Indbyrdes lån - loanwords among the Scandinavian languages

Dates given where known - source language forms in brackets


(Written 2000; Updated: 16 September 2011)



Font Colour Key:
black = loanword;
purple = word in donor language;
green = dates/periods loaned




Compared to borrowing from non-Scandinavian donors, the proportion of vocabulary in a mainland Scandinavian language loaned directly from its Nordic neighbours is very small. The results of intra-Nordic borrowing across Scandinavia have left only modest traces when set against the visible and overwhelming evidence of Middle Low German, High German, French, Latin and (more recently) English loanwords in the common word-stock. The languages of the insular nations, owing to their relatively weaker political, economic and geographical situations, combined with a certain amount of dependence on the mainland nations which dominated them, have been more affected by their neighbouring languages, as we might expect. However, in these languages policies have been current for some time which aim at purging most loanwords (including mainland Scandinavian - and especially Danish) and replacing them with native revivals, constructions or neologisms. The policy of lexical purism in these two languages, Icelandic and Faroese, has been treated in a separate feature on this site.


The Insular languages aside, lexical (and other) differences between the Scandinavian languages up until the 1600s were not especially great. This meant that neighbouring mainland languages were both less likely to loan from one another, and if they did, their lexical, spelling and grammatical systems were so similar, that it has often been impossible for scholars to decide whether a word is indeed a loan or merely a native item not recorded elsewhere. It is known that Danish loans had probably entered into Swedish during the late medieval period, but such words are nigh on impossible to distinguish from words of native origin until the 1600s and 1700s. Many of the earlier suspected loans from Danish may have in fact been imported directly from Middle Low German, while most later MLG loanwords into Swedish were probably transmitted via Danish. As examples of this later phenomenon, we can note the weak consonants in Swedish svag and bagare, which have very likely come in with a certain amount of Danish mediation (Danish. svag and bæger, but MLG swak and beker). The case of Norwegian (and especially Dano-Norwegian, later Bokmål) is even more complicated since Danish for so long was the language of prestige in Norway, and influenced Norwegian so much on every level, that it has only really been this century we can say for certain that Danish has been loaning into Norwegian as a "foreign" language. There were of course exceptions "Norwegianisms", noted below.


Up until this century, Danish had been the most influential donor language and was most active in loan-giving, supplying new words to its Icelandic and Faroese dominions, Norway and big brother Sweden. However, the 20th century has seen the tide turn and Sweden, as the major political, economic and demographic power in Scandinavia, has now become the most important loan-giver, providing both Danish, and especially the geographically and linguistically closer Norway with quite a few loans in recent times.


In several cases we can observe the passage of loans from one donor to both of the other two mainland languages, sometimes at different time periods. For example Swedish has given företag to both Danish (foretag) and Norwegian (foretak), with Danish presumably receiving the loan first (although it is not improbable that Danish itself passed it on to Norwegian). A similar example is Swedish göromål becoming gøremål in 1800s Danish and gjøremål in Norwegian; which of these received the loan first I do not know, but in this case it seems certain that Swedish supplied both and we can probably rule out Danish interference on Norwegian. Even more interesting is to observe a loan moving diachronically across three languages. Swedish supplied Danish with oms, which in its turn subsequently loaned it to Norwegian. The recent Swedish construction kontorslandskap was probably calqued on German Bürolandschaft and Swedish then obligingly offered the calque to Danish users. Perhaps most fascinating of all is to witness an ancient Insular word becoming current across all the Mainland languages. In the 1600s Icelandic gáta "puzzle, riddle" was taken up in Swedish as gåta, which then duly lent the word to Danish (via Norwegian) – some time in the following century according to the extant evidence.


It is not until the 1700s that intra-Nordic loans first become clearly discernible, although some borrowing from Icelandic (especially into Swedish - see below) had taken place during the previous century. From the break up of the Union of Kalmar in 1523 until the end of the Great Nordic War in 1721, there had been some 200 years of hostilities between the rivalling powers of Sweden and Denmark, and loans during this period were almost out of the question. During the Union period, Denmark was the major player and took little from Swedish, while the flow of loans vis-à-vis Norway were all from Danish, which became the official written language there about 1500. Around 1750 things began to change and we see the first considerable influx of Swedish words into Danish at this time, e.g. særskilt, tidehverv, sysselsætte, omdømme, nyfigen and snille. Since that time intra-Nordic borrowing has grown significantly (but still makes up only a small fraction of loanwords in the Scandinavian languages), at least as far as the three mainland languages are concerned. Unrecognised loans can be problematic since they are often accepted unquestionably (see for example, the remarks made about Swedish loans into Norwegian below). Denmark and Norway seem to greatly resent Swedicisms, but equally some in Norway and Sweden resent the still considerable lexical influence Danish has on their languages. A great deal of debate about intra-Nordic loaning occurred in the 1800s, when a spirit of Nordic nationalism and Romanticism was capturing the imagination of the North. Some welcomed these loans but many objected to them. The Dane Sven Clausen again stirred up the debate in the 30s and 40s of this century. Einar Lundeby writing in the Språk i Norden periodical in 1987 about the new dictionaries that had just appeared reckoned that during the period 1945-85 Swedish had loaned 7 words from Danish and 2 or 3 from Norwegian; Danish had loaned 14 words to Norwegian and Norwegian had given 16 in return; Swedish had given 101 to Norwegian, 71 to Danish plus a further 44 of “possible influence”. So the traffic is assuredly in the opposite direction to the situation in the 1800s, when most words travelled from Danish to Swedish.


