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finding someone who speaks it. "just kidding".
Introduction to the Danish Language • • The Origin of Danish o Origin o Differences between the Scandinavian Languages The Written Language o The Alphabet o Pronunciation o Grammar A Small Dictionary for Fun
Introduction to the Danish Language Danish is the official language of Denmark, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. Both Greenland and the Faeroe Islands have their own language too, which most of the people speak but Danish is used for official purposes and taught in schools. Danish is also spoken by 20,000 people just south of the German border. It goes back to the time before 1864 when the area belonged to Denmark, and the Danish minority south of the German border is very keen on preserving the Danish language. In Icelandic schools, too, the first foreign language to be taught is Danish. That serves as a way of communicating with the other Scandinavian countries. Danish is not exactly known as one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Actually, the sound of Danish always seems to amuse foreigners which gives the language a certain entertainment value. Foreigners often characterize Danish as a monotone-like drawl, and many people say that Danes speak like they have a hot potato in their mouth. Of course, the Danes themselves find their language both charming and pretty though they are aware of the fact that Danish can be difficult to learn for people from other countries. Because of that, most Danes find it amusing to test foreigners with the sentence Rødgrød med fløde (A Danish dessert), because they know that foreigners are unable to pronounce it. So if you ever visit Denmark you can be sure that several Danes will test you on that one. Danish is characterized as a very flat language. It is said that people in flat countries speak with flat accents. As to Denmark this could be true, because Denmark is indeed a very flat country with its highest point only 147 m or 482.28 feet. The written Danish is characterized by a very strict norm, but the spoken language may vary considerably in pronunciation. The Danish language has several dialects even though Denmark is a small country. The standard language that is called Rigsdansk originated around Copenhagen, and was originally based on the sociolect of the upper class of Copenhagen. Almost every island has its own dialect, which can be difficult to understand for Danes in other parts of the country. However, the vast majority of the population speak either standard Danish or a social variation of it. The Danish vocabulary is not based upon an enormous amount of words but it is in principle unlimited, as new words can freely be formed by means of compounding or deriving eg. Langtidsplanlægge (Created of three existing words lang, tid, planlægge, means to plan longterm). Existing words are simply used to create new words and as a result of this, the largest Danish dictionaries contain more than 200,000 words.
The Origin of Danish Origin Danish is a language of the Indo-European family, and it belongs to the North Germanic group together with Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian and Swedish. Historically speaking, Danish is a dialect of a common Scandinavian language which is known from AD 200. Only towards AD 1200 did a split become obvious, and many Viking Age loan words in English, law, window, ill, loose, die etc. are Scandinavian rather than Danish. Over the centuries Danish has adopted thousands of words from foreign languages, especially from Lower German in the Middle Ages. Since the 17th century a considerable number of loan words have been taken from French, and especially in the 20th century many English words have found their way into the Danish language. The historical changes in vocabulary were to a large extent brought about by external factors such as Christian missionaries in the Viking Age, trade links with Hanseatic merchants, immigration by north German artisans and noble families in the Middle Ages, the Lutheran Reformation in the 16th century, and since then a broad cultural contact with the modern international prestige languages. These were first German and French and from the end of the 19th century mainly English. The whole of this western European cultural milieu has constantly adopted words from the "dead" languages, Latin and Greek. Under the same external influences, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish have in all essential aspects undergone a parallel development.
Differences between the Scandinavian Languages As many foreigners will know, the differences between the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish vocabulary are not great. The languages are to a large extent mutually intelligible. Danes, Norwegians and Swedes can converse in their native tongues, though they indeed sound very different for most foreigners. However, the Danish language has changed more than any of the other Scandinavian languages. The language has been - and still is - influenced by international loan words to a greater extent than Swedish and Norwegian, and therefore the rules for the spelling have often changed. Generally, native speakers of one of the three languages have little trouble dealing with the written versions in other languages. Especially written Danish and Norwegian can be difficult to separate, some sentences are even absolutely identical. Even though the three languages are very alike, the population in the three countries often focus on the differences. The Danish soft d’s and g’s cause amusement among Swedes and Norwegians, but their pronunciation sounds funny and over-articulated to the Danes too.
