Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish–what’s the relationship? Posted by kari on Nov 20, 2008 in Language
Like the romance languages, Scandinavian languages have much in common. Danes and Norwegians can understand each other and so can Norwegians and Swedes. Swedish and Danish do not have quite as much in common. Norwegian seems to be the common denominator. You might wonder why this is?
Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have a complicated relationship. Historically it has been quite a scene of power-swapping and power sharing. The three countries were politically united from 1397-1523 in the Kalmar Union. Shortly thereafter Denmark ruled over Norway for nearly three centuries (1536-1814), after which point Norway fell under Swedish rule. During the Norway-Denmark union, Danish was the standard written language and the spoken language of the Norwegian elite. By the time Norway was in a union with Sweden, Norwegians united in a nationalist movement to develop their own language.
In Norway there are two standard written languages: bokmål and nynorsk. Children learn both languages in school. Bokmål is the written language of the majority of the population, but most people speak their own local dialect. If you learn bokmål and Norwegian is not your first language (morsmål= essentially mother tongue), you will be able to understand Norwegians in Oslo forsure. Chances are you’ll understand people in Bergen and other big cities, but once you move into the rural areas, it’s tough. Some Norwegians can’t even understand each other. The high mountains and deep valleys prevented people from interacting with others outside of their village so hundreds of different dialects evolved.
Nynorsk is actually a language that a man named Ivar Aasen set out to develop. During the middle of the 19th century, he travelled all around Norway to collect grammatical and phonetic information about Norwegian dialects. He basically created a folk-language (nynorsk) that shares less characteristics with Danish and more with Old Norwegian and the many dialects that were formed during Norway’s several unions with Sweden and Denmark.
Here is the relationship between the three languages that all of this history has created: Written Danish and Norwegian are very similar, spoken Swedish and Norwegian are very similar, and Danish and Swedish have the least in common. Many people think Danes sounds like Norwegians with potatoes in their throats.� Bottom line-if you learn Norwegian, you will be able to get by in Sweden and Denmark too!!!