[[Image:Nordiska språk.PNG|thumb|right|250px|North Germanic
Continental Scandinavian languages:
Insular Scandinavian languages:
]]The North Germanic languages
make up one of the three
branches of the Germanic
, a sub-family of the Indo-European languages
, along with
the West Germanic languages
and the extinct East Germanic
. The language group is sometimes referred to as the
, a direct translation of the most
common term used among Danish
scholars and laypeople. In
is also used as a term referring specifically
to the mutually intelligible languages of the three Scandinavian
The term "North Germanic languages" is used in genetic linguistics
, while the term
"Scandinavian languages" appears in studies of the modern standard
languages and the dialect
Approximately 20 million people in the
Nordic countries have a
Scandinavian language as their mother tongue, including a Swedish minority in Finland.
belonging to the North Germanic language tree are, to some extent,
spoken on Greenland and by immigrant groups mainly in North America and Australia.
From around the year 200 AD, speakers of the North Germanic branch
became distinguishable from the other Germanic language speakers.
The early development of this language branch is attested through
After the Proto-Norse
and Old Norse
periods, the North Germanic languages
developed into an East Scandinavian branch, consisting of Danish
; and a West Scandinavian branch,
consisting of Norwegian
. Scandinavian settlers
brought Old North Germanic to Iceland and the
islands around 800 CE.
Of the modern Scandinavian
languages, written Icelandic is closest to this ancient language.
additional language, known as Norn,
developed on Orkney and Shetland after
Vikings had settled there around 800 CE, but
this language became extinct around 1700.
In medieval times, speakers of all the Scandinavian languages could
understand one another and they referred to it as a single
language, called the "Danish tongue" until the 13th century in
Sweden and Iceland. In the 16th century, Danes and Swedes still
referred to North Germanic as a single language, which is stated in
the introduction to the first Danish translation of the Bible and
in Olaus Magnus
' A Description of the
Yet, by 1600, the genetic East Scandinavian and West Scandinavian
branches had become reconfigured from a syntactic
point of view into an insular group
(Icelandic and Faroese) and a continental group (Danish, Norwegian
and Swedish). The division between Insular Scandinavian
) and Continental
) developed due to different
influences, and is based on the degree of mutual intelligibility
between the languages in the two groups.
North Germanic languages
In historical linguistics, the North Germanic family tree is
divided into two main branches, West Scandinavian
) and East Scandinavian
), along with various dialects and
varieties. The two branches are derived from the western and
eastern dialect group of Old Norse
respectively. There was also an Old
Gutnish branch spoken on the island of Gotland.
East Scandinavian languages (and modern Norwegian, through Danish)
were heavily influenced by Middle Low
during the period of Hanseatic expansion
Currently, English loan words are influencing the languages. A 2005
survey of words used by speakers of the Scandinavian languages
showed that the number of English loan words used in the languages
has doubled during the last 30 years and is now 1.2%. Icelandic has
imported fewer English words than the other Scandinavian languages,
despite the fact that it is the country that uses English
Another way of classifying the languages—focusing on mutual intelligibility
the tree of life
Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish as Continental
, and Faroese and Icelandic as Insular
. Because of the long political union between
Norway and Denmark, Traditional Standard Norwegian (Riksmål
share most of the Danish vocabulary and grammar, and was virtually
identical to written Danish until the spelling reform of 1907. (For
this reason, Riksmål and Bokmål is sometimes considered East
Scandinavian, and Nynorsk
via the West-East division shown above.) However, Danish has
developed a greater distance between the spoken and written
versions of the language , so the differences between spoken
Norwegian and Danish are somewhat more significant than the
difference between the written. In writing, Danish is relatively
close to the other Continental Scandinavian languages, but the
sound developments of spoken Danish include reduction and
assimilation of consonants and vowels, as well as the prosodic
feature called stød
in Danish (lit. "push; thrust"),
developments which have not occurred in the other languages.
However, Scandinavians are widely expected to understand the other
spoken Scandinavian languages. Some people may have some
difficulties, particularly older people who speak a dialect, but
most people can understand the standard languages, as they appear
in radio and television, of the other Scandinavian countries.
