Danish language

From Academic Kids

Danish (Dansk)
Spoken in: Denmark, Germany, Faroe Islands, Greenland
Region: Denmark, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Southern Schleswig
Total speakers: 6 million
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Indo-European
  North Germanic
   East Scandinavian
Official status
Official language of: Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. Officially recognized and protected as a minority language in Germany.
Regulated by: Dansk Sprognævn (http://www.dsn.dk)(The Danish Language Council)
Language codes
ISO 639-1da
ISO 639-2dan
See also: LanguageList of languages

Danish is one of the Scandinavian languages, a sub-group of the Germanic group of the Indo-European language family.



Most Danish words are derived from the Old Norse language, with new words formed by compounding. A large percentage of Danish words, however, hails from Low German (e.g., betale = to pay, måske = maybe). Later on, High German and French and now English have superseded Low German influence. Because English and Danish are related languages, many common words are very similar in the two languages. For example, the following Danish words are easily recognizable in their written form to English speakers: have, over, under, for, kat. When pronounced, these words sound quite different from their English equivalents, however. In addition, the suffix by, meaning "town", occurs in several English placenames, such as Whitby and Selby, as remnants of the Viking occupation. The rules of Danish pronunciation are challenging for English speakers to learn; the written forms of words sometimes do not correspond to modern pronunciation.

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).

The first translation of the Bible in Danish was published in 1550.


The closest relatives of Danish are the other North Germanic languages of Scandinavia: Norwegian and Swedish. Written Danish and Norwegian (Norwegian Bokmål) are particularly close, though the pronunciation of all three languages differs significantly. Proficient speakers of any of the three languages can understand the others. The similarities between the three languages are so large that some linguists classify them as dialects of one single language.

See also: Differences between the Norwegian and Danish languages.

Distribution & official status

Danish is the official language of Denmark, one of two official languages of Greenland (the other is Greenlandic), and one of two official languages of the Faeroes (the other is Faeroese). In addition, there is a small community of Danish speakers in Schleswig, the portion of Germany bordering Denmark, where it is an officially recognized and protected regional language.


Bornholmsk (Bornholm, Eastern Danish)

Fynsk (Funen, Central Danish)

Sjællandsk group of dialects (Zealand, Central-Eastern Danish)

Dialects of the Jutlandic group (Jysk, Jutland Western Danish))

Other dialects

General points

'Rigsdansk' is the official Danish language taught in school. It is a 'neutral' form and is spoken in the bigger towns.

Countless dialects exist for smaller islands or communities within each area. Some dialects are similar, while others are virtually incomprehensible to anyone living more than 50km away from the area they are mainly spoken in. These dialects are still spoken by people in the more rural areas of Denmark, of which there are plenty. However, the younger individuals in these areas generally speak a 'regional Danish', i.e. an adaption of the local dialect to 'rigsdansk', making themselves comprehensible to Danes from all parts of Denmark.


Main article: Danish phonology

Danish can be difficult to pronounce correctly for speakers of other languages. It sounds flat and monotone compared to Norwegian or Swedish, where the tone goes up and down with every word. The r is a pharyngeal approximant, deep and throaty, instead of a trill (rolling r) found in most Slavic and Romance languages.

The pronunciation of the Scandinavian letters æ, ø and å also often pose a problem to non-native speakers. A common Danish phrase told to foreigners is rødgrød med fløde ("red berry pudding with cream"), a Danish speciality and a line very difficult for foreigners to say due to the three ø sounds (with two different pronunciations), the initial throaty r, the rough gr sound and the soft d sounds.

  • Æ – pronounced a little like the e in English met.
  • Ø – among the English vowels it sounds the most like the ir in bird [1] (http://www.faqs.org/faqs/nordic-faq/part1_INTRODUCTION/section-7.html) or the ur in hurt [2] (http://www.hadelandlag.org/1921/norseltrs.htm), as pronounced in a non-rhotic accent, like Received Pronunciation. It is the same sound as the German umlaut o or ö and almost the same as the vowel in French feu.
  • Å – pronounced like the au in English cause, but shorter. The Danish o can have this pronunciation too, as for example in the word onkel ("uncle").

Because of the difficulty experienced by foreigners in pronouncing Danish correctly, a joke often told by Danes themselves of their own language is that "Danish is not so much a language as a throat disease". Another description is "speaking with a big hot potato in your mouth".

Other features of Danish pronunciation are:


Main article: Danish grammar

The infinitive forms of most Danish verbs end in a vowel, which in almost all cases is the letter e. Verbs are conjugated according to tense, but otherwise do not vary according to person or number. For example the present tense form of the Danish infinitive verb spise ("to eat") is spiser; this form is the same regardless of whether the subject is in the first, second, or third person, or whether it is singular or plural. This extreme ease of conjugating verbs is made up for by the many irregular verbs in the language. However, the latest official reform of Danish permits many previously irregular verbs to be conjugated regularly, and for some nouns to be spelled as they are pronounced.

Danish nouns fall into two grammatical genders: common and neuter. While the majority of nouns have the common gender and neuter is often used for inanimate objects, the genders of nouns are not generally predictable and must in most cases be memorized. A distinctive feature of the Scandinavian languages, including Danish, is an enclitic definite article. To demonstrate: The common gender word "a man" (indefinite) is en mand but "the man" (definite) is manden. In both cases the article is en. (However, Danish uses a separate word for the definite article when an adjective is employed: "the big man", den store mand). The neuter equivalent would be "a house" (indefinite) et hus, "the house" (definite) huset and "the big house", det store hus.

