Danish language

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Codex Holmiensis CE 1350.jpg
The first page of the Jutlandic Law originally from 1241 in Codex Holmiensis, copied in 1350. The first sentence is:
"Mædh logh skal land byggas"
"With law the land shall be built".
Pronunciation [d̥ænˀsɡ̊]
Native to
Native speakers
5.5 million (2012)[1]
Danish Sign Language
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by
Dansk Sprognævn
(Danish Language Committee)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 da
ISO 639-2 dan
ISO 639-3 Either:
dan – Insular Danish
jut – Jutlandic
Glottolog dani1284[2]
Linguasphere 5 2-AAA-bf & -ca to -cj
Idioma danés.PNG
The Danish-speaking world:
  regions where Danish is the language of the majority
  regions where Danish is the language of a significant minority
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Danish Listeni/ˈdnʃ/ (dansk pronounced [d̥ænˀsɡ̊]; dansk sprog, [ˈd̥ænˀsɡ̊ ˈsb̥ʁɔʊ̯ˀ]) is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in Denmark and in the region of Southern Schleswig in northern Germany, where it has minority language status.[3] There are also minor Danish-speaking communities in Norway, Sweden, Spain, the United States, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. Due to immigration and language shift in urban areas, around 15–20% of the population of Greenland speak Danish as their home language.

Along with the other North Germanic languages, Danish is a descendant of Old Norse, the common language of the Germanic peoples that lived in Scandinavia during the Viking Era. Danish, together with Swedish, derives from the East Norse dialect group, while the Old Norwegian dialects before the influence of Danish and Norwegian Bokmål are classified as West Norse along with Faroese and Icelandic. A more recent classification based on mutual intelligibility separates modern spoken Danish, Norwegian and Swedish as Mainland Scandinavian while Icelandic and Faroese are classified as Insular Scandinavian.

Until the 16th century, Danish was a continuum of dialects spoken from Schleswig to Scania with no standard variety or spelling conventions. With the Protestant Reformation and the introduction of printing, a standard language was developed which was based on the educated Copenhagen dialect. It spread through use in the education system and administration though German and Latin continued to be the most important written languages well into the 17th century. Following the loss of territory to Germany and Sweden, a nationalist movement adopted the language as a token of Danish identity, and the language experienced a strong surge in use and popularity with major works of literature produced in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, traditional Danish dialects have all but disappeared, though there are regional variants of the standard language. The main differences in language are between generations, with youth language being particularly innovative.

Danish has a very large vowel inventory comprising 27 phonemically distinctive vowels,[4] and its prosody is characterized by the distinctive phenomenon stød, a kind of laryngeal phonation type. Due to the many pronunciation differences that set apart Danish from its neighboring languages, particularly the vowels, difficult prosody and "weakly" pronounced consonants, it is sometimes considered to be a difficult language to learn and understand,[5] and there is some evidence that small children are slower to acquire the phonological distinctions of Danish.[6] The grammar is moderately inflective with strong (irregular) and weak (regular) conjugations and inflections. Nouns and demonstrative pronouns distinguish common and neutral gender. As in English, Danish only has remnants of a former case system, particularly in the pronouns, and it has lost all person marking on verbs. Its syntax is V2, with the finite verb always occupying the second slot in the sentence.


Danish and its relation to other North Germanic languages within the Germanic branch of Indo-European

Danish is a Germanic language of the North Germanic branch. Other names for this group are the Nordic or Scandinavian languages. Along with Swedish, Danish descends from the Eastern dialects of the Old Norse language; Danish and Swedish are also classified as East Scandinavian or East Nordic languages.

Scandinavian languages are often considered a dialect continuum, where there are no sharp dividing lines between the different vernacular languages.[7]

Like Norwegian and Swedish, Danish was significantly influenced by Low German in the Middle Ages, and has been influenced by English since the turn of the 20th century.[7]

Danish itself can be divided into three main dialect areas: West Danish (Jutlandic), Insular Danish (including the Standard variety), and East Danish (including Bornholmian and Scanian. Under the view that Scandinavian is a dialect continuum, East Danish can be considered intermediary between Danish and Swedish, while Scanian can be considered a Swedified East Danish dialect, and Bornholmsk is its closest relative.

