12 Languages

12.16 Scandinavian languages

12.16.1 Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish

Forms of Norwegian

Norway, which until the middle of the nineteenth century used Danish as its literary language, now has two written languages: bokmål (also called riksmål), a modified form of Danish, and nynorsk (also called landsmål), a reconstruction of what Norwegian might have been but for the imposition of Danish. Each of these has several variants, and the only safe rule for the non-expert is to assume that all inconsistencies are correct.

Alphabets and accents

Modern Danish and Norwegian have identical alphabets, the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet being followed by æ, ø, å; in their place Swedish has å, ä, ö. The letter å, found in Swedish since the sixteenth century, was adopted in Norway in 1907, and in Denmark in 1948; previously these languages used aa (cap. Aa).

Acute accents are found in loanwords and numerous Swedish surnames, and occasionally for clarity, for example Danish én ‘one’, neuter ét (also een, eet) as against indefinite article en, et. The grave accent is sometimes used in Norwegian to distinguish emphatic forms.


Until 1948 Danish nouns were capitalized as in German, a practice also found in nineteenth-century Norwegian. All the languages now tend to favour lower-case forms, for example for days, months, festivals, and historical events. This also applies to book titles; but periodical and series titles are legally deposited names, complete with any capitals they may have.

Institutional names are often given capitals for only the first word and the last; but in Danish and Norwegian some names begin with the independent definite article, which then must always be included and capitalized, Den, Det, De (= Dei in Nynorsk).

Capitalize the polite form of the second person in Danish and Norwegian: De, Dem, Deres (Nynorsk: De, Dykk, Dykkar). In Danish capitalize also the familiar second person plural, I, to distinguish it from і (‘in’).

Word division

Compounds are divided into their constituent parts, including prefixes and suffixes. In Danish take over sk, sp, st, and combinations of three or more consonants that may begin a word (including skj, spj). In Norwegian or Swedish take over only the last letter; ng representing a single sound is kept back, and in Swedish x; other groups that represent a single sound are taken over (Norwegian gj, kj, sj, skj, Swedish sk before e, i, y, ä, ö). In Swedish compounds three identical consonants are reduced to two, but the third is restored when the word is broken: rättrogen (‘orthodox’), divided rätt|trogen.

12.16.2 Icelandic and Faeroese

Alphabets and accents

In both languages the letter d is followed by ð. Icelandic alphabetization has þ, æ, ö after z; Faeroese has œ, ø. The vowels a, e, i, o, u, y may all take an acute accent. Icelandic uses x, Faeroese ks; the Icelandic þ corresponds to the Faeroese t.


Icelandic capitalization is minimal, for proper nouns only. In institutional names only the initial article (masculine Hinn, feminine Hin, neuter Hið) should be capitalized. Faeroese follows Danish practice, though polite pronouns are not capitalized.

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