The lowest degree of intelligibility is between spoken Danish and
Swedish. The relationships between the three languages Danish,
Norwegian and Swedish may be summarized as per the following
diagram; Norwegian is sometimes humorously explained as "Danish
spoken with a Swedish pronunciation":
How Norwegian is related to Swedish
The mutual intelligibility between the Continental Scandinavian
languages is asymmetrical. Various studies have shown
Norwegian-speakers to be the best in Scandinavia at understanding
other languages within the language group. According to a study
undertaken during 2002–2005 and funded by the Nordic Cultural Fund,
Swedish-speakers in Stockholm and Danish-speakers in Copenhagen have the greatest difficulty in understanding other
The study, which focused mainly on native
speakers under the age of 25, showed that the lowest ability to
comprehend another language is demonstrated by youth in Stockholm
in regard to Danish, producing the lowest ability score in the
survey. The greatest variation in results between participants
within the same country was also demonstrated by the
Swedish-speakers in the study. Participants from Malmö, located in
the southernmost Swedish province of Scania
demonstrated a better understanding of Danish than Swedish-speakers
to the north. Access to Danish television and radio, direct
trains to Copenhagen over the Öresund bridge and a larger number of cross-border commuters in
the Oresund Region contribute to a
better knowledge of spoken Danish and a better knowledge of the
unique Danish words among the region's inhabitants.
According to the study, youth in this region were able to
understand the Danish language better than the Norwegian
The results from the study of how well native youth in different
Scandinavian cities did when tested on their knowledge of the other
Continental Scandinavian languages are summarized in table format,
reproduced below. The maximum score was 10.0:
Icelandic and Faroese speakers (of the Insular Scandinavian
languages group) are even better than the Norwegians at
comprehending two or more languages within the Continental
Scandinavian languages group, scoring high in both Danish (which
they study at school) and Norwegian and having the highest score on
a Scandinavian language other than the mother tongue, as well as
the highest average score. When speakers of Faroese and Icelandic
were tested on how well they understood the three Continental
Scandinavian languages, the test results were as follows (maximum
The North Germanic languages are often cited as proof of the
"A language is a
dialect with an army and navy
." The differences in dialects
within the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark can often be
greater than the differences across the borders, but the political
independence of these countries leads continental Scandinavian to
be classified into Norwegian
, and Danish
in the popular mind as well as among
most linguists. This is also because of the strong influence of the
in Denmark and Sweden. Even if the language policy of Norway has
been more tolerant of rural dialectal variation in formal language,
the prestige dialect often referred
to as "Eastern Urban Norwegian", spoken mainly in and around the
Oslo region, can be considered to be quite
The creation of Nynorsk
out of dialects after Norway became independent of Denmark in 1814
was an attempt to make the linguistic divisions match the political
Mutual intelligibility with other Germanic languages, while
generally low, also varies. For example, Germans can understand
Danish slightly better than the other languages, whereas
English-speakers can understand Swedish or Norwegian slightly
better than Danish.
All North Germanic languages are descended from Old Norse
. Divisions between subfamilies of North
Germanic are rarely precisely defined: Most form continuous clines,
with adjacent dialects
intelligible and the most separated ones not.
Beside the two official written norms of Norwegian, there exist two
established unofficial norms: Riksmål
, similar to, but more conservative
than Bokmål, which is used to various extents by numerous people,
especially in the cities and Høgnorsk
"High-Norwegian", similar to
Nynorsk, used by a very small minority.
shares many characteristics
with both Trøndersk and with Norrländska mål. Due to this ambiguous
position, it is contested whether Jamtlandic belongs to the West
Norse or the East Norse language group.
generally considered a Sveamål
dialect, today has an
official orthography and is, because of a lack of mutual
intelligibility with Swedish
considered as a separate language by many linguists.
Other languages in Scandinavia
form an unrelated
group that has coexisted with the North Germanic language group in
Scandinavia since prehistory. Sami, like Finnish
, is part of the Finno-Ugric
language group. In inter-Nordic
contexts, texts are today often presented in three versions:
Finnish, Icelandic, and one of the three languages Danish,
Norwegian and Swedish. During centuries of interaction, Finnish and
Sami have imported many more loanwords from North Germanic
languages than vice versa.
