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3.2.5 Denmark: The Danish language


This article is from the Nordic countries FAQ, by Antti Lahelma and Johan Olofsson, with numerous contributions by others.

3.2.5 Denmark: The Danish language

This is a brief description of some of the characteristics of the
Danish language and some of the differences and similarities between
Danish and the other North Germanic languages.

How do I identify a Danish text if I don't know the language?

Look for the letters æ, ø, and å. If you find all three of them, you
have narrowed your choices down to Danish or Norwegian (both bokmål
and nynorsk). Telling written Danish from Norwegian (especially
bokmål) can be fairly difficult; you sometimes come across whole
sentences that are absolutely identical in the two languages. The
easiest might be to look for double consonants at the end of words,
Norwegian often has words ending in -ss, -kk, etc. while this is never
the case in Danish.

How is Danish pronunciation different from Swedish/Norwegian?

The spoken Danish has a rather poor reputation for some reason. The
many soft d's and g's are often a cause of much amusement among other
Nordics (of course, _their_ languages sound pretty funny in our ears
too :-).

The soft Danish d's and g's are reasonably close to their Spanish (!)
equivalents; this might give you an idea about the pronunciation. D's
and g's tend to get soft between vowels but never at the beginning of
a word.

On the other hand, contemporary Danish does not have the Swedish or
Norwegian "soft k" (in Swedish/Norwegian a k/kj is pronounced
something like sh/ch before a front vowel - e, i, y, ä/æ, or ö/ø). In
Danish (probably due to German influence) the k is always pronounced
as a "hard k", i.e. like the English "key". However, this is a fairly
recent thing; old spellings like "Kjøbenhavn" indicate that also
Danish had "soft k" (only a century ago?). And also the dialects of
Bornholm and Northern Jutland (these areas are often the last to pick
up pronunciation trends originating in the capital) still follow
"Swedish pronunciation rules" with regard to k (and g).

The glottal stop ("stød" in Danish) is another characterstic feature.
It is similiar to the non-pronunciation of "tt" in the Cockney

Genders and definite articles.

Like Swedish, Danish has two genders: The common gender (originally
there were both masculine and feminine) and the neuter gender. Some
Danish dialects (e.g. in North Jutland) still have all three genders;
dialects in western and southern Jutland have only the common gender.

Like the other North Germanic languages Danish has the definite
article at the end of the word, thus "a man" = "en mand", but "the
man" = "manden". Surprisingly, dialects of western and southern
Jutland follow the more usual system of English, German, French, etc.:
"A man" = "en mand", "the man" = "æ mand". It is not clear why one of
Europe's most significant linguistic borders (separating areas having
the definite article before/after the word) is running straight
through Jutland!


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