Denmark too).
     

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    The Norwegian Broadcasting had a similar feature. So did Norsk Film. Norway was on the verge of getting a "standard pronunciation" when the 60s brought in the 'speak dialect' movement, and as of 2013, spoken Norwegian is less standardized than ever.

    However - I would be most interested to hear from Danes who can give us some pointers as to what really happened in Danish pronunciation from around 1850 to 1950
     

    bicontinental

    Senior Member
    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    The perception of which Danish dialect was the most beautiful (…or the least, as the case may be) is obviously entirely subjective.


    What is more objective is the fact that many of the Danish dialects were essentially incomprehensible to outsiders back in the day where TV and radio-speaker tests were required. Fifty-sixty years ago, the Danish dialects were much more than a slight variation in intonation and represented a regional language, frequently with its own syntax, grammar and vocabulary. Rigsdansk, the standard form of Danish, which was influenced by dialects spoken primarily north of Copenhagen, used to be the dialect heard on Danish radio and TV, because it was clear and easily comprehensible to anyone in the country, to our fellow Scandinavians and learners of Danish. Rigsdansk used accepted standard grammar rules taught in all Danish schools, used pronunciation rules that among other things emphasized a clear distinction between the vowels e-a-æ, and i-y which resulted in crisp and clean sounds. The “gargle sound effects” so typical of present day Danish (Rigsdansk?) are produced when vowels are opened, (e.g. the country ‘Pakistan’ is pronounced Parkistan and… sadly, often misspelled that way). The front and near front vowels are being pronounced as mid-back/back vowels (græs (grass) as gras, kræft (cancer) as kraft, en ret (a dish) as rat etc.) Languages evolve, and we can discuss ad nauseam whether this evolution represents an improvement or a deterioration of the Danish language. What seems quite clear from this thread and numerous articles on this topic is that Danish is becoming increasing more difficult for outsiders to understand and learn.
     

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Thanks, Bic - that was indeed very helpful.

    Do you happen to know what triggered this process in Danish, and when it happened?. Personally, I do not think a languages gets either worse or better with changes - it simply evolves. However, it is obvious that in Danish this process is fairly 'modern' and took place over a reasonably short period of time. If not, spelling have caught up at least to some degree! Interestingly, during the days of the twin realms, you never hear about Norwegians complaining about Danish being "difficult to understand". Danish spelling would simply not be as consistently used in Norway (until 1840) if Danish pronunciation at the time was not fairly close to its spelling. In other words - Danish must have evolved significantly in terms of pronunciation in the period from 1830 until the advent of present-day Danish around 1950.

    What caused this, and was there a period in Danish language history that was particularly "inventive" in terms of pronunciation?
     

    bicontinental

    Senior Member
    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    Do you happen to know what triggered this process in Danish, and when it happened?.....What caused this, and was there a period in Danish language history that was particularly "inventive" in terms of pronunciation?
    These are great questions which I couldn’t answer off the top of my head. I did a little research and I think this reference from the University of Copenhagen might interest you: http://dialekt.ku.dk/sproghistorie/#nationalisme

    For those who don’t read Danish, let me highlight some of the important points from the reference:

    Early 1700’s: a strong German influence; German was spoken at the royal courts, in theaters, in the Danish army, and in churches. During the late 1700’s the Danish language regained popularity, initially mainly in writing which culminated in the school reform of 1775, which determined that students should learn to speak and write a correct Danish. At the time there was no standard Danish and most Danes spoke a dialect.


    1800-1900: The era of Nationalism. The Danish language flourished under the increased focus on the importance of a mother tongue: what defined and united a people was the language. Dialects were no longer perceived as “deformed” or awkward variants of the Danish language. The late 1800’s were characterized by an urbanization trend, and as people began to move to the bigger cities, various neighborhoods were established for different socioeconomic groups in the Copenhagen area, each with its own dialect. The text above refers to ‘low’ and ‘high’ Copenhagen dialects spoken by the ‘working class’ and the ‘upper class’. The ‘high’ dialect was much closer to the written language and the written language was in turn modeled on this dialect. Specific examples from the high sociolect included the introduction of the soft d in words like en gade (a street), at made (to feed). This replaced the j sound (gaje, maje) and is still used in present day Danish. This ‘high’ Copenhagen dialect was made the standard or correct form of Danish, and was as such not considered a dialect per se. The late 1800’s marked the beginning of a slow but gradual disappearance of the various dialects. The rural dialects were now considered wrong and useless, a hindrance for students who had to learn to write and speak a correct Danish, rigsdansk.