It will be easier to briefly consider the loaning trends for each language in turn and the debts it owes to its neighbours:


i) Swedish


As stated above, Danish always has been, and continues to be, the most significant Nordic influence on the Swedish lexicon, although most of the traffic is now in the opposite direction. When considering earlier loans, it can be hard to decide if Danish or Dano-Norwegian has been the donor as the these two languages were last century almost identical on paper (even if a loan can be proven to have been borrowed from Dano-Norwegian, the language often acted as a mediating filter for Danish proper anyway). The picture is further complicated by the south Swedish (or should I say north Danish?!) dialects of Skåne and Halländ, which can be said to represent a halfway house between High Swedish on the one hand and Rigsdansk on the other. Some words suspected as having been loaned in from Danish may in reality have been words made "standard" by their importation from these regional Danish-like dialects.


A small amount of literary influence from the likes of Holberg in the 1600s and 1700s is noticeable, but the last two hundred years have been most the active as regards loan-giving from other Nordic languages into Swedish, and of the 1800s, the 1880s and 1890s were especially productive, with Swedish lexically acknowledging literary influences from Danish Romantics such as Georg Brandes and J.P. Jacobsen. Scandinavianists loaned most Danish loans still current in Swedish during the middle, and towards the end of, the last century. However, during the 1700s and 1800s, Swedish was feeling the effects of massive lexical (and to some degree grammatical) influence from first French, and then High German - indeed the influence of the latter did not abate until the early decades of this century. So great was this German burden upon Swedish that it caused Johan Erik Rydqvist, discussing in his great work Svenska Språkets Lagar the language of the public institutions, to write the following in 1874: obetänka försöken att draga öfver oss en ständigt växande ny massa af illa förstådda eller tafatt tillämpade alster från den Tyska och den Danska pressen


(We might note Swedish now has a not dissimilar influence on the Norwegian press). Rydqvist continues:


Vårt embetsspråk, redan djupt skuldsatt i Tyskland och Danmark, borde icke öka gälden med ett så öfverflödigt och litet tilltalande ord som "försändelse, brefförsändelse, postförsändelse".


This huge foreign influence (which, at least with regard to German, is equally relevant to Danish), can make it difficult to distinguish whether a loan from earlier times has been imported directly from German, or else used Danish as a mediator, if the word is found loaned in both Swedish and Danish. Some examples of this are given in the lists below, e.g.: has Swedish gräll come directly from German grell, or has it been borrowed from the Danish loan of the same? Swedish avsnitt (when meaning a period of time or piece of writing) may have come directly from German Abschnitt or perhaps been filtered through via Danish afsnit. Some instances are a bit clearer: Swedish storartad has probably been borrowed from Danish storartet, a Scandinavianisation of German grossartig, upon which both are ultimately based. Similarly, Swedish framhäva and ta avstand frå are clearly loaned from Danish (fremhæve, tage afstand fra) but both are ultimately modelled on German hervorheben and Abstand nehmen von respectively. Despite the new influence of Danish Romanticism in the 1800s and the war with Germany which peaked in 1864, High German remained the best known language in Sweden and Scandinavia generally, and the greatest donor of loanwords, contributing lexical items in all walks of life.


It is a fact that many intra-Nordic loans at first appear to be strange and superfluous while they compete with native synonyms, whereas once they succeed in gaining access to the normal language, they no longer are felt to be strange and as a rule meet far less resistance. Many of the "Danicisms" objected to by the likes of Rydqvist and later the Swedish linguists Olof Hellqvist and Adolf Noreen, were originally used by one or two writers but now no longer seem foreign, indeed some are now part of everyday Swedish. Analogous remarks apply to some Swedish loans into Norwegian [see below].


Scandinavia, in line with the rest of Europe, experienced its own Romantic renaissance and with all the associated implications this entails. The Scandinavianist movement perhaps reached its peak during the 1840s and within it two strong but conflicting forces were at work. On the one hand, there was a strong impetus for pan-Nordic cultural and political unity and Scandinavian supranationalism, but on the other hand, national conservatism and national pride of one's heritage and culture also played a large part, especially in Norway and the insular Nordic nations. So during the 1800s we see some commentators in favour of closer Nordic ties - languages included - while other leading critics were fiercely opposed to indbyrdes lån on the grounds of national pride and an idealised historical past. Many of the Danish loans into Swedish during this period are a result of this Romanticism, even if most of them can be traced to Denmark's powerful neighbour to the south, which was itself a massive donor of words at this time to all European and Nordic nations. The Swede, Sturzen-Becker, writing during the 1840s, no doubt influenced by the flow of ideas coming out of Denmark, was notorious for testing out his own Danish loans, e.g. glädjelig (Dan. glædelig, but Mod. Swed. glädjende) or namnligen (Dan. navnlig, but mod. Swed. särskilt). Only a few of his imports (of which most were taken up with over-eager haste) have endured into 20th century Swedish, e.g.: stillfärdig, underfundig, undervärdera, övervärdera, livsglad, livstrött, omsving and på tvärs. Despite the opposition from some quarters, it can be safely be said that the Scandinavianist movement of the 1800s lead to more internal trafficking of loanwords in Scandinavia and the replacement by these of some earlier High German calques, or else French loans (especially in Swedish) from the same period. Literature and the press were important agents in this change.


The earliest loans from Norwegian into Swedish come from period of the "Great Four" of Norwegian literature (i.e. Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Jonas Lie and Alexander Kielland) in which Norwegian was hardly distinguishable on paper from Danish. These loans could therefore just as easily be pure Danicisms. Most loans that can be definitely said to be from Norwegian proper are concerned with characteristically Norwegian things or concepts (at least originally), e.g.: huldra and slalom. The same applies equally to Norwegian loans into Danish (see below).


