A brief guide to
English terminology

Finnish is not a
Scandinavian language
but Faeroese is

English needs a
good word like

Most citizens of the five countries seem to have a clear sense of Nordic identity, and place considerable value on it.

See also:
The Nordic


Norden & Scandinavia

IT IS NOT ALWAYS a simple matter to discuss the Nordic region in the English language, since the available terms are somewhat imprecise. For the purposes of this web site, the following usage applies.

SCANDINAVIA is a term with a variety of geographical, linguistic, and socio-cultural meanings. Geographically, it refers to the large peninsula which includes Norway, Sweden and a small section of Finland-- although there is no distinct boundary separating it from the Kola Peninsula to the east, on which the major portion of Finland is located.

The linguistic scope of Scandinavia is at once broader and more restrictive. The Scandinavian languages, which have Germanic origins, consist of Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faeroese. The last-named is the language of the Faeroe Islands, an autonomous territory of Denmark located about halfway between Norway and Iceland. Note that Finnish is not a Scandinavian language; it belongs to the same group as Estonian and Hungarian.

Scandinavia as a social and cultural concept is much more difficult to define with any precision. It involves a jumble of linguistic, historical, political and other factors which are perhaps more appropriately referred to as Nordic.

NORDEN, the Nordic region, and the Nordic countries are used interchangeably on this web site. The latter two are accepted terms in English, but "Norden" is not yet in common use. It is the standard term for the Nordic region in the Scandinavian languages, and is often to be preferred in English. Consider, for example, the stylistic consequences of being restricted to the use of "the European countries" or "the Asian region" when referring to those parts of the world. If speakers of English can learn to live with "smorgasbord" and "ombudsman", they should be able to adjust to the idea of "Norden". They will in any event get some practice on this web site.

Norden consists of five nation-states: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. In addition, there are three autonomous territories: Greenland and the Faeroe Islands (Denmark), and the Baltic islands of Åland (Finland, but the principal language is Swedish). What is it that makes them Nordic? According to one analysis, they share the following characteristics:

    • geography
    • Lutheran religion
    • close ties between church and state
    • language
    • lengthy democratic tradition
    • basic concepts of justice
    • mixed economy
    • advanced level of gender equality
    • general welfare state
    • co-operative institutions.

This set of more or less common features has been proposed by the Nordic Council of Ministers, whose purpose to promote co-operation within the region. Opinions differ as to how well the Council has succeeded in that ambition; the entry of Denmark, Finland and Sweden into the European Union has not made its task any simpler.

Nevertheless, all indications are that most citizens of the five countries have a clear sense of Nordic identity, and place considerable value on it. The meaning of that identity is one of the subjects of this web site, primarily in response to the specific questions of its users. A wide variety of related information in English and the Scandinavian languages is already available at the Nordic Council's web site.

-- March, 1998