Statue of the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (whose mother was Czech and father Slovak) with Czech flag on the left and Slovak flag on the right. There is a high level of mutual intelligibility between the closely related West Slavic languages Czech and Slovak (the Czech–Slovak languages).
Statue of the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (whose mother was Czech and father Slovak) with Czech flag on the left and Slovak flag on the right. There is a high level of mutual intelligibility between the closely related West Slavic languages Czech and Slovak (the Czech–Slovak languages).

In linguistics, mutual intelligibility is a relationship between languages or dialects in which speakers of different but related varieties can readily understand each other without prior familiarity or special effort. It is sometimes used as an important criterion for distinguishing languages from dialects, although sociolinguistic factors are often also used.

Intelligibility between languages can be asymmetric, with speakers of one understanding more of the other than speakers of the other understanding the first. When it is relatively symmetric, it is characterized as "mutual". It exists in differing degrees among many related or geographically proximate languages of the world, often in the context of a dialect continuum.

Linguistic distance is the name for the concept of calculating a measurement for how different languages are from one another. The higher the linguistic distance, the lower the mutual intelligibility.


An individual's achievement of moderate proficiency or understanding in a language (called L2) other than their first language (L1) typically requires considerable time and effort through study and practical application if the two languages are not very closely related.[1] Advanced speakers of a second language typically aim for intelligibility, especially in situations where they work in their second language and the necessity of being understood is high.[1] However, many groups of languages are partly mutually intelligible, i.e. most speakers of one language find it relatively easy to achieve some degree of understanding in the related language(s). Often the languages are genetically related, and they are likely to be similar to each other in grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, or other features.

Intelligibility among languages can vary between individuals or groups within a language population according to their knowledge of various registers and vocabulary in their own language, their exposure to additional related languages, their interest in or familiarity with other cultures, the domain of discussion, psycho-cognitive traits, the mode of language used (written vs. oral), and other factors.

Mutually intelligible languages or varieties of one language

Some linguists use mutual intelligibility as a primary criterion for determining whether two speech varieties represent the same or different languages.[2][3] In a similar vein, some claim that mutual intelligibility is, ideally at least, the primary criterion separating languages from dialects.[4]

A primary challenge to these positions is that speakers of closely related languages can often communicate with each other effectively if they choose to do so. In the case of transparently cognate languages officially recognized as distinct such as Spanish and Italian, mutual intelligibility is in principle and in practice not binary (simply yes or no), but occurs in varying degrees, subject to numerous variables specific to individual speakers in the context of the communication. Classifications may also shift for reasons external to the languages themselves. As an example, in the case of a linear dialect continuum that shades gradually between varieties, where speakers near the center can understand the varieties at both ends with relative ease, but speakers at one end have difficulty understanding the speakers at the other end, the entire chain is often considered a single language. If the central varieties die out and only the varieties at both ends survive, they may then be reclassified as two languages, even though no actual language change has occurred during the time of the loss of the central varieties. In this case, too, however, while mutual intelligibility between speakers of the distant remnant languages may be greatly constrained, it is likely not at the zero level of completely unrelated languages.

In addition, political and social conventions often override considerations of mutual intelligibility in both scientific and non-scientific views. For example, the varieties of Chinese are often considered a single language even though there is usually no mutual intelligibility between geographically separated varieties. Another similar example would be varieties of Arabic, which additionally share a single prestige variety in Modern Standard Arabic. In contrast, there is often significant intelligibility between different Scandinavian languages, but as each of them has its own standard form, they are classified as separate languages.[5] There is also significant intelligibility between Thai languages of different regions of Thailand.

However, others have suggested that these objections are misguided, as they collapse different concepts of what constitutes a "language".[6]

Many Turkic languages are also mutually intelligible to a higher or lower degree, but thorough empirical research is needed to establish the exact levels and patterns of mutual intelligibility between the languages of this linguistic family. The British Academy funded research project dedicated to examining mutual intelligibility between Karakalpak, Kazakh and Uzbek languages is currently under way at the University of Surrey.

To deal with the conflict in cases such as Arabic, Chinese and German, the term Dachsprache (a sociolinguistic "umbrella language") is sometimes seen: Chinese and German are languages in the sociolinguistic sense even though some speakers cannot understand each other without recourse to a standard or prestige form.