    The post war era 1950-: This is the time period I was referring to in my post above. I can personally only comment on changes from the late 60’s. The article mentions the influence of the English language during this period, but that doesn’t explain the drastic change in the Danish pronunciation, which I think characterizes this time period. And as you point out, there’s a huge discrepancy between written and spoken Danish, and the gap seems to be widening. A new edition of the Danish Orthographical Dictionary, Retskrivningsordbogen, came out in Nov. of 2012. Usually, though, changes are centered on the Danish vocabulary, i.e. addition of new words/deletion of old, and changes in spelling are fairly inconspicuous [in my opinion]. Regarding the changes in spoken modern Danish, it sounds to my ear as if the ‘new standard Danish’ [my choice of words] is heavily influenced by the working class dialect of the Copenhagen area, and I have wondered if it might be a result of the political changes that have been taking place in Denmark with the Social Democratic Party growing in size and influencing almost all aspects of development in Denmark between 1924-82. Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Democrats_(Denmark) It’s conceivable that the Danes, wanting to dissociate from the upper class on all levels, more or less deliberately sought to avoid a language/dialect that might indicate a connection with this group?


    This got to be much longer than I had anticipated…:eek:

    Bic.
     

    bicontinental

    Senior Member
    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    Personally, I do not think a languages gets either worse or better with changes - it simply evolves.
    As an afterthought…I mostly agree with this, although I can’t help but consider it a loss when words with specific vowel sounds allowing for their recognition out of context, lose their specificity due to the formation of ’hybrid vowels’ (e.g. the blending of e/a/æ and i/y which I mentioned above). In my mind, it’s a linguistic parallel to the disappearance of a specific species of animals. That’s all part of evolution and a changing world, new species evolve as do languages, but some of us may feel that we lost something in that process.

    Bic.
     

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Very interesting!
    Regarding the changes in spoken modern Danish, it sounds to my ear as if the ‘new standard Danish’ [my choice of words] is heavily influenced by the working class dialect of the Copenhagen area, and I have wondered if it might be a result of the political changes that have been taking place in Denmark [...] It’s conceivable that the Danes, wanting to dissociate from the upper class on all levels, more or less deliberately sought to avoid a language/dialect that might indicate a connection with this group?
    This sounds plausible. It has happened elsewhere as well. In Norwegian, the 'received pronunciation' lost most of its prestige in the early 1960s, but at the same time, Norwegian did not have a dominant dialect (for the lack of major cities), such as
    ‘high’ Copenhagen dialect was made the standard or correct form of Danish
    . The attempts to furnish Norwegian with a 'received pronunciation' by simply have people speak the language the way it was written failed. For a long time, the Bergen dialect was considered prestigious, and also Southern variants, but since the population center was increasingly moving eastwards (to Oslo), Eastern dialects now exercise greater influence.

    Danish Prince Carl became King Haakon VII of Norway in 1905. He was then 33 years old, and he spoke Danish throughout his life. Here is a sound clip of Haakon VII addressing the nation from London during WWII: http://www.kongehuset.no/c27062/tale/vis.html?tid=27734&strukt_tid=27062. The language is obviously Danish, but most Norwegian is will not have a problem understanding what he says.

    I find you assessment interesting. Modern-day spoken Danish may simply be the result of a reaction, and the need to
    dissociate from the upper class on all levels, more or less deliberately [..] to avoid a language/dialect that might indicate a connection with this group
     

    bicontinental

    Senior Member
    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    Danish Prince Carl became King Haakon VII of Norway in 1905. He was then 33 years old, and he spoke Danish throughout his life. Here is a sound clip of Haakon VII addressing the nation from London during WWII: http://www.kongehuset.no/c27062/tale/vis.html?tid=27734&strukt_tid=27062. The language is obviously Danish, but most Norwegian is will not have a problem understanding what he says.
    Agreed, definitely Danish but clearly influenced by Norwegian (intonation in particular). Plus... he speaks slowly and enunciates clearly!
    Bic.
     

    bicontinental

    Senior Member
    English (US), Danish, bilingual
    Would you consider the underlying Danish of the King to be rigsdansk/high Copenhagen? Would you consider this fairly representative for an educated Dane around 1900?