Mutual intelligibility

Danish is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Swedish. Proficient speakers of any of the three languages can often understand the others fairly well, 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.[8]


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Dǫnsk tunga: The Old Norse period

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File:Old norse, ca 900.PNG
The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century:
  Old West Norse dialect
  Old East Norse dialect
  Other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility

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Móðir Dyggva var Drótt, dóttir Danps konungs, sonar Rígs er fyrstr var konungr kallaðr á danska tungu.
"Dyggvi's mother was Drott, the daughter of king Danp, Ríg's son, who was the first to be called king in the Danish tongue."

Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson[9]

By the 8th century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia, Proto-Norse, had undergone some changes and evolved into Old Norse. This language was generally called the "Danish tongue" (Dǫnsk tunga), or "Norse language" (Norrœnt mál). Norse was written in the runic alphabet, first with the elder futhark and from the 9th century with the younger futhark.

From the 7th century the common Norse language began to undergo changes that did not spread to all of Scandinavia, resulting in the appearance of two dialect areas, Old West Norse (Norway and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Denmark and Sweden). Most of the changes separating East Norse from West Norse started as innovations in Denmark, that spread through Scania into Sweden and by maritime contact to southern Norway.[10] 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". This monophthongization started in Jutland and spread eastward, having spread throughout Denmark and most of Sweden by 1100.[11]

Through Danish conquest, Old East Norse was once widely spoken in the northeast counties of England. Many words derived from Norse, such as "gate" (gade) for street, still survive in Yorkshire, the East Midlands and East Anglia, parts of eastern England colonized by Danish Vikings. The city of York was once the Viking settlement of Jorvik. Several other English words derive from Old East Norse, for example "are" (er), "knife" (kniv), "husband" (husbond), and "egg" (æg).[12] The suffix "-by" for 'town' is common in place names in Yorkshire and the east Midlands, for example Selby, Whitby, Derby and Grimsby. The word "dale" meaning valley is common in Yorkshire and Derbyshire placenames.

Older Danish: The 11th to 16th centuries

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Fangær man saar i hor seng mæth annæns mansz kunæ. oc kumær han burt liuænd....
"If one catches someone in the whore-bed with another man's wife and he comes away alive..."

Jutlandic Law, 1241 [13]

In the medieval period Danish emerged as a separate language from Swedish. The main written language was Latin, and the few Danish language texts preserved from this period are written in the Latin alphabet, although the runic alphabet seems to have lingered in popular usage in some areas. The main text types written in this period are laws, which were formulated in the vernacular language to be accessible also to those who were not latinate. The Jutlandic Law and Scanian Law were written in vernacular Danish in the early 13th century. Beginning in 1350 Danish began to be used as a language of administration and new types of literature began to be written in the language, such as royal letters and testaments. The orthography in this period was not standardized nor was the spoken language, and the regional laws demonstrate the dialectal differences between the regions in which they were written.[14]

Throughout this period Danish was in contact with Low German, and many Low German loans were introduced in this period.[15] With the Protestant Reformation in 1536, Danish also became the language of religion, which sparked a new interest in using Danish as a literary language. It is also in this period that Danish begins to take on the linguistic traits that differentiate it from Swedish and Norwegian, such as the stød and the voicing of many stop consonants.

The first printed book in Danish dates from 1495, the "Rimkrøniken" (Rhyming Chronicle), a history book told in rhymed verses.[16] The first complete translation of the Bible in Danish, the Bible of Christian II translated by Christiern Pedersen was published in 1550. Pedersen's orthographic choices set the de facto standard for subsequent writing in Danish.[17]

Early Modern Danish

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Herrer og Narre have frit Sprog.
"Lords and jesters have free speech."