The Written Language The Alphabet
Danish is written in the Roman alphabet. The biggest difference between the American and the Danish alphabet is that the Danish alphabet has three additional letters - æ, ø and å - totally 29 letters. Since 1948, the alphabet has been expanded with the Swedish and Norwegian letter å. The spelling reform of 1948 also abolished the practice of beginning all nouns with a capital letter. The letters æ, ø and å come in this order as the last three letters of the alphabet and they are all vowels. The pronunciation can be confusing, but a good way of remembering how they should sound is: for æ as with e in egg; for ø as with i in first; for å as with o in lord. The letters æ, ø and å are only found in Danish and Norwegian, so if you find a sentence with these three letters there is a good chance that it is a Danish text. The å entered the Danish alphabet in 1948, and was meant to replace the double-a. However, the double-a is still to be found in written Danish. Double-a is precisely the same as å, so don’t look for Aabenraa in the beginning of the dictionary, as you will then be searching in vain. But what is the difference between å and aa and why are towns like Aalborg and Århus often spelt both ways? Today it is a question of spelling conventions, Aalborg insists on using the double-a even on road signs whereas Århus insists on using the å. It is now year 2001 and things are changing so YOU WILL find that the way the use of the å was used in the old days is not necessary the way things are anymore. The proper usage of å versus aa is according to Retskrivningsbogen (The Danish dictionary of orthography): The letter å was substituted for aa in 1948 as the token symbol for the å sound, but it is still possible to use both in Danish personal names and places, but not in other words. The correct use is å but you should follow the way the named person uses it. Some places like Aalborg and Aabenraa have strong local traditions for replacing the å with the aa, and these should be followed. It can also be important to remember that the capitalization of the double-a when it starts a sentence is Aa, not AA. Besides the æ, ø and å the most important things worth knowing about the Danish alphabet is that the letters c, q, w, x and z are only used in loan words as for instance check, zoo, weekend, and that the letters v and w are treated as being the same. Therefore many Danes have difficulties in the pronunciation of these two letters in English.
Pronunciation Some of the major characteristics of Danish pronunciation is that the Danish r has to be fetched from deep below the tonsils and, as somebody would say, it requires special muscles. The reduction of unstressed vowels and the glottal stop are also characteristic features. The glottal stop (stød) may be difficult for non-Danish speakers to imitate and does not in fact exist in the pronunciation of the language in many regions of Denmark. However, it is important to pronounce the glottal stop because otherwise words may be misunderstood. For example le ´ver (with a glottal stop) means liver, whereas lever (without a glottal stop) means to live. The glottal stop is produced by a sudden contraction of the expiration muscles. If the vowel of the syllable in question is long, the glottal stop occurs at the end of the vowel. If the vowel is short
the glottal stop is pronounced before the following consonant. In a syllable with a short vowel and a voiceless consonant there is no glottal stop. The Danish orthography is principally conservative and only partly conforms to present day pronunciation. In for instance ligge (to lie), skylle (to rinse) and mund (mouth) the i, y and u represent a sound corresponding to e, ø and å, while the same vowel sign in kigge (to look), skylde (to owe), and hund (dog) is pronounced as it is written. The written sequences ld and nd in which d can be silent, always indicate a preceding short vowel as for instance in bold (ball) and vind (wind) Danish is rich in vowels. The 9 vowel letters represent 16 different vocalic sounds; for instance in sal (hall), salt (salt) and saks ( scissors) the letter a stands for three different pronunciations. In addition there are several diphthongs e.g. [aj] as in leje (to hire) and lege (to play). Few consonants are voiced; even [b,d,g] are unvoiced. Moreover, the particular sound of Danish is partly due to stød, a near-closing of the vocal chords which occurs regularly in specific word types, for instance in monosyllables like tab [ta´b] (loss) and fugl [fu´l] (bird)
Sounds of the Danish Letters Danish Letters Vowels a or e or or i or o or u y or æ ø or å or b sounds like e in egg sounds like sound between a in ban and a in barn but without the r sound sounds like a in ache but very short sounds like a shortened ee in see sounds like e in open sounds like a sound between e in egg and i in ill sounds like e in see sounds like o in old sounds like a in cap similar to oo on booth sounds like ew in few but with lips more rounded similar to German ö sounds like a in ache but very short similar to German ö sounds like e in let pronounced with lips tightly rounded similar to ir in bird but without the r and with lips more rounded sounds like au in caught sounds like o in old Consonants as b in bit when final or between vowels as w in win Appr. US Equivalent
