German - Dutch - Scandinavian Mutual Intelligibility

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by tvdxer, Jul 3, 2006.

  1. tvdxer Senior Member

    Minnesota, U.S.A.
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    I have read that Germans in the north have do not have mutual intelligibility with Germans in, say, Austria, but ich finde this very hard to believe. In addition, to me, German looks very much like Dutch. On Dutch TV, when a German-speaking person comes on and they put subtitles at the bottom of the screen, it almost sounds like the German speaker is reading them (no, I don't speak Dutch).

    Can most German speakers understand, at least to some minor extent (not with full fluency, of course) spoken and written Dutch? Can the Dutch do the same with German? How about Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish? I think that might be a stretch, but they seem to speak a language more similar to German than English.

    Thank you.
  2. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    I have never had the chance to watch Dutch TV, but what I can tell from Dutch texts, I think that it is possible to understand oneself with person from the other country. I can understand some written Dutch, but I believe that I wouldn't even understand the gist when a native Dutch speaker speaks fluently. If he make an effort and speaks slowly, and I make an effort to understand him, we will be able to communciate, at least to some minor extent, as you said. ;)

    I would not say that most German speakers can understand Dutch. I daresay that this is not the case for Dutch speakers who try to understand German. Most of the Dutch can even speak German, whereas just a little percentage of all German could speak Dutch.

    It is much more complicated with Danish, let alone Norwegian or Swedish. There are some words that look like "wrong German", but I don't think that we can understand ourselves. When I was in Sweden, I comversed with them in English. ;)
  3. Kajjo

    Kajjo Senior Member

    1. Of course, Germans, Austrians and Swiss understand each other fluently -- so far as everyone is willing and uses more or less standard German, even if with a strong accent. However, there are German dialects that, if spoken fast and very strongly accented, are difficult to understand.

    2. Germans do not understand Dutch, but nearly all Dutch understand a little bit German. When reading Dutch, Germans can grasp simple sentences or words, but not comprehend a text fluently. The exposure to Dutch is pretty low, even in Northern Germany. Maybe close to the border the situation is different.

    3. Skandinavian languages are, from my point of view, very different. We have to learn those languages like any other foreign language.

  4. übermönch

    übermönch Senior Member

    Warum wohne ich bloß in so einem KAFF?
    World - 1.German, 2.Russian, 3.English
    Germans in the northwestern part of the country speak Plattdüütsch as their first language/dialect. It is much closer to Dutch then to high German (in fact they spoke pure Dutch before the age of Nationalism in the 19th century) and it is assumable that they can understand Dutch to a high degree. Germans in other parts of the country speak other languages (commonly seen as dialects) as their first. I, being from Hessen, cannot understand spoken bavarian, or even Swiss German, but I do understand Luxembourgish and other dialects of the Rhine valley quite well. They differ approximately as much, say, two slavic languages from the same subgroup. But fear not, all Germans speak high German aswell and this is the language of all media (except Swiss and Luxembourgois).

    Norse languages are very different from the Western Germanic ones regards on grammar and everything else. They however had, just as French, some influence exclusively on English (blame Harald Hardraada) making it easier for english speaking people to understand then say, to Dutch or German.

    EDIT:Hey, everybody, what about writing a simple sentence in several Germanic languages for comparisson?
  5. tvdxer Senior Member

    Minnesota, U.S.A.
    Minnesota, U.S.A. - English
    This might not be the best example, but at least it's a holy one :) :

    English: Give us this day our daily bread
    German: Unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute (Our daily bread give us today)
    Swedish (German-like version):
    Vårt dagliga bröd giv oss idag (Our daily bread give us today)
    Geef ons heden ons dagelijks brood (Give us today our daily bread)
    Frisian: Jow ús hjoed ús deistich brea.

    Norwegian: Gi oss i dag vårt daglige brød. (Give us today our daily bread)
    Giv os i dag vort daglige brød
    Swedish (other version):
    Ge oss i dag vårt bröd för dagen som kommer.
    Gef oss í dag vort daglegt brauð.
    Gev okkum í dag okkara dagliga breyð.

