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The Danish Soup Posted by on Mar 25, 2012 in Learning, Pronunciation, Society

For those who’ve come to enjoy the beauty of for example Danish poetry, the numerous comparisons of Danish with gray, grainy substances may seem a bit over the top. In fact, I suspect those dull descriptions stem mostly from Danes themselves. (Keeping an ironic, ”lowbrow” attitude can only make you pleasantly surprised when the prestigious speakers of major cultural languages such as English or German do comment upon your ”tiny” language! 🙂 )

Polish bean soup

(Okay, this photo is actually from Poland… But not that different from the soups we eat in Denmark!)

Instead of cereals and tubers, I’d rather compare Danish to a well-done soup – with a lot of quite similar yet different vegetables and spices: At first it all tastes hot and salty, and you can’t tell beans from peas, parsley from marjoram. You strongly consider ordering a pizza instead (with neatly spread ingredients as clearly identifiable as the vowels of Italian). But after a good while something happens: the soup cools down and gradually your tongue starts discerning fine nuances of taste you didn’t even know existed before. (It may not make your heart throb in quite the same way as chili or chocolate, but it does warm you and feel, well, hyggelig.)

Take for instance the Danish letters i and e. Like all vowels in Danish, they have various ”hues” depending on their position. (Don’t worry about that now, the right ”colouring” comes with practising the language. I mean, did it ever trouble you that the English letter i doesn’t sound the same in light and lit?) In some cases – like when children are reading their ABC book aloud – i and e sound almost identical. That is, if you’re a foreigner. Danes hear instantly that the e is a wee bit more open than the i. I have two friends called

Line and Lene, respectively.

I can’t recall anyone having mixed their names! 🙂

A similar story can be told for the letters u and o.
Ole is a man’s name, while en ugle is – an owl.


The bottom line is this:

Anyone can learn reading and writing Danish, and Queen Margrethe won’t imprison you for speaking with an accent. Your real challenge will be to get hold of the stuff that comes out of ordinary Danes’ mouths. (If you watch some Danish vintage movies you’ll certainly get the idea that mumbling is ”so 2012” in Denmark. 😉 I recently read some dialogue for an educational short, and was told to speak less clearly!)
Keep talking, keep an open mind, and I bet that your ears too will soon capture the rich variety of Danish shades of sound.

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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.