Predicting the mutual intelligibility of Germanic languages from linguistic and extra-linguistic factors

Francisca Hendrika Euphemia Swarte

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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    This research investigates the mutual intelligibility of Danish, Dutch, English, German and Swedish and the factors that can predict the mutual intelligibility among these languages.

    As for intelligibility, previous research has shown that Danish and Swedish are mutually intelligible to a large extent. Our results confirm this. Also, Dutch and German turn out to be mutually intelligible to a relatively high degree. Speakers of Dutch understand German well because they learn German at school. Germans, however, do not learn Dutch at school. They understand Dutch relatively well because of the close linguistic relationships between the two languages. All participants understand English the best, because English is part of the school curriculum in all the participating countries. Speakers of English, however, are worst at understanding the other languages. This can be explained by the fact that no other Germanic languages (except German) are taught in British schools and the fact that English differs from the other Germanic languages because of influences of for example French. Finally, Danish and Swedish on the one hand and Dutch and German on the other hand are only mutually intelligible to a low degree in spoken language and to a higher degree in written language.

    As for predicting factors, experience with a language turns out to be the most important extra-linguistic predictor. Lexical distance is the most important linguistic predictor. Orthographic, phonological and syntactic distances also play a role.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Nerbonne, John, Supervisor
    • van Heuven, Vincent J. P., Supervisor, External person
    • Gooskens, Charlotte, Co-supervisor
    Award date3-Mar-2016
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Print ISBNs978-90-367-8591-4
    Electronic ISBNs978-90-367-8590-7
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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