It's already established that we're using language-based tags for questions about e.g. , , , and so on.

How should we apply this to questions about Nordic/Scandinavian literature?

Scandinavia consists of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, and usually not Finland or Iceland; Scandinavian languages comprise Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and Icelandic but not Finnish (which is utterly different from almost any other European language); the Nordic countries are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland.

To add to the confusion, Scandinavian languages are all very similar to each other: Norwegian and Danish are essentially identical in written form; Swedish has one letter different and the occasional different word; Icelandic is more archaic and the closest to Old Norse, the ancestor of them all. With the possible exception of Icelandic, they are not only mutually intelligible to any native speaker but probably have less variation between them than there is variation within Norwegian between different regional dialects. What's more, the Scandinavian countries themselves were all one until just a couple of hundred years ago; any cultural differences between the three (again, more significant differences than exist between one Norwegian valley and another) are likely to be recent inventions.

Furthermore, we have to take their ancestor language Old Norse into consideration. There is a body of literature written in this language, and it's probably impossible to draw a clear line between where Old Norse stops and the modern Scandinavian language(s) begin.

Taking all this into account, I see a few different possibilities:

While there aren't many questions yet about Nordic literature, this issue may become very relevant next month if the Icelandic sagas make it to our next topic challenge. I already raised the issue in chat, but without inspiring much discussion or consensus, so now I've brought it to meta.

  • The problem with a lot of these meta questions is that most of them would work as a question on the main site.
    – user111
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 3:35
  • @Hamlet This wouldn't. I'm asking about tagging practices for our site, not about the actual subject of Scandinavian literature. Granted, some subject knowledge is required to answer this question competently, but the same is true of a lot of meta questions, e.g. scope "should X be on-topic" questions.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 12:07
  • It was just a general observation. A lot of the questions on meta are really questions about the definition of things like literature, and in this case Scandinavian. Answering these questions correctly requires a great deal of expertise. If I asked a question on the main site along the lines of "what is the difference between Scandinavian and Finnish literature", it would probably go unanswered because people would find it difficult. On meta, because the question is framed as a site policy question, everyone feels qualified.
    – user111
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 20:01
  • @Hamlet To be fair, the two users who've posted answers here so far are both fairly qualified to speak about Scandinavian culture.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 22:29
  • The answers to this question are good, I was just speaking really really generally. (The reason why I commented on this post was that I made the connection reading your question and realizing it would make a good main site question).
    – user111
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 23:50

2 Answers 2


Using different tags for the different countries would only make sense for relatively modern literature.

  • If we had separate and tags, which would we use for a question about a book produced in Norway, written in what we might now call Norwegian, while Norway was part of the kingdom of Sweden?
  • If we kept different from the rest, where would we draw the line between Norse and any of the more modern languages?
  • How the heck would we even tell the difference between and anyway? The languages are so identical that we'd be reduced to looking at where the book was published, rather than just being able to tell from reading it. This is essentially why we decided to use language tags rather than country tags in the first place.

Scandinavian literature has a long and rich history, and we want to make it easy to field questions about works from any era of this history, not just ones from the last hundred years when "Norway", "Sweden", "Denmark", and "Iceland" have had their current borders and languages.

However, we should keep Finland separate. The language is totally different and didn't evolve from Old Norse (or any other Indo-European language, for that matter), and the country and culture are also clearly separated, so it should be easy enough to distinguish from the rest.

TL;DR: let's use [scandinavian-literature] and [finnish-literature].

We can set up , , , , and as synonyms, so that it will be easy for anyone looking for one of these specifically to find the right tag. I think Scandinavian is a better word than Norse to use for the master tag, because the Norse came from Scandinavia but modern Scandinavians might not call themselves Norse.



First, are there significant issues in determining what country an author/work should be assigned to?

Yes, in a few cases: distinguishing between Danish and Norwegian authors from ca 1500-1800 can be an issue. The poster child here is likely Ludvig Holberg, a playwright who lived between 1684 and 1754, born in (present) Norway but lived most of his life in (present) Denmark. However, most significant authors are easy to assign to a country.

The other case are Swedish-speaking authors living in Finland. They are a significant minority, and have produced a number of important authors. Most well known is probably Tove Jansson. There are also Finnish-speaking people in Sweden, but they have not the same kind of independent tradition.

Any problem in assigning an author to Sweden or Norway is going to be due to the person, not the personal union 1814-1905. Norway was largely autonomous, and it would be an even worse blunder to call Ibsen a Swede than it would be to label someone from Edinburgh "English".

Overall, there are only a very few edge cases where there is likely to be a genuine difficulty.

Modern literature

Still, it makes good sense to group modern Scandinavian authors and works together; it takes very little work for anyone from Denmark, Norway or Sweden to read the other languages, Icelanders and Faroese usually speak "Scandinavian", and many Finns learn Swedish in school, if they do not have it as their mother tongue. Further, there is a strong common tradition. As Finnish literature is also commonly included in this group (see e.g. Wikipedia's page Scandinavian literature, and consider that the existence of things like the Nordic council's literature prize), our tag should reflect this.

Thus, use for all modern literature from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and most medieval literature.

Old Norse

This is trickier, but my gut feeling is that as this was really a separate tradition from that which eventually led to the literature in mainland Scandinavia, it merits a tag of its own. The study of Norse literature is often quite separate from the study of modern literature, and is closer to other traditions like that of Beowulf and the Nibelungenlied. Including it in the general tag would be akin to including classical Latin literature in the tag for Italian literature.

Thus, use for Icelandic sagas, the Eddas, runic poetry, and similar works.

  • 3
    I don't know if you noticed, but this site has a monthly topic challenge, and this month we're reading the Icelandic Sagas. Your answers on Mythology are very good; we would appreciate your expertise here!
    – user111
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 17:00
  • @Hamlet. I saw that today! I will be travelling a bit next month, but I will try to contribute as much as possible.
    – andejons
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 19:13
  • 1
    Interesting, thanks for this! I haven't voted on this answer yet - if I'm reading it correctly, the difference between your proposed solution and mine is to include Finnish literature under the umbrella tag but not Norse literature? I may have to read up a bit more about both before deciding whether or not to agree, but atm I think lumping Finnish literature in with the rest would go against our policy to tag by language not country.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 25, 2017 at 21:50

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