Danish and Dutch [Language Similarities]

Denmark is only about 150 miles away from the Netherlands. Linguistic distance does not always match geographic distance, so how close are their languages, Danish and Dutch? Let’s find out.

Origins of Dutch and Danish

Dutch and Danish are both Germanic languages. Dutch is the 3rd most spoken Germanic language with 24 million native speakers, while Danish is the 6th most spoken with 5.5 million native speakers.

(The most spoken Germanic languages are English and German. Then comes Dutch, followed by Swedish and Afrikaans, and next comes Danish followed by Norwegian.)

The family of Germanic languages is divided into two subfamilies:

As a North Germanic language, Danish comes from Old Norse (which was the language spoken by the Vikings).

Dutch descends from Frankish, a language which was spoken between the 5th and 9th centuries in areas which are today the Netherlands, Belgium and north-western France.

Are Dutch and Danish mutually intelligible?

Two languages are said to be mutually intelligible when they are similar enough that their speakers can understand each other without prior study.

Dutch and Danish are not mutually intelligible. Dutch and Danish belong to separate branches of the Germanic languages (West Germanic vs. North Germanic). Even English which is in the same branch as Dutch is not mutually intelligible with Dutch.

Despite Dutch and Danish not being mutually intelligible, these languages share a number of similar vocabulary words (which we shall see examples of).

Similarities between Dutch and Danish

Vocabulary similarities between Dutch and Danish

Here are some examples of vocabulary words which are similar in Danish and Dutch:

Table: Some examples of vocabulary words which are similar in Danish and Dutch
English Danish Dutch
house hus huis
mountain bjerg berg
yellow gul geel
force kraft kracht
peace fred vrede
flower blomst bloem
blue blå blauw
dog hund hond
art kunst kunst
freedom frihed vrijheid
guilt skyld schuld
tall høj hoog
expensive dyrt duur
happiness lykke geluk
vegetables grøntsager groenten
impossible umulig onmogelijk
careful forsigtig voorzichtig

In terms of vocabulary, Dutch and Danish are more similar than either of these languages is to English.

To measure how similar two languages are in terms of their vocabulary, linguists calculate lexical similarity scores between them.

The Dutch-Danish lexical similarity score is higher than both the Dutch-English and the Danish-English lexical similarity scores. [1]

The reason is the large number of English words derived from Latin, which have entered the English language as loanwords from French.

Lexical similarities between Dutch and Danish compared to other languages

Words spelled with double vowels are frequent in the Dutch language, in contrast to Danish where double vowels are rare.

In Dutch, double vowels serve to indicate long vowel sounds. Danish is also a language which distinguishes between short and long vowel sounds. In Danish, this is done by using double consonants to indicate that the preceding vowel is short.

The Danish language has 3 additional letters which are not found in Dutch. These are 'æ', 'ø' and 'å'. Although Dutch does not have any special additional letters, it does have the letter combination 'ij', which is a diagraph that in some ways behaves as a separate letter.

Grammatical similarities between Dutch and Danish

The common ancestor language to Dutch and Danish, the “Proto-Germanic language” had a somewhat complicated grammar.

In the Proto-Germanic language, nouns were declined according to 6 grammatical cases.

Some Germanic languages have preserved systems of grammatical cases, for example Icelandic and German.

In this respect Dutch and Danish are similar in that they have done away with grammatical case declensions for nouns.

The differences between Dutch and Danish

Differences in vocabulary between Dutch and Danish

Despite the similarities in vocabulary between Dutch and Danish they are not the most closely related Germanic languages:

Here are some examples of Dutch and Danish vocabulary words which are significantly different:

Table: Some example of vocabulary words in Danish and Dutch which are very different
English Danish Dutch
beautiful smuk mooi
belief tro geloof
money penge geld
car bil auto
dirty snavset vies
potato kartoffel aardappel
newspaper avis krant
woman kvinde vrouw
soft blød zacht
weird mærkelig vreemd
work arbejde werk
hungry sulten hongerig
funny sjov grappig
seasons årstider seizoenen
difficult svært moeilijk
breakfast morgenmad ontbijt
jealousy misundelse jaloezie
important vigtig belangrijk
easy let eenvoudig
wise klog verstandig
answer svar antwoord

Differences in spelling between Dutch and Danish

The letter ‘z’ is not typically used in Danish vocabulary words although is fairly common in Dutch, appearing in about 7.5% of vocabulary Dutch vocabulary words.

Some examples:

The letter ‘w’ is generally not found in Danish vocabulary words, in contrast ‘w’ is a common letter in Dutch. About 10% of Dutch vocabulary words contain the letter ‘w’.

Some examples:

Another noticeable difference between Dutch spelling and Danish spelling is that double vowels are frequent in Dutch but not in Danish.

Looking at the thousand most common words in Dutch and Danish, we observe that:

Verb conjugation is more difficult in Dutch than in Danish.

A comparison of Dutch and Danish would not be complete without discussing verb conjugations.

In contrast to Dutch, Danish verbs do not conjugate according to number and person. In Danish the verb has the same form for all subject pronouns.

For example, here is how the verb “to read” is conjugated in the present tense for both Dutch and Danish.

In English:
I
read
you
read
he
reads
we
read
they
read
In Dutch:
ik
lees
jij
leest
hij
leest
wij
lezen
ze
lazen
In Danish:
jeg
læser
du
læser
han
læser
vi
læser
de
læser

Dutch or Danish: which is easier to learn for anglophones?

Dutch and Danish are both relatively easy languages for English speakers to learn.

In fact, the Foreign Service Institute ranks languages in 4 categories according to their difficulty, and Danish together with Dutch are both in the category 1 (easier languages which are most similar to English).

Despite this, Danish is known for having a pronunciation which is somewhat difficult for people learning the language.

In their written form, Dutch and Danish are both among the easiest languages to learn but in their spoken form Danish is a bit more difficult than Dutch.

To continue learning about the similarities and differences between Danish and Dutch, have a look at these lists of the 1000 most common Danish words, and the 1000 most common Dutch words.

References:
  1. [1] Gábor Bella, Khuyagbaatar Batsuren, and Fausto Giunchiglia. A Database and Visualization of the Similarity of Contemporary Lexicons. 24th International Conference on Text, Speech, and Dialogue. Olomouc, Czech Republic, 2021. (http://ukc.disi.unitn.it/index.php/lexsim/)