    I think it's probably fairly representative of rigsdansk in the early 1900’s (although it's clearly influenced by Norwegian...something which may be more obvious to the Danish than to the Norwegian ear :)).
    Bic.
     

    CapeGrysbok

    New Member
    Nederlands-België / Français
    I know I'm posting on this toppic while it's not been opened since a long time, but I wanted to give a little remark on what is said about the irrelevancy of Dutch in this toppic. As a native Dutch speaker (with a, in my opinion, quite good level of practice in English and knowing enough German to make a normal conversation), I'm now learning Danish. I started 1 month ago, and I can say I can now understand without much difficulties an article on DR's website.


    I hardly have any difficulties using Danish basic grammar, because the construction of a sentence follows, as far as I am now in my learning process, exact the same rules as Dutch does. My English-language course spent a whole page explaining word order, which I read and skipped after writing beneath it "=Nederlands". Until now, this tactique has been very succesfull, me having made no syntax mistakes about that.


    Also, the article structure in Danish (en ø, øen, øer, øerne) seems at the first look quite strange, but is very similar to the Dutch de facto two genders "de" and "het".

    On the point of mutual intelligibility, Dutch and the Scandinavian languages are indeed not mutually understandable, even if written text is easily readable after some little exercice.

    Sincerely, Cape Grysbok
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Thanks, Bic - that was indeed very helpful.

    Do you happen to know what triggered this process in Danish, and when it happened?. ..
    One very important factor was the school system. Simply the fact that people in general went to school and learned to read and write. It is very obvious that there are two die-hard dialects in Denmark. One is the dialect spoken in the South of Jutland. The part that belonged to Germany till 1920 and thus was not involved in any language or school reforms in the late 19th to early 20th century.

    The other one is the dialect or group of dialects spoken by the vast majority of people in Copenhagen, mainly the central to western parts of the city. (The Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is a good example). They really do not speak considerably different from the way they spoke 50 years ago. The difference simply is that their version of the language, and not that of an upper-class minority in the North of Copenhagen, has evolved to become the accepted standard.
     

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Sepia - so the North-Copenhagen (upper class) dialect is the basis of written Danish, but the West/central Copenhagen dialect is the basis of 'standard' spoken Danish today? If so, this is much along the lines of what Bicontinental says about a reaction to the high-brow Danish speech.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Sepia - so the North-Copenhagen (upper class) dialect is the basis of written Danish, but the West/central Copenhagen dialect is the basis of 'standard' spoken Danish today? If so, this is much along the lines of what Bicontinental says about a reaction to the high-brow Danish speech.

    Really, written Danish today is and probably never was any closer to NorthCopenhagen upper class than it was to Valby/Roedovre/Vestegn Danish is - at least not the past 50 to 60 years.

    If you pronounce "meget" in Old-School Radio-Danish it sounds like you would spell is like ther was a soft d in it. And if you pronounce it in Old-School Vesterbro it sounds more like "majed". Neither of the two pronounciations would be obvious, judging from the spelling. Now, I am not saying anything is more correct than the other. What is of utmost importance is that people understand each other and they usually do with both of these pronounciations. But what is also important ist the political part of it. What would be the general "smell" of it if only people with an upper-class accent or sociolect were allowed to anchor news in the electronic media? Well, that is the way it actually was. That you hear news-anchors speak with a Jutland accent in national Danish television is something relatively new. I am not sure you ever heard that 10 years ago.

    I don't really know if it would be right to say that West to Central-Copenhagen Danish were "standard". But it is probably a demographic fact that there are so many people living there that they are probably the largest group of Danes with the most similarities in the way they speak. To me that would be a logical way of determining a standard. That is also the way I would speak Danish when I am not deliberately speaking the Southern dialect (like when I want to make sure somebody from Copenhagen is not eavesdropping.)
     

