Which Scandinavian language should I learn? Is Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish worth the effort? Is Icelandic or Faroese even a language? What is the difference between Scandinavian and Nordic languages? Read along.
Barring a few exceptions, most European languages are part of Indo-European group. Within the Indo-European family, there are various sub-categories. One of these is the Germanic family. All modern Germanic languages are descended from a common ancestor traditionally called Proto-Germanic.
This family is further divided into three parts:
- North Germanic (Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish, Danish),
- West Germanic (English, Frisian, Flemish, Dutch, Afrikaans, German, Yiddish), and
- Defunct East Germanic consisting Gothic, Vandalic, and Burgundian that no longer exist.
Many scholars believe that since Goths came from North Europe. Therefore the eastern Germanic languages were probably variants of the Nordic family of languages even though most went extinct without leaving much-written attestation.
The last known text was found in Crimea area, historically a sparsely populated region in the 18th century and that is why it is called as Crimean Gothic.
History of Scandinavian and Nordic Languages
In some far distant time, People in North-Central Europe use to speak some variants of the Germanic group. That is why it is called North Germanic or Nordic languages. Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Faroe Islands) are referred to as Nordic countries whereas “Scandinavia” is commonly used for Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Therefore, Scandinavia can thus be considered a subset of the Nordic countries.
They share enough common lexical, grammatical features, and phonetics to prove a common origin. Over several centuries, It was divided between west and east Scandinavian.
The division was started in the 8th century during the period of Viking. Initially, the difference between West and East Scandinavian dialects/languages were quite small but later by the 16th century. The difference was considerably noticeable.
Nowadays, East and West Scandinavian languages are now also reconfigured into Insular Scandinavian (Icelandic and Faroese) and Continental Scandinavian (Swedish, Danish and Norwegian).
While Finland is political, culturally and geographically affiliated with Scandinavia region, however, the Finnish is an entirely different language and part of the Finno-Ugric group. That means Finish is more related to Uralic such as Hungarian or Estonian than neighbor Swedish or any North Germanic.
More than 10 million people speak Swedish. It is the official language in Sweden (which was declared for the first time in 2009) and in parts of Finland, where it is de facto along with Finnish. It is also official and working languages of the European Union and Nordic Council respectively.
Every language has some variations, and Swedish is no different. Swedish has many dialects. It is broadly divided into six broad groups for pedagogic reasons. These are South Swedish (Skåne), Götaland, Svealand, Norrland, Finland Swedish, and Gotland.
The Swedish that is spoken today was derived from the different dialects, spoken in a different part of Sweden. After the 19th century, Standard Swedish (standard Svenska) prevails throughout the country. Different dialects are still spoken in the various regions of Sweden, although the use of these has declined over the years.
Roek Runestone is the oldest Swedish inscriptions in stone. It dates back to about 800 CE during the time of Vikings, and therefore it marks the beginning of the history of Swedish literature.
With an estimated 350,000 Icelandic speakers in the world, It is the official language of Iceland. Due to isolation, extreme weather and distance – Icelandic remained an insular language.
It had changed very little from when the country was settled in the ninth centuries. Generally, Icelandic does not adopt foreign words, opting instead to coin new words. Since most Icelandic speak good English and the economy is relatively very small. Thus, No reason to learn unless you are planning to immigrate to Reykjavik or any other part of Iceland.
If you want to travel, no need to worry about Icelandic, English is commonly, and well, spoken just about everywhere in the country.
It is the official language of the Faroe Islands. It is spoken only by approximately 80,000 people worldwide. Other than the Faroe Islands, around 25,000 people living in Denmark and 5,000 in Iceland speak Faroese. English is also widely spoken in the country, and there is no need to learn even if you visit this beautiful island.
There are around 5 million native Norwegian speakers, and it is the official language of Norway. Regulated by the Norwegian Language Council, Norwegian has two official written forms, Bokmål and Nynorsk.
For more than four centuries, Norway had been ruled by Denmark (Danish Kings), and the official language was Danish. Bokmål is a Norwegianised Danish, most widely form of written Norwegian (85%-90% population). That is why Norwegian looks similar to Danish.
On other hands, Ivar Aasen traveled across the length and breadth of Norway collecting & listening to different dialects and created Nynorsk, a cocktail of various dialects throughout the country. Today, every student has to learn to read and write both forms of written Norwegian.
Norway does not have a spoken standard language. Like many other European countries, most regions in Norway have their own accent, dialect, and sometimes different language. While some dialects are similar to bokmål and some to Nynorsk, however, you can speak your dialect in practically every situation since most are mutually intelligibility.
It is the national and de facto language of Denmark and one of two official languages of the Faroe Islands. It is widely spoken in Greenland and Iceland. You’ll also find some Danish speakers in Sweden, Germany, Canada, US, Argentina, etc.
Danish is very close to Bokmål, the most popular form of written Norwegian. It is estimated that around 6 million people speak Danish today. It is also descendant of Old Norse which is why it seems similar to other languages such as Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish.
While there are few dialects such as Bornholmsk, Jutlandic, however, a significant majority speak and understand Standard Danish (Rigsdansk). It is based on dialects spoken in and around the capital, Copenhagen.