  6. vespista

    vespista New Member

    Uppsala, Sweden
    Swedish / Sweden (Suéde)
    As a Swede, I understand spoken Norwegian without any problem, spoken Danish if they articulate well, written Norwegian or Danish without a problem. German is too different, but Dutch is quite interesting because while spoken Dutch is "Greek" to us, we could quite easily understand the general context of written Dutch. If I had to choose between a German and a Dutch text I would choose the Dutch, while if I had to choose between getting information from a German or a Dutch speaker I would have to take my chances with the German.
  7. Paskovich

    Paskovich Senior Member

    Germany - German
    Mh I don´t think this is so natural. At least I didn´t understand that much when I was in Austria last year. Alright, perhaps I´m deaf or something.

    We stood in front of our house and the landlord said something to me, as I learned later, just that the key already is in the lock of the door, but I couldn´t understand a single word.
    It was actually quite an awkward moment and I just answered with an uncertain "Mh" and called for my friends. ^^

    Same thing in the ski lift where an old lady asked me something and I didn´t get anything.
    I´ll never go to Austria again! ;)

    I agree completely with your 2nd and 3rd point.
    Even though I think the 2nd point also goes for Skandinavian languages up to a certain point.
  8. Timothy P New Member

    English, England
    My German teacher went on holiday to Sweden and found she could help them with their English.
  9. SimoneW Member

    dutch, the netherlands
    Most Dutch can understand to a certain point German and in that case I mean the so-called high-German. The dialect in the northwestern part of Germany is very close to dutch indeed. You have to get used to it a little but after that it goes quitte good.
    However swiss or austrian is difficult for the average dutch (maybe after being there on vacation they get used to it and it becomes easier;) )
    Concerning the scandinavian languages I can only give my personal opinion; When spoken I can pick out some words but fully understand: no way.
    However reading is a lot easier and in general I can follow the meaning (though I read in that case very slow).
  10. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    I wonder if you are really talking about German dialects or you are talking about regional languages like Friesisch or Nord-Friesisch? They are sometimes mistaken for German dialects although they are not. But they are languages that are being spoken, an have been for centuries, in the North of Germany - alongside with Plattdeutsch and Danish.

    Earlier in this thread somebody mentioned that these languages would be the mother tongue of most people in this region. Not quite true any more - I do know people who did not learn High-German till they entered first grade, but most of them are 50 years or older.

    I hardly know anybody - who can only speak High-German - who is capable of understanding even simple Nederlands. But once you know a couple of other languages, like English and Danish it suddenly becomes transparent.
    Personally I have trouble with the phonetic side of it. Spoken, I can understand Belgian-Flemish a lot better.
  11. flame

    flame Senior Member

    My goodness - what can I do to change your mind!

    In my opinion the German - Dutch - Scandinavian Mutual Intelligibility has to do with the redundancy of our languages.

    My mother tounge is German (OK Paskovich it's Austrian ;) ), an I'd say I have a decent knowledge of English. With that
    • I can read Dutch up to a point that I can grasp the content of the text. Not in all detail but just enough that I know what they are writing about and get the main intention of the article.
    • I cannot understand spoken Dutch unless it is pronounced very slowly, giving me the time to guess how it would look in writing
    • I could not read enough Swedish to cross the redundancy border, but I was close to it
    • I could not understand Swedish at all
    Nevertheless I started to learn Swedish and found it it quite easy and had a good initial progress. After some years of doing Swedish I started to understand Norwegian an Icelandic, but I still have difficulties with Danish and the lyrics sung by Agnes Buen-Garnås on "Rosensfole" (Jan Garbarek )(ancient Norwegian?)
  12. non-historical-fact New Member

    Danish, Denmark
    I understand a bit Norwegian and a bit Swedish, but I think it's much easier to understand when it's written. hehe.
  13. cirrus

    cirrus Senior Member

    Crug Hywel
    UK English
    I used to live in SW Germany. Even there people found that if they went to Berlin or Hamburg fellow Germans would struggle to understand them if they spoke like they were still at home. The point for me is that German is a constellation of languages. The dialects people speak are as varied as the ones that go under the umbrella term Italian. What you hear on telly or at the theatre are standard forms, whereas on the street it is anything but.

    In Holland German TV has been transmitted for years and years without subtitles. Most Dutch people study German, French and English at school. There are similarities but they are very different. There are lots of sounds that get in the way. The dutch g is a hard ch (and then again some). There are consonant clusters which have sounds that just don't exist in German: sch, ij and ui being particularly hard for German speakers to process. It all gets a bit alphabet soupy. If you stare long enough at written versions you can decode things but as for understanding spoken Dutch, forget it without study.

