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About Danish Language

Danish - (dansk, pronounced [d̥ænˀsɡ̊]) is one of the North Germanic languages (also called Scandinavian languages), a sub-group of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages. It is spoken by around 6 million people, mainly in Denmark; the language is also used by the 50,000 Danes in the northern parts of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany where it holds the status of minority language. Danish is a mandatory subject in school in the Danish territories of the Faroe Islands (where it is also an official language) and Greenland, as well as the former crown holding of Iceland. There are also Danish language communities in Argentina, the U.S. and Canada.

Classification

Danish, together with Swedish, derives from the East Norse dialect group, while the old Norwegian dialects before the influence of Danish and Bokmål is classified as a West Norse language together with Faroese and Icelandic. A more recent classification based on mutual intelligibility separates modern spoken Danish, Norwegian and Swedish into a Mainland Scandinavian group while Icelandic and Faroese are placed in a separate category labeled Insular Scandinavian.

Written Danish and Norwegian Bokmål are particularly close, though the phonology (that is, the system of relationships among the speech sounds that constitute the fundamental components of the language) and the prosody (the patterns of stress and intonation) differ somewhat. Proficient speakers of any of the three languages can understand the others, though studies have shown that speakers of Norwegian generally understand both Danish and Swedish far better than Swedes or Danes understand each other. Both Swedes and Danes also understand Norwegian better than they understand each other's languages.

History

In the 8th century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia, Proto-Norse, had undergone some changes and evolved into Old Norse. This language began to undergo new changes that did not spread to all of Scandinavia, which resulted in the appearance of two similar dialects, Old West Norse (Norway and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Denmark and Sweden).

Old East Norse is in Sweden called Runic Swedish and in east Denmark Runic Danish, but until the 12th century, the dialect was roughly the same in the two countries. The dialects are called runic due to the fact that the main body of text appears in the runic alphabet. Unlike Proto-Norse, which was written with the Elder Futhark alphabet, Old Norse was written with the Younger Futhark alphabet, which only had 16 letters. Due to the limited number of runes, some runes were used for a range of phonemes, such as the rune for the vowel u which was also used for the vowels o, ø and y, and the rune for i which was also used for e.

A change that separated Old East Norse (Runic Swedish/Danish) from Old West Norse was the change of the diphthong æi (Old West Norse ei) to the monophthong e, as in stæin to sten. This is reflected in runic inscriptions where the older read stain and the later stin. There was also a change of au as in dauðr into ø as in døðr. This change is shown in runic inscriptions as a change from tauþr into tuþr. Moreover, the øy (Old West Norse ey) diphthong changed into ø as well, as in the Old Norse word for "island".

Some famous authors of works in Danish are existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, prolific fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen, and playwright Ludvig Holberg. Three 20th century Danish authors have become Nobel Prize laureates in Literature: Karl Adolph Gjellerup and Henrik Pontoppidan (joint recipients in 1917) and Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (awarded 1944).

Danish was once widely spoken in the northeast counties of England. Many Danish derived words, such as "gate" (gade) for street, still survive in Yorkshire and other parts of eastern England colonized by Danish Vikings. The city of York was once the Danish settlement of Jorvik. Several other English words also derive from Danish, e.g. "knife" (kniv), "husband" (husbond), "call" (kalde) and "egg" (æg).

The first printed book in Danish dates from 1495. The first complete translation of the Bible in Danish was published in 1550.

Geographical Distribution

Danish is the national language of Denmark, and one of two official languages of the Faroes (alongside Faroese). Until 2009, it had also been one of two official languages of Greenland (alongside Greenlandic). Danish is widely spoken in Greenland, and an unknown portion of the native Greenlandic population has Danish as their first language. In addition, there is a small community of Danish speakers in Southern Schleswig, the portion of Germany bordering Denmark, where it is an officially recognized regional language, just as German is north of the border. Furthermore, Danish is one of the official languages of the European Union and one of the working languages of the Nordic Council. Under the Nordic Language Convention, citizens of the Nordic countries speaking Danish have the opportunity to use their native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable to any interpretation or translation costs.

There is no law stipulating an official language for Denmark, making Danish the de facto language only. The Code of Civil Procedure does, however, lay down Danish as the language of the courts. Since 1997 public authorities have been obliged to observe the official spelling by way of the Orthography Law.

Dialects

Standard Danish (rigsdansk) is the language based on dialects spoken in and around the capital, Copenhagen. Unlike Swedish and Norwegian, Danish does not have more than one regional speech norm. More than 25% of all Danish speakers live in the metropolitan area of the capital and most government agencies, institutions and major businesses keep their main offices in Copenhagen, something that has resulted in a very homogeneous national speech norm. In contrast, though Oslo (Norway) and Stockholm (Sweden) are quite dominant in terms of speech standards, cities like Bergen, Göteborg and the Malmö-Lund region are large and influential enough to create secondary regional norms, making the standard language more varied than is the case with Danish. The general agreement is that Standard Danish is based on a form of Copenhagen dialect, but the specific norm is, as with most language norms, difficult to pinpoint for both laypeople and scholars. Historically Standard Danish emerged as a compromise between the dialect of Zealand and Scania. The first layers of it can be seen in east Danish provincial law texts such as Skånske Lov, just as we can recognize west Danish in laws from the same ages in Jyske Lov.

Despite the relative cultural monopoly of the capital and the centralized government, the divided geography of the country allowed distinct rural dialects to flourish during the centuries. Such "genuine" dialects were formerly spoken by a vast majority of the population, but have declined much since the 1960s. They still exist in communities out in the countryside, but most speakers in these areas generally speak a regionalized form of Standard Danish, when speaking with one who speaks to them in that same standard. Usually an adaptation of the local dialect to rigsdansk is spoken, though code-switching between the standard-like norm and a distinct dialect is common.

Danish is divided into three distinct dialect groups:

  • Bornholmic (bornholmsk, sometimes called østdansk), the dialect of the eastern island of Bornholm
  • Island Danish (ømål or ødansk), including dialects of Zealand, Funen, Lolland, Falster, and Møn
  • Jutlandic (jysk), further divided in North, East, West and South Jutlandic

Historically, Eastern Danish included what today are considered Southern Swedish dialects. The background for this lies in the loss of the originally Danish provinces Blekinge, Halland and Scania to Sweden in 1658. The island Bornholm in the Baltic also belongs to this group, but remained Danish. A few generations ago, the classical dialects spoken in the southern Swedish provinces could still be argued to be more Eastern Danish than Swedish, being similar to the dialect of Bornholm. Today influx of Standard Swedish vocabulary has generally meant that Scanian and Bornholmish are closer to the modern national standards than to each other[citation needed]. The Bornholmish dialect has also maintained to this day many ancient features, such as a distinction between three grammatical genders, which the central Island Danish dialects gave up during the 20th century. Standard Danish has two genders, and Western Jutlandic only one, similar to English.

Today, Standard Danish is most similar to the Island Danish dialect group.

 

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