c d f g
before a consonant, a, o or u as k in kit, elsewhere as in set when final or between vowels similar to th in this elsewhere as d in dig. After l, n or r or before t or s it is rarely pron. as f in fit as g in get, after vowels it is rarely pronounced. Between vowels and at the end of a syllable as a softened g in get. As in some foreign loan words as s in vision. silent before j and v. Elsewhere as h in his. as y in yet as k in kit. Between vowels ands at the end of a syllable as g in get as l in lip as m in meet as n in no as p in pan. Between vowels and at the end of a syllable as b in bit similar to English at the beginning of a word or after a consonant sounds like a strong guttural h, the Spanish j in Jose or as the French r in rue. Elsewhere between vowels or before a consonant it often becomes part of the vowel sound or is lost as s in sit as t in tin. Between vowels and at the end of a syllable as d in do. In final position similar to th in this when final sounds like oo in boot. Elsewhere as v in van as v in van as x in taxi as s in sun
h j k l m n p q r
s t v w x z
Grammar Within the Germanic languages there are two grammatical traits that are peculiar to Scandinavian, namely the enclitic definite article e.g. dag-en (the day) år-et (the year) dage-ne (the days), år-ene (the years), and the passive form of the verbs, e.g. føl-es (is/are felt). Danish has the definite article at the end of the word: a man = en mand, the man = manden. Adjectives and pronouns are inflected according to gender e.g. stor, stor-t (big), nogen (someone), noget (something) Nouns: Danish nouns have two genders; common gender (fælleskøn) e.g. en dag, dagen (a day, the day) and neuter gender (intetkøn) e.g. et år, året (a year, the year). The words for a and an are en for common gender nouns and et for neuter nouns. Most nouns have only one
gender, but some can have both without changing the nouns meaning e.g. en cirkus, et cirkus (a circus), but sometimes a different gender indicates a different meaning of a word e.g. vår - en (spring), vår - et (bedclothes). The plural of nouns is expressed in four different ways, by adding -e, -r, -er or no ending; dag-e (days), uge-r (weeks), måned-er (months) and år (years - zero ending).
Pronouns: The Danish personal pronouns are as follows:
I you (informal) (formal) he she it we you they
jeg du De han hun den/det vi I / De de
Adjectives agree in gender and number with the noun they modify. For singular nouns nothing is added to the adjective with common nouns, but -t is added to the adjective with neuter nouns.
en stor bil bilen er stor
a big car the car is big
et stort hus huset er stort a big house the house is big
For plural nouns -e is added to the adjective:
store biler bilerne er store
big cars the cars are big
Verbs in the present tense do not change according to person. The present tense ending for all persons is -r. In the past tense there are two groups of verbs. One group adds -ede in the past tense and -et in the present perfect tense.
jeg boede jeg har boet
I lived I have lived
The other group adds -te in the past tense and -t in the present perfect.
jeg købte jeg har købt
I bought I have bought
To negate any verb the word ikke is placed after the verb in simple verb forms, and after the auxiliary verb in the present perfect tense.
han har skrevet han har ikke skrevet han skrev
he has written he hasn’t written he wrote
han skrev ikke he didn’t write
A Small Dictionary for Fun Everyday expressions:
Welcome Hello Good morning Good day See you Yes No Please Thank you Of course Maybe Beautiful I’m fine
Velkommen Hej Godmorgen Goddag Vi ses Ja Nej Vil du være så venlig at... Tak Selvfølgelig Måske Smuk Jeg har det fint
My name is What is your name? Pleased to meet you How are you? Where are you from? I’m from the USA Do you speak English? Do you understand? Excuse me Sorry
Jeg hedder Hvad hedder du? Det var hyggeligt at mødes Hvordan har du det? Hvor kommer du fra? Jeg kommer fra USA Taler du engelsk Forstår du det? Undskyld mig Undskyld
Congratulations I love you Happy New Year Help Language Mailbox Merry Christmas Sweetheart
Tillykke Jeg elsker dig Godt Nytår Hjælp Sprog Postkasse Glædelig Jul Skat (which also means sales tax)
What time is it? At noon At midnight A second A minute An hour It’s one o’clock It’s half past one It’s ten to one It’s ten past one
Hvad er klokken? Klokken tolv middag Ved midnatstid Et sekund Et minut En time Klokken er et Klokken er halv to Klokken er ti minutter i et Klokken er ti minutter over et
Days of the week
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Mandag Tirsdag Onsdag Torsdag Fredag Lørdag Søndag
Months of the year
January February March April May June July August September October November December
januar februar marts april maj juni juli august september oktober november december
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