    Chilvence

    New Member
    英话
    I am slightly nostalgic about the fact that this thread is still active, being that it introduced me to the hilarious Danish speech sketch some time ago (thankyou for that)

    Speaking from an English perspective, I find it very hard not to want to consider the Scandinavian languages as one unit, with many facets, rather than three languages with similarities. With a basic understanding of German, I find I can read articles in all three with some effort, even though I have not made serious effort to study any of them (I just met a Swedish girl on my travels, so I learned a word or two :) )

    I bet a few hundred years ago, English probably had more dialects than Chinese has today, and yet now from America to Australia and through South Africa, through all the countries where it remains or has been adopted as an unofficial second language, with all its accents and dialects and different cultures, the language is still just called 'English', and there is no major difficulty in communication that cannot be bridged with simple patience.

    This is because sayings and idioms from one end of English speaking world flow very freely to the other end (perhaps with the exception of from Britain to America, but I won't digress...); it would be easy for someone from 100 years ago to remark that people in England use a very 'Americanised' English, but I don't view this in any negative light whatsoever myself.

    So it seems to me that given the history in Scandinavian countries is probably very similar to medieval England with its separate kingdoms and dialects etc, and yet arrived at a very different result language wise, is there some concious effort in keeping the different languages.. well... different?
     

    Dan2

    Senior Member
    US
    English (US)
    Scandinavian languages ... With a basic understanding of German, I find I can read articles in all three with some effort,
    Hi Chilvence - Welcome to WRF!

    What you say above seems misleading to me. Let me say how I see it, and then invite other opinions, with the goal of calibrating your statement.

    I don't think even a native competence in German, much less a "basic understanding", gets one very far in understanding articles written in the Scandinavian languages. (Over in the German forum, we see a constant flow of questions from members with a basic understanding of German having trouble understanding articles written in German!)

    As one studies Scandinavian, one begins to recognize more and more cognates to English and German words, so a knowledge of either of these languages (even better, both) is a great help to making progress in a Scandinavian language. But recent direct borrowings from English or German aside, so many common Scandinavian words either have no English and/or German cognates, or the cognates appear in such "distorted" form, that - in my opinion - Scandinavian text has very low comprehensibility for a German- (or English-) only speaker. Some examples:

    From an article on a basic topic in the Norwegian Wikipedia:
    Hannen benevnes gjerne som okse eller kvegokse. En ukastrert hann kalles tyr når den er mer enn to år gammel, stut om den er kastrert og yngre enn to år, og okse om den er kastrert og mer enn to år. Hunnen kalles kolle om hun mangler horn (er kollet), kvige til første kalving, og ku når dyret har kalvet. Avkommet kalles kalv til de er omkring ett år gamle.

    The following is from a lead article on the website (dr.dk) of the Danish nation broadcast service:
    Sådan skrev Venstres regionsrådsmedlem Timo Jensen i går på det sociale medie Twitter, efter det onsdag kom frem, at sangerinden Anne Linnets kæreste er gravid.
    Og den udtalelse har udløst vrede og forargelse hos en række andre brugere på Twitter, der læser Timo Jensens holdning sådan, at han har noget imod homoseksuelle.

    And this is from a Swedish picture book for children:
    Om aporna själva får arrangera sitt kalas, blir det festligt värre. Upptågen avlöser varandra och det är svårt att veta vilka som har roligast - aporna själva eller de som tittar på.

    If, even "with effort", you can understand these passages, I think you are making use of something quite distinct from a "basic knowledge of German".
     

    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    Yes, I absolutely agree with you Dan. I cannot imagine that someone just knowing some German, of perhaps even a person very fluent in German, can understand Scandinavian languages. (I wouldn't personally call them a language -- there are too many differences between them to be considered one language, in my opinion). Some twenty, thirty years ago, they were not considered one language by most language departments. Anyhow, I am also surprised by the claims that they are 100--80% intelligible in the written form, or even in the spoken form. Even the writing system of Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, especially, differ a lot. If I can think which Danish letters are corresponding to which (sort of) in Swedish, I can read basic Norwegian and Danish. As to understanding spoke languages -- I don't know -- i think I can understand Dutch without ever learning it to the same extent as I can understand spoken Danish (Norwegian is slightly easier) based on my very fluent Swedish, and understanding most Swedish dialects, including Gutnish -- to a high extent. The same way most Slavic languages could be considered as one, but they are not.
     