Finally, of great interest is a small influx of Icelandic words into Swedish especially, earlier in the modern period, during the 1600s. This was at a time when interest in the old Nordic and Viking past was having a renaissance in Scandinavia (just as in England and Germany) and scholars like Ole Worm were disseminating knowledge about the Old Norse language, literature and culture. Swedish scholar and antiquarian Georg Stiernhielm in his book from this period Gambla Swea och Götha Måles fatebur shows he had clearly been much influenced by a sentiment for the common Nordic past and the allure of the ancient literature. He lamented that Swedish has become too much the repository of foreign words and phrases and he would like to see his mother tongue cleansed of this uncomfortable baggage. That could be best achieved by becoming acquainted with the Old Norse works and reviving some of the Old Icelandic purity and clarity of expression into modern Swedish (and Scandinavian):


“Summan på saken är denne: iagh hafwer rönt wårt swenska tungomåls feel och fattigdom. Orsaken ther til hafwer iagh funnet, at thet gamble målet är nederlagt och kommet i förgätenheet - ja, i så tiock förgätenheet, at nästan ingen mehr fins, som thet förstår; thet doch är fult aff allehanda märckelige betydande ord och ordasätt, hwilke alle eller mästendels kunna optagas, förnyas och så maakliga föras i bruk igen, hwilket icke allenast skulle göra wårt måål flödigt och rijkt, uthan och liuft, fagert och prydeligt....”


Some of the words which Stiernhielm advocated for loan or revival are still used in Swedish and some have gained currency thereby in other Nordic languages. For example, gåta from Icelandic gáta (later loaned from Swedish to Danish), fylking from the Icelandic word of the same (also current in Norwegian), härja from Icelandic herja, now seems completely at home in Swedish and the other Nordic languages (cf. English harry, from OE hergian "lay waste"), as does drapa "kill" from Icelandic drepa. Both Swedish and Danish (and therefore by implication, Norwegian) were enriched by these loans from early modern Icelandic or else the Old Norse of the sagas, but unfortunately many of these loans have remained confined to purely literary genres. Never more than during the 1600s has Swedish been coloured more with foreign words and this situation encouraged the radical views of thinkers such as Stiernhielm, whose remedial policy to some degree encouraged intra-Nordic borrowing. During the 1800s, Danish was to become an important loaning agent on Swedish, even if many such loans were ultimately of German origin.



ii) Danish


Danish has been, until the 20th century, the main provider of intra-Nordic loans across Scandinavia, and until this century, Denmark had always exported more loans than it imported from its Scandinavian neighbours. Denmark and Danish have also usually been the media which have introduced Low and High German loans and trends in literature into the rest of Scandinavia. Much concerning the relations between Denmark and Sweden, the Union of Kalmar, German influence, Romanticism and Danish loans has been discussed in the section on Swedish (above). In this section, it simply remains to note some examples of loaning periods into Danish and what effect other Nordic tongues have been having upon the language.


It is generally easier to detect Swedish loans into Danish than Norwegian ones, even today. This is simply due to written and spoken Swedish being more distant from Danish than Norwegian. When Norway was under Danish rule and a Norwegianised form of Danish (Riksmål) was the normal written language in Norway, this situation was even more clean-cut. Very little of the material loaned into Danish from Norwegian has not been present in some form in Swedish and most loans from Norwegian are concerned with (originally) uniquely Norwegian things and concepts, so-called "norskheter", e.g. sæter, klipfisk, fos and hyggelig. Indeed, it is often the case that when Swedish loans Danish a word which is also found in Norwegian, Swedish has supplied that word to Norwegian at an earlier time. Nevertheless, loans from Norwegian begin to appear after the union break-up of 1814, and the greats of Norwegian literature such as Ibsen and Bjørnson did exercise some lexical influence on Danish towards the end of the last century. Not a few of the Norwegianisms in Danish come directly from these authors. A couple of literary loans from this period are med én gang (Nor. med en gang), now found alongside native Danish på én gang and nokså "quite" (Nor. nokså), which was loaned in the early 1900s but revived once more into common Danish usage after 1945.


Swedish influence on Danish - as one might expect - has been a more significant phenomenon, especially during the post-1945 period. A note on early Swedish loans has already been given in the introductory section above. It is difficult to categorise the types of loans from Swedish that have found their way into Danish and they are rather a mixed bag. However, quite a strong influence in the areas of technology and business is discernible, occasionally (surprisingly enough) deriving from High German loans into Swedish. Easier to classify is the supposed grammatical effect modern Swedish has been having on modern Danish. According to the article by Alan Karker [see source-list below], Swedish has in particular been adding to the number of noun and adjective suffixes current in everyday Danish. For example:


-bevidst, from Swedish -medveten (this is a calqued suffix), e.g. as in prisbevidst "price conscious"
-rigtig, from Swedish -riktig, e.g. as in moderigtig
-venlig, from Swedish -vänlig, e.g. as in bilvenlige færger "car-friendly colours".


Karker further claims that a number of recent adjectives suggest that in some senses, the suffix -bar (denoting -able, -ible in English) is on its way to replacing the more usual Danish -lig (cf. English -ly) for the same function and furthermore this is down to Swedish influence. Among the examples he gives are flytbar "flyable, worthy of flight" for earlier flyttelig and vaskbar "washable" for earlier afvaskelig.


He then goes on to give a series of quotations from Danish literature and journalism where Danish writers adopt Swedish words and expressions in order to demonstrate the continuing pressure Swedish exerts on modern Danish. A couple of representative examples culled from these are:


den hvileløse og vejløse længsel som er Columbus-digtets indebyrd... (Thomas Bredsdorff, 1967, shows unmistakable usage of Swedish innebörd "content, essence")




nu bevidner vi med forundring og forfærdelse, at hagekorset tilsyneladende er livet op igen. (Adolph Rastén, 1960, clearly recalls Swedish bevittna "testify, be witness to").


