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Grammar

The Focus of This Lesson is the History of Danish


I. Linguistics

Danish is the official language of Denmark as well as the Faroe Islands and is spoken by approximately six million people, of which 5.6 million people are native speakers. It is also the minority language on Greenland, Iceland, and northern Germany. Danish belongs to the Indo-European language family, but is more specifically referred to as a Northern Germanic language. Danish, together with Swedish and Norwegian, is considered as Mainland Scandinavian due to their mutual intelligibility, meaning that speakers of at least one of the three languages are able to understand all three more or less.

The long history of Danish can be traced all the way back to the 8th century where Proto-Norse, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia at that time, had evolved into Old Norse which was then further divided into two similar dialects: Old East Norse and Old West Norse, which was only separated by diphthong changes. In eastern Denmark, the former was called Runic Danish and written with an alphabet which had only sixteen letters or runes, the Younger Futhark alphabet. Some runes, such as the rune for the vowel u and the rune for i, were used for a range of phonemes as the number of runes were evidently quite limited. In Sweden, Old East Norse was called Runic Swedish, but the two dialects were basically the same until the 12th century. However, due to the widespread travels of the Vikings for trade, warfare, exploration etc. during the Viking Era, Old East Norse was also once spoken in the northeast counties of England, as they were colonized by Danish Vikings. Many words still used in the English language today, in fact, derive from Old East Norse. For example, "gate" (gade) meaning "street," "egg" (æg), and "knife" (kniv). In the Late Middle Ages, the runes had completely been replaced by the Latin letters brought along with the introduction of Christianity. At this point, Danish was also highly influenced by Low German due to immigrating merchants and craftsmen from northern Germany, resulting in Germans joining the chancery making Low German the actual mother tongue of many Danish kings during the Middle Ages. Today, however, the basic vocabulary of the Danish language is still Nordic, but since the 1950s, English loanwords have made their way into the language used not only in a business context, but also on a daily basis, and are continuing to expand the Danish vocabulary.

In general, the Danish dialects can be divided into three distinct main groups: Insular Danish, Jutlandic, and the Bornholmsk dialect (Bornholmian). These, however, can be further subdivided into about thirty dialects. The traditional Danish dialects have gradually been replaced by a regional pronunciation of Standard Danish. Standard Danish or Rigsdansk is the common writing system, that was introduced around 1500 at the royal court and the chancery. Since these were in Copenhagen it was natural that it became based on some dialects that were spoken in and around the capital. And today this is the standard has to how we write Danish even though the spoken dialects in and around Copenhagen are distinct dialects in themselves named after areas of Copenhagen, and not Rigsdansk. Even the Queen speaks in a dialect.

II. About Denmark

Denmark is located south of Norway, north of the German border, and southwest of Sweden to which it is connected with the Øresund Bridge. Denmark, officially the Kingdom of Denmark, has two additional overseas constituent countries, Greenland and the Faroe Islands located in the North Atlantic, and is surrounded by the Baltic Sea, the Kattegat, Skagerrak, and the North Sea, giving Denmark a 7,314 km tidal shoreline in total. The country consists of the peninsula of Jutland and 443 named islands, among which Funen and Zealand are the largest. With a fairly humble population under 5.6 million people, the largest cities, which are Copenhagen on Zealand, Aarhus in Jutland, and Odense on Funen all connected with bridges, are inhabited by fewer than 200,000 people, making Denmark quite small compared to its neighbors.

Denmark has four seasons and large seasonal variations in daylight due to its location. The climate is temperate, with cold winters, mild springs, slightly warmer summers, and wet autumns. It is possible, though rare, to experience snow in April and hot and sunny weather in October. The country is flat and the highest point, Møllehøj, is only at 170.86 metres. Therefore, Denmark has become one of the world's leaders in wind power technology, as strong winds blow freely due to the flatness of the country. In addition, Denmark is characterized by sandy coasts and woodlands, but is also highly urbanized, such as the largest cities mentioned above. Finally, the Kingdom of Denmark is a constitutional monarchy, which means that actual royal power is limited and the head of government, the prime minister, is the one exercising executive authority together with other cabinet ministers.

III. Where Danish is Spoken

Danish is mainly spoken by around 5.6 million people in Denmark, but is also spoken in Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and northern Germany. It is also the official language in the European Union Nordic Council and is spoken in Danish communities in the US, Canada, and Argentina.

