Scandinavian languages belong to the North Germanic language family. These languages are Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faroese.
Danish is spoken in Denmark, northern Germany, and some parts of Norway, Sweden, Spain, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and the United States.
Norwegian has two forms - Bokmål and Nynorsk. Bokmål means “book tongue” and Nynorsk means “new Norwegian”. Each of them has its variants. Norwegian is spoken in Norway, and some parts of the USA such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota.
Swedish is spoken in Sweden and some parts of Finland. Icelandic is spoken in Iceland and Faroese is spoken in the Faroe Islands.
The total number of speakers of Scandinavian languages is about 20 million.
The Origin of Scandinavian languages
Scandinavian languages date back to the group of closely related dialects, united under the name of the Common Scandinavian (or Proto-Scandinavian) language. The first written monuments of which belong to the 3rd century.
The initial spread of this language was limited to the southern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula and the nearby islands, from where the Scandinavian tribes migrated in the southern and northern directions.
By the 3rd century, they inhabited the territory of modern Denmark. By this time, the differentiation of the Scandinavian dialects, which was already evident between the 7th and the 8th century, leads to the juxtaposition of two main dialects, West and East Scandinavian.
During the “Viking era” from the 9th to the 11th century, feudal states were formed in Scandinavia. There was the formation of different Scandinavian languages from both West and East Scandinavian languages.
The Norwegian language was formed in the area of the spread of West Scandinavian dialects. Dialects close to the Norwegian language existed from the 8th to the 18th century on the Shetland Islands (such as the Norn). From the 9th to the 15th century on the Hebrides and the Isle of Man, and from the 9th to the 17th century on the Orkney Islands, all these dialects were replaced by the English language. In Ireland, Norwegian-speaking settlements existed from the 9th to the 13th century, and in Greenland, Norwegian is spoken from the end of the 10th century till the middle of the 15th century (in 1721 began the Scandinavian re-colonization of Greenland by immigrants from Denmark).
In the East Scandinavian dialect area, the Danish and Swedish languages were separated from each other (the latter also extends to the territory of Western Finland).
Common Traits of Scandinavian Languages
Concerning the phonology, the Swedish and Norwegian languages are most similar to each other and are characterized by the preservation of the opposition of voiced and deaf interlocking sounds (b/p, d/t, g/k), while in Danish there are no voiced interlocking sounds.
The Swedish and Norwegian languages have a musical accent, which in the Danish language corresponds to a “push” (a sharp closing of the vocal cords). Apart from other Scandinavian languages Danish also tends to vocalize slotted ð, γ, a uvular pronunciation of r, and a lack of contrast between long and short consonants.
The features of Icelandic and Faroese phonetics include the absence of the reduced and unstressed vowels, the presence of pre-aspirated ʰp, ʰt, ʰk.
In grammar, the analytical features most clearly manifested in the Danish language, much less in the Swedish and Norwegian languages. Icelandic and Faroese maintain a synthetic system.
The noun has 2 genders (general and neuter) in Danish and Swedish, and 3 genders (masculine, feminine and neuter) in Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese. In Icelandic and Faroese, there are 4 cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. Case inflection simultaneously expresses the meaning of the number (singular or plural).
In other Scandinavian languages, nouns are usually expressed in separate inflections for common and genitive cases, and pronouns, objective and nominative cases. Adjectives distinguish between strong (indefinite) and weak (definite) forms. In Icelandic and Faroese, both strong and weak adjectives vary in 3 genders, 2 numbers, and 4 cases. For the rest of the Scandinavian languages, only strong forms of adjectives have 2 genders and 2 numbers (other forms of inflection are lost). The verb has categories of tense, mood and voice. In Icelandic and Faroese, it also has categories of persons and numbers that are completely or partially lost in other languages.
The forms of tenses, moods and passive voice can be expressed both synthetically and analytically in all languages of the group. The composition of auxiliary verbs used in the formation of analytical forms varies in every Scandinavian language. Therefore, in the formation of a passive form, the Icelandic language uses the verb verða, different from the Danish blive, Swedish and Norwegian bli; in Faroese, both auxiliary verbs verða, blíva are used).
Differences Between Scandinavian languages
When you take a look at the lexical structure of these languages, the most significant differences are observed between the island and continental languages.
Danish, Norwegian and Swedish languages are characterized by a significant number of borrowings from Latin, German, French, and modern English, including root- and derivational morphemes (suffixes with German origin -else, ‑eri, ‑het, prefixes an‑, be‑, er‑, etc.).
In the Icelandic language, borrowings form a small part of the vocabulary. Many Danish and German borrowings in the Icelandic language that were borrowed after the Reformation, were replaced by the newly formed Icelandic words. The Faroese language in this regard is adjacent to Icelandic, but the conservative tendencies are not so obvious. For example, the word “Currency” is “Valuta” in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Faroese and “Gjaldeyrir” in Icelandic).
Syntactic differences in Scandinavian languages are not as big as morphological ones. These include less strict word order patterns in Icelandic and Faroese (where, in particular, the initial position of the verb in a narrative sentence is allowed), and some others.
Scandinavian languages have more similarities than differences even after considering the morphology and vocabulary. This is what makes this group of languages well complemented and enriched by different aspects of each language when you look at the whole.