Overview of the Nordic Languages

Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, and Finnish

Sign post in Sweden
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The languages spoken in Nordic Nations are known as North Germanic languages and include Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese. Although many people refer to these languages as the "Scandinavian languages," the term "Scandinavia" technically only refers to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

These languages are generally sorted into the East- (Danish, Swedish), West-Scandinavian (Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese) languages, and Finnish belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family. Although many of the languages share similar words and can even be mutually understood sometimes by native speakers, each language has a distinct history and sound.

Danish

Danish is a North Germanic language, on the same branch of the Indo-European family tree as Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian, and Swedish. There are more than 5,600,000 speakers. Danish is the official language of the Kingdom of Denmark as well as the second official spoken language of the Faroe Islands (along with Faroese) and Greenland (along with Greenlandic). Danish speakers can also be found in the area bordering Germany. Some common phrases in Danish are:

  • Hello: Hej
  • Goodbye: Farvel
  • Please: Vær venlig
  • Thank you: Tak
  • Excuse me: Undskyld mig

Norwegian

Related to Icelandic and Faroese, Norwegian also hangs off of the northern Germanic branch of the Indo-European family tree. It is spoken by approximately 5,000,000 people. Norwegian and Swedish are among the few European tonal languages, which is a language where the tone in a syllable of two otherwise identical words can change their meaning. Norwegian is often understood in Denmark and Sweden, too. Some basic Norwegian phrases are:

  • Hello: Hallo
  • Goodbye: Ha det
  • Please: vær så snill
  • Thank you: Takk
  • Excuse me: Unnskyld meg.

Swedish

Swedish is very similar to Danish and Norwegian than other North Germanic languages. There are at least 9 million speakers of Swedish. Swedish is Sweden's national language, as well as one of Finland's two national languages. You can get by with these basic phrases in Swedish:

  • Hello: Hej
  • Goodbye: Adjö
  • Please: Snälla du
  • Thank you: Tack
  • Excuse me: Ursäkta mig

Icelandic

Icelandic is a language also part of the North Germanic languages and is related to Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Faroese. Since it's a small country, there are currently only 320,000 speakers. Icelandic is Iceland's official language. Some common phrases in Icelandic are:

  • Hello: Halló
  • Goodbye: Bless
  • Please: Vinsamlegast
  • Thank you: Takk fyrir
  • Excuse me: Afsakið mig

Faroese

With only 90,000 speakers, Faroese is a rare language mainly spoken in the Faroe Islands, which are a territory of Denmark. Although you can get by with Danish or English, some common Faroese phrases that might come in handy are:

  • Hello: Hey
  • Goodbye: Bei
  • Please: Hevði
  • Thank you: Takk
  • Excuse me: Orsaka

Finnish

Finnish is the official language of Finland and also an official minority language in both Sweden and Norway where many Finnish speakers reside. Note that Finnish distinguishes between a "standard language" (formal Finnish for media and politics} and the "spoken language" (used everywhere else). As you can see by the common phrases below, Finnish is the most different to its neighbors:

  • Hello: Hei
  • Goodbye: Hyvästi
  • Please: Ole kiltti
  • Thank you: Kiitos
  • Excuse me: Anteeksi
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