Asymmetric intelligibility

Asymmetric intelligibility refers to two languages that are considered partially mutually intelligible, but where one group of speakers has more difficulty understanding the other language than the other way around. There can be various reasons for this. If, for example, one language is related to another but has simplified its grammar, the speakers of the original language may understand the simplified language, but less vice versa. For example, Dutch speakers tend to find it easier to understand Afrikaans than vice versa as a result of Afrikaans' simplified grammar.[7]

Main article: North Germanic languages § Mutual intelligibility

Northern Germanic languages spoken in Scandinavia form a dialect continuum where two furthermost dialects have almost no mutual intelligibility. As such, spoken Danish and Swedish normally have low mutual intelligibility,[7] but Swedes in the Öresund region (including Malmö and Helsingborg), across a strait from the Danish capital Copenhagen, understand Danish somewhat better, largely due to the proximity of the region to Danish-speaking areas. While Norway was under Danish rule, the Bokmål written standard of Norwegian developed from Dano-Norwegian, a koiné language that evolved among the urban elite in Norwegian cities during the later years of the union. Additionally, Norwegian assimilated a considerable amount of Danish vocabulary as well as traditional Danish expressions.[7] As a consequence, spoken mutual intelligibility is not reciprocal.[7]

List of mutually intelligible languages

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (July 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Written and spoken forms

Spoken forms mainly

Written forms mainly

List of mutually intelligible varieties

Below is an incomplete list of fully and partially mutually intelligible varieties sometimes considered to be separate languages.

Dialects or registers of one language sometimes considered separate languages

Dialect continua


Because of the difficulty of imposing boundaries on a continuum, various counts of the Romance languages are given; in The Linguasphere register of the world’s languages and speech communities David Dalby lists 23 based on mutual intelligibility:[86]

