Modern Language: DANISH

Indo-European > Germanic > East Norse > Danish

A North Germanic language used by about five and a half million people in Denmark and Greenland, Danish (Dansk) is still intelligible to some degree with its Scandinavian neighbours in Norway and Sweden. Having descended from the eastern branch of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, Danish had a large influence over the development of late Old and early Middle English, due to substantial Danish settlement in tenth and eleventh century England.

Dialectal variation within Denmark is still quite broad. The main dialect groups are Jysk or Jutish (spoken on the Jylland peninsula), Ødansk or Island Danish, and Østdansk or 'East Danish', sometimes called 'South Swedish'. The national standard or rigsmål is based upon the dialect of Copenhagen. Most Danes have fully embraced English as their second language.

Early East Norse texts were written in the Runic script, though the Roman alphabet was quickly adopted. Both Old Danish and Old Swedish were heavily influenced by Low German, as a result of the Hanseatic trading empire, though Swedish and Danish had already begun to move apart by the eleventh century. Danish consonants tend to be softer than their Swedish counterparts, particularly when inter- or post-vocalic [ie, Swe. p > Dan. b, t > d, k > g]. For example, Swedish rike > Danish rige, and so forth. Orthographically they are most easily distinguishable by two vowels: Swe. ö = Dan. ø, Swe. ä = Dan. æ. There is also extensive use in Danish of the glottal stop, a common feature of Cockney English.

Historically, Danish culture was spread by the sword as much as by the word. The most well-known Danish writer was Hans Christian Andersen, whose Fairy Tales (Eventyr) have been read worldwide for a century and a half. Many of his tales have become cultural classics, such as the Emperor's New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling, and there is a famous statue of one of his best-loved characters, The Little Mermaid, in Copenhagen harbour.

examples of danish
Der var en lille Pige, saa fiin og saa nydelig, men om Sommeren maatte hun altid gaae med bare Fødder, for hun var fattig, og om Vinteren med store Træskoe, saa at den lille Vrist blev ganske rød og det saa grueligt.
Midt i Bondebyen boede den gamle Moer Skomagers, hun sad og syede, saa godt hun kunde det, af røde, gamle Klæde-Strimler et Par smaa Skoe, ganske kluntede, men godt meente vare de, og dem skulde den lille Pige have. Den lille Pige hedte Karen. .
Hans Christian Andersen, 'De røde sko' ('Red Shoes'), 1845. (Translation: "Once upon a time there was little girl, pretty and dainty. But in summer time she was obliged to go barefooted because she was poor, and in winter she had to wear large wooden shoes, so that her little instep grew quite red. In the middle of the village lived an old shoemaker’s wife; she sat down and made, as well as she could, a pair of little shoes out of some old pieces of red cloth. They were clumsy, but she meant well, for they were intended for the little girl, whose name was Karen.")

Vi har vel alle et selvbillede. Jeg har altid tænkt på mig selv som Mutter Skrap med den store kæft. Nu véd jeg ikke, hvad jeg skal sige. Jeg føler, han har forrådt mig. Ikke lyttet som han skulle. Han generer mig ikke. Han står foran de dampende gryder, og bare ser på mig.
Jeg finder ikke på noget at svare. Jeg står bare, og aner ikke, hvad jeg skal gøre af mig selv, og øjeblikket er der, og så er det heldigvis borte.
Peter Høeg, 'Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne' ('Smilla's Sense of Snow'), 1992. (Translation: "We probably all have an image of ourselves. I’ve always thought of myself as Ms Fierce with the big mouth. Now I don’t know what to say. I feel as if he has betrayed me. Not listened the way he should have. That he has deceived me. On the other hand, he’s not doing anything. He’s not bothering me. He’s standing in front of the steaming pots and looking at me. I can’t think of anything to say. I just stand there, not knowing what to do with myself, and then, fortunately, the moment has passed.")

a short danish bibliography
  • to follow...

some danish links


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