Norwegian is the easiest of the Nordic languages to understand
As many as 62 per cent of young people from other Nordic countries find it easy to understand Norwegian. Only 26 per cent say the same about Danish. But it’s also easy for young people to switch to English, one language professor says.
“There are huge differences between countries when we look at how many young people think it’s easy to understand the different Scandinavian languages,” says Truls Stende, an analyst at the Nordic Council of Ministers.
“At the same time, almost all young people in the Nordic countries believe that English is easy,” Stende said in the press release.
Norwegian is easiest for most other Scandinavians
In a new survey conducted by the Nordic Council of Ministers, young people in the Nordic countries were asked to say how easy — or difficult — they found understanding Norwegian and the other two Scandinavian languages, Swedish and Danish.
Sweden: As many as 80 per cent of young people in Sweden find it easy to understand Norwegian. Just over 20 per cent said the same about Danish
Denmark: A total of 67 per cent of Danish young people find it easy to understand Norwegian. Only 40 per cent said it’s easy to understand Swedish.
Finland: Finnish-speaking young people learn Swedish at school. Of these students, 22 per cent said they find it easy to understand Norwegian. Only 7 per cent thought it was easy to understand Danish.
Iceland: In Iceland, 45 per cent of young people think Norwegian is easy to understand. A total of 37 per cent said the same about the Danish language and 35 per cent said the same about Swedish.
Norway: As many as 90 percent of Norwegian young people think it is easy to understand Swedish. Just under 50 percent say the same about Danish.
Young people in the Faroe Islands also find it quite easy to understand other Nordic languages. As many as 80 per cent of these youths thought that Norwegian is easy. Just under half of the young people on the islands said they are fluent in the Norwegian language.
In other words, young people in Norway think that it’s easiest to understand other people in the Nordic countries.
Ironically, the percentage of cultural offerings in other Scandinavian countries that Norwegian youths said they consumed was the lowest of all the groups.
English is strong
The Nordic Council of Ministers asked more than 2,000 young people aged 16 to 25 throughout the Nordic region about how they view the Scandinavian languages and English.
Virtually all young people in the Nordic countries are fluent in English and many switch to English if they meet people from other Nordic countries. About half do this.
Young people in the Nordic countries also often write in English on social media.
But young people in Norway do this to a much lesser extent than other Nordic youths, according to the.
English is now so strong among young people in the Nordic countries that as many as 65 per cent of all young people answer that it is sometimes easier to formulate their ideas in English than in their own mother tongue.
Nordic language is important
It is not surprising that most young people in Finland, Iceland and Greenland found it difficult to understand other Nordic languages.
The youths in these countries don’t have a Scandinavian language as their mother tongue.
Although many young people in the Nordic countries struggle with other Nordic languages, two-thirds of the participants in this survey answered that understanding Scandinavian languages is an important to being part of the Nordic community.
Language comprehension is deteriorating
Research has shown that language comprehension between people in the Nordic countries has deteriorated. A lot has happened in just one generation.
Comprehension between young Danish- and Swedish-speakers has become noticeably weaker, the report said.
In other words, Swedes and Danes are especially unlikely to not understand each other in the Nordic region.
A study among young people from 2016 showed that young people in the Nordic countries prefer to switch to English in more formal conversations with others from the Nordic countries. They do so for fear of saying something wrong and losing face. But if the conversation is more informal, Nordic young people tend to use their own Nordic language when they meet other young people from the Nordic countries.
Scandinavian languages and Nordic languages
The three Scandinavian languages are Swedish, Danish and Norwegian.
Finnish, Sami, Icelandic, Faroese and Greenlandic are also considered Nordic languages.
In Finland, Swedish is compulsory for Finnish-speaking students. In Greenland and the Faroe Islands, schoolchildren learn Danish.
Source: Nordic Council of Ministers
The Nordic countries’ three language families
Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are three closely related and mutually understandable neighbouring languages.
The western Nordic languages, Icelandic and Faroese, belong to the same language group.
All these languages are Germanic languages, like German, Dutch and English. Along with Latin and Slavic languages, they belong to the Indo-European language family.
Finnish and Sami belong to the Finno-Ugric language family.
Greenlandic is an Inuit language and belongs to a third language family.
Sign language and several minority languages that have arrived in recent years are also used in the Nordic countries.
Many say that this is what they prefer, to speak a Nordic language with others from the Nordic countries.
When the Nordic Council of Ministers brought together Nordic young people in Iceland in 2019 to discuss Nordic languages, the message to politicians was clear: The young people wanted Nordic language teaching to be more innovative. They would also like to have more opportunities to meet physically with other young people from the Nordic countries. Getting the chance to meet peers of the same age can break down language barriers.
Some possible explanations
Øystein Vangsnes is a professor in Nordic linguistics at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. He says there are several possible explanations for why Norwegian is the language most young people in the Nordic countries understand.
“The vocabulary in Norwegian is closer to Danish, while the pronunciation is closer to Swedish. This means that Swedes can understand Norwegian orally and Danes can understand Norwegian in writing,” Vangsnes said to sciencenorway.no.
“Norwegian is also a language where we pronounce more of the written letters, more than is done in Danish, for example. Writing and sound are more consistently linked in Norwegian than in other Nordic languages,” he said.
Vangsnes believes the weakening of the greater Nordic language community is largely due to English.
“The high level of competence that Nordic youths have in English has transformed it into a kind of Nordic common language,” he said.
“English is easy to resort to when everyone can speak it,” Vangsnes said.
Translated by: Nancy Bazilchuk.
Nordic Council of Ministers"Does the Nordic language community exist?", Publication number 2021:004
E.T. Brink: «You just have to throw yourself into it - An interview survey of young people in the Nordic countries' understanding of neighbouring languages in practice», Nordic Council of Ministers, 2016