Danish Language Blog

Meet the Monster Posted by on Oct 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

(From openclipart.org.)

(From openclipart.org.)

Uhyret er løs! (The monster is ”loose”!) After all that hygge, the time has come for some real uhygge (eeriness, literally ”un-hygge”). And that creepy monster is lurking in the dark, doing everything it can to prevent you from learning dansk! You want to get through Halloween alive? Godt så (good). First, you have to kende din fjende (know your enemy).

Of course, the Danish villakvarterer (residential neighboorhoods) are full of demons… Inversion, Strong Verbs and Adjective Agreement are just some of the beasts that are vying to make you run away screaming!

However, the most uhyggelig (spooky) bastard for Danish-learners has to be … Sound-and-Spelling! Just consider the following examples:

• You know that for certain words – the stød words – you have to ”cough” ever so sligthly while speaking them. You don’t remember which words, so you go around ”coughing” all the time and end up sounding like a Swede making fun of Danish! 🙂 Mor (mum) becomes mord (murder)…

• You’re writing an SMS and want to ask Hvornår skal vi køre? (When are we gonna drive?) However, you’re in a hurry and type Hvornår skal vi kører? Since Danish final Rs turn into a kind of short ”aw” sound (that glidingly merges with the vowel next door to form a single syllable), both køre and kører sound like ”KUR-aw”.

• You want to order a cup of te (tea) at a café. However, you really struggle with the Danish e sound, which is often only a tad more open than the Danish i sound. The busy waiter has no time for language lessons, and brings you … ti (ten) cups. (Okay, that example is a bit søgt  – far-fetched – but you get my drift! 🙂  )

As language learners, we want clear and easy guidelines for spelling and pronunciation. Actually, we secretly wish that Danish was a bit like EsperantoMen hejsa! (But hey!) Then come those mumbling, coughing, lazy, crazy, speed-talking, half-drunk Danes and ruin everything! The Copenhagen island of Amager becomes Ama’r, and selvfølgelig (of course) becomes se’fø’li’ – of course!

Happy Halloween to all readers who celebrate it! (Image from openclipart.org.)

Happy Halloween to all readers who celebrate it! (Image from openclipart.org.)

But here is the good thing… You’re reading this in English! That means your brain is already used to some of the world’s most bizarre ways of spelling and pronouncing words! 🙂 ”Weemen” appears as women, ”nite” appears as night, or even more shockingly as knight (where on earth did that K come from?) Furthermore, the English language has almost as many shades of vowels as Danish, and there are more similarities than you thought… (Final Rs also become ”vowel-ish” in British English, and if you speak Cockney English, making those stød coughing sounds will be a breeze.)

The bad thing is, se’fø’li’, that you’re exposed to English 24/7 (or maybe 22/6). That means that the quirks of English appear … natural to you, while the quirks of Danish become an unconquerable mareridt (nightmare)… Stop that thinking now! Small children are conquering Danish, adult immigrants are conquering Danish, and so can you! A German friend of mine, who had spent some time in Denmark, once remarked that all of a sudden Danish didn’t sound strange or weird or impossible at all…

Many Danes will be impressed that you’re trying to learn their language (and a bit proud, even if they keep talking about how ”ugly” or ”impossible” their language is). Nobody expects you to say rødgrød med fløde exactly like a native! Stay in the country, ask people to stop answering you in English, listen to Danish radio stations, hang out at Danish bars…

Før du ved et ord af det (before you know where you are – literally: ”before you know a word of it”), you will be speaking Danish.

Now, are you ready to meet that monster? 🙂

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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.