Peder Syv, proverbs

Following the first Bible translation the development of Danish as a written language, and as a language of religion, administration and public discourse sped up. In the second half of the 17th century a number of grammarians elaborated grammars of Danish, first among them Rasmus Bartholin's 1657 Latin grammar De studio lingvæ danicæ; then Laurids Olufsen Kock's 1660 grammar of the Zealand dialect Introductio ad lingvam Danicam puta selandicam; and in 1685 the first Danish grammar written in Danish, Den Danske Sprog-Kunst ("The Art of the Danish Language") by Peder Syv. Significant authors from this period are Thomas Kingo, poet and psalmist, and Leonora Christina Ulfeldt, whose novel Jammersminde ("Remembered Woes") is considered a literary masterpiece. Orthography was still not standardized and the principles for doing so were vigorously discussed among Danish philologists. The grammar of Jens Pedersen Høysgaard was the first to give a detailed analysis of Danish phonology and prosody, including a description of the stød. In this period scholars were also discussing whether it was best to "write as one speaks" or to "speak as one writes", including whether archaic grammatical forms that had fallen out of use in the vernacular, such as the plural form of verbs, should be conserved in writing (i.e. han er "he is" vs. de ere "they are").

The East Danish provinces were lost to Sweden after the Treaty of Brömsebro after which they were gradually Swedified; just as Norway was politically severed from Denmark, marking the end of Danish influence on Norwegian. With the introduction of absolutism in 1660, the Danish state was further integrated, and the language of the chancellery, a Zealandic variety with German and French influence, became the de facto official standard language, especially in writing - this was the original so-called rigsdansk ("Danish of the Realm"). Also beginning in the mid 18th century, the skarre-R, the uvular R sound ([ʁ]), began spreading through Denmark, probably through influence from Parisian French and German. It affected all of the areas where Danish had been influential, including all of Denmark, Southern Sweden and coastal southern Norway.[18]

In the 18th century Danish philology was advanced by Rasmus Rask, who pioneered the disciplines of comparative and historical linguistics and wrote the first English language grammar of Danish. Literary Danish flourished with the works of Ludvig Holberg, whose plays and historical and scientific works laid the foundation for the Danish literary canon. With the Danish colonization of Greenland by Hans Egede, Danish became the administrative and religious language there, while Iceland and the Faroe Islands had the status of Danish colonies with Danish as an official language up until the mid 20th century.

Standardized national language

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Moders navn er vort Hjertesprog,
kun løs er al fremmed Tale.
Det alene i mund og bog,
kan vække et folk a dvale.

"Mother's name is our hearts' tongue,
only idle is all foreign speech
It alone, in mouth or in book,
can rouse a people from sleep."

N.F.S. Grundtvig, "Modersmaalet"

Following the loss of Schleswig to Germany, a sharp influx of German speakers moved into the area, eventually outnumbering the Danish speakers. The political loss of territory sparked a period of intense nationalism in Denmark, coinciding with the so-called "Golden Age" of Danish culture. Authors such as N.F.S. Grundtvig emphasized the role of language in creating national belonging. Some of the most cherished Danish language authors of this period are existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and prolific fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen. The influence of popular literary role models, together with increased requirements of education did much to strengthen the Danish language, and also started a period of homogenization, whereby the Copenhagen standard language gradually displaced the regional vernacular languages. After the Schleswig referendum in 1920 a number of Danes remained as a minority within German territories. Throughout the 19th Century Danes emigrated, establishing small expatriate communities in the Americas, particularly in the US, Canada, and Argentina where memory and some use of Danish remains today.

Language shift in the 19th century in Southern Schleswig.

After the Danish occupation by Germany in World War II, the 1948 orthography reform dropped the German influenced rule of capitalizing nouns, and introduced the letter Å/å. Three 20th century Danish authors have become Nobel Prize laureates in Literature: Karl Gjellerup and Henrik Pontoppidan (joint recipients in 1917) and Johannes V. Jensen (awarded 1944).

With the exclusive use of rigsdansk, the High Copenhagenian Standard, in national broadcasting, the traditional dialects came under increased pressure. In the 20th century they have all but disappeared, and the standard language has extended throughout the country.[19] Minor regional pronunciation variation of the standard language, sometimes called regionssprog ("regional languages") remain, and are in some cases vital. Today the major varieties of Standard Danish are High Copenhagenian, associated with elderly, well to-do and well educated people of the capital, and low-Copenhagenian traditionally associated with the working class, but today adopted as the prestige variety of the younger generations.[20][21] Also in the 21st century the influence of immigration has had linguistic consequences, such as the emergence of a so-called multiethnolect in the urban areas, an immigrant Danish variety (also known as Perkerdansk), combining elements of different immigrant languages such as Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish, as well as English and Danish.[20]

