Earlier this year I came across a blog post that confirmed something I had long held to be true. The article in question discussed the lexical distances between Europe’s languages. While it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the topic discussed it was the first time that I had seen the languages put into a diagram: essentially a map with abstract units of distance. The overall layout was something I had already suspect to be true and in particular confirmed my personal thoughts on the distances between the Nordic languages (sans Finnish) and their relationship to English, Dutch, and German.
This diagram confirmed that Dutch is closer to English than German, which seemed like an obvious one, but also that Swedish is closer to Icelandic than Danish and possibly closer than Norwegian Bokmal. The diagram is not 100% clear on that last part but I suspect it to be true.
My own experience is this: I studied German at high school. Afterwards I tried to learn Norwegian (Bokmål) and have done so on and off since ~2006. At the moment I’m probably at an intermediate level. I have also learnt some Swedish and Icelandic. I haven’t tried to learn Danish although it is pretty similar in spelling to Norwegian. I’ve also had a look at Old Norse (Old Icelandic) and picked up the odd Faroese word from friends.
If I was to draw a diagram similar to the above from my own experience it would actually be similar to a map to a real Europe. However, if you look at the diagram above and compare with a real map of Europe it isn’t too dissimilar. One thing that stuck out to me from learning languages was that Swedish felt closer to Icelandic than either Norwegian or Danish. At first I was surprised but considering (modern) Norwegian is essentially Danish, which has had more influences from mainland Europe than Sweden or Icelandic, then it makes sense that Swedish is closer to Icelandic. When I say closer I don’t mean very similar or the same, but rather that I found more spelling similarities between the two then I did with Icelandic and the other two Scandinavian languages (No / Dan).
In terms of sentence structure all the Nordic languages (sans Finnish) look fairly similar. The big difference is spelling and the number of declensions.
I just found that on the Norwegian language page on Wikipedia there is a useful table of comparisons between Germanic languages: Germanic language comparison. This gives an indicatoin of the similarities although it is obviously fairly minimal. It does confirm my comment above about the sentence structure essentially being the same.