IV. Writing System and Pronunciation

The Danish alphabet consists of Latin letters and is similar to the English one with the exceptions of the vowel letters æ, ø, and å at the very end of the alphabet. They have replaced the digraphs ae, oe, and aa, but the latter aa can still be found in some personal or geographical names today without any change in pronunciation. The digraphs can also be used if æ, ø, and å are not available, for example, on computer keyboards.

In Danish, at least seventeen different vowel qualities and twenty-one consonants can be distinguished in distinct pronunciation, representing ten distinctive vowel phonemes and fifteen consonant phonemes. These phonemes differ further in allophones depending on length, conjunction, occurrence, combination and so on. In addition, the prosody of Danish does not have phonetic pitch like Swedish and Norwegian, but does have stress, which is phonetic and distinguishes words. The stød, a suprasegmental feature occasionally realized as a full glottal stop, is also phonetic and distinguishes words. While there are main rules for the position of the stress, only some main rules exist when it comes to predicting whether or not the stød is present. Finally, the Danish pronunciation of the letter r also differs from Swedish and Norwegian, as it is not trilled, making it sound a bit like the German r.

V. Why it is Important: The Top Five Reasons to Learn this Language Are...

1. Learning Danish is fun! In many cases, when the stress is not positioned correctly or the stød is not present when it is supposed to, or the other way around, the word you are trying to pronounce will have a completely different meaning than the one you actually want to communicate. It is also a great way of making people laugh when they hear you speak, as to many people Danish often sounds like you are trying to speak with a hot potato in your mouth.

2. Denmark is one of the world's best welfare societies. Danish welfare is handled by the state and managed by municipalities, regions, and private operators. The essence is equal access for all to public offerings, services, and benefits, both tangible and intangible. These include social security, tax-financed education, public childcare, disease treatment, subsidies etc. With an average of almost 50%, Denmark has one of the world's highest tax levels—sometimes the highest—which is a necessity to maintain good welfare. Yet, Denmark and its welfare society remains very attractive to many people worldwide, so if you dream of living in Denmark one day, learning Danish will definitely give you an advantage, as Danes love when people have taken the time to learn the Danish language spoken by such few worldwide compared to English.

3. Denmark is a beautiful country! Rich in natural and cultural attractions, Denmark is becoming one of the must-see tourist destinations in the world. Learning Danish gives you more opportunities to get a deeper understanding of this beautiful and interesting country and its people.

4. It is practical for learning other languages in nearby countries! As Danish includes elements of Swedish, Norwegian, German, and English to some extent, knowing Danish is an excellent basis for learning the languages of Denmark's neighboring countries. Even languages of countries further away may become easier to acquire, as if you can master Danish pronunciation you can master anything!

5. You don't need to study complicated characters! The Danish alphabet is exactly the same as the English alphabet with the exceptions of the three vowel letters æ, ø, and å. So it's very convenient for English speakers to read and write, and make quick progress.

Lesson Transcript

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INTRODUCTION
Anna: "Hej"! Hello! Anna here.
Becky: Hi! And I’m Becky. Welcome to DanishClass101.com. This is All About, Lesson 1 - Top 5 Reasons to Learn Danish.
Anna: Together, we'll be your guides to everything Danish.

