We’ve reviewed several of these studies before, and this subject seems to send a lot of Scandinavians up the wall for some reason. Especially Swedes are quite insistent that Swedish and Norwegian are a single language. They get pretty furious when people say that they can’t completely understand each other. A new study I found adds some weight to that notion. Here are the results of a study of Scandinavian students on an intelligibility test of other Scandinavian languages:
Swedish Norwegian Danish Norwegians 89 75 Swedes 83 24 Finnish Swedes 75 14 Danes 53 57
As you can see, Norwegian and Swedish are almost dialects of a single language. In this test, Swedish-Norwegian intelligibility was 86%. That’s not quite dialects of a single language, but it’s very close. It’s better to say that they are extremely closely related languages. If we include Finnish Swedes, the results go down somewhat, but most Swedes don’t live in Finland.
Norwegian-Danish intelligibility was lower, but still high, at 66%. That’s higher than Spanish and Portuguese. Norwegians can understand a lot more Danish than the other way around, but the Danes can’t seem to understand their neighbors very well.
Swedish-Danish intelligibility was lowest of all at 39%. It’s safe to say that these two don’t understand each other well at all. The Swedes and especially the Finnish Swedes can hardly understand Danish people at all.
Here are the results of a study of “Dutch” students on an intelligibility test of other “Dutch” languages:
Dutch Frisian Afrikaans Dutch 55 62 Frisians 67 South Africans 44 25
The intelligibility of Dutch and Afrikaans is much exaggerated. Swedish and Norwegian are much closer. Combined intelligibility of Dutch and Afrikaans is only 53%. That’s about the same as Spanish and Portuguese, not so good. In particular, Afrikaans speakers seem to have a hard time understanding the Dutch.
The intelligibility of Frisian and Dutch is also much exaggerated. Here, Dutch understood 55% of Frisian, about the same as Spanish and Portuguese. Frisians were not tested on Dutch since they all understand Dutch.
- Gooskens, Charlotte. 2007. The Contribution of Linguistic Factors to the Intelligibility of Closely Related Languages. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 28:6, 445-467.
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