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Danish | Dansk | [‘dan’sk]
So, what does Danish sound like?
Would you like to hear a sample of someone speaking it? Click the play button to get an impression of how Slovene sounds. Listen carefully to the text read by our Danish native speaker and you might occasionally hear sounds that resemble English, even though they probably have very different meanings!
The sample we have chosen is an extract from “Sildig opvaagnen” (“Tardy Awakening”), written in 1828. In modern Danish, this title would have been written as “Sen opvågnen”. The word “sildig” is now considered old-fashioned and has been replaced by “sen”, while the spelling of “å” as “aa” is only used today in proper nouns. The author of this text is Steen Steensen Blicher, who was born on October 11, 1782 in the small town of Vium and died on March 26, 1848 in Spentrup near the market town of Randers, Denmark’s sixth-largest city.
Apart from being a writer, Blicher was also a Lutheran clergyman. Blicher often turned to commissioned writing to pay his numerous debts, but this part of his substantial oeuvre is little remembered today, and justifiably so. His literary writings, on the other hand, mark him out as the first well-known representative of the early Danish realist movement, and this work is still in print today. Blicher’s narrative style inspired many later Danish prose writers, although at the beginning of his career he mostly wrote poetry. His most famous poem is “Præludium” (“Prelude”), published in the collection “Trækfuglene” (“Birds of Passage”). But from 1824 onward he became better known for his novellas and short stories.
“Sildig opvaagnen” is the tale of a self-righteous parson living in a small Danish town. The narrator relates how a friend of his, a doctor, committed suicide after discovering that his wife had been unfaithful. The way the story is told reveals the parson’s hypocrisy. Blicher’s tale vividly describes the narrow-mindedness of a community in which rumors are rife. In contrast to the parson, who is portrayed as a religious hypocrite, his description of the wife is surprisingly sensitive.
Did you know…?
Did you know that the Bluetooth communications protocol is named after the Danish king Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson? The goal of unifying computers and cell phones was seen as reminiscent of the King’s efforts to unify Denmark and Norway. Known in Danish as Harald Blåtand, he was the King of Denmark between 940 and 985 AD. Plenty of Danish is spoken outside modern-day Denmark, too. For example, there are around 50,000 native Danish speakers living in the German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein. They refer to the region in which they live, which was governed by Denmark until 1864, as South Schleswig. Similarly, there is a German-speaking minority across the border in Denmark living in the region known as North Schleswig.
Die maßgebliche Institution für die dänische Rechtschreibung und Grammatik ist die “Dansk Sprognævn” (“Dänische Sprachkommission”) mit Sitz an der Universität Kopenhagen. Ihre Bedeutung für das Dänische entspricht in etwa der Rolle der Duden-Redaktion für Deutsch: Die Kommission arbeitet im Wesentlichen deskriptiv und “folgt dem Wandel der dänischen Sprache”. Das Institut wurde 1997 eingerichtet und gibt das offizielle Wörterbuch des Dänischen heraus – samt dazugehöriger Rechtschreibregeln.
FACT FILE Danish
An estimated five million people speak Danish as their native language, mainly in Denmark but also in the northern part of Germany (see above). The Danish alphabet contains three more letters than English, namely Æ (æ), Ø (ø) and Å (å). The first two, although written differently, also appear in German as Ä (ä) and Ö (ö) respectively. Danish is generally considered to be a difficult language to learn, mainly because a lot of words are pronounced very differently to the way they are written. Some words contain “silent letters” which are written but not spoken or heard; in this sense it is a bit like English.
Official guidelines on Danish spelling and grammar are published by the Danish Language Council (“Dansk Sprognævn”), which is based at the University of Copenhagen. A national research institution attached to the Danish Ministry of Culture, it describes its role as “observing and recording changes in the Danish language”, i.e. providing advice rather than prescribing fixed rules. The Council was established in 1955 and publishes grammar guides as well as the official Danish spelling dictionary.