Why Denmark? Posted by Bjørn A. Bojesen on Oct 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
I’ve already given you some pretty good reasons to learn Danish. (Which I hope you’re now devoting huge parts of your spare time to! 😉 ) Whatever your motivation to learn the language, I feel that I ought to tell you why you should care about Denmark. Why do I spend so many posts writing about Danish society, couldn’t we just focus on grammar and words and get the thing done?
Well, as you probably know, a language can’t really be dissociated from its culture. (That’s true even for a constructed language like Esperanto.) And that’s especially true in the case of Danish!
If you learn a widespread language like French, you can somehow detach yourself from regional affairs and ”go global”, effortlessly jumping from Paris to Dakar to Québec in your study material (dialogues and stories). Even though Danish is indeed spoken outside the state of Denmark (we’ll be looking at ’Danish in the World’ in a future post!), it is only by knowing the humour, the history, the climate and the people of this small European country that all those little out-of-the-box expressions begin to make sense. Without an understanding of Danish irony, how else can you grasp the intended fun behind a word like samfundshjælper (’community helper’) for a bottle opener? Or smile when someone comments on that oversized slice of rugbrød (’rye bread’) on your plate with a remark that it must be hestens fødselsdag (’the horse’s birthday’)? A bit of culinary knowledge likewise won’t hurt you when you hear a non-blonde Dane sadly-wittily describing her hair as leverpostejfarvet (’liver pâté coloured’)!
The idea of having national states with national languages in ’em seems to have been invented by the Romantics, those European painters and writers of the 18th century who cherished the past and tried to find the roots and spirit of their ’people’. (Before that, most folks just rattled on in their local dialect and didn’t care much about political borders.) However, in the case of Denmark and Danish, there is a remarkable overlap between language, culture, history and geography. Denmark is a very homogenous society (meaning that most people speak the same language and enjoy taking a beer or three!) Unlike most European countries it has hardly got any traditional minorities. (The most notable exception being a handful of Germans in the South.)
Like any language in the world, Danish can be used to describe whatever its speakers want it to describe. But it is still very much linked to a particular space. That’s why Denmark should interest you – and most of all, its people, of different faiths and ethnicities, who see the world through the Danish language.
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