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Talking about Languages Posted by on Mar 31, 2019 in Denmark and the World, Learning

Beklager, jeg taler ikke engelsk! (Sorry, I don’t speak English!) Although I normally wouldn’t recommend lying, the previous phrase might come handy if you’re a beginner & want to practice your dansk! 🙂 Otherwise there is a big probability (!) that the Danes you meet will answer you in their excellent English… Let’s talk about sprog [spraw] (languages).

(pixabay license)

In Danish, 99 % of language names end in -sk. It’s like –ish or –ch in English, just much more extensively used. Spansk, fransk, italiensk, kinesisk, japansk, tysk = Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, French, German.

Here are some useful phrases:

Taler du dansk? (Do you speak Danish?)

Hvilket sprog foretrækker du? (Which language do you prefer?)

Skal vi skifte sprog? (Would you like to change language?)

Jeg lærer dansk. (I’m learning Danish.)

Jeg vil helst tale dansk. (I prefer to talk Danish.)

Hvad betyder ”skumfidus”? (What does ”skumfidus” mean?)

Hvordan siger man ”crunchy” på dansk? (How do you say ”crunchy” in Danish?)

As English has the two different verbs ”to talk” and ”to speak”, Danish has the duo at tale and at snakke. I find them to be fairly interchangeable – although snakke is a bit more informal (and is also used in the meaning ”to chat”):

Snakker du ikke dansk? (Don’t you talk Danish?)

Vi sidder bare her og snakker. (We’re just sitting here chatting [a bit].)

When you get used to Danish, you’ll notice that speakers from different parts of the country don’t have the same intonation or ”word melody”. Maybe you’ll find Jutland Danish a bit more monotonous or ”down to earth” and Zealand Danish a bit more sing-song or punchy. Still, very few people today speak a dialekt that is considerably different from Standard Danish. The most notable exception would be the still-going-strong sønderjysk, which can be quite a riddle for people not from Sønderjylland (Southern Jutland). The Danish on Bornholm is also quite divergent due to the island’s proximity to Sweden.

In the Danish Commonwealth (Rigsfællesskabet = DK, Greenland, Faroe Islands), færøsk (Faroese) and grønlandsk (Greenlandic) are also spoken, and you might run into speakers in Denmark also. I’ve seen the languages used in some ATMs. 🙂 Faroese is historically related to Danish, and the islands have a lot of influence from Danish culture, which means you’ll probably recognise a few words (pylsuvogn = pølsevogn = hot-dog stand). Greenlandic is totally unrelated, but even there you’ll understand words which have been ”borrowed” from Danish (kulturi = kultur)…

At school, lots of Danes learn tysk, fransk or spansk. Everybody learns English.

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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.


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