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Danish Dialects Posted by on Jan 31, 2013 in Culture

Denmark is so small you can hide it from a standard-size globe with the tip of your finger. Railways and motorveje (motorways, freeways) crisscross the country, and besides Bornholm and a few other øer (islands), there are really no places where groups of people can live in isolation and become, let’s say, special! 🙂 (Sorry, Bornholmers, I couldn’t resist…) Yet foreigners who settle down here soon discover that there are surprisingly many dialekter in Denmark.

A century ago the dialects were so different that a person from the outskirts of Copenhagen and a person from the countryside around Ålborg in Jutland would have a hard time understanding each other… Today almost everyone speaks a variety of rigsdansk [REEce-dansk] (”Danish of the Realm”), which is the Danish equivalent of Queen’s English. The accent, however, changes a lot between regions, as does the choice of words. You can easily hear whether a person comes from Jutland or Sjælland (Zealand). In that way it still makes sense to speak of ”dialects” or ”regional dialects”, even if the differences are much smaller today. Let’s have a very rough look at the main ”regionalects”:

  • Sjællandsk (Zealandic). Because of Copenhagen, this is standard Danish to most people. Other Danes think sjællændere talk a lot and a bit fast. Almost everything is pronounced with a rising tone and plenty of stød – those small coughs that make Danish a cool language for rappers. To me (from Jutland), sjællandsk sounds more aggressive as well as more melodic (closer to Swedish) than the other dialects. I remember hearing some kids from Roskilde counting with so much stød that it sounded like they were saying each vowel twice: e-en, to-o, tre-e
  • Fynsk (Funic). In contrast to sjællandsk, there are hardly any stød in fynsk. That makes the language sound very pleasant and ”innocent” to people from other parts of Denmark. As the saying goes: Fyn er fin. (Fyn is nice.)
  • Jysk (Jutlandic). People from Copenhagen think that jyder (Jutes, people from Jutland) speak somewhat slowly and perhaps a bit bondsk (boorishly, ”like a bonde, peasant”). There’s more ”everyday sadness” in the language, which is also felt to be more down-to-earth than fynsk and sjællandsk. Trustworthy characters in films and tv often speak jysk. A typical saying is Det er træls (”That’s hard!”, like when you’re complaining about something or showing empathy towards someone who’s having difficulties). A Copenhagener would rather say Det er nederen. – There are also some special dialects in Jutland that are practically unintelligible to other Danes. The most famous is sønderjysk (Southern Jutlandic), but let’s save that for another post! 🙂
  • Bornholmsk (Bornholmic). I don’t know a lot about bornholmsk, besides that it sounds like a mixture of Danish and Swedish. I found this YouTube video so you could listen to it:

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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.


Comments:

  1. Terresa Estabrook:

    You need to be a part of a contest for one of the finest sites on the web. I am going to recommend this blog!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Terresa Estabrook Hello Terresa,
      I’m a bit worried you might be a spammer…
      However, I choose to take this compliment to heart! 🙂 Tak skal du have.

  2. Tyrell Sandhu:

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you ought to publish more on this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but generally folks don’t discuss these issues. To the next! Many thanks!!

  3. Julian:

    Very nice piece, thanks. I am a beginner student of Danish and I am trying to find a PDF copy of any of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories in Danish. Even better would be a parallel Danish-English translation. Do you know if such a thing exists? If the answer is no, then I will just have to go back to Copenhagen to see what I can find in hard copy. It would be nice to have the excuse to go!

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Julian @Julian
      Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any such pdf. 🙁
      I’ll keep it in mind for a future blog post, though! 🙂

      Can anyone help Julian out with a HC Andersen story in Danish?