Lesson focus

Becky: That's right. And this first lesson is all about Denmark and the Danish language.
Anna: We’ll take you on a tour through Denmark in this lesson. Let’s start with where Denmark is located.
Becky: Sure! Denmark is located in Scandinavia in Northern Europe, bordering Germany to the South, connected by bridge with Sweden to the East, and separated from Norway by the North Sea and the Skagerrak to the North. Greenland and the Faroe Islands, located in the North Atlantic, are also part of the Kingdom of Denmark. With a long coastline, Denmark is characterized not only by sandy coasts, but also by woodlands. The largest cities are also highly urbanised.
Anna: There’s more variety than people might think!
Becky: Definitely. Speaking of variety, we should mention the weather, too. Denmark has four seasons and large seasonal variations in daylight because of its location. The climate is temperate, with cold winters, mild springs, slightly warmer summers, and wet autumns. It is possible, though rare, to experience snow in April and hot and sunny weather in October.
Anna: Right. Now let’s talk a bit about the language of Denmark. Danish is referred to as a North Germanic language.
Becky: That’s right! And it can actually be traced all the way back to the 8th century when Proto-Norse, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia at that time, had evolved into Old Norse. This could be divided further into the two dialects Old East Norse and Old West Norse, whereas the former was called Runic Danish. So, Anna, is it true that some words in the English language actually derive from Old East Norse?
Anna: Yes, it is! Because of the interactions with the Danish Vikings during the Viking Era, Old East Norse was spoken in northeast England. Actually, did you know that at one point in the early Middle Ages, a large part of the the English isles was held by Danish rulers? At one point, a Danish king even came to the English throne and briefly integrated it into a larger North Sea Empire.
Becky: Oh really! Where else can you see this relationship?
Anna: Oh, there’s a funny example to do with the east coast dialect of Scotland. It is very similar to the Danish west coast dialect.
Becky: How come the two dialects are so close?
Anna: Because of trading that has been going on between the two regions for so many centuries. Naturally, it became a convenient way for people to avoid switching languages when they encountered each other in the North Sea.
Becky: Ah, that's interesting. Oh, and I also remember reading about that - words such as “gate,” “egg,” and “knife” still used today in English all come from Old East Norse, don’t they?
Anna: Yes! But the pronunciation has obviously changed a little. Anyway, the runes used for writing Runic Danish were replaced by Latin letters in the Late Middle Ages, as they were brought along with the introduction of Christianity.
Becky: Right - it was also during this time that Danish was highly influenced by Low German due to immigrating merchants and craftsmen from northern Germany. In fact, Low German was the actual mother tongue of many Danish kings during the Middle Ages because Germans joined the chancery.
Anna: So that’s why Danish sounds more similar to German than Swedish or Norwegian.
Becky: Yes, but today the basic vocabulary of the Danish language is still Nordic, after all. However, since the 1950s, it has been highly influenced by the English language and loanwords are even used on a daily basis.
Anna: That’s right!
Becky: So Anna, tell our listeners - how many letters does the Danish alphabet have?
Anna: The Danish alphabet has 29 letters, 26 of which are similar to the letters used in English. After that, 3 more vowel letters are added.
Becky: We’ll learn more about consonants and vowels later on in this series. For now, Anna, let’s motivate our listeners, and go over the top 5 reasons that Danish is worth learning!
Anna: Sounds great! The top five reasons are...
Number 5...
Becky: You don’t need to study complicated characters!
Anna: The Danish alphabet is exactly the same as the English alphabet with the exceptions of the three vowel letters æ, ø, and å.
Becky: So it’s very convenient for English speakers to read and write, and make quick progress while learning.
Anna: Number 4...
Becky: It is practical for learning other languages from nearby countries! As Danish shares language elements with Swedish, Norwegian, German, and English, knowing Danish is an excellent basis for learning other languages of the neighbouring countries of Denmark. Even languages of countries further away may become easier to practice speaking, because if you can master Danish pronunciation you can master anything!
Anna: Number 3...
Becky: Denmark is a beautiful country! Rich in natural and cultural attractions, Denmark is becoming one of the must-see tourist destinations in the world. Learning Danish gives you more opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of this beautiful and interesting country and its people.
Anna: Number 2...
Becky: Denmark is one of the world’s best welfare societies. Despite having one of the world’s highest tax levels, Denmark is also one of the world’s best welfare societies. So if you dream of living in Denmark one day, learning Danish will definitely give you an advantage, as the Danes love it when people have taken the time to learn the Danish language spoken by just a few people worldwide compared to English.
Anna: And number one?
Becky: Learning Danish is fun!
Anna: Of course! In many cases, when the Danish stress is not positioned correctly or the Danish stød is not present when it is supposed to be, or the other way around, the word you are trying to pronounce will have a completely different meaning than the one you are trying to say.
Becky: It is also a great way of making friends and family and perhaps even yourself have a good laugh when people hear you speak, as many people think Danish can sound like you are trying to speak with a hot potato in your mouth!

Outro

Becky: Okay, now that we’ve gone through this list, are you ready to learn more? Get out your pen and notebook, grab your iPhone, fire up your computer, and whatever else you use to study - and get ready for some Danish lessons from DanishClass101.com! Until next time!
Anna: Bye everyone! Vi ses!