Geographical distribution

Danish is the national language of Denmark and one of two official languages of the Faroe Islands (alongside Faroese). Until 2009, it had also been one of two official languages of Greenland (alongside Greenlandic). Danish is widely spoken in Greenland now as lingua franca, and an unknown portion of the native Greenlandic population has Danish as their first language; a large percentage of the native Greenlandic population speak Danish as a second language[citation needed] since its introduction into the education system as a compulsory language in 1928. Danish was an official language in Iceland until 1944 but is today still widely used and is a mandatory subject in school.[22]

Learn Danish banner in Flensburg, Germany where it is an officially recognized regional language

In addition, there is a noticeable 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.[23] Under the Nordic Language Convention, Danish-speaking citizens of the Nordic countries have the opportunity to use their native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable for any interpretation or translation costs.[23]

The more widespread of the two varieties of Norwegian, Bokmål, is very close to Danish, because standard Danish was used as the de facto administrative language until 1814. Bokmål is based on Danish unlike the other variety of Norwegian, Nynorsk, which is based on the Norwegian dialects, with Old Norwegian as an important reference point.

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.


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Map of Danish 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, Gothenburg 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, as with most language norms, is 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.[24]

The distribution of one, two, and three grammatical genders in Danish dialects. In Zealand the transition from three to two genders has happened fairly recently. West of the red line the definite article goes before the word as in English or German; east of the line it takes the form of a suffix.

Danish is divided into three distinct dialect groups,[25] which are further subdivided in about 30 dialektområder, "dialect areas":[26]

The term Eastern Danish[27] is occasionally used for Bornholmian, but including the dialects of Scania (particularly in a historical context). The background for this lies in the loss of the originally Danish provinces of Blekinge, Halland and Scania to Sweden in 1658. The island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea was ceded to Sweden the same year, but returned to Danish rule in 1660. The spoken language in this part of modern Sweden is historically a variant of Danish, but was over time influenced by written and spoken Swedish and is today considered to be a Swedish dialect. Similarly, the Norwegian language is classified as a descendant of West Norse, while the written language used by the vast majority in Norway is derived from an older variant of standard 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 and Standard Danish vocabulary has generally meant that Scanian and Bornholmian are closer to the modern national standards of their respective host nations than to each other. The Bornholmian dialect has also maintained to this day many archaic features, such as a distinction between three grammatical genders, which this feature disappeared in the central Insular Danish dialects during the 20th century. Standard Danish has two genders and the definite form of nouns is formed by the use of suffixes, while Western Jutlandic has only one gender and the definite form of nouns uses an article before the noun itself, in the same fashion as West Germanic languages. Today, Standard Danish is most similar to the Insular Danish dialect group.


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The sound system of Danish is unusual among the world's languages, particularly in its large vowel inventory and in the unusual prosody. In informal or rapid speech the language is prone to considerable reduction of unstressed syllables, creating many vowel-less syllables with syllabic consonants, as well as reduction of final consonants. Furthermore, the language's prosody does not include many clues about the sentence structure, unlike many other languages, making it relatively more difficult to segment the speech flow into its constituent elements.[5][28] These factors taken together make Danish pronunciation difficult to master for learners, and there are even indications that Danish children take slightly longer in learning to segment speech in early childhood.[6]


Although somewhat depending on analysis, most modern variants of Danish distinguish 12 long vowels, 13 short vowels and two schwa vowels, /ə/ and /ɐ/ that only occur in unstressed syllables. This gives a total of 27 different vowel phonemes - a very large number among the world's languages.[29] At least 19 different diphthongs also occur, all with a short first vowel and the second segment being either [i̯], [u̯] or [ɐ̯].[30] The table below shows the approximate distribution of the vowels as given by Grønnum (1998) in Modern Standard Danish, with the symbols used in IPA for Danish. Questions of analysis may give a slightly different inventory, for example based on whether r-colored vowels are considered distinct phonemes. Basbøll (2005):50 gives 25 "full vowels", not counting the two unstressed schwa-vowels.

Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i, y, u,
Near-close e,
Close-mid ɛ, ɛː ø, øː o,
Mid œ, œː ə ɔ, ɔː
Open-mid æ, æː œ̞, œ̞ː ɒ, ɒː
Near-open a ɶ, ɶː ʌ, ɐ
Open ɑ, ɑː


The consonant inventory is comparatively simple. Basbøll (2005:73) distinguishes 16 non-syllabic consonant phonemes in Danish.

Labial Alveolar Alveolo
Velar Uvular/
Nasal /m/ /n/ /ŋ/
Plosive /p/ /b/ /t/ /d/ /k/ /ɡ/
Fricative /f/ /s/ /h/
Approximant /v/ /l/ /j/ /ʁ/

Many of these phonemes have quite different allophones in onset and coda. Phonetically there is no voicing distinction among the stops, rather the distinction is one of aspiration and fortis vs. lenis.[30] /p t k/ are aspirated in onset realized as [b̥ʰ, d̥ʰ, ɡ̊ʰ], but not in coda. The stops /b d g/ are realized as [b̥, d̥, ɡ̊] in onset and as [b̥ ð̞ˠ̠, j/ʊ̯] in coda. In syllable onset the phonemes /b d ɡ v j r/ are contoid (having enough closure to produce friction), but in coda syllables they become vocoids, with no audible friction making them phonetically similar to vowels. For example, /v b/ is pronounced as a [w]-sound in syllable coda e.g. /grav, løb/ ("grave, ran") are pronounced [grau̯, løu̯].

[ʋ, ð] often have slight frication, but are usually pronounced as approximants. Danish [ð] differs from the similar sound in English and Icelandic, in that it is not a dental fricative but an alveolar approximant which sounds like and is frequently mistaken for an [l] to second language learners.[30]

The sound [ɕ] is found for example in the word /sjov/ "fun" pronounced [ɕɔu̯] and /tjalˀ/ "marijuana" pronounced [tɕalˀ]. Some analyses have posited it as a phoneme, but since it occurs only after /s/ or /t/ and [j] doesn't occur after these phonemes, it can be analyzed as an allophone of /j/, which is devoiced after voiceless alveolar frication. This makes it unnecessary to postulate a /ɕ/-phoneme in Danish.[32]

In onset /r/ is realized as a uvu-pharyngeal approximant, [ʁ], but in coda it is either realized as a non-syllabic low central vowel, [ɐ̯] or simply coalesces with the preceding vowel. The phenomenon is comparable to non-rhotic pronunciations of English. The Danish pronunciation of /r/ as a so-called skarre-r distinguishes the language from those varieties of Norwegian and Swedish that use trilled [r].


Danish is characterized by a prosodic feature called stød (lit. "thrust"). This is a form of laryngealization or creaky voice. Some sources have described it as a glottal stop, but this is a very infrequent realization, and today phoneticians consider it a phonation type or a prosodic phenomenon.[33] It has phonemic status, since it serves as the sole distinguishing feature of words with different meanings in minimal pairs such as bønder ("peasants") with stød, versus bønner ("beans") without stød. The distribution of stød in the vocabulary is related to the distribution of the common Scandinavian pitch accents found in most dialects of Norwegian and Swedish.[34]

Stress is phonemic and distinguishes words such as billigst [ˈbilist] "cheapest" and bilist [biˈlist] "car driver".


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In Standard Danish, nouns fall into only two grammatical genders: common and neuter, while some dialects still often have masculine, feminine and neuter. While the majority of Danish nouns (ca. 75%) 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. The neuter equivalent would be "a house" (indefinite) et hus, "the house" (definite) huset. In the plural, the definite article is -(e)ne, as the plural endings are - / -e / -er. The enclitic article is not used when an adjective is added to the noun; here the demonstrative pronoun is used instead: den store mand "the big man", "the big house", det store hus.

Like all Germanic languages, Danish forms compound nouns. These are represented in Danish orthography as one word, as in kvindehåndboldlandsholdet, "the female national handball team". In some cases, nouns are joined with an extra s, originally possessive in function, like landsmand (from land, "country", and mand, "man", meaning "compatriot"), but landmand (from same roots, meaning "farmer"). Some words are joined with an extra e, like gæstebog (from gæst and bog, meaning "guest book").