    The commonality between Nordic languages and German is broadly comparable to that between English with Dutch and separated by about the same length of historical linguistic development.
  14. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    I would be careful with the term "Nordic" in this connection; it implies that we are talking about the languages spoken in the Nordic countries. That would include Icelandic and Finnish.
  15. Hutschi

    Hutschi Senior Member


    after training some times, I could understand most of the contents in Dutch books. But I could not understand much of the spoken Dutch, just a little bit.

    I could almoust nothing understand in Skandinavian books or audio books.

    My native language is the high German language.

    I live in Saxony, in Dresden, in the east part of Germany. Some say in the middle part.

    Best regards
  16. magnus Senior Member

    Marburg, Germany (temp.)
    Norwegian (Scandinavian), Norway
    As a Norwegian (the same applies to those from other Scandinavian countries) one cannot understand written or spoken German, without learning the language first. We do, on the other hand, get a lot of help from our own vocabulary - which has many words with roots in Germanic languages. Thus, there is no mutual intelligibility between German and the Scandinavian languages.

    In written German the biggest problem for us is the case system, unknown to Scandinavian languages today. In spoken German of course there are problems understanding some of the dialects (those spoken in North-Germany tend to be a lot easier to understand, than in South-Germany - in my experience).

    The sad thing is that the number of those learning German in Norway (in Denmark as well, I know) decreases every year.
  17. Stefanie1976 Member

    Maryland, USA
    German, Germany
    I grew up speaking a local dialect at home, which happens to be close to the Dutch border, so I have no problems understanding people from Limburg. High German is what I call my second language :)
    I can not understand Fries.
    If people from the south in Germany or Austria or Switzerland do not make an attempt to speak "high German", I have problems understanding them.

    From the Scandinavian languages I would guess that Danish is easiest to "understand" at least written (although it looks "strange" to me). Spoken, I doubt I would get the meaning in a conversation, but I have not tried to.
  18. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    Believe me, I would have the same problems unterstanding you if you speak your local dialect ;) It even took me some minutes to get accostumed to the accent when I hit upon some people from Schleswig-Holstein in a pub the other day, although they spoke largely Standard German.

    Do you unterstand Luxembourgish easily? I don't. Yiddish, yes, except of course the Hebrew and Slavic parts of the vocabulary.

    As for Scandinavian languages: I can guess quite a lot when reading, but I might not even realize it is Germanic when I hear it. Even in spoken Dutch I find it hard to understand a thing, but I guess it's more like with other German dialects: once your ears get accostumed to the most common differences, you understand a lot without learning. On the basis of speaking Croatian/Serbian rather well, I find spoken Czech or Ukrainian easier than Dutch, but in written language it is the other way round.
  19. Stefanie1976 Member

    Maryland, USA
    German, Germany
    I believe if we both spoke in dialect it would make for a funny conversation :) . Even when I speak "regular German" I have a strong accent.
    Luxembourgish is difficult for me, because it comes from a different sub group of dialects. My local dialect is "classified" as a "ostlimburgischer Dialekt des Limburgisch-Bergischen" or more "scientific" as suedniederfraenkischer Dialekt der niederfraenkischen Mundart.

    As for Yiddish, yes, the Germanic parts for the most, and since I am trying to learn Hebrew, I am (slowly) getting a hang of the Hebrew parts, too.
  20. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    I would have somehow expected that for you, Luxembourgish should be at least as easy as Yiddish, but obviously geographical vicinity can be quite misleading. By the way, I envy you: You can read original Yiddish texts. I admit that I am very slow at deciphering Hebrew characters (and bad at guessing vowels), thus what I said mainly refers to spoken Yiddish and transliterations.
  21. Stefanie1976 Member

    Maryland, USA
    German, Germany
    The problem is in the vowel shifts. I grew up north of the Benrath Line, where the first three "waves" did not take place.

    See here:

    As for Yiddish: guessing vowels is hard. It gets easier to do in Hebrew when you learn the grammar and it all starts to make a little sense, but it is still difficult for me, too.
  22. beclija Senior Member

    Boarisch, Österreich (Austria)
    I think it is harder in Yiddish than in a Semitic language (I used to learn some Arabic, ages ago), because in a Semitic language you only have to pick among a limited number of patterns that fit the consonants, while in a Germanic language it can in principle be anything.
  23. Jorik New Member

    1. Dutch can not understand spoken German without any practice. We can understand some of it because we (Dutch) learn German during schooltime. I wouldn't say there exist a mutual intelligibility between German and Dutch. Both languages are Germanic languages but without a lot of exposure, intelligibility is close to zero. Of course, there are a lot of words almost the same in both languages.

    2. Written Danish has a lot of ''Dutch'' in it. Danish feels very close to Dutch, especially when you compare Danish with the dialects and languages in the northern part of the Netherlands. Spoken Danish is actually very hard. I can not understand spoken Danish, maybe some words here and there. The problem is the huge Danish dialect for me...but that is how they speak haha, so yeah...

    3. Written Norwegian is almost the same as written Danish. Spoken Norwegian is so much better understandable than spoken Danish. When I listen to it, I can understand the general idea, but I can not understand everything ''automatically''. It is easier than Danish in my opinion.

    4. Swedish is the most difficult one. It has the most foreign words but it is spoken very crisp in my ears. When a Swede speak very slow, I can understand some of it.

    German and English are the closest languages to Dutch but we can't understand them without any practice. Written Danish is the third closest and spoken Norwegian probably the third closest to Dutch. All languages are actually Germanic languages so we are genetically very close to each other. The most beautiful Germanic language to listen to is probably Swedish.
  24. bearded

    bearded Senior Member

    Hello Jorik
    Welcome to the forum. What you say is very interesting, but do you realise that you have resumed a thread from the year 2006? Not that it matters, really, since we all think things over during a long long time..:)
  25. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Not quite true. You forget a whole bunch of languages of which some have even more similarity with Dutch: The Frisian and the Low German languages. They are languages in their own right.
  26. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Low Frankish/Ripuarian dialects in Germany are probably closer to Dutch than Low German and Frisian, at least genetically. The Frisian and Low German dialect spoken in the Netherlands are maybe easier to understand for a Dutch but that is because these dialects are heavily influenced by Dutch.
  27. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    This is probably much to old to reach Beclija, but one thing should be straightened up here: In Yiddish you don't have to guess vowels. The vowels are written, even when written with Hebrew/Aramaic letters.
  28. Jorik New Member

    Thank you bearded man :)

    I also speak Frisian and Gronings so I know these ''languages'' are also very close to Dutch, German and English. I left them, including Icelandic and the Faroese language, out because of their ''size''.
  29. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Low German might have been marginalized by High German in Germany and Dutch in the Netherlands today but it is still an important language because of its historical significance as lingua franca of trade in Northern Europe and its influence on Scandinavian languages. Danish is easy to read for you because of its many Low German loan words. Estimates vary between 20% and 50% of the vocabulary.
  30. Jorik New Member

    I grew up with Gronings and learned Dutch at school. I can use my motherlanguage (or dialect) also in Ost-Friesland (Germany) but I have to admit that only a small number of people in Ost-Friesland speak Low German today,... and when I find a speaker, their ''low german'' is very much influenced by high german so it is really hard to understand what they say. I always notice that a lot of Germans in that region, and especially the youth, think Low German is ''stupid'', ''silly'' or ''farmer-language''. In my country, the NL, people think very different about regional languages. It is getting more and more popular because people identify with their region. Especially Frisian and Gronings because both are very different from standard Dutch. Also Limburgs (in the south of the NL, it has a very Germanish sound and hard to understand) is very much in use.

    I never knew Danish had that many Low German/Frisian loan definitely explains why it is ''easy'' to understand :)
  31. Jorik New Member

    Just came up with some words and translated them into these languages:

    Gronings: Gold, Eddik, Broekt, Pùde, Snij, Ròtte, Denmaark, Wien, Dien, Nij, Doe
    Danish: Guld, Eddike, Brugt, Posse, Sne, Rotte, Denmark, Vin, Din, Ny, Du
    Dutch: Goud, Azijn, Gebruikt, Tas, Sneeuw, Rat, Denemarken, Wijn, Jouw, Nieuw, Jij
    Frisian: Goud, Jittik, Brûke, Pûde, Snie, Rôt, Denemark, Wyn, Dyn, Nij, Do
    English: Gold, Vinegar, Used, Purse (bag), Snow, Rat, Denmark, Wine, Your, New, You
    German: Gold, Essig, Gebraucht, Tasche, Schnee, Ratte, Dänemark, Wein, Dir, Neu, Du

    All are pretty much related to each other...
  32. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    ...Yes, at least as much as "your" variety of Low German is influenced by Dutch.
  33. Jorik New Member

    haha, true! Both varieties should reunite again :)

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