See also


  1. ^ a b Tweedie, Gregory; Johnson, Robert. "Listening instruction and patient safety: Exploring medical English as a lingua franca (MELF) for nursing education". Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  2. ^ Gröschel, Bernhard (2009). Das Serbokroatische zwischen Linguistik und Politik: mit einer Bibliographie zum postjugoslavischen Sprachenstreit [Serbo-Croatian Between Linguistics and Politics: With a Bibliography of the Post-Yugoslav Language Dispute]. Lincom Studies in Slavic Linguistics ; vol 34 (in German). Munich: Lincom Europa. pp. 132–136. ISBN 978-3-929075-79-3. LCCN 2009473660. OCLC 428012015. OL 15295665W.
  3. ^ a b Kordić, Snježana (2010). Jezik i nacionalizam [Language and Nationalism] (PDF). Rotulus Universitas (in Serbo-Croatian). Zagreb: Durieux. pp. 101–108. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3467646. ISBN 978-953-188-311-5. LCCN 2011520778. OCLC 729837512. OL 15270636W. CROSBI 475567. Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 June 2012. Retrieved 3 August 2014.
  4. ^ See e.g. P.H. Matthews, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics, OUP 2007, p. 103.
  5. ^ Chambers, J.K.; Trudgill, Peter (1998). Dialectology (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-0-521-59646-6.
  6. ^ Tamburelli, Marco (2021). "Taking taxonomy seriously in linguistics: Intelligibility as a criterion of demarcation between languages and dialects". Lingua. 256: 103068. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2021.103068. S2CID 233800051.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Gooskens, Charlotte (2007). "The Contribution of Linguistic Factors to the Intelligibility of Closely Related Languages" (PDF). Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 28 (6): 445. CiteSeerX doi:10.2167/jmmd511.0. S2CID 18875358. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Language Materials Project: Turkish". UCLA International Institute, Center for World Languages. February 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j G (2012). "çuvaşlar: The Internal Classification & Migration of Turkic Languages".
  10. ^ a b c d e Kasapoğlu Çengel, Hülya (2004). Ukrayna'daki Urum Türkleri ve Folkloru. Milli Folklor, 2004, Yıl. 16, S. 16, s. 59
  11. ^ a b c d e Sinor, Denis (1969). Inner Asia. History-Civilization-Languages. A syllabus. Bloomington. pp. 71–96. ISBN 978-0-87750-081-0.
  12. ^ a b c Alexander M. Schenker. 1993. "Proto-Slavonic," The Slavonic Languages. (Routledge). Pp. 60–121. Pg. 60: "[The] distinction between dialect and language being blurred, there can be no unanimity on this issue in all instances..."
    C.F. Voegelin and F.M. Voegelin. 1977. Classification and Index of the World's Languages (Elsevier). Pg. 311, "In terms of immediate mutual intelligibility, the East Slavic zone is a single language."
    Bernard Comrie. 1981. The Languages of the Soviet Union (Cambridge). Pg. 145–146: "The three East Slavonic languages are very close to one another, with very high rates of mutual intelligibility...The separation of Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian as distinct languages is relatively recent...Many Ukrainians in fact speak a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian, finding it difficult to keep the two languages apart...
  13. ^ a b Language profile Macedonian Archived 2009-03-11 at the Wayback Machine, UCLA International Institute
  14. ^ a b c Trudgill, Peter (2004). "Glocalisation and the Ausbau sociolinguistics of modern Europe". In Duszak, Anna; Okulska, Urszula (eds.). Speaking from the Margin: Global English from a European Perspective. Polish Studies in English Language and Literature 11. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-7328-4.
  15. ^ a b Brown, E. K.; Asher, R. E.; Simpson, J. M. Y. (2006). Encyclopedia of language & linguistics. Elsevier. p. 647. ISBN 978-0-08-044299-0.
  16. ^ a b c Bø, I (1976). "Ungdom og naboland : en undersøkelse av skolens og fjernsynets betydning for nabospråkforståelsen". Rogalandsforskning. 4.
  17. ^ Gooskens, C.; Van Bezooijen, R. (2006). "Mutual Comprehensibility of Written Afrikaans and Dutch: Symmetrical or Asymmetrical?" (PDF). Literary and Linguistic Computing. 21 (4): 543–557. doi:10.1093/llc/fql036.
  18. ^ Kaufmann, Manuel (2006). "English in Scotland — a phonological approach". GRIN. p. 21. Archived from the original on 2020-08-04. Retrieved 2020-04-05.
  19. ^ a b Katzner, Kenneth (2002). The languages of the world. Routledge. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-415-25003-0.
  20. ^ Taagepera, Rein (1999). The Finno-Ugric republics and the Russian state. Routledge. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-415-91977-7.
  21. ^ Christina Bratt Paulston (1988). International Handbook of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. p. 110. ISBN 9780313244841.
  22. ^ a b Voigt, Stefanie (2014). "Mutual Intelligibility of Closely Related Languages within the Romance language family" (PDF). p. 113.
  23. ^ "Limburgish". 19 November 2019.
  24. ^ a b Macedonian language Archived 2009-03-11 at the Wayback Machine on UCLA
  25. ^ a b Gordon 2005, Xibe