One significant feature of Danish grammar is the use of compound words. The rule of thumb is that if it sounds like one word it should be written like one word. A clear example is "kvindehåndboldlandsholdet", the female handball national team. Also, if the first (in the case of two) word gets a syntax S, it's always written as one. Example being landbrugsstøtte, "agricultural support", consisting of the two words landbrug and støtte.


The numbers from one to twenty in Danish are: en, to, tre, fire, fem, seks, syv, otte, ni, ti, elleve, tolv, tretten, fjorten, femten, seksten, sytten, atten, nitten and tyve. When saying e.g. twenty-one, Danish would use enogtyve, "one and twenty". Twenty-two is toogtyve, "two and twenty", etc. Counting above forty is in part based on a base 20 number system; see vigesimal.

Twenty (tyve) is used as a base number in the Danish language: Tres (short for tresindstyve) means 3 times 20, i.e. 60; firs (short for firsindstyve) means 4 times 20 i.e. 80. halvtreds means (3 - 1/2) times 20 (literally, half of the third times 20), i.e. 50; halvfjerds means (4 - 1/2) times 20, i.e. 70; and halvfems means (5 - 1/2) times 20, i.e. 90.

This is unlike Swedish and Norwegian, which both use a decimal number system.

Writing system

Danish is written using the Roman alphabet, with three additional letters: Æ / æ, Ø / ø, and Å / å, which come at the end of the Danish alphabet, in that order. A spelling reform in 1948 introduced the letter å, already in use in Norwegian and Swedish, into the Danish alphabet to replace the letter aa; the old usage still occurs in some personal and geographical names and old documents (for example, the name of the city of Ålborg is often spelled Aalborg). Aa is treated just like å in alphabetical sorting, even though it looks like two letters.

The same spelling reform did away with the practice of capitalising all nouns, as in German, and changed the spelling of a few common words, such as vilde, kunde and skulde, to their current forms of ville, kunne and skulle.

Modern Danish and modern Norwegian use an identical alphabet, although pronunciation varies considerably.

Common words and phrases

Note: , and are voiceless; , and are more precisely , and .

  • "Danish": Dansk
  • "Hello": Hej
  • "Good-bye": Farvel
  • "Please": Vær så venlig (No direct English translation — Vær så venlig literally means "Be so kind".)
  • "Thank you": Tak
  • "This one": Denne
  • "How much?": Hvor meget?
  • "English": Engelsk
  • "Yes": Ja
  • "No": Nej
  • "Can I take your picture?" (sg): Må jeg tage et billede af dig?
  • "Can I take your picture?" (pl): Må jeg tage et billede af jer?
  • "Where is the bathroom?": Hvor er toilettet?
  • "Where do you come from?": Hvor kommer du fra?
  • "Do you speak English?": Taler du engelsk?
  • Generic toast: Skål
  • "I don't understand": Jeg forstår ikke
  • "Sorry": Undskyld
  • "Excuse me": Undskyld mig

See also: common phrases in different languages.

External links

Template:InterWiki Template:Book

ca:Danès da:Dansk (sprog) de:Dänische Sprache et:Taani keel eo:Dana lingvo fr:Danois id:Bahasa Denmark it:Lingua danese he:דנית la:Lingua Danica li:Deens hu:Dán nyelv nl:Deens nds:Däänsche Spraak no:Dansk språk pl:Język duński ro:Limba daneză sv:Danska zh:丹麦语


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Art)
    • Architecture (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Architecture)
    • Cultures (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Cultures)
    • Music (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Music)
    • Musical Instruments (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/List_of_musical_instruments)
  • Biographies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Biographies)
  • Clipart (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Clipart)
  • Geography (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Geography)
    • Countries of the World (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Countries)
    • Maps (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Maps)
    • Flags (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Flags)
    • Continents (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Continents)
  • History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History)
    • Ancient Civilizations (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Ancient_Civilizations)
    • Industrial Revolution (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Industrial_Revolution)
    • Middle Ages (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Middle_Ages)
    • Prehistory (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Prehistory)
    • Renaissance (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Renaissance)
    • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
    • United States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/United_States)
    • Wars (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Wars)
    • World History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History_of_the_world)
  • Human Body (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Human_Body)
  • Mathematics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Mathematics)
  • Reference (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Reference)
  • Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Science)
    • Animals (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Animals)
    • Aviation (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Aviation)
    • Dinosaurs (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Dinosaurs)
    • Earth (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Earth)
    • Inventions (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Inventions)
    • Physical Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Physical_Science)
    • Plants (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Plants)
    • Scientists (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Scientists)
  • Social Studies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Social_Studies)
    • Anthropology (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Anthropology)
    • Economics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Economics)
    • Government (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Government)
    • Religion (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Religion)
    • Holidays (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Holidays)
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Solar_System)
    • Planets (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Planets)
  • Sports (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Sports)
  • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
  • Weather (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Weather)
  • US States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/US_States)


  • Home Page (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php)
  • Contact Us (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Contactus)

  • Clip Art (http://classroomclipart.com)
Personal tools