I speak Dutch natively and wondered this ever since I visited Norway. When I was there a new friend told me Norwegians understand Swedish up to a level and he could not explain how much of it. So I try to compare it to my own language and my own scale.

I would say Dutch and Flemish are 99% similar

And German and Dutch more like 30-40% similar

How would Norwegian and Swedish compare on this scale?

edit: even with the other question's answer I have no idea how they compare as Flemish is not even on that map.

  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Is there a list of mutually intelligible languages? Sep 27, 2018 at 14:03
  • @jknappen I do not agree, as even with that image I still have no idea how close I should consider them
    – Thomas
    Sep 27, 2018 at 14:11
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    Your arbitrary and subjective scale cannot be translated into a measurable unit of similarity. There are no better measures available (apart from intercomprehension experiments) than those in the linked question. BTW, what do you mean with Norwegian—Nynorsk and Bokmål have a considerable distance from each other comparable to the distance with Swedish. Sep 27, 2018 at 15:00
  • Maybe but my guess now is that it is more like German - Dutch than Flemish - Dutch
    – Thomas
    Sep 27, 2018 at 21:23
  • Norwegian stands midway between Danish and Swedish, and Dutch lies midway between German and English; however, these two subfamilies are as far away from each other as French is from the rest of its Romance siblings. Some Nordic words look (keyword being look, since what they sound like is an entire world altogether) like German, others like English, and yet others like none. Unaided by any knowledge of basic Nordic vocabulary, even when reading, understanding drops close to zero; add some basic words to the mix, one might end up understanding half the words, but still not parse their meaning.
    – Lucian
    Sep 28, 2018 at 9:11

1 Answer 1


Tang & van Heuven 2009 "Mutual intelligibility of Chinese dialects experimentally tested" address this kind of question experimentally for Chinese dialects. They do not come up with percentages like you're looking for, but in principle such a computation could be done, though you also have to decide "in what respect" (words? sentences?). Interestingly, they they discovered that e.g. Xiamen is only 39% mutually intelligible with Xiamen, though Chaozhou is 68% mutually intelligible with Chaozhou. The worst case seems to be Xiamen - Changsha, which are only 12% mutually intelligible for word-identification. The study at least provides a methodology for objectively answering the question.

There is a book by Delsing & Lundin-Åkesson which studies mutual intelligibility of Norwegian, Swedish and Danisk among the young. Sect. 4.2.1 starts to present experimental results (though I confess that I didn't work through the methodology: they found that the Danish video test was the easiest and the Norwegian one was the hardest (the Norwegians understood the Swedish better than they understood the Norwegian).

There is, additionally, the large problem that people don't speak the literary standards of Norwegian. I understand that Skrutvold dialect of Norwegian may be harder to understand for a speaker of Finmark Norwegian, so the test would presumably be of e.g. Oslo Norwegian vs. Stockholm Swedish.

  • Are you sure about your wordings? While it is not surprising that intercomprehension is asymmetric, self-intercomprehension of the same language should be near 100%. Sep 27, 2018 at 21:55
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    Yes, in fact the point is that this sets a baseline for any experimental procedure. Given the assumption that comprehension should be 100%, you either scale results so that "same language" yields 100% (bad idea, IMO), or you need to tweak the test.
    – user6726
    Sep 27, 2018 at 22:03
  • OK, there are always some miscomprehensions and miss-outs, but that the amount is that large for the languages in question is really surprising. Sep 28, 2018 at 9:32

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