Scandinavian Languages

Nordic languages: How similar are the Scandinavian languages?

If you’ve ever travelled through Scandinavia, you might have noticed a similarity among common Nordic languages. But, how similar are the Scandinavian languages? Today, we’re going to find out...

Many of the Scandinavian languages we know today, from Danish and Norwegian, to Swedish and Finnish, sound and look very similar.

Although the languages of Scandinavia have different nuances to them, many people can see the similarities. This is likely because the Scandinavian region is packed with countries that share a common history and heritage. 

The Vikings, Old Norse, and Germanic language customs have heavily influenced Nordic languages, making it difficult to distinguish one from another. 

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between Scandinavian languages, or you’re just looking for a Scandinavian languages list to top up your knowledge, we’ve got you covered. 

Here’s your guide to Scandinavian languages. 

Scandinavian Languages

Scandinavian languages: What languages are spoken in Scandinavia?

There are quite a few different languages spoken in Scandinavia. Some you may be pretty familiar with, such as Icelandic, Norwegian, and Danish. Others a little lesser-known, like the Nynorsk language or Meänkieli. 

Here’s a quick list of some of the Nordic languages you should know…

Swedish

Spoken most out of any of the top Nordic languages, Swedish is the local language of Sweden. Although Swedish is most common among Swedish locals, many Finnish and Danish people speak this tongue too. Danish also has quite a similar appearance to Swedish. 

Danish

A whopping five million people speak Danish, the official language of Denmark. This is also the second official language of Greenland and the Faroese Islands. Written Danish and Swedish might look similar, but the pronunciation is very different. 

To a Swedish person, Danish language would sound confusing, with unnecessary alterations in pronunciation. 

Norwegian

Like Danish, around five million speak Norwegian today. The national language of Norway, Norwegian is very similar in style to Swedish and Danish. 

Compared to other Nordic languages, Norwegian is the one most likely to translate well across multiple country. Norwegians have no trouble understanding their neighbours. 

When Norway first gained independence from Denmark in the 1800s, the country actually created two national language, one spoken by people in cities, and one spoken in the countryside. 

Finnish

Five million people currently speak Finnish today, bringing it in line with Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish. Finnish is a very different language to the three we’ve mentioned so far on this Scandinavian languages list. 

While it’s easy to conduct a Scandinavian languages comparison between Danish and Swedish, Finnish seems to come from an entirely different world

Icelandic

Icelandic is less like Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, and more in line with the Old Norse languages of the Vikings. Icelandic only has around three hundred and fifty thousand speakers, making it a lot less common than its brothers. 

However, many people still love this amazing tongue, and consider it to be a great insight into what makes Iceland special

Scandinavian Languages

Lesser-known Nordic languages

Now we’re getting to the lesser-known Scandinavian languages. The speech from places like the Faroe Islands and Greenland isn’t as common as the five options we mentioned above. There are also some additional languages to consider which you may not have heard before. 

Faroese

Faroese is the language in the Faroe Islands. Besides the islands, there are some people within Iceland and Denmark who also speak this tongue. The language has a wonderful history, and many consider it crucial to the perseverance of the identity of the region. 

According to experts, Faroese is a language that was brought to the country by the Norsemen that first landed on the shores. Faroese is quite similar to Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian in appearance, but it’s most like Norwegian in sound. 

Greenlandic

Greenlandic is an interesting language often overlooked in lists of Scandinavian languages. Spoken by around 60,000 people throughout Denmark and Greenland, the language has three separate dialects. 

Depending on where you’re from, you may speak West, East, or Northern Greenlandic. Western Greenlandic is the most common throughout schools. 

Sami

The Sami language is a Fenno-Ugrian tongue, currently spoken by up to 35,000 people. There are ten different variations of this language identified in the region, but only six have their own written standards. 

The Sami tongue is slowly being revived and rediscovered throughout Central Sweden, and Southern Norway. 

Nynorsk

Only around 12% of the Norwegian population currently speak Nynorsk. This has been declared one of the two written standards for the Norwegian language, and it’s the official language for a fourth of all Norwegian municipalities. 

Nynorsk isn’t as well-known as Norwegian, but it’s the preferred written language within various parts. 

Meänkieli

Spoken by up to 70,000 people, Meänkieli is a common language in Northern Sweden. Many regard the tongue to be similar to Finnish, with a grammar and structure that are almost exactly the same. 

However, the vocabulary of Meänkieli is influenced by spoken Swedish. Alongside standard Swedish, you might find Meänkieli in textbooks and schools around Sweden. 

Kven

Spoken by the people of Northern Norway, Kven is a unique Finnic tongue, considered to be the choice for around 10,000 people. Most of the people who still speak Kven are over the age of 60. The population who do use this language have chosen it as their only form of communication. 

Some cultural researchers believe that the language will die out with the older residents of Norway. 

Scandinavian Languages

What is the most popular Scandinavian language?

There’s some controversy attached to this question, depending on what you classify as a “Scandinavian language”. If you’re looking for the most widely spoken language within the current Scandinavian countries listed today, then its probably Swedish. 

Up to 10.5 million people around the world speak Swedish — not just the Swedes. 

Swedish is common among all of the Nordic countries, as well as Finland, Estonia, Ukraine, Norway, and Denmark. Denmark and Norwegian are actually very similar to Swedish in both structure and sound. 

So, what’s the controversy? 

Some people argue that English could be the most popular Scandinavian language. 

Is English a Scandinavian language?

Researchers suggest that they may be able to prove that English is actually a “Scandinavian” language. This essentially means that English belongs to the Northern Germanic language group, similar to Danish, Swedish, Faroese, and Norwegian. 

If this is true, it contrasts with the opinions of other language researchers who have long suggested English descends from Anglo-Saxon. Various professionals have commented on the similarities between some English and Scandinavian words. 

What about Old Norse languages?

Ancient Scandinavian languages range all the way from “Old Norsk,” or Old Norse, to Germanic. The oldest Scandinavian language seems to come from futhark, which is a kind of runic alphabet, potentially common among Vikings and earlier settlers in the region. 

Old Norse is still present throughout Scandinavia today. It was the language in which many of the sagas, Eddas and sources of Old Norse mythology were written. According to specialists, Old Norse is a member of the Germanic language family, which includes German and English. 

During the first several centuries of what’s now known as the “Common Era”, which gradually morphed into Proto Norse, Old Norse started to fragment into more regionally specific tongues. 

By the modern era, we eventually had different languages entirely, such as Icelandic, Swedish, and Danish. There are even versions of “Old Icelandic” and “Old Danish” according to language specialists. 

How different are the Scandinavian languages?

Scandinavian languages have a lot in common. There are some Nordic languages which are very similar to each other, such as Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian. 

However other languages, like Finnish and Icelandic, are far apart from what you might expect if you’re familiar with things like Sweden. 

If you’re keen to learn more about Scandinavian languages, it’s definitely worth checking out the Ruth H Sanders book, the languages of Scandinavia, where she refers to the languages as the “Seven sisters of the North”. 

The major 3 Scandinavian languages have so much in common they’re frequently seen as being similar to dialects. They all evolved from Old Norse, after all. The reality, however, is that just because you know one Scandinavian language, doesn’t always mean you know them all. 

There are tons of different regional tongues to explore, and this is part of what makes Scandinavia such a diverse and wonderful place. 

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