Danish is the official language of Denmark, the Faroe Islands and is widely spoken in Germany’s South Schleswig region and Greenland. There are 6 million native speakers of Danish worldwide.
Danish is mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Swedish due to a shared cultural history. In fact, written Danish is identical to one of Norwegian’s written forms. Danish has 27 vowel sounds – more than any other language. On top of this, a tricky ‘voice creak’ called stØd ‘poses’ some difficulty for non-native speakers to master.
There are lots of English words that have Danish origins – ‘drip’, ‘rift’, ‘fog’, ‘skulk’, ‘egg’ and ‘knife’ for example.
Swedish only became the official language of Sweden in 2009, even though modern Swedish has not changed much since the 16th Century. Swedish is spoken by 10 million native speakers and by small communities in Finland (where it used to hold official status) and in the Baltic States.
Linguistically, Swedish has a smaller vocabulary than English and focuses on ‘accuracy’ over expression. An example of this is that there are two words for grandfather and grandmother in Swedish depending on what side of the family your grandparent is from. In additional, articles come after the noun (unlike English) and Swedish has considerably easier grammar then English.
Fewer Swedish words have been incorporated in to English compared to Danish, prime examples being ‘Moped’ and ‘Ombudsman’.
Norwegian is the official language of Norway and spoken by 4 million native speakers. It is argued that Norwegian is actually a language family rather than a single language as there are 4 versions of Norwegian that coexist in Norway – Bokmål, Nynorsk, Riksmal and Hognorsk are used simultaneously. Bokmål and Nynorsk are written forms of the language with Bokmål being identical to Danish and seen as the formal written form. Riksmal is considered the closest to standard spoken Norwegian and Hognorsk (High Norwegian).
Although all three Nordic languages are considered mutually intelligible with each other, studies have indicated that it is easier for native Norwegian speakers to understand the other two better than the other way around. Academics are still arguing over the reasons why but Norway’s cultural history with Denmark and geographical location are believed to be the main reasons why.
Like Swedish, Norwegian has a sense of musicality to its spoken form due to 2 pitch accents which can change the meaning of some words. Moreover, Norwegian is a polite language to an extent that there is no word for ‘please’ as the spoken language will imply the meaning for you!