The infinitive forms of Danish verbs end in a vowel, which in almost all cases is a schwa, represented in writing by 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.


Danish is a V2 language.


Danish label reading militærpoliti, "military police", on police vehicle

The majority of Danish words are derived from the Old Norse language. However, 50-60%[35] of Danish words come from Middle Low German and were borrowed in the late medieval era (explaining the relative similarity of its vocabulary to modern Low Saxon and Dutch), for example, betale (to pay). In the 17th and 18th Centuries standard German and French superseded Low German influence and in the 20th Century English became the main supplier of loan words, especially after World War II. Although many old Nordic words remain, some were replaced with borrowed synonyms, as can be seen with æde (to eat) which became less common when the Low German spise came into fashion. As well as loan words, new words are freely formed by compounding existing words.

Danish and English are both Germanic languages, Danish a North Germanic language descended from Old Norse and English a West Germanic language descended from Old English, and Old Norse exerted a strong influence on Old English in the early medieval period. To see their shared Germanic heritage, one merely has to note the many common words that are very similar in the two languages. For example, Danish words for commonly used nouns and prepositions are easily recognizable in their written form to English speakers, such as have, over, under, for, give, flag, salt, and kat. However, when pronounced, most of these words sound quite different from their English equivalents; not so much due to the Great Vowel Shift of English, as Danish a and e were affected similarly, but due to the Danish tendency to slur soft consonants such as d, g, and v (resulting in what sounds to English ears as ha'e, o'er, un'er, gi'e, and flay). Similarly, some other words are almost identical to their Scottish equivalents, e.g., kirke (Scottish kirk, i.e., 'church') or barn (Scottish bairn, i.e. 'child'). In addition, the word by, meaning "village" or "town", occurs in many English place-names, such as Whitby and Selby, as remnants of the Viking occupation. During the latter period, English adopted "are", the third person plural form of the verb "to be", as well as the corresponding personal pronoun form "they" from contemporary Old Norse.


In the word forms of numbers above 20, the units are stated before the tens, so 21 is rendered enogtyve, literally "one and twenty". Similar constructions are found in German, Dutch, Afrikaans, certain varieties of Norwegian, Slovene and Arabic as well as in archaic and dialect English (compare the line "Four-and-twenty blackbirds" in the old nursery rhyme.)

The numeral halvanden means 1½ (literally "half second", implying "one plus half of the second one"). The numerals halvtredje (2½) and halvfjerde (3½) are obsolete, but still implicitly used in the vigesimal system described below. Similarly, the temporal designation klokken halv tre, literally "half three o'clock", is half past two.

One peculiar feature of the Danish language is the fact that numerals 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 are (somewhat like the French numerals from 80 through 99) based on a vigesimal system, meaning that the score (20) is used as a base unit in counting. Tres (short for tre-sinds-tyve, "three times twenty") means 60, while 50 is halvtreds (short for halvtredje-sinds-tyve, "half third times twenty", implying two score plus half of the third score). The ending sindstyve meaning "times twenty" is no longer included in cardinal numbers, but still used in ordinal numbers. Thus, in modern Danish fifty-two is usually rendered as tooghalvtreds from the now obsolete tooghalvtredsindstyve, whereas 52nd is either tooghalvtredsende or tooghalvtredsindstyvende. Twenty is tyve (derived from old Danish tiughu, a haplology of tuttiughu, meaning 'two tens'[36]), while thirty is tredive (Old Danish þrjatiughu, "three tens"), and forty is fyrre (Old Danish fyritiughu, "four tens"[37] via fyrretyve, still occasionally used in historical settings or for humorous effect). An exception to the way Danish numbers are formed is in writing cheques and legal amounts in banking, where traditionally the numbers are 10-based and spelled as they appear in numerical form; thus, fir(e)ti is forty and seksti-to is sixty-two.