The North-Germanic languages are majority languages in Denmark,
Norway and Sweden, while Finnish is spoken by the majority in
Finland. Another language in the Nordic countries is
Greenlandic, the official
languages of Greenland.
In southernmost Denmark, German
also spoken, being an official language there. Traditionally,
Danish and German were the two official languages of Denmark-Norway
- Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Language Family Trees Indo-European, Germanic, North.
Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas,
Texas: SIL International
- Scandinavian Dialect Syntax. Network for Scandinavian
Dialect Syntax. Retrieved 11 November 2007.
- Holmberg, Anders and Christer Platzack (2005). "The
Scandinavian languages". In The Comparative Syntax
Handbook, eds Guglielmo Cinque and Richard S. Kayne. Oxford
and New York: Oxford University Press. Excerpt at Durham University.
- Bandle, Oskar (ed.)(2005). The Nordic Languages: An
International Handbook of the History of the North Germanic
Languages. Walter de Gruyter, 2005, ISBN 311017149X.
- Lund, Jørn. Language. Published online by Royal Danish
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Version 1-November 2003. Retrieved 13
- Lindström, F. & Lindström, H. (2006). Svitjods
undergång och Sveriges födelse. Albert Bonniers Förlag. ISBN
- Jónsson, Jóhannes Gísli and Thórhallur Eythórsson (2004).
"Variation in subject case marking in Insular
Scandinavian". Nordic Journal of Linguistics (2005), 28:
223–245 Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 9 November 2007.
- Heine, Bernd and Tania Kuteva (2006). The Changing
Languages of Europe. Oxford University Press, 2006, ISBN
- Torp, Arne (2004). Nordiske sprog i fortid og nutid. Sproglighed og
sprogforskelle, sprogfamilier og sprogslægtskab. Moderne
nordiske sprog. In Nordens sprog – med rødder og fødder.
Nord 2004:010, ISBN 9289310413, Nordic Council of Ministers'
Secretariat, Copenhagen 2004. (In Danish).
- "Urban misunderstandings". In Norden this week - Monday 01.17.2005.The Nordic
Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers. Retrieved 13 November
- Maurud, Ø (1976). Nabospråksforståelse i Skandinavia. En
undersøkelse om gjensidig forståelse av tale- og skriftspråk i
Danmark, Norge og Sverige. Nordisk utredningsserie 13.
Nordiska rådet, Stockholm.
- Delsing, Lars-Olof and Katarina Lundin Åkesson (2005).
Håller språket ihop Norden? En forskningsrapport om ungdomars
förståelse av danska, svenska och norska. Available in
pdf format. Numbers are from Figure 4:11.
"Grannspråksförståelse bland infödda skandinaver fördelade på ort",
p.65 and Figure 4:6. "Sammanlagt resultat på
grannspråksundersökningen fördelat på område", p.58.
- Dalen, Arnold (2005). Jemtsk og trøndersk – to nære slektningar.
Språkrådet, Norway. (In Norwegian). Retrieved 13 November
- Sapir, Yair (2004). Elfdalian, the Vernacular of
Övdaln. Conference paper, 18–19 juni 2004. Available in
pdf format at Uppsala University online
- Sammallahti, Pekka, 1990. "The Sámi Language: Past and
Present". In Arctic Languages: An Awakening. The United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Paris.
ISBN 92-3-102661-5, p. 440: "the arrival of a Uralic population and
language in Samiland [...] means that there has been a period of at
least 5000 years of uninterrupted linguistic and cultural
development in Samiland. [...] It is also possible, however, that
the earlier inhabitants of the area also spoke a Uralic language:
we do not know of any linguistic groups in the area other than the
Uralic and Indo-Europeans (represented by the present Scandinavian
- Inez Svonni Fjällström (2006). "A language with deep roots".Sápmi: Language
history, 14 November 2006. Samiskt Informationscentrum
Sametinget: "The Scandinavian languages are Northern Germanic
languages. [...] Sami belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family.
Finnish, Estonian, Livonian and Hungarian belong to the same
language family and are consequently related to each other."
- The Nordic Council's/Nordic Council of Ministers' political
magazine Analys Norden offers three versions: a section labeled
"Íslenska" (Icelandic), a section labeled "Skandinavisk" (in either
Danish, Norwegian or Swedish), and a section labeled "Suomi"