04.30.18

A Profile on Scandinavian Languages: Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish

Scandinavia is the title given to the Northern European region where Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are located. Three languages spoken in this region are Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. Did you know that these three languages are mutually intelligible? This means that speakers of each of these languages can understand one another with little difficulty. Let’s take a look at the three Scandinavian languages.

Danish

Danish is an Indo-European language descended from North Germanic and East Norse. It is spoken by approximately six million people worldwide, predominantly in the country of Denmark. While there is no law declaring an official language for Denmark, the Code of Civil Procedure does claim Danish as the language of the courts.

The English and Danish verb systems are very similar and share many features. Danish verbs are conjugated according to tense, but do not change according to person or number. Danish nouns have only two genders, common and neuter. A noun’s gender is not necessarily predictable and in most cases must be memorized.

Danish words are mostly derived from Old Norse Language with new words created through compounding. An extreme example of compounding is the word kvindehåndboldlandsholdet, which means “the female handball national team.”

There have been many world-renowned authors from Denmark. A notable example is Hans Christian Andersen, a popular and prolific author of fairy tales.

Norwegian

Norwegian (Norsk) is a West Scandinavian language descended from North Germanic through Germanic and the Indo-European language family. Norwegian is spoken primarily in Norway where it holds official language status. Norway is not a member of the European Union.

Norway encompasses 149,000 sq. mi. and has a native population of about 5 million.  As such, it is the second least densely populated country in Europe. An officially sanctioned standard for spoken Norwegian does not exist, and most Norwegians speak their own dialect.

There are two official versions of written Norwegian: Bokmål (“book tongue”) and Nynorsk (“new Norwegian”). Both versions are regulated by the Norwegian Language Council.

Norwegian is from the same Germanic language family as is English. Thanks to this relationship, there are several similarities between the two languages. However, there are also some significant differences that should be learned and watched out for in both written and oral Norwegian.

A greater number of English words have continuously made their way into the Norwegian lexicon, most notably after World War II. Most of these words have come from movies, entertainment, music, technology, and books. However, the influence that Norwegian had over English during the Viking Age is still greater than modern English’s impact on Norwegian.

Swedish

Standard Swedish originates from the region around Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, and is spoken by virtually all Swedes. While Swedish is the official language of Sweden, it also has the distinction of being one of the official languages of the European Union.

Swedish and English share a similar phonological system. However, Swedish has 17 more pure vowel sounds than English. Despite having a larger range of vowel sounds, Swedish speakers still have trouble pronouncing words starting with “sh-”, “be-” and “ba-“. Swedish has 18 consonant phonemes, which overlap those for English. Swedish speakers often have trouble with English “th-” words. When it comes to vocabulary, English shares many similar cognates. However, some words that may be plural in English are singular in Swedish and vice versa. Other things to watch out for when translating the two languages are the possibility that Swedish punctuation patterns may negatively transfer, and there is an expectation of run-on sentences.

The New Testament in Swedish was published in 1526 followed by the full Bible translation in 1541.

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