Cardinal numeral Danish Literal translation Ordinal numeral Danish Literal translation
1 én / ét one 1st første first
12 tolv twelve 12th tolvte twelfth
23 treogtyve three and twenty 23rd treogtyvende three and 20th
34 fireogtredive four and thirty 34th fireogtred(i)vte four and 30th
45 femogfyrre(tyve) five and forty (four tens) 45th femogfyrretyvende five and four tens-th
56 seksoghalvtreds(indstyve) six and [two score plus] half [of the] third (score) 56th seksoghalvtredsindstyvende six and [two score plus] half [of the] third score-th
67 syvogtres(indstyve) seven and three (score) 67th syvogtresindstyvende seven and three score-th
78 otteoghalvfjerds(indstyve) eight and [three score plus] half [of the] fourth (score) 78th otteoghalvfjerdsindstyvende eight and [three score plus] half [of the] fourth score-th
89 niogfirs(indstyve) nine and four (score) 89th niogfirsindstyvende nine and four score-th
90 halvfems(indstyve) [four score plus] half [of the] fifth (score) 90th halvfemsindstyvende [four score plus] half [of the] fifth score-th

For large numbers (one billion or larger), Danish uses the long scale, so that the short scale billion (1,000,000,000) is called milliard, and the short scale trillion (1,000,000,000,000) is billion.

Writing system

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Danish keyboard with keys for Æ, Ø, and Å.

The oldest preserved examples of written Danish (from the Iron and Viking Ages) are in the Runic alphabet. The introduction of Christianity also brought the Latin script to Denmark, and at the end of the High Middle Ages the Runes had more or less been replaced by the Latin letters.

As in Germany, the Fraktur (blackletter) types were still commonly used in the late 19th century (until 1875, Danish children were taught to read Fraktur letters in school), and many books were printed with Fraktur typesetting even in the beginning of the 20th century, particularly by conservatives. However, the Latin script was used by modernists, for example, the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters changed style in 1799. Nouns were capitalized, as in German, until the 1948 spelling reform.

The modern Danish alphabet is similar to the English one, with three additional letters: æ, ø, and å, which come at the end of the 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 digraph aa; the old usage still occurs in some personal and geographical names (for example, the name of the city of Aalborg is spelled with Aa following a decision by the City Council in the 1970s). When representing the å sound, aa is treated just like å in alphabetical sorting, even though it looks like two letters. When the letters are not available due to technical limitations (e.g., in URLs), they are often replaced by ae (Æ, æ), oe or o (Ø, ø), and aa (Å, å), respectively.

The same spelling reform changed the spelling of a few common words, such as the past tense vilde (would), kunde (could) and skulde (should), to their current forms of ville, kunne and skulle (making them identical to the infinitives in writing, as they are in speech). Modern Danish and Norwegian use the same alphabet, though spelling differs slightly.

Notes and references

  1. Insular Danish at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Jutlandic at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
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  3. The Federal Ministry of the Interior of Germany and Minorities in Germany
  4. Haberland 1994, p. 318.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Grønnum 2008a.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bleses et al. 2008.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Torp 2006.
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  9. Ynglingasaga
  10. Faarlund 1994, p. 39.
  11. Faarlund 1994, p. 41.
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  13. Pedersen 1996, p. 220.
  14. Pedersen 1996, pp. 219-21.
  15. Pedersen 1996, pp. 221-224.
  16. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  17. Pedersen 1996, p. 225.
  18. Torp 2006, p. 52.
  19. Pedersen 2003.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Kristiansen & Jørgensen 2003.
  21. Quist, P. (2006). lavkøbenhavnsk. [1], at dialekt.ku.dk
  22. ^ http://www.icelandexport.is/english/about_iceland/icelandic_language/ "Icelandic Language". Iceland Trade Directory. icelandexport.is. Retrieved 5 November 2012.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  28. Grønnum 2008b.
  29. Haberland 1994, p. 319.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Haberland 1994, p. 320.
  31. Basbøll 2005, p. 130.
  32. Grønnum (2005:305–306)
  33. Fischer-Jørgensen 1989.
  34. Basbøll 2005, pp. 83-86.
  35. http://germanic.eu/Mittelniederdeutsche-Lehnw%F6rter-in-den-skandinavischen-Sprachen.htm
  36. Ordbog over det danske sprog
  37. (Danish) Dansk sprognævn – De danske tal halvtreds, tres, halvfjerds, firs og halvfems


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External links

  • "Sproget.dk" sproget.dk is the place on the internet where you can find guidance, information and answers to questions about the Danish language and language matters in Denmark (in Danish)

See also

Realm languages:

Nordic languages: