Danish language, member of the North Germanic, or Scandinavian, group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages.
- Danish is the national language of Denmark, it is spoken by over 5 million people, most of whom live in Denmark; and one of two official languages of the Faroe Islands (alongside Faroese). Until 2009, it had also been one of two official languages of Greenland (alongside Greenlandic). Danish is widely spoken in Greenland now as lingua franca, and an unknown portion of the native Greenlandic population has Danish as their first language; a large percentage of the native Greenlandic population speaks Danish as a second language since its introduction into the education system as a compulsory language in 1928. Danish was an official language in Iceland until 1944, but is today still widely used and is a mandatory subject in school taught as a second foreign language after English.
- In addition, a noticeable community of Danish speakers is in Southern Schleswig, the portion of Germany bordering Denmark, where it is an officially recognized regional language, just as German is north of the border. Furthermore, Danish is one of the official languages of the European Union and one of the working languages of the Nordic Council. Under the Nordic Language Convention, Danish-speaking citizens of the Nordic countries have the opportunity to use their native language when interacting with official bodies in other Nordic countries without being liable for any interpretation or translation costs.
- The more widespread of the two varieties of written Norwegian, Bokmål, is very close to Danish, because standard Danish was used as the de facto administrative language until 1814. Bokmål is based on Danish, unlike the other variety of Norwegian, Nynorsk, which is based on the Norwegian dialects, with Old Norwegian as an important reference point.
- No law stipulates an official language for Denmark, making Danish the de facto language only. The Code of Civil Procedure does, however, lay down Danish as the language of the courts. Since 1997, public authorities have been obliged to observe the official spelling by way of the Orthography Law. In the 21st century, discussions have been held regarding creating a language law that would make Danish the official language of Denmark
Like the other Scandinavian languages, Danish is derived from Old Norse, and by the first half of the 12th cent. it could be distinguished from the parent tongue. Between 1100 and 1800 a number of phonological changes took place in Danish, and the grammar became increasingly simple. The spelling and pronunciation of the language began to be standardized c.1700, and a modern standard Danish can be said to have existed since about 1800, although there are still a number of dialects. Danish grammar is comparatively simple. The noun is inflected only to show the possessive and plural forms and has but two genders, neuter and nonneuter (or common). The meaning of nouns that are otherwise the same can depend on gender. For example, when used in the nonneuter ore means “coin,” whereas used in the neuter ore means “ear.” Homonyms may also be differentiated in Danish by the use of a stod, or glottal stop, which is a sound that results from the closing and opening of the glottis to expel air. Verbs have no personal inflection. Although the vocabulary of Danish is substantially native, many words have been borrowed from other languages, notably from Low German in the 14th to 16th cent.; from High German, Latin, and French in the 16th to 19th cent.; and from English since the late 19th cent. Because of the large number of similar and identical words in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, a knowledge of any one of these languages makes it possible to understand the spoken and written forms of the other two. Since c.1100, Danish has used the Roman alphabet, to which three symbols representing three vowels, a (written as aa before 1948) and o, have been added.
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