  26. ^ "How Konkani Won the Battle for 'Languagehood'". Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  27. ^ a b Kevin Hannan (1996). Borders of Language and Identity in Teschen Silesia. Peter Lang. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-8204-3365-3.
  28. ^ Beswick, Jaine (2005). "Linguistic homogeneity in Galician and Portuguese borderland communities". Estudios de Sociolingüística. 6 (1): 39–64.
  29. ^ GAVILANES LASO, J. L. (1996) Algunas consideraciones sobre la inteligibilidad mutua hispano-portuguesa[full citation needed] In: Actas del Congreso Internacional Luso-Español de Lengua y Cultura en la Frontera, Cáceres, Universidad de Extremadura, 175–187.
  30. ^ "Comparação Português e Castelhano".
  31. ^ "Algumas observações sobre a noção de língua portuguesa" (PDF).
  32. ^ Romanian language – Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  33. ^ a b "UCLA Language Materials Project: Language Profile". Archived from the original on 2011-11-09. Retrieved 2013-09-04.
  34. ^ Borg, Albert J.; Azzopardi-Alexander, Marie (1997). Maltese. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-02243-6.
  35. ^ Sayahi, Lotfi (24 April 2014). Diglossia and Language Contact: Language Variation and Change in North Africa. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-86707-8.
  36. ^
  37. ^ "Uzbek | the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies".
  38. ^
  39. ^ "Uzbek | the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies".
  40. ^ a b c Angogo, Rachel. "LANGUAGE AND POLITICS IN SOUTH AFRICA". Studies in African Linguistics Volume 9, Number 2. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  41. ^ Katsura, M. (1973). "Phonemes of the Alu Dialect of Akha". Papers in Southeast Asian Linguistics No.3. 3 (3): 35–54.
  42. ^ Rimsky-Korsakoff Dyer, Svetlana (1977). "Soviet Dungan nationalism: a few comments on their origin and language". Monumenta Serica. 33: 349–362. doi:10.1080/02549948.1977.11745054. Retrieved 2011-02-15. p. 351.
  43. ^ Orukpe, Abel (2016-11-03). "The Linguistic Characteristic Of Esan Language: Towards Its Empowerment and Development". Retrieved 2021-07-07.
  44. ^ Avrum Ehrlich, Mark (2009). Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora: origins, experience and culture, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 192. ISBN 978-1-85109-873-6.
  45. ^ "The Linguistic Innovation Emerging From Rohingya Refugees." by Christine Ro. Forbes. 13 September 2019. [1]
  46. ^ Čéplö, Slavomír; Bátora, Ján; Benkato, Adam; Milička, Jiří; Pereira, Christophe; Zemánek, Petr (2016-01-01). "Mutual intelligibility of spoken Maltese, Libyan Arabic, and Tunisian Arabic functionally tested: A pilot study". Folia Linguistica. 50 (2). doi:10.1515/flin-2016-0021. ISSN 0165-4004. S2CID 151878153.
  47. ^ Tomić, Olga Mišeska (2004). Balkan Syntax and Semantics. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 461. ISBN 978-90-272-2790-4.
  48. ^ Faingold, Eduardo D. (1996). Child Language, Creolization, and Historical Change: Spanish in Contact with Portuguese. Gunter Narr Verlag. p. 110. ISBN 978-3-8233-4715-6.
  49. ^ Working Papers of the Linguistics Circle of the University of Victoria: WPLC. WPLC, Department of Linguistics, University of Victoria. 1997. p. 66.
  50. ^ Ben-Ur, Aviva; Levy, Louis Nissim (2001). A Ladino Legacy: The Judeo-Spanish Collection of Louis N. Levy. Alexander Books. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-57090-160-7.
  51. ^ Łabowicz, Ludmiła. "Gdzie "sicz", a gdzie "porohy"?! (ст. 15), Part II". Archived from the original on 2013-05-01. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  52. ^ "Ausbau and Abstand languages".
  53. ^
  54. ^ "Uzbek | the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies".
  55. ^ Price, Glanville (1971), French Language: Present and Past, Jameson Books
  56. ^ Pope, Mildred K. From Latin to French, with Especial Consideration of Anglo-Norman. Page 183 section 481
  57. ^ Huchon, Mireille, Histoire de la langue française, pages 214 and 223.
  58. ^ Pei Mario (1949). "A New Methodology for Romance Classification". WORD. 5 (2): 135–146.
  59. ^ "French".
  60. ^ Gooskens, C.; et al. (2011). "Intelligibility of standard German and Low German to speakers of Dutch" (PDF). ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  61. ^ a b Gooskens; et al. (2009). "Cross-Border Intelligibility on the Intelligibility of Low German among Speakers of Danish and Dutch" (PDF).
  62. ^ Gooskens & Heeringa (2004). "Perceptive evaluation of Levenshtein dialect distance measurements using Norwegian dialect data". Language Variation and Change. 16 (3): 189–207. doi:10.1017/S0954394504163023. S2CID 2841629.
  63. ^ Vincent J. van Heuven; Charlotte Gooskens; Renée van Bezooijen (12 November 2010). "Mutual intelligibility of Dutch-German cognates by humans and computers" (PDF).
  64. ^ Barbour, Stephen (2000). Language and nationalism in Europe. Oxford University Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-19-925085-1.
  65. ^ a b c "Dari/Persian/Tajik languages" (PDF).
  66. ^ a b "Kirundi language, alphabet and pronunciation".
