Scandi languages up close

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August 9, 2013 by Matt

When I first met Dorte I was fascinated when I found out that a Swede and a Dane could talk to each other, despite having separate languages. I couldn’t think of any other instance like that.

Of course, it’s possible because the languages are in fact very similar, and in some instances it’s easier than others – for example, on our honeymoon in Sweden, the locals in the south of Sweden could understand Dorte pretty well when she spoke Danish, but the further north we went, the more we needed to resort to the shared language of English. The same applies to Norwegian too.

At breakfast the other day I noticed a great illustration of this on our orange juice carton. Below are the four Nordic languages (from top to bottom) of Norwegian, Finnish, Danish and Swedish (I think!).

Educational orange juice

You don’t need to be a linguist to spot that the first, third and fourth are very similar, so much so that even with my limited Danish so far, I can more or less make out what the Swedish and Norwegian ones say.

And then there’s Finnish – the odd one out. If you want to read a detailed account of why that is, then I’d recommend a more learned website than mine. Or Wikipedia. But I do know that it’s part of the same group of languages as those spoken in Hungary and Estonia, which again I find absolutely fascinating.

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