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Intelligibility of Swedish for Danes : loan words compared with inherited words


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Gooskens, Charlotte ; Kürschner, Sebastian:
Intelligibility of Swedish for Danes : loan words compared with inherited words.
In: Liet, Henk van der ; Norde, Muriel (Hrsg.): Language for its own sake : essays on language and literature offered to Harry Perridon. - Amsterdam : Scandinavisch Instituut, 2012. - S. 435-455. - (Amsterdam Contributions to Scandinavian Studies ; 8)
ISBN 978-90-809186-0-3



The Mainland Scandinavian languages, i.e. Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, are so closely related that the speakers often use their own language when communicating with each other (so-called semi-communication, Haugen 1966). However, communication is not perfect and sometimes fails. Previous investigations (Maurud 1976, Bø 1978, Börestam 1987, Delsing & Åkesson 2005) aimed at getting a General impression of how well Scandinavians understand each other. It appeared that mutual intelligibility is highest between Norwegians and
Swedes, whereas Danish is relatively hard to understand, especially for
Swedish-speaking subjects (Perridon 2000).The investigations just mentioned measured the overall intelligibility of complete texts by means of open questions. Little attention was paid to the linguistic phenomena that can explain the differences in the level of understanding between the three languages. In complete texts, all linguistic levels (segmental, supra segmental, lexical, morphological, syntactic) are combined and mixed, so that it is hard to assess the effect of separate linguistic phenomena. In the present article, we restrict the investigation of intelligibility to the understanding of isolated words, trying to determine the role of a limited set of phonetic/phonological factors that may affect intelligibility in inter-Scandinavian communication. We focus on the intelligibility of Swedish words for Danes, and in particular on the intelligibility of inherited words compared to loan words. As in most western countries, puristic movements in Scandinavia have taken action against the large number of loan words that have become part
of the Scandinavian languages (cf. Section 1). However, from the point of
view of semi-communication in Scandinavia, it could be argued that a large
number of such words is an advantage for mutual intelligibility, at least if
the languages have borrowed the same words. We can think of three reasons why this might be the case. First, loan words may have specific segmental and/or prosodic properties that make them resistant to linguistic changes affecting inherited words. For example, the word accent of many loans from Greek, Latin or
Romance differs from the Germanic languages. Whereas Germanic languages are characterized by an initial accent on the stem syllable, most French loans, e.g., are stressed on the final syllable, cf. Swedish milˈjö, Danish milˈieu ‘environment’. While in Germanic languages vowels in unstressed syllables are often reduced (or as in Swedish, a limited number of full vowels is found in this position), this does not happen as easily in loan words with a different accent structure. Here, full vowels are often retained in unstressed syllables, even if the non-accentuated syllable is final, cf. Danish ˈdato, Swedish ˈdatum ‘date’ from Latin. Second, inherited words have been part of the lexicon for a much longer time than loanwords so that certain historical sound changes which affected the inherited vocabulary were no longer active at the time the loans entered the language. As a consequence, loan words in the
neighbouring language probably have more transparent phonetic correspondences
with their counterparts in the mother tongue than inherited words. For example, the Swedish word lag ‘law’ pronounced as [lɑːg] and the Danish equivalent lov pronounced as [lɔw] may have become so different that they are no longer intelligible for the speakers of the neighbour language. In contrast, a loan word like team, pronounced as [tiːm] both in Swedish and Danish, is no doubt easily identifiable. Third, loan words are often known not only from the native language but also from foreign languages that the speakers are familiar with. This may also have a facilitating effect on the recognition of loan words compared to inherited words. For example, the recognition of the Swedish
word turism ‘tourism’ may be facilitated because Danish listeners know the
English equivalent. To assess whether it is true that shared loan words are easier to understand than inherited words, we tested the intelligibility of 355 Swedish words (197 inherited words and 158 loan words) among Danish listeners.
We also measured the phonetic distances between the Swedish stimulus
words and their Danish counterparts to determine whether the distances
are indeed larger for the inherited words than for the loan words. Finally,
we correlated the intelligibility scores with the phonetic distances to see
whether there is a relation between word intelligibility and phonetic distance.
We tested the following hypotheses:
1. The percentage of correct identifications is higher for loan words than for inherited words.
2. The phonetic distances between Danish and Swedish loan words are smaller than between inherited words.
3. There is an inverse relationship between the percentage of correct
identifications and phonetic distance.

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Publikationsform:Aufsatz in einem Buch
Institutionen der Universität:Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät > Germanistik > Lehrstuhl für Deutsche Sprachwissenschaft
Titel an der KU entstanden:Nein
Eingestellt am: 14. Dez 2016 15:05
Letzte Änderung: 14. Dez 2016 15:05
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