I’ve been asked to provide this information from some folks who, incredibly, are insisting that Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are all one language. What makes it even more painful is that at least one of them is a Swedish-language speaker.
I suppose it makes sense that people are outraged by the splitting of these closely related languages. Many Swedes and Norwegians can understand the other language pretty well. I think a lot of this is because they have actually learned the other language, but at any rate, intelligibility between these languages varies. In order to communicate well, Swedes and Norwegians often have to speak slowly. There are all sorts of other variables, but I think that in cases of 90-100% intelligibility, we are looking at a lot of bilingual learning.
I only had one set of figures for the Scandinavian languages, but these were attacked because, while detailed, they lacked a reference for who or what study, if any, came up with those numbers. In looking around, I quickly discovered that there have been intelligibility studies with the Scandinavian languages. Unfortunately, they don’t look good for the case that this is all one language. The data is from a study conducted by the Nordic Cultural Fund from 2002-2005. Subjects were young people under the age of 25. The results can be seen here:
% Danish Swedish Norwegian Average Århus 37.4 46.8 42.1 Copenhagen 36 41.3 38.7 Malmö 50.8 49.7 50.2 Stockholm 34.6 55.6 45.1 Bergen 65 61.5 63.2 Oslo 65.7 71.2 68.5 Faeroe Is. 82.8 57.5 70 70.1 Iceland 53.6 33.4 34 41.9
The highest score of all is Faroese-Danish. Faroese understand 82.8% of spoken Danish. However, this is contaminated by the fact that all Faroese must begin taking Danish classes at Grade 3, and they are tested at Grade 9 to see if they can go on to a higher level.
Faroese is the official language of the ‘fólkaskúli’, and it is the first language that students are taught. Students then begin to learn Danish in third grade and English in fourth grade. In eighth and ninth grade, the curriculum consists of a number of compulsory subjects which prepare the students for upper secondary school and a range of optional subjects from which the students can choose. At the end of ninth grade, students need to pass an exam that gives them entry to upper secondary schools.
The worst scores of all are for Iceland. Icelandics understand only 34% of Swedish and 33.4% of Norwegian.
Although not tested, the intelligibility of Faroese and Icelandic is one way. The Faroese understand the Icelandic, but not the other way around. This is due to dipthongization and other phonological things in Faroese.
Malmö is located in Scania in the south of Sweden where they speak a dialect called Scanian that is closer to Danish. That is why Malmö understands Danish better than Stockholm does.
Based on the notion that >90%+ intelligibility would be the minimum necessary to say that these lects are all one language, the notion that these five languages, much less that big three, are all one language is simply not supported by the available data. In fact, we are not even able to combine even two out of the five into a single language. Hence, all five Scandinavian languages are separate languages, not dialects of one or more macrolanguage.
Are they close? Sure. Are they all one language? Sure doesn’t look like it. Could a speaker of one quickly pick up another one. Quite possibly.
- Delsing, Lars-Olof and Åkesson, Katarina Lundin. 2005. Håller Språket Ihop Norden? In Forskningsrapport Om Ungdomars Förståelse Av Danska, Svenska Och Norska. Data above is 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.
- Maurud, Ø. 1976. Nabospråksforståelse I Skandinavia. In Undersøkelse Om Gjensidig Forståelse Av Tale- Og Skriftspråk I Danmark, Norge Og Sverige. Nordisk Utredningsserie 13. Nordiska Rådet, Stockholm.
- Smith, Norval. Linguistics professor, Netherlands. July 2013. Personal communication.
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