    Chilvence

    New Member
    英话
    I am sorry, I probably overstated what I meant a bit. All I mean is, having learned a few words of Swedish and Norsk, I can use my knowledge of English and German to sort of 'triangulate' the meaning of an article - and I really DO mean written articles only :). This is just my logic, if a word isn't cognate with English, maybe its similar to German instead, if it isn't either, I use a dictionary. Sometimes words that look completely alien make perfect sense when you read them in context, like aporna above. Invariably this leaves 3 or 4 words a sentence I don't know, and I most certainly was not trying to imply that everything was clear as day, just that so far I am surprised how close they are considering the huge valleys that separate other languages.

    Perhaps what I should have said was, that they are a lot more similar to each other, from my perspective, than English is to German. Does that make more sense? There is also the possibility that these languages simply 'feel' closer to English for me, so I don't find myself struggling to get the grammar half as much as I do with German. When I started with German, It was like having my head turned upside down, and I don't imagine I will ever be able learn every grammatical feature of it in my lifetime, but the Scandinavian languages feel surprisingly 'homely'. Therefore, it does not really feel a stretch to study all three at once, and in doing that, the differences between them seem much less intimidating. It really doesn't 'feel' like the weight of studying three languages, so even if they are not quite mutually intelligible, surely that counts for something, right ;) ? I think this is much closer to the point I was trying to make, even if it took longer to arrive here...

    ps, as far as the differences with the writing are, I can read the Greek alphabet, Arabic script, Cyrillic, Devanagari, all the strange variations of the Latin alphabet, Han Gul, working on Chinese.... I think all that exercise made the difference between Danish and Swedish etc almost invisible :). If I might add something, it is probably my experience with Chinese that is leading my opinion on this: I worried for a long time whether to learn Traditional or Simplified glyphs, when it turns out that studying the traditional glyphs makes it trivially easy to learn the simplified ones as well. Yet without any knowledge of Chinese, the idea that there might be not one but TWO sets of up to 50,000 glyphs to learn is a very bad prospect, but one that is also entirely unrepresentative of the practical reality...
     
    Last edited:

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Hi Chilvence,

    I agree with you (I happen to be in that camp of linguists) - I call the language "Scandinavian". Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are simply convenient political subdivisions. If we look at Jemtish (Jämtland, Sw), it is closer to Trøndersk (Trøndelag, No) than to most other Swedish dialects. Scanian is closer to East Danish (in fact, it used to be called East Danish) than Swedish; the dialects of Värmland and Båhus (Sw) and Østfold (No) are more closely related to each other than to Swedish from the Eastern seaboard or Norwegian from the Western seaboard; and Northern/Western Jutlandic is in many respects closer to Southern Norwegian than to Zealand Danish. One might argue that because of the political borders, mass media and greater internal migration, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are emerging as languages (or sub-languages), but historically this has not been the case.

    If you put a Native English speaker from Queensland, Australia; Kampala, Uganda; Perth, Scotland, and Birmingham, Alabama (all places where English is the no 1 spoken language) together, they all speak "English", although their respective variants of English is as - if not more - divergent than Swedish, Norwegian and Danish.

    A couple of years ago, I had two Koreans among my students. They were both professionals and reasonably good English speakers, living in New York City. Both were married to Norwegians, and one day planned on moving to Norway. When asked if it was difficult to learn Norwegian, they said that once they had learned English, it was not so hard, because it was basically the same thing - just different pronunciation.

    To me that was a lesson in linguistic relativism. In Norwegian, which does not have a standard spoken form (nor an authoritative dialect), people speak their own dialect, and can always tell where someone is from based on how they speak - and yet understand them almost perfectly. In a Scandinavian perspective, most people are able to understand each other, or at least able to tell there the other person is from. If you zoom further out, and look at the Germanic languages as one, inter-intelligibility is minimal, but it is still possible to identify certain words and structures, and perhaps even extract meaning from it (or as you say "triangulate"). An English speaker who also speaks German, will probably be able to pick up a lot of Scandinavian. Afterall, 35+% of the everyday Danish and Norwegian vocabulary is of Low German/German/Dutch origin, and of the 150 more commonly used words in English, only 13 are Romance, and the rest of the same "stock" as German and Scandinavian.

    The Koreans had a point!
     

    Chilvence

    New Member
    英话
    Well, that is very interesting, and fits with the picture that is growing in my head. I can definitely understand why there is no 'prestige dialect' - in English there is so called received pronunciation, but hell would freeze over before it became standard anywhere but on BBC news :). There is however maybe a much closer relationship between the written standards, I am not exactly sure how this comes about, but I can say that I write to a completely different standard to the way I speak. I have had people from every English speaking country in the world tell me they can't understand a word I am saying....

    It's just occurred to me, I have even been asked by Germans whether it is hard for me to understand American English, so I guess this state of affairs isn't just unique to the Scandinavian world.

    Just one more question, in your opinion, which Scandinavian country is the most prolific TV/Film producer? I wouldn't be surprised if that plays a strong role in the language landscape.
     

    CapeGrysbok

    New Member
    Nederlands-België / Français
    In my eyes, as a Belgian: Denmark, by far. Series like Forbrydelsen and Borgen were the ones that moved me to learn Danish instead of another Scandinavian language. I know this isn't a good reason te choose a language, but that's the way it goes.

    About the "Is there one Scandinavian language" debate: the defenition of language has always been something very difficult. When does something become a language, and when does it stay a dialect? I think the Scandinavian languages could now at this time very easily be constructed towards one common language, but I think national proud is the main obstacle to pass. In terms of mutual intellegibility, if you take my understanding of a Danish news bulletin at the moment as the standard 100%, I can understand a Norwegian one for 80% and a Swedish one for like 70%. But maybe you need to know I'm only at page 60 of my language course, so I have a VERY mediocre knowledge of Danish on it's own.

    Greetings,
    CapeGrysbok
     
    Last edited:

    Chilvence

    New Member
    英话
    Well, you could really say that it is actually a good reason to pick a language in my opinion. You can't really study it without a good resource, and TV, Film, Radio Music etc are all vibrant resources. I actually think books have severe disadvantages...

    I think the problem of calling the Scandinavian languages/dialects different languages is much more of a problem of definition than anything. The word 'language' implies a much greater difference between them than actually exists. Learning eg English would give you next to no help understanding German, so it is useful to classify them separately, whereas the similarities between Scandinavian languages are pleasantly surprising. I think this is the reason that the question probably will keep surfacing all over the world, because it seems to downplay an extremely nice advantage; I am continuously surprising myself how much of the conversations in this forum I can follow, even if it makes my head hurt a bit :)

    I would not go as far as to say there should be some artificial median language like I have seen suggested elsewhere, but I do think it would send a subtle but powerful message if they were officially re branded as 'Dialects'
     

    CapeGrysbok

    New Member
    Nederlands-België / Français
    I would not go as far as to say there should be some artificial median language like I have seen suggested elsewhere, but I do think it would send a subtle but powerful message if they were officially re branded as 'Dialects'
    Which would be extremely painfull for all the native speakers of the Scandi languages. In their opinion, it would feel the same as supprimating English, Frisian, Dutch, Afrikaans and German as languages and all call them Western Germanic. I underline: THEIR opinion. In a linguistic point of view, this is of course pure non sence.

    If on a day it would be needed to create a common language, I think the better way is by creating a (artificial) standard language, and imposing it on the population as the new standard language. This is the way it worked with most of the European languages, but it is a little bit outdated in terms of ethics and modern morale.
     

    vestfoldlilja

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    As a Scandinavian I do consider Danish, Swedish and Norwegian to be dialects of the same language. The only reason I refer to them as different languages is because of state lines. I have no trouble with people saying I speak or am Scandinavian rather than Norwegian. I don’t think many people (outside of the Nordic countries) truly know the difference between the Scandinavian countries, peoples or languages in any case, nor how they differ from the other Nordic countries. We are understood more or less as one group overall.
     

