Scandinavian Languages

Scandinavian Languages

 

the northern subgroup of the Germanic group of the Indo-European family of languages.

The Scandinavian group of languages includes Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, and Faeroese. Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are very similar, partly because they are closely related genetically and partly because they developed in contact with one another and influenced one another at a later period. By contrast, Icelandic and Faeroese, which are island languages, did not participate in this common development and have many features not shared by the other Scandinavian languages; most notably, their lexicon and grammatical structure are very archaic.

Features of phonetic development that distinguish the Scandinavian languages from the other Germanic languages include the loss of initial j, as is seen by comparing the Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian år and the Icelandic ár with the English “year” and the German Jahr. The w disappeared before rounded vowels; the Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian ord and the Icelandic oró stand in contrast to the English “word” and the German Wort. Rising diphthongs appeared in the Scandinavian languages but not in the other Germanic languages; this can be seen by comparing the Danish and Norwegian hjerte, the Swedish hjärta, and the Icelandic hjarta with the English “heart” and the German Herz. Numerous consonant assimilations are confined to Scandinavian, as is seen when the Danish and Norwegian drikke, the Swedish dricka, and the Icelandic drekka are compared with the English “drink” and the German trinken. A noteworthy morphological feature of the Scandinavian languages is the formation of reflexive and passive verb forms in -s and -st, as in the Danish findes, the Norwegian finnes, the Swedish finnas, and the Icelandic finnast (“be found”). The definite article is postpositive; the Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian huset and the Icelandic húsiō can be compared in this respect with “the house” in English and das Haus in German.

The Scandinavian dialects were originally limited to the southern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula and the adjacent islands. The differentiation of the separate dialect groups, which was at first insignificant, became more marked toward the fifth and sixth centuries, when the Scandinavian tribes migrated to northern Scandinavia on the one hand and to the Jutland Peninsula and the neighboring islands on the other. Norwegian was formed on the basis of the western dialects, and Swedish and Danish developed from the eastern dialects. In the ninth and tenth centuries, Iceland and the Faeroes were colonized by emigrants from Norway, leading to the emergence of Icelandic and Faeroese.

The first written documents to reflect features of the Scandinavian languages are runic inscriptions of the eighth to 11th centuries, written in early (Danish-Norwegian and Swedish) runes. In the 12th and 13th centuries, Latin script came into use in Scandinavia; the first Old Norse manuscripts date to this time. The Poetic Edda, the Prose Edda, sagas, and other works were composed in Old Icelandic, which is thus the main representative of the older Scandinavian languages.

REFERENCES

Wessen, E. Skandinavskie iazyki. Moscow, 1949. (Translated from Swedish.)
Steblin-Kamenskii, M. I. Istoriia skandinavskikh iazykov. Moscow, 1953.

O. A. SMIRNITSKAIA

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