Mutual intelligibility between closely related languages in Europe

by Dr Charlotte Gooskens

Department of Applied Linguistics, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

12  - 1 pm, Thursday 24th September 2015

Oorala Lecture Theatre (Bldg E22), UNE


In Europe a large number of languages are spoken. Respect for linguistic diversity is a core EU value but the linguistic diversity can lead to communication problems that might only be reconciled with sufficient knowledge about the language situation at hand. However, the knowledge about the degree of mutual intelligibility and its linguistic and non-linguistic bases is rather limited.

In my talk I will present the results of a large-scale web-based investigation of the mutual intelligibility of closely related languages within the Germanic, Slavic and Romance language families.

To be able to explain the intelligibility results, we collected information about extra-linguistic factors such as language attitudes and language exposure by means of online questionnaires. Also, we measured distances at different linguistic levels between the included languages. The intelligibility results were correlated with the linguistic distances and extra-linguistic factors.

The results of the experiments indicate that intelligibility of a related language is largely determined by the extent of the respondent’s past experience with the target language: more exposure to the target language yield better intelligibility. However, intelligibility can also be predicted with great accuracy from linguistic predictors.


Dr Charlotte Gooskens is Associate Professor of European Linguistics at the Center for Language and Cognition at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Her research interests include sociophonetics, receptive multilingualism, communication in English as a Lingua Franca and experimental linguistics.