  67. ^ a b "Tokelauan – Language Information & Resources". Archived from the original on 2012-11-08. Retrieved 2010-05-31.
  68. ^ Chuka Obiorah (12 December 2013). "Twi Language – Akan's Popular Dialect". Buzz Ghana. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  69. ^ Gutman, Ariel (2018). Attributive constructions in North-Eastern Neo-Aramaic. Language Science Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-3-96110-081-1.
  70. ^ Hauenschild, Ingeborg; Kellner-Heinkele, Barbara; Kappler, Matthias (2020). Eine hundertblättrige Tulpe - Bir ṣadbarg lāla: Festgabe für Claus Schönig (in German). Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. p. 361. ISBN 978-3-11-220924-0.
  71. ^ Sabar, Yona (2002). A Jewish Neo-Aramaic Dictionary: Dialects of Amidya, Dihok, Nerwa and Zakho, Northwestern Iraq : Based on Old and New Manuscripts, Oral and Written Bible Translations, Folkloric Texts, and Diverse Spoken Registers, with an Introduction to Grammar and Semantics, and an Index of Talmudic Words which Have Reflexes in Jewish Neo-Aramaic. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 4. ISBN 978-3-447-04557-5.
  72. ^ "Dictamen de l'Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua sobre els principis i criteris per a la defensa de la denominació i l'entitat del valencià" Archived 2008-12-17 at the Wayback Machine. Report from Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua about denomination and identity of Valencian.
  73. ^ Gumperz, John J. (February 1957). "Language Problems in the Rural Development of North India". The Journal of Asian Studies. 16 (2): 251–259. doi:10.2307/2941382. JSTOR 2941382. S2CID 163197752.
  74. ^ Swan, Michael (2001). Learner English: a teacher's guide to interference and other problems. Cambridge University Press. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-521-77939-5.
  75. ^ Adelaar, K. Alexander; Himmelmann, Nikolaus (2013-03-07). The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar. Routledge. ISBN 9781136755095.
  76. ^ An example of equal treatment of Malaysian and Indonesian: the Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu database from the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka has a "Istilah MABBIM" section dedicated to documenting Malaysian, Indonesian and Bruneian official terminologies: see example
  77. ^ "Who is Malay?". July 2005. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  78. ^ Sugiharto, Setiono (25 October 2008). "Indonesian-Malay mutual intelligibility?". Retrieved 6 December 2019.(registration required)
  79. ^ Mader Skender, Mia (2022). "Schlussbemerkung" [Summary]. Die kroatische Standardsprache auf dem Weg zur Ausbausprache [The Croatian standard language on the way to ausbau language] (PDF) (Dissertation). UZH Dissertations (in German). Zurich: University of Zurich, Faculty of Arts, Institute of Slavonic Studies. pp. 196–197. doi:10.5167/uzh-215815. Retrieved 8 June 2022. Serben, Kroaten, Bosnier und Montenegriner immer noch auf ihren jeweiligen Nationalsprachen unterhalten und problemlos verständigen. Nur schon diese Tatsache zeigt, dass es sich immer noch um eine polyzentrische Sprache mit verschiedenen Varietäten handelt.
  80. ^ Šipka, Danko (2019). Lexical layers of identity: words, meaning, and culture in the Slavic languages. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 166. doi:10.1017/9781108685795. ISBN 978-953-313-086-6. LCCN 2018048005. OCLC 1061308790. S2CID 150383965. lexical differences between the ethnic variants are extremely limited, even when compared with those between closely related Slavic languages (such as standard Czech and Slovak, Bulgarian and Macedonian), and grammatical differences are even less pronounced. More importantly, complete understanding between the ethnic variants of the standard language makes translation and second language teaching impossible
  81. ^ Kordić, Snježana (2004). "Pro und kontra: "Serbokroatisch" heute" [Pro and contra: "Serbo-Croatian" nowadays] (PDF). In Krause, Marion; Sappok, Christian (eds.). Slavistische Linguistik 2002: Referate des XXVIII. Konstanzer Slavistischen Arbeitstreffens, Bochum 10.-12. September 2002 (PDF). Slavistishe Beiträge ; vol. 434 (in German). Munich: Otto Sagner. pp. 110–114. ISBN 978-3-87690-885-4. OCLC 56198470. SSRN 3434516. CROSBI 430499. Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 June 2012. (ÖNB).
  82. ^ Greenberg, Robert David (2004). Language and identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and its disintegration. Oxford University Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-19-925815-4.
  83. ^ Радева, Василка (15 July 2018). Българският език през ХХ век. Pensoft Publishers. ISBN 9789546421135 – via Google Books.
  84. ^ "Moldovan (limba moldovenească / лимба молдовеняскэ)".
  85. ^ "Santiago Villafania | Pangasinan Poet". 2012-12-06. Archived from the original on 2012-12-06. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  86. ^ David Dalby, 1999/2000, The Linguasphere register of the world’s languages and speech communities. Observatoire Linguistique, Linguasphere Press. Volume 2, p. 390-410 (zone 51). Oxford.[2] Archived 2014-08-27 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading