Weekend Feature: Norwegians understand Nordic languages best

Norwegians understand Danish and Swedish better than the Danes and Swedes understand Norwegian and each other. This assertion is now a proven fact, according to a study by the Nordic Language Council of the comprehension by matriculation students.
Norwegians understand Danish and Swedish better than the Danes and Swedes understand Norwegian and each other. This contention has been often discussed in modern times usually resulting in one side agreeing to disagree with the opposite opinion. However, the above assertion is now a proven fact, Verdens Gang writes.
In 2002 the Nordic Language Council began a study of the language comprehension of matriculation students. The 750 Swedish, Finnish-Swedish, Norwegian and Danish students participated in three listening, reading and video-viewing tests. By answering questions concerning the listening text
and video, the students revealed their level of comprehension. For the reading part, they had to show their understanding of chosen words by multiple choice answers.

The results of this study were very succinct. The Norwegian students attained a 37-point average while the Swedes gained 26 points. The Finnish-Swedish students scored 25 points and the Danes achieved a 23-point average out of a possible 60 attainable for each student.

The survey also shows that the Swedes and the Danes have the greatest problem with understanding each others, while at the same time they have trouble with the Norwegian.

For the Danes, the biggest problem is to understand Swedish, but they also score lower than the Swedes when it comes to understand Norwegian.

The reasons, for the now proven fact, that Norwegians have a deeper language comprehension than their Nordic counterparts, are several. Some lie in the history, some in the culture.

We here at the Norwegian Post may add the following:

Back in Viking times during the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Nordic language in use was Norse. Today there are distinct traces of that language in modern Norwegian, e.g. the word `fem`(five) originates from Norse `fim`.

Approximately 40 per cent of the Norwegian vocabulary includes words absorbed from Low German which Hanseatic merchants brought with them when they sailed into the famous Port of Bergen from the thirteenth century.

From 1450 until 1814, Norway was united with Denmark, governed by political decisions from Copenhagen and controlled by the Danish language. It was a situation the Norwegians disliked as many rural people felt that their spoken language was supressed. In the Rogaland county the modern dialects still conform to the Danish pronunciation of the soft consonants `g`and `d`instead of the harsher sounding `k`and `t`.

From 1814 when Norway broke away from Denmark and founded the Norwegian Constitution, a language discord developed among politicians, farmers, authors and the learned. Two authors, P.C. Asbjørnsen and J. Moe, gathered stories told by word of mouth and published them in 1841. The work, 'Norwegian Fairy Tales' was a perfect mixture of written Danish and oral Norwegian dialects.

During the 1840`s a farmer`s son, Ivar Aasen, travelled by foot, horse and boat gathering words and phrases from many dialects in use between the Helgeland municipalities in the north and Agder regions in the south. By 1864 he had published his first grammar book which became the start of one of Norway`s official languages, nynorsk.

Today pupils and students learn both official languages, nynorsk and bokmaal, at school.

No other Nordic language has such a variety of dialects which in turn have a respected position planted in the culture.

It is also to be noted that Norwegians, throughout their school system, learn about the geography and societies of all the continents. Their interest in other languages is part and parcel of their thinking and curiosity of what lies beyond their national border.

(Verdens Gang/Amanda Bolsoey)
Verdens Gang reporter Hege Ervik Olsen
Translated and edited by Amanda Bolsoey

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