13 Facts About Danish: Vowels, Genders and the Alphabet

The Danish language is the main language of Denmark, as well as an important language in several other countries. In fact, in Greenland, up to 20% of the population speak Danish as their first language! It’s a North Germanic language which descended from Old Norse and can be mutually understood by other languages in the Scandinavian subgroup in writing – however, unlike the other two (Swedish and Norwegian), it sounds very different.

The following facts are some interesting tidbits about Danish, from its use and its history to its distribution around the world to some fascinating nitty-gritty facts. 

A Few Interesting Facts about Danish

1. The standardized Danish language was created in the 16th and 17th century following the invention of the printing press.

Before this time, it was a wide range of dialects which often varied wildly. When territory was overtaken by Sweden and Germany in the 17th century, Danish as a unified language became an important sign of Danish cultural identity.

2. Danish has 27 distinct vowel phonemes.

The pronunciation varies for each and the strong and weak inflections of their vowels is the main source of separation from other Scandinavian languages.

3. Though they can generally interact using their own languages, Danish young people have a lot more trouble than Swedish or Norwegian youths when trying to learn and understand the other languages.

Norwegian young people, by contrast, can usually easily pick up conversational Swedish and only have a little more difficulty with Danish.

4. Since the 21st century, the number of foreign influences on Danish has risen significantly.

Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, and of course, English, are now also important in the Danish vernacular, especially in urban areas.

5. Danish is not the official language of Denmark

It’s the primary spoken and written language, but there’s no law instating it as the legal one. However, court proceedings are mandated by the civil code to operate in Danish.

6. It is a common language in several countries

Major Danish communities exist in Greenland and the Faroe Islands. In Southern Schleswig, Germany, it is important enough that it is an official minority language. Much smaller but still significant communities who speak Danish as their first language exist in Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Spain, the USA, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.

7. There are only two genders in Danish linguistics – common (which merges historical male and female genders) and neuter

The gender determines which adjectives and suffixes are used on words.

8. A total of 29 base letters exist in the Danish (and Norwegian) alphabet

The first twenty-six are the same as English, though pronounced differently in some cases. The three others are Æ/æ (similar to that), Ø/ø (similar to Frankfurt), Å/å (similar to mow). C, Q, W, X and Z are never used in Danish words (except some family names), but often used in loan words from other languages where Danish maintains most spellings.

9. Like English, Danish has a subject-verb-object structure (SVO)

For example, the sentence William går til butikken is literally [William] [goes] [to] [the store]. ‘Store’ by itself without the definite article is butik.

10. It also has little to no case declension, but it has different endings depending on some other factors.

A noun ending stays the same no matter what case it is in the sentence. However, words are divided in a number of other ways

By genderIndefinite article (a/an) et for neuter nouns and en for common gender nouns
Definite article (the) attached as suffix; -en for common gender and et for neuter.
By pluralIndefinite and definite articles don’t obey gender rules the same way; –er is the most common ending but there is also -e and a zero-ending for mostly neuter words. Some words also have letters changed elsewhere.
By casePossession is indicated by adding a letter (not a genitive form). Min mor (my mother) vs. min mors butik (my mother’s store).
Though there isn’t case declension anymore, some older forms of other cases (such as the genitive case) exist in common words or phrases.

11. Adjectives have to agree with the number and gender of the noun

Genders of nouns aren’t predictable and must be memorized (or sometimes guessed!)

12. There are three cases of pronouns in Danish, matching English

PersonSubjective (Example:  I like learning Danish)Objective(Example: Danish is interesting to me)Possessive/Adjective(Example: Danish is my favorite. It is mine.)
First singular (I/me/my/mine)JegMigMin / mit / mine
Second singular(You/you/your/yours)DuDigDin / dit / dine
Third singular(He/him/his)
Han / hun / den / dentHam / hende / den /detHans / hendes/ dens / dets
First plural(we/us/our/ours)ViOsVores
Second plural(you/you/your/yours in plural forms)IJerJeres
Third plural(they/them/their/theirs)DeDemDeres
Third person referral(himself/herself/itself/themselves/his her or its own)N/ASigSin / sit / sine

Like in English, “them” is also used as a singular pronoun in casual conversation when the gender is not known (or more commonly if someone uses neither male or female self-referents). There is also a movement to adopt the Swedish hen, the official singular gender-neutral pronoun.

13. Simple sentences vary in structure from more complicated ones

A sentence with one subject, object, and verb operates on a subject-verb-object (SVO) pattern. However, the verb must always be the second part of a Danish sentence. More complex sentences change to a verb-subject-object (VSO) structure.

For example, hun gik til butikken (“she went to the store”) is structured as:

Hun (subject)Gik (verb)Buttiken (object)

However, I sidste uge gik hun i butikken (“last week, she went to the store”)

I sidste uge
(time adverb)
Gik (verb)Hun (subject)Buttiken (object)

Final Thoughts

Danish wasn’t unified until relatively recently in human history. It’s a difficult language to learn and remember, even for those who speak other Scandinavian languages – which only serves to make it more interesting. Learning about language and culture is one of the most rewarding things in the world!

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