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    [...] the same as supprimating English, Frisian, Dutch, Afrikaans and German as languages and all call them Western Germanic.
    I see your point. However, the Scandinavian languages are more closely related than e.g. English and German - even English and Frisian. In fact, they are not unlike Dutch and Africaans. Danish became distinctively different from No and Sw around 1450, but No and Sw tagged along for another 250 years before they became noticeably different. To call Sw, No and Da "dialects" is not untrue and unfair. A similar picture emerges with Low German and Dutch (not Frisian).
     

    Chilvence

    New Member
    英话
    What I was trying to chip away at was the fact that, although politically they are different languages, the word 'language', in the Anglo mentality also automatically implies a massive irreconcilable difference between the way two different people speak, like the difference between French and Japanese. A dialect is like the difference between two different cheeses, which can still be very different, whereas a language is like the difference between cheese and marshmallows.

    As a label, 'dialect' might not be the perfect alternative, but to me it sounds more useful. I am not suggesting some committee barge in and level the differences with a wrecking ball, but to me before I investigated, I wouldn't have even really thought Danish and Swedish were closely related, and neither would anyone else who didn't have an interest in languages. I don't even really find it painful to imagine Germanic languages as different dialects - I remember being quite amused by a German Language expert who joked that they see English as a 'bad dialect of German' :). They are of course mutually unintelligible, but they are still so close that you can learn to get the gist of the other very quickly if you have the time and need to (I have many, many drunken nights in Germany that attest to that...)

    Which sort of lazily leads full circle back to my original point - old English dialects eventually converged together centuries ago, along with Norse and even some Norman French and bits of Latin and Greek; I seriously doubt this was the result of some top down 'standardisation' committee, the idea of which makes my toes curl up, but rather the result of spontaneous pragmatism, and pop culture influence (dost thou know of that erstwhile celeb who did go by the name Shakespeare?), and possibly a much more relaxed attitude to making historical language obsolete (one can see evidence of this today on shows like Jersey Shore and the Only Way is Essex...). And I am genuinely curious to imagine whether this is the result of being hemmed in neatly together on one island, where in contrast the Scandinavian world is separated by rather large (and rather pretty) geographical barriers...
     

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    What I was trying to chip away at was the fact that, although politically they are different languages, the word 'language', in the Anglo mentality also automatically implies a massive irreconcilable difference between the way two different people speak, like the difference between French and Japanese. A dialect is like the difference between two different cheeses, which can still be very different, whereas a language is like the difference between cheese and marshmallows.
    Which is where we run into problems. The definition of "separate language" varies considerably in the academic community. In the one end of the scale you have those who believe that all (or most) parts of a dialect continuum is the same language; in the other hand those who consider a significant amount of dialects as languages. Most people are of course somewhere towards the middle. There are set criteria for what is a language and what is not, but the standards are difficult to apply, and give a lot of room for interpretation.
    As a label, 'dialect' might not be the perfect alternative, but to me it sounds more useful. I am not suggesting some committee barge in and level the differences with a wrecking ball, but to me before I investigated, I wouldn't have even really thought Danish and Swedish were closely related, and neither would anyone else who didn't have an interest in languages. I don't even really find it painful to imagine Germanic languages as different dialects - I remember being quite amused by a German Language expert who joked that they see English as a 'bad dialect of German' :). They are of course mutually unintelligible, but they are still so close that you can learn to get the gist of the other very quickly if you have the time and need to (I have many, many drunken nights in Germany that attest to that...)
    There is no universally accepted criterion for distinguishing a language from a dialect. As an historical linguist, I am inclined to see Norwegian/Swedish/Danish as modern dialects of Norse. However, I am cautious using the word "dialect", since dialects are normally thought of to have no standard or codified form, and are rarely or never used in formal writing (outside reported speech). Sw/Da/No will in this case fall into the category "languages", although they are still "dialects" of Norse. Personally I tend to use "language variants" in these cases (such as Dutch and Afrikaans), dialect groups within a variant, and dialect as the lowest distinction.
    I am not saying this is correct in any way - it is a personal preference.
    Which sort of lazily leads full circle back to my original point - old English dialects eventually converged together centuries ago, along with Norse and even some Norman French and bits of Latin and Greek; I seriously doubt this was the result of some top down 'standardisation' committee, the idea of which makes my toes curl up, but rather the result of spontaneous pragmatism, and pop culture influence (dost thou know of that erstwhile celeb who did go by the name Shakespeare?), and possibly a much more relaxed attitude to making historical language obsolete (one can see evidence of this today on shows like Jersey Shore and the Only Way is Essex...). And I am genuinely curious to imagine whether this is the result of being hemmed in neatly together on one island, where in contrast the Scandinavian world is separated by rather large (and rather pretty) geographical barriers...
    There are, of course, many problems intertwined in the language vs dialect model. A German speaker from Oldenburg is definitely closer to a Dutch speaker from Groningen, than to a German speaker from Salzburg. However, the two German speakers would write their language the same way. A British English and an American English speaker would spell a good church of words differently, but is widely considered to be the same language. Many linguists (and I am inclined to agree it is at least a distinct variant) consider Scots a separate language, but closer to English than Frisian (compare here: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Swadesh_lists_for_Germanic_languages).
     

