Danish is a North Germanic language spoken mainly in Denmark, where there are 5.46 million speakers, and by 6,200 people in Greenland, and 1,546 people in the Faroe Islands. There are also 39,500 Danish speakers in Sweden, 28,300 in the USA, 24,900 in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany, 21,000 in Norway, 12,600 in Canada, 10,000 in the UK, and smaller numbers in other countries.
Danish is the official language in Denmark, and a co-official language with Faroese in the Faroe Islands. It is the statutory national working language in Greenland, and the statutory language of provincial identity in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It was the official language of Norway until about 1830, and of Iceland until 1944. Danish is also the first foreign language learnt in Iceland, and is a compulsory subject in primary schools in the Faroe Islands.
Danish started to develop from Old East Norse during the 9th century AD. The early forms of Danish are collectively known as Old Danish, and can be divided into Runic Danish/Swedish (800-1100 AD), Early Middle Danish (1100-1350) and Late Middle Danish (1350-1525).
Runic Danish/Swedish was written with the Runic alphabet and spoken in Denmark and Sweden. It started to become different languages from about 1100