Geographically, Finland could be considered Scandinavian. However, Finnish is not a part of the North Germanic family. It is a Finno-Ugric language like Hungarian, Estonian, Sámi.
Until 1809 Finland was a part of Sweden. Therefore, Swedish was the official language. However, since 1892 – Both Swedish and Finnish are the official language of Finland. It is spoken by about 5 million people, mainly in Finland and some parts of Sweden, and also in Norway, Estonia, Russia, etc.
Why not to Study Scandinavian languages?
1. English is everywhere in the Scandinavia region
English is not a rare commodity in the north of Europe (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands). And not only they speak English exceptionally well, but they love it too. If they feel, you’re not able to speak their language, and they often switched to English to enable smoother conversations.
Like Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, English is also a Germanic language. Since all shares many similar aspects, it makes the learning process more comfortable. This is one of the main reason, they learn English without difficulty. They watch a lot of English TV shows and movies from America, whereas French, German or Italian dub almost everything from America English into their native language.
2. Not very popular beyond North Central Europe
Approximately 20 million people speak all the Nordic languages combined in the world. It is only about 0.3% Of the global Population. If your Job or Business tend to require a knowledge of the Nordic language, then that would be a completely different ball game. Otherwise, the practical use and benefits you get out of it are not as high as say, French, Spanish, or German.
3. Limited resources to learn
We also have to acknowledge that it is not very common to find someone learning Finnish, Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian who isn’t from Nordic countries. One main reason is the lack of professional teachers and learning materials. One might find various online lessons and interactive courses, but not many good books or teachers are available beyond the Nordic countries.
Why Learn Scandinavian languages?
The most essential ingredient in language learning is the motivation of the learner, and that can come in different forms. Namely, needs, interests, and desires. Here are a few reasons why to learn.
1. Nordic languages are mutually intelligibility
Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are mutually intelligible, which means that speakers of each can understand one another. Three For The Price Of One. Danish and Norwegian are almost identical when it comes to the written part. Spoken Swedish and Norwegian are also quite similar. However, Finnish and Icelandic are totally different.
Language learning is never easy. It’s going to take a lot of time, effort, persistence, patience, and discipline. While there can be some challenges due to regional dialects, learning anyone is almost like learning three in one! Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes can communicate without any knowledge of the other.
2. Not very difficult for English speaker
Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are three easiest languages for English speakers to pick up. If you know English, you will notice a lot of cognates right at the start, and it is relatively easy to learn any of these Nordic languages notably, Norwegian. With lots of similar vocabulary and similar word order to English, it is quite easy to learn.
3. Immigration to Scandinavian countries
Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark are one of the best countries to live in the world. This is especially important for people who relocate to Nordic countries for a more extended time whether for studies or job opportunities.
If you are serious about getting a job in Sweden, Denmark or Norway your number one priority should be learning it. Ability to speak the native language of the country where you are want to work and live, then you’ll see huge benefits in your everyday life almost immediately.
4. Job and Business Opportunities
Having a good knowledge of any Foreign languages in India, especially North Germanic, is a plus for your CV, and makes you more attractive on the job market in the Nordic region. It will, therefore, make it easier for you to find work in many companies in the Nordic region.
There are many international companies, where Knowledge of North germanic language is required for some jobs and also open the door to many business opportunities. This will increase your chances of having a successful career.
While all languages are important. It depends on the purpose of the person, interest, target county, job requirement, etc. If you are planning to learn one of the Scandinavian languages and not sure which one then Swedish is the best one to learn. Here are the main reasons:-
Why Learn the Swedish language?
- With more than 10 million native speakers, Swedish is the most widely spoken among the family of North Germanic. Once you learn Swedish, it will open the door to the Danish and Norwegian, thanks to a high level of mutual intelligibility between three.
- Sweden economy is the largest and most diversified economy in the Nordics. Fourteen of the 25 most valuable Nordic brands are from Sweden.
- Sweden is the best in almost everything. Not only it is the highest-ranking Nordic nation, but it was named the best country for women, for raising children, for doing business, Most competitive economy, and for green living. It is one of the best nations in numerous categories.
- Sweden is the birthplace of many successful innovative companies. There are many big Swedish companies with global footprints such as AstraZeneca, Electrolux, Ericsson, Volvo, H&M, IKEA, just a to name a few. Swedish offers better career prospect and job opportunities compared to others in the Nordic group.
Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish Language Courses in India
The Bengaluru Central University through the Centre For Global Studies offers 8 months certificate course in Finnish and Swedish. There are few institutes in various cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore with Scandinavian languages programs. However, due to limited demand – there are no regular batches at these centres.
I will keep you updated once I find more relevant information. There are many language learning websites where you can study.
Interested in a different language? Check out — (i) Why learn Spanish? (ii) Why learn French? (iii) Japanese Language Scope (iv) Why study Italian? (v) Why learn Portuguese? (vi) Scope of Learning German (vii) Why learn Russian in India? (viii) Why learn Mandarin? (ix) Reasons to learn Korean (x) Why learn Turkish? (xi) Why Learn Arabic (xii) Learning Dutch