    Chilvence

    New Member
    英话
    I think that given that you are a Norwegian historical linguist, that your personal preference carries a certain weight on the subject :)

    I do wish more cred was given to languages in the British school system, I find all this connectedness genuinely fascinating, although I ended up being 25 before taking the personal initiative to dive in.... The more I think about it, the more I think having a monolingual society is about as shocking as having an illiterate one. Although on the other hand, the system can make language teaching seem like a form of modern torture sometimes, as opposed to the pleasant experience it can and should be....
     

    infirmier_qc

    New Member
    Français-Québec
    I guess it is very hard to know the line from which we start calling a dialect ''language''. For instance, I am a native Quebec French speaker and as far as I was told by Swedish and Danish friends, thier languages are no more different than Quebec French is from the standard European language, which I admit may be perceived diffently by different people, yet no one would consider them separate languages.
     

    Dan2

    Senior Member
    US
    English (US)
    I am a native Quebec French speaker and as far as I was told by Swedish and Danish friends, thier languages are no more different than Quebec French is from the standard European language,
    I think that with respect to spoken language and particular dialects of French this may be a reasonable statement. But I don't think it's correct for the written languages. Any differences in the French you would see in comparing the language in a newspaper from Montreal with that in one from Paris would be miniscule compared to the language differences between a Swedish and a Danish newspaper. (Even Danish and Norwegian, much closer to each other in written form than either is to Swedish, have written norms that differ significantly more than those of Quebec and France do.)
     
    Last edited:

    infirmier_qc

    New Member
    Français-Québec
    It is true that, as we're taught in elementary school "there is only one French language, though it exists in several local flavours", thus there are no "national norm" to spell words differently, say in France, Quebec, Belgium or Switzerland. But I submit that this is possibly due to the fact that people of all those different places want to adhere to a central norm. Scandinavian languages and their peoples probably have a different take on nationalist/linguistic issues. I hear that there an institution (in Danmark if I'm not mistaken) that is working on a common scandinavian linguistic norm for all 3 countries. I for one like the sound of Danish the way it is. I would find it a pity if a supranational scandinavian norm were to crush the lignuistic "national norms" of those countries.
     

    NorwegianNYC

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Scandinavian is an oddity. The three variants Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are political rather than linguistic constructs. There is no need to have four written norms (Norwegian has two) in a dialect continuum with less diversity than in German or in English, and if we could turn back time 2-300 years, it is doubtful that Scandinavians knew they were speaking different languages.

    As of today, the ship has long since sailed for a common Scandinavian norm. Over the past 200 years, N, D and S have been driven apart by conscious politicization to make them more different than they really are. I said it was an oddity, but it is not unique. Look at the way Serbo-croatian is consciously being split into two "different" languages; Serbian and Croatian.
     

    infirmier_qc

    New Member
    Français-Québec
    I agree Анатолий. If Swedish grammatically is anything like Danish (they certainly sound different), it should be really easy to learn. I fell in love with the language after I listened to a song by the Danish pop star Medina. I started learning Danish about a year ago - on my own - and I can already follow Danish TV shows without subtitles. I find that Scandinavian languages have an efficient and elegant simplicity.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top