By and large it can be said that the average Dane is well aware of the great debt his language owes to Middle Low German, High German, French and English, but is far less aware of the nonetheless appreciable debt it also owes to his Nordic sister-languages. Just as in Sweden, both welcome and hostility have been the reactions to intra-Nordic borrowing in Denmark down the decades, with many Danes preferring the standard Latinate or Greek-derived terms of international science, law and diplomacy. In particular, many Danes (along with many Norwegians) bemoan the seemingly ever-increasing number of svecismer "Swedicisms" encroaching into their language. On the flip side of the coin, there have been those have welcomed Swedish or Swedish influenced words and phrases into Danish, in the spirit of Nordic co-operation and pan-nationalism. The best known of these is perhaps the Danish historian Sven Clausen, who in the 1930s and 1940s again stirred up the debate about common Nordic words, by among other things, attempting to (re-)introduce such words into Danish as børje (cf. Swedish börja, Icelandic byrja) and ømsesidig (cf. Swedish ömsesidig). His attempts have not been successful.


iii) Norwegian


In trying to identify grannspråk loans in Norwegian, we are faced with some serious challenges. The problems have their roots in the fact that from circa 1500 to 1900 Danish (or a Norwegianised version of it) was the officially sanctioned language in Norway and genuine Norwegian dialects were marginalised. Well into this century, even after several official language reforms and the adoption of Norwegian as the state language, Danish still exerted considerable influence in many areas of Norwegian lexical usage. For some 400 years Danish and the official written language of Norway were so similar, that it can be impossible to decide at times whether a word has been loaned from Danish or is of genuine Norwegian origin, should it not appear in more ancient extant sources or Norwegian dialects. This can still be a problem even now, as written Norwegian and Danish are much more alike than written Swedish and Danish. Due to the sheer size and extent of the Danish influence on Norwegian down four centuries, it is impossible to do it justice in this small article (if at all) and I shall confine the discussion to a few post-war loans, when the distinctions between Norwegian and Danish are clearer and the size of the Danish contribution is easily manageable. Knallert "small motorbike" was loaned from Danish, but has since been ousted by Swedish moped and Danish dollargrin has been admitted into Norwegian in the last few decades, albeit in the strengthened and partly fornorsket form dollarglis. Further we can note gyser (or Norwegianised, grøsser) "thriller" (Dan. gyser), studine "female student" from Danish studine and oms from Danish oms (abbreviation for omsetningsafgift).


Icelandic influence on Norwegian, just as on Swedish, is a fascinating prospect. Such an influence has been felt partly through pan-Scandinavian nationalism, Romanticism and antiquarianism during previous centuries, with the borrowing of words from the Old Norse sagas etc. and partly as a result of the målstrev in Norway - a struggle which still going on today. Norwegian Nynorsk, being both closer to Icelandic in form and spirit, has been the focus of most of the attention of the Icelandic influence. I say influence, rather than direct loans, because Icelandic has been more of a model and inspiration for the Norwegian language purists and Romantics than a direct donor language, although some do exist in older Nynorsk. Ivar Aasen, linguist, visionary and father of the New-Norwegian movement himself constructed some neologisms from Icelandic models, e.g. ravkraft for "electricity" (cf. Ice. rafmagn), framvarp for what is now denoted by framlegg and utkast (cf. Ice. frumvarp) and leikhus for "theatre" (cf. Ice. leikhús). Largely thanks to Aasen, prenteverk "print-works" is more common in Nynorsk than trykkeri (cf. Ice. prentasmiðja) and skuldbrev, vedskifte and til dømes "for example" (cf. Ice. til dæmis - Bokmål til eks.) are also more common in Nynorsk than Bokmål. It is possible that the increasing interest in Norwegian schools in modern rather than Old Icelandic will lead to more new Icelandic influence in the future. Words which had been preserved in Norwegian rural dialects, but whose current prominence may at least in part be due to Icelandic influence combined with a certain amount of Romanticism are røynsle (cf. Ice. reynsla - Bokmål equivalent is erfaring), kar (cf. Ice. karlmaður - Bokmål has mann), skilnad (cf. Ice. skilnaður - Bokmål has forskjell) and I wonder if the Nynorsk forms eg "I" and hine "the rest, the others" don't owe at least something to Icelandic ég and hinir (Bokmål forms are jeg and øvrige). That is not to deny that the Nynorsk forms could be parallel developments from Old Norwegian, of course.


In post-war Norwegian, Swedish is the Nordic language borrowed from the most. It is generally a truism that one tends to loan words from languages having great prestige (or at least perceived to have such) and of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden with its larger population, economic and cultural power certainly has this. New terminology is often created in Sweden, but Norwegian also borrows more everyday words like anse. Sweden's press exercises a considerable influence on Norwegian newspapers and Swedish film, radio and television have an equally influential presence in Norwegian cultural life. It comes as no surprise then, that during the present century and especially after the last war, Swedish has been contributing an ever-increasing number of words and expressions to the Norwegian lexicon.


Although written Norwegian is generally closer to written Danish than Swedish, this is by no means always the case, and in a large minority of cases Norwegian words are found to be closer to the Swedish. This is particularly the case with Swedish and Nynorsk. However, Swedish phonology is much closer to Norwegian than that of Danish and despite some orthographical or lexical differences, Swedish loans can often be assimilated into Norwegian without most users being aware that they are not native Norwegian. Often it will only be during the initial period of in-loaning that such words or expressions will be perceived as being foreign or new. Older loans from Swedish have been so thoroughly assimilated and have become so much a part of the general vocabulary that they seem completely Norwegian: foretak, gjøremål, medviten, odle, samvit, åtgjerd, framstående. There is so much variation to be found in spoken and written Norwegian in all its forms, that at times a new loan from Swedish will be considered as a variant of a Norwegian form that has entered into standard usage. In other instances Swedish is consciously used by Norwegians for certain purposes, e.g. the dramatist Henrik Ibsen deliberately gave some of his characters Swedish speech and expressions to achieve stylistic effect, as can be clearly seen from Peer Gynt.


