Swedish-Danish word intelligibility

Charlotte Gooskens, Sebastian Kürschner

University of Groningen, Netherlands, The


At the moment, a large word intelligibility test is being carried out at the University of Groningen via the Internet. The aim is to investigate how well high school children with different mother tongues (Dutch, Frisian, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish) can understand closely related languages (Dutch, Frisian, High German, Low German, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish) in their spoken and written form. Our objective is to investigate the intelligibility of closely related languages in a first-contact situation.

Some of the questions that we would like to answer by means of the investigation are the following:

1. What is the difference between written and spoken word intelligibility?

2. Which role do linguistic distances play for word intelligibility?

3. Which role does word length play for word intelligibility?

4. Which role do ‘false friends’ play for word intelligibility?

5. How well do the subjects understand cognates compared to non-cognates?

6. How well are loan words (of different origin) understood compared with native words?

In our talk, we will first give a short overview of the aim and the design of the whole investigation. Next we will present the Swedish-Danish part of the investigation. These two languages are so closely related that they are in principle mutually intelligible. However, Swedish-Danish communication is not always unproblematic. In particular, the Swedes have difficulties understanding Danish. A number of previous investigations have been carried out in order to investigate how well Scandinavians understand each other (Maurud 1976, Bø, Börestam, Delsing & Lundin Åkesson 2005). The asymmetric intelligibility has mostly been explained by extra-linguistic factors such as contact and attitude. In our investigation, we will carry out an analysis of the lexical differences between Danish and Swedish in order to gain a greater understanding of which factors contribute to the mutual intelligibility between Swedes and Danes at the lexical level.


Bø, I. (1978) Ungdom og naboland [Youth and neighboring country]. Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning (rapport 4).

Börestam, U. (1987) Dansk-svensk språkgemenskap på undantag [Danish-Swedish language community as a special case]. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet.

Delsing, L.-O. & Lundin Åkesson, K. (2005) Håller språket ihop Norden? En forskningsrapport om ungdomars förståelse av danska, svenska och norska [Does language keep the Nordic countries together? A research report on how well young people understand Danish, Swedish and Norwegian]. København: Nordiska ministerrådet.

Maurud, Ø. (1976) Nabospråksforståelse i Skandinavia: en undersøkelse om gjensidig forståelse av tale- og skriftspråk i Danmark, Norge og Sverige [Mutual intelligibility of languages in Scandinavia. A study of the mutual understanding of written and spoken language in Denmark, Norway and Sweden]. Stockholm: Nordiska rådet.

Session: Paper session
Contact 1
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 10