Which Scandinavian languages should I learn?
Is Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish worth the effort? Is Icelandic or Faroese even a language? What is the difference between Nordic and Scandinavian languages? Read along.
Barring a few exceptions, most European languages are part of the 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 group 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 comprises Gothic, Vandalic, and Burgundian that no longer exist.
Many scholars believe that since Goths came from North Europe.
Therefore the eastern Germanic 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 the Crimea area, historically a sparsely populated region in the 18th century, which is why it is called Crimean Gothic.
Table of Contents
- History of Scandinavian Languages
- Why Not Study Scandinavian languages?
- Why Learn Scandinavian languages?
- Why Learn the Swedish language?
- Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish Courses in India
History of Scandinavian Languages
In some distant time, People in North-Central Europe 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.
Thus, Scandinavia can be considered a subset of the Nordic countries.
They share enough standard 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 languages or dialects was quite small but later, by the 16th century.
The difference was considerably noticeable.
Nowadays, East and West Scandinavian languages are now reconfigured into:
- Insular Scandinavian (Icelandic and Faroese), and
- Continental Scandinavian (Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian).
While Finland is political, culturally, and geographically affiliated with the Scandinavia region, 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 the 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 academic reasons.
These are South Swedish (Skåne), Götaland, Svealand, Norrland, Finland Swedish, and Gotland.
The Swedish spoken today came from the different dialects expressed in another 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. However, usage 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 century.
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.
There is no reason to learn unless you plan to immigrate to Reykjavik or any other part of Iceland.
Suppose 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, the most extended form of written Norwegian (85%-90% population).
That is why Norwegian looks similar to Danish.
On the other hand, 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 accents, dialects, and sometimes different languages.
While some dialects are similar to bokmål and some to Nynorsk, you can speak your dialect in practically every situation since most are mutually intelligible.
It is Denmark’s national and de facto language and one of two official languages of the Faroe Islands.
It is widespread in Greenland and Iceland.
You’ll also find some Danish speakers in Sweden, Germany, Canada, the 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 a descendant of Old Norse, so it seems similar to other languages such as Faroese, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish.
While there are few dialects, such as Bornholmsk and Jutlandic, 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 Sámi, Estonian, and Hungarian.
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 in Norway, Estonia, Russia, etc.
Why Not 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 do they speak English exceptionally well, but they love it too.
If they feel you cannot speak their language, they often switch to English to enable smoother conversations.
Like Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, English is also a Germanic language.
Since all share many similar aspects, it makes the learning process more comfortable. It is one of the main reasons; they learn English without trouble.
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 and Scandinavian languages combined in the world. It is only about 0.3% of the global population.
If your Job or Business tends to require a knowledge of the Nordic language, 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 teaching Finnish, Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian who isn’t from Nordic countries.
One main reason is the lack of professional teachers and learning materials.
Why Learn Scandinavian languages?
An essential ingredient in language learning is the learner’s motivation, and that can come in different forms like needs, interests, and desires.
Here are a few reasons why to learn.
1. Scandinavian 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 different.
Language learning is never easy. It’s going to take a lot of time, effort, persistence, 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 the three most natural languages for English speakers to pick up.
If you know English, you will notice many 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 Nordic Countries
Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark are among the best countries to live in the world.
It is especially crucial 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.
If you speak the native language where you are want to work and live, you’ll see immense benefits in your everyday life almost immediately.
4. Job and Business Opportunities
Having a good knowledge of any foreign languages, especially North Germanic, is a plus for your CV and makes you more attractive to the Nordic region’s job market.
Therefore, it will make it easier for you to find work in many companies in the Nordic region.
Many international companies, where Knowledge of the North Germanic language is needed for some jobs, opens the door to many business opportunities.
It will increase your chances of having a successful career involving languages.
While all languages are vital, it depends on the purpose of the person, interest, target county, job requirement, etc.
If you plan to learn one of the Scandinavian languages and not sure which one, Swedish is the best language 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 North Germanic family. Once you learn Swedish, it will open the Danish and Norwegian doors, thanks to a high level of mutual intelligibility between the three.
- Sweden’s 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 is it the highest-ranking Nordic nation, but it was named the best country for women. And for raising children, for doing business, the most competitive economy, and for green living. It is one of the best nations in many 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, to name a few. Swedish offers better career prospects and job opportunities compared to others in the Nordic group.
Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish Courses in India
Through the Centre For Global Studies, the Bengaluru Central University offers an eight-month 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 centers.
I will keep you updated. There are many language learning websites where you can study.