A more subtle Swedish influence often not noted in Norwegian dictionaries can result in changes in word meanings, expanded user base, or cause Norwegian dialect items to become current in the standard language or a Nynorsk word gaining entry into Bokmål. Norwegian dialects are so rich and varied that what is a Swedish loan for one user may be consider as a native word by another. A number of words may just as easily be Swedish loans as Norwegian regionalisms and opinion is often divided as to their original provenance, e.g.: omtykt, kry (in the sense "fresh"), givende, gedigen, spark, rettfram, bortkommen. Swedish has also transmitted loans that are non-Nordic in origin into Norwegian, e.g.: panel, televisjon, svevebåt, lagarbeid, kontorlandskap, tenåring.


As is the case with Danish, Swedish is also exerting an influence on Norwegian at the level of grammar and word-formation. A couple of characteristically Swedish suffixes have been quite enthusiastically adopted into Norwegian in recent decades: -ig and -is. The Swedish adjectival suffix -ig has provided Norwegian with a new means of forming descriptive adjectives, e.g. stenig (usual Nor. stenet, steinet), stormig, vatnig, stilig, lusig (Nor. luset), tråkig and sexig. Swedish -is has become productive in Norwegian as a noun forming suffix, e.g. sjekkis "cheque", no doubt influenced by the several direct loans from Swedish with this suffix: kjendis, kompis, sjampis, kondis and frekkis.


The influence of Swedish on Norwegian, it is true, is much smaller and often more subtle than the massive external pressure exerted by American English, but it is still a significant source of Norwegian lexical activity and innovation. Swedish words are often much less problematic in adapting to the Norwegian phonological and inflexional systems than English ones and many Norwegians regard them as less foreign and invasive newcomers.



iv) Icelandic and Faroese


See the separate article I have written for this area.


v) Pan-Nordic co-operation and loans


Particularly since the last war there have been efforts made to harmonise vocabulary in certain limited fields across the whole of Scandinavia. Realisation had set in that in many cases terms for the same object or concept were different in the three major languages - especially within scientific and technological spheres. Sometimes this situation had arisen as a result of the three mainland languages each adopting, or differently adapting, foreign loans for technical terms etc. A classic example is that "computer" is dator in Swedish, datamat in Danish (now usually computer) and datamaskin in Norwegian. Similar parallels can be found in many areas involving recent technology and innovation. Clearly this situation is not conducive to pan-Nordic co-operation and commerce and over the past few decades attempts have been made to samordna the adoption of new loans into Scandinavia and harmonise older ones across all three nations. Gösta Bergman has expressed quite tersely some of the goals of such a policy of harmonisation:


På olika områden råder nordiskt samarbete. Man utbyter erfarenheter och söker samordna och rationalisera sin verksamhet...Det finns emellertid också fackområden, där man går ett steg längre och söker åstadkomma större samstämmighet i terminologin.
[Bergman, 1971a, p.29]


The Nordisk språksekretariat (now the Nordisk språkråd) as well as several other Scandinavian consultative and deliberative bodies have been instrumental in this work. I can only give a few examples in what is a complex, involving, controversial and continuing process. In 1951 a common Nordic electrochemical wordlist was published in Sweden by the Teknisken nomenklaturcentralen ["Central Agency for Technical Terminology"], with equivalents given in English to avoid any possible confusion about what concept was intended. The editor claimed that he had achieved approximately a 66% agreement in all three languages across the 2000 terms supplied. Not perfect, but a good start. Work was obviously required to harmonise these terms further and iron out glaring differences or ambiguous elements. In the fields of law and public administration changes have also been effected. In 1958 Danish adopted advokat "lawyer" in place of earlier sagfører to conform with the prevailing usage in Sweden and Norway. Two years earlier the Nordiske Sprognævn suggested that postkort (already used in Finland Swedish) ought to replace brevkort in the interests of not only common Nordic relations but also international relations and communication. Norway and Sweden adopted the proposal in 1962 but Denmark lagged behind somewhat and only implemented it in 1971. Again, in the interests of common Nordic understanding, Denmark in 1966 adopted arbejdsformidling for earlier arbejdsanvisning, modelled on Swedish arbetsförmedling. Some similar changes occurred within schools and education, for example "political science" became in 1959 statskundskab in Denmark, in harmony with Swedish statskunskap but Norwegian continues to rebel somewhat, preferring statsvitskap.


The idealistic Scandinavianists of the previous century learnt that to completely harmonise the lexicon across Scandinavia would be too controversial (how would you decide the chosen term?), expensive (schoolbooks, dictionaries re-written, people re-taught) and would alienate too many people (many preferred international loans to Nordic ones). So the objective now, as Bergman expressed it above, is primarily to harmonise the ever-increasing and innovative vocabulary of scientific and technical progress. But not everyone is happy with even this more modest aim. Generally speaking the Danes have been most internationally minded in suggesting that international loans be made common fare across all three nations. A study of foreign loans by the Nordisk språksekretariat has shown this and also illustrated that the Swedes prefer to naturalise loans, while the more conservative Norwegians are most likely to seek out native alternatives from the resources of their own language. There are nevertheless many common loan translations that have been harmonised across all three languages. Karker (1996) mentions a few of these (p.83): databehandling (Swed. databehandling, Nor. databehandling), familieplanlægning (Swed. familjeplanering, Nor. familieplanlegging), grøn bølge (Swed. grön våg, Nor. grøn bølge), kulturmønster (Swed. kulturmönster, Nor. kulturmønster), nedtrapning (Swed. nedtrappning, Nor. nedtrapping), det tavse flertal (Swed. den tysta majoriteten, Nor. det tause majoritet), topmøde (Swed. toppmöte, Nor. toppmøte), at øremærke (Swed. att öronmärka, Nor. å øremerke), at bakke op (from which Norwegian and Swedish derived substantives oppbakking and uppbackning respectively - Swed. att backa upp, Nor. å bakke opp), kassettebånd (Swed. kassettband, Nor. kassettbånd), motorvej (Swed. motorväg, Nor. motorvei).


In the informal language and less official capacities progress is also being made. For example, Danish has adopted frysetøj from Norwegian frysetøy "frozen fruit" (modelled after syltetøy "jam, conserve"), grovkøkken is inspired by Swedish grovkök, while kontorlandskab also owes its advent to Swedish kontorslandskap, which in its turn can be traced to German Bürolandschaft. Danish tilvalgsskole has been modelled on Swedish tillvalsskola, oms on Swedish and Norwegian oms and el, elværk from Swedish and Norwegian el(-). Earlier Danish flyvemaskine has been abbreviated to fly probably in imitation of Swedish flyg and Norwegian fly, while Norwegian fikse and/or Swedish fixa have given rise in Danish to the verb fikse. Karker (1996, p.83) mentions some further examples of harmonisation across the three languages in words formed from the native word-stock (even if some translate English words): dybfryser (Swed. djupfrysskåp, Nor. djupfryser), forslumme (Swed. förslummas, Nor. forslumme), indeklima (Swed. innerklimat, Nor. inneklima), lommeregner (Swedish fickräknare, Nor. lommerekner), lydmur (Swed. ljudvall, Nor. lydmur), lønglidning (Swed. löneglidning, Nor. lønnsglidning), målgruppe (Swed. målgrupp, Nor. målgruppe), postnummer (Swed. postnummer, Nor. postnummer), ratlås (Swed. rattlås, Nor. rattelås), skumgummi (Swed. skumgummi, Nor. skumgummi), småpakke (Swed. småpaket, Nor. småpakke), storfamilie (Swed. storfamilj, Nor. storfamilie), strygefri (Swed. strykfri, Nor. strykfri), tværpolitisk (Swed. tvärpolitisk, Nor. tverrpolitisk), uland (Swed. u-land Nor. u-land), vægavis (Swed. väggtidning, Nor. veggavis).


There are not a few other examples of this fascinating interchange and harmonisation of terms. Icelandic and Faroese vocabulary and loans in scientific, technical and public spheres is a wholly different matter and has been dealt with in a separate article.


Although progress has been made, harmonisation across the three mainland languages in technical, scientific and specialist vocabulary is far from having been achieved and of course the same could never be done for the general, everyday vocabulary. Despite their many similarities, the Scandinavian languages have always differed along an array of gradations from "a little" to "very much" even in their everyday vocabulary - and this part of their charm. That situation is never likely to change but it would be beneficial to all if new terms coming into all three languages could be harmonised in the interests of Nordic unity and mutual understanding. That is a prospect that looks increasingly likely to be realised in the future.



Section 1: Loans into Mainland Scandinavian


a)      (Early) Modern Icelandic into Mainland Scandinavian: (Danish/Norwegian) fredhellig [friðheilagur or perhaps ON friðheilagr], idrætt, idrett, idrott [íþrótt], jøkel, jøkul, jökel [jökull], kenning, kenning, kenning [kenning], norne, norna [norn];


b)      Old Norse into Modern Scandinavian: bane, bane, bane (ON bani), bersærk, berserk, bärsärk [ON beserkr],  (Danish/Norwegian Bokmål) frasagn [ON frásögn] (Nor. Nyn. fråsegn has probably been in continuous use and is not a revived word), holmgang, holmgang, holmgang [ON holmganga], härnad, hernad (Swedish/Norwegian) [ON hernaðr], højsæde, høysete, högsäte (1500-1700 in Danish; Old Swedish høghsæta is probably not the source of the modern Swedish) [ON hásæti], knæsætte, knesette, knäsätta (late 1600s) [ON knésetja], landnåm, landnam [ON landnám], norrøn, norrön [ON norræn; loaned 1100-1500 in Danish, appearing first as noræn], ordskifte [ON orðaskipti; Danish loaned from Norwegian], ragnarok, ragnarok, ragnarök, [ON ragna rök], saga [ON saga], (Danish/Swedish; while Old Danish sagha, sage and Old Swedish sagha fell from use, Nynorsk soge never did. Its modern meaning is "history"), sejd, seid, sejd [ON seið], sott (Danish and Norwegian), sot (Swedish) [sott], viking [ON víkingr; cf. Runic Danish wîkingR], vølve, vala [ON völva, vala] våbenfør, våpenfør, vapenför (appears in Danish as vaabenfør 1500-1700) [ON vápnfærr]; 


See also section for Swedish below for more loans from Icelandic.


Section 2: Loans into Swedish


a) Danish to Swedish: klöver (1688) [kløver], ruter (1688), kältring (1689) [kæltring], dana (1712) [danne], kannstöpare (1729), hjärter (1739) [hjerter], spader (1738) [spader], avenbok (1740s), skötesynd (1766) [skødesynd], undvara (1794) [undvære], eftermäle (1815) [eftermæle], storartad (1832) [storartet, Ger. Grossartig], betingelse (1835) [betingelse], hänsyn (1830s) [hensyn], slank (1839) [slank], avsnitt (c.1840) [afsnit, Ger. Abschnitt], säregen (1845) [særegen], försändelse (1847) [forsendelse], ensartad (1851) [ensartet], samfärdsel (1853) [samfærdsel], levebröd (1855) [levebrød], obönhörlig (1862) [ubønhørlig], inlägg (1873) [indlæg], misstänkliggöra (1873) [mistænkeliggøre], övergrepp (1873) [overgreb], självövervinnelse (1881) [selvovervindelse], spinnsidan (1882) [spindeside], genombrott (1883) [gennembrud], särmärke (1883) [særmærke], tillnärmelsevis (1883) [tilnærmelsesvis], dis (1884) [dis], upplevelse (1884) [oplevelse], förälskelse (1880s) [forelskelse], nedärvd (1880s) [nedarvet], förståelse (1889) [forståelse], rundhänt (1890) [rundhåndet], racka med på (1891) [regne med på], självsyn (1892) [selvsyn], spydig (1892) [spydig], lyhörd (1894) [lydhør], ta avstånd från (1894) [tage afstand fra, Ger. Abstand nehmen von], besvikelse (later 1800s) [besvigelse], frejdig (later 1800s) [frejdig], höra hemma (later 1800s) [høre hjemme], räckvidd (late 1800s), uppsving (later 1800s) [opsving], begivenhet (1901) [begivenhed, Ger. Begebenheit], bil (1902) [bil], den gången (early 1900s) [den gangen], upphovsrätt (1952) [ophavsret], omstigning (1950s) [omstigning], avstickare [afstikker, Ger. Abstecher], falla igenom [falde igennem], framhäva [fremhæve, Ger. hervorheben], förnärma (post-1800) [fornærme], gräll [grel, Ger. grell], inlåta sig på [indlade sig på] inträngande [indtrængende], någon som helst [nogen som helst], omvärlden [omverden], snacksalig [snakkesalig], styv kuling [stiv kuling], utjämna [udjævne];


b) Danish or Norwegian to Swedish: berika (late 1800s) [Dan. berige, Nor. berike], bestyrelse (late 1800s) [Dan. bestyrelse, Nor. bestyrelse], diktning (late 1800s) [Dan. digtning, Nor. dikting], häntyda (late 1800s) [Dan. hentyde, Nor. hentyde], kräsen (late 1800s) [Dan. kræsen, Nor. kresen], nog så stor (late 1800s) [Dan. nok så stor, Nor. nok så stor], skötelös (late 1800s) [Dan. skødesløs, Nor. skjødesløs], spränglärd (late 1800s) [Dan. sprænglærd, Nor. sprenglærd], utbyte (late 1800s) [Dan. udbytte, Nor. utbytte, Ger. Ausbeute], utslag (late 1800s) [Dan. udslag, Nor. utslag], vansklig (late 1800s) [Dan. vanskelig, Nor. vanskelig], häler, häleri (c.1940) [Dan. hæler, hæleri, Nor. heler, heleri], urövel [Dan. urøvl, Nor. urøvl];


c) Norwegian to Swedish: slalom [slalåm], huldra (early 1800s) [hulder], rabalder (early 1890s) [rabalder], samröre (1895) [samrøre], platinaräv (1938) [platinarev], luftled (1956) [luftled]; drillflicka [drilljente], korstryck  [krysspress];


d) Icelandic to Swedish: åtbörd (1600s) [atburður], gladlynt (1600s) [glaðlyndur], snille (1600s) [snill], tima (1600s) [tíma], dräpa (early 1800s) [drepa], fylking (early 1800s) [fylking], id (early 1800s) [íð] mäla (early 1800s) [mäla], digna [digna], fager [fagur], flock [flokkur], färna (Leuciscus cephalus), gåta [gáta], härja [herja], ätt [ætt];


(fager, mäla and ätt may have been revived from OSwed. fagher, mäla and æt respectively)


Section 3: Loans into Danish

a) Swedish to Danish: ordsprog (1550: ordsprock) [1526: ordspråck, modern Swedish ordspråk], emne (1700s) [ämne], snille (1700s) [snille], nyfigen (1700s) [nyfiken], omdømme (about 1750) [omdöma], sysselsætte (1750s) [sysselsätta], sysselsat (after 1750) [sysselsat], særskilt (c. 1750) [särskilt], nedbør (c.1800) [nederbörd], gøremål (early 1800s) [goromål], jævnbyrdig (early 1800s) [jämbördig], kropslig (early 1800s) [kroppslig], tyst (early 1800s) [tyst], farsot (1860s) [farsot], ihærdig (1860) [ihärdig], forenkle (late 1800s) [förenkla], indebære (late 1800s) [innebära], lynne (late 1800s) [lynne], en saga blot (1800s) [en saga blott], givetvis (1800s) [givetvis], område (1800s) [område], øde (1800s) [öde, partly from German Öde], tændstik (1870) [tändsticka], sprogforbistning (1936) [språkförbistning], bh (1952) [bh < behå], ombudsmand (1953) [ombudsman], oms (1960) [oms], moms (= merværdiomsætningsafgift) [moms (1964) < mervärdesskat], kendis (1969) [kändis], almenhed [allmänhet], arbejdsformidling [arbetsförmedling], beslutsom [beslutsam], brist [brist], brydsom [brydsam], drag (in the senses "feature", "trait" influenced by Swedish (and perhaps Norwegian)) [drag], finkulturel [finkultur], folkeminde [folkminne], for tilfældet [för tillfället], foretag [företag], foretagsom [företagsam], foreteelse [företeelse], foretræde [företräda], fremgangsrig [framgångsrik], fremstående [framstående], fåfattig [fåfattig], givende [givande], godbid [godbit], grovkøkken [grovkök], have utur [ha utur], helt enkelt [helt enkelt], hundredtal [hundratal], højlydt [högljutt], indslag (in the sense "element") [inslag], jordfæste [jordfästa], kandidere [kandidera], kompromisse ) [kompromissa], kontorlandskab [kontorslandskap, from Ger. Bürolandschaft], kønsrolle [könsroll], lix [lix], lægge bort titlerne [lägga bort titlarna], medgørlig [medgörlig], mindesmærke [minnesmärke], modsvare [motsvara], modsvarighed ) [motsvarighet],  målsætning [målsättning], odle [odla],  opdele [uppdela], polet [pollett], pågå [pågå], på sæt og vis [på sätt och vis], påtagelig [påtaglig], ret så [rätt så], råstærk [råstark], selvskreven [självskriven], sløjd [slöjd], socialstyrelse [socialstyrelse],  stilig [stilig], tage hånd om [ta hand om], tidehverv [tidevarv], tilgodese [tillgodose], tilvalg [tillval], tilvalgsskole [tillvalsskola], trækspil [dragspel], ømtålig, ømtålelig [ömtålig];


b) Swedish or Norwegian to Danish: færdes (1800s) [Swed. färdas, Nor. ferdes], godkende (1800s) [Swed. godkänna, Nor. godkjenne], kælke (1800s) [Swed. kälke, Nor. kjelke], tålsom (1800s) [Swed. tålsam, Nor. tålsom], trivsel (1800s) [Swed. trivsel, Nor. trivsel], ødemark (1800s) [Swed. ödemark, Nor. ødemark], helse (late 1800s) [Swed. hälsa, Nor. helse], tiltag (c. 1900) [Swed. tilltag, Nor. tiltak], advokat (1958) [Swed advokat, Nor. advokat], major (1962) [Swed major, Nor. major], el, elværk [Swed. el, Nor. el-, elverk], fikse [Swed. fixa, Nor. fikse], fly [Swed. flyg, Nor. fly], glitre (1800s) [Swed. glittra, Nor. giltre], gubbe [Swed. gubbe, Nor. gubbe], jærv [Swed. järv, Nor. jerv], letmælk [Swed. lättmjölk, Nor. lettmelk], satse på [Swed. satsa på, Nor. satse på], stilne (c. 1860) [Swed. stillna, Nor. stilne];


c) Norwegian to Danish: godlidende (1700s) [godlidende], gåde (1700s) [gåte], fos (1750) [foss], fåmælt (post 1814) [fåmælt], greje (post 1814) [greie], tyvstarte (post 1814) [tjuvstarte], vidstirre (post 1814), granvoksen (early 1800s) [grannvoksen], hyggelig (early 1800s) [hyggelig], hygge (1800s) [hygge], klipfisk (early 1800s) [klippfisk], ren (early 1800s) [rein],  skrøne (1850-1899) [Nyn. skrynja], bagstræv (late 1800s) [bakstrev], fremover (1800s)  [fremover], hygge (1800s) [hygge], selvsagt (1800s) [selvsagt], fravær (1800s) [fravær],  livsløgn [livsløgn (1884)], nok så (early 1900s) [nokså], ordskifte (1900s) [ordskifte, a revival of ON orðaskipti], hems (1967) [hems], flom [flom], frysetøj [frysetøy],  grætten [gretten], gut [gutt], ikke noget at samle på [ikke noe å samle på], landssvig [landssvik], langrend [lengrend], li [li], løjpe [løype], med én gang [med en gang], målstræv [målstrev], nidstirre [nidstirre], opgør [oppgjør],  pejs [peis], rabalder (rabalder), restskat [restskatt], selvhjulpen [selvhjulpen], skattetræk [skattetrekk], slalom [slalom], slutopgør [check], sæter [seter], tjur [tiur, descended from ON þiðurr], trækprocent [trekkprosent];


c)      ii) Old Danish words revived through Norwegian influence: nemme [Nor. Nyn. neme, ODan. nimmæ], nytte [Nor. nytte, ODan. nytæ], ræd [Nor. redd, ON hræddr] - these words were earlier ousted by MLG derived forms: lære, bruge and bange;


d)      Old Danish words revived: mæle [ODan. mælæ; the word was revived during the period of Romanticism from folksongs]


Section 4: Loans into Norwegian


a) Swedish to Norwegian: anse [anse], besviken [besviken], brist [brist], digne [digna], doldis [doldis], foretak [företag], forgubning [förgubbning], forskingre [förskingra], frekkis [fräckis], giv [giv], gjøremål [göromål], gubbe [gubbe], jamlikhet [jämlikhet], jordfeste [jordfästa], kinkig [kinkig], kjendis [kändis], knark [knark], kompis [kompis], kondis [kondis], kul [kul], livat [livad], jemte [jämt], målsnøre [målsnöre], medviten [medveten], odle [odla], odling [odling], ombudsmann [ombudsman], planere [planera], samvit [samvete], socialstyrelse [socialstyrelse], spaning [spänning], spenstig [spänstig], stilig [stilig], tabbe [tabbe], tenåring [tonåring], tiltak [tilltag], uberoende [oberoende], underfund [underfund], versting [värsting], ågerhyre [åkerhyra], åtgjerd [åtgärd];


b) Danish to Norwegian: egenkjærlighet (1740-90) [egenkærlighed], omkrets (1740-90) [omkreds], sannsynlig (1740-90) [sandsynlig], selvbedrag (1740-90) [selvbedrag], valgspråk (1740-90) [valgsprog], virksomhet (1740-90) [virksomhed], dollarglis (post 1945) [dollargrin], knallert (post 1945) [knallert], gyser, grøsser [gyser], oms (1960s) [oms], studine [studine], underlødig [underlødig];


Section 5: Loans into Icelandic


See my article on loans and neologisms in Icelandic.


a) Danish to Icelandic: dragt (1800s) [dragt];


Section 6: Loans into Faroese


See my article on loans and neologisms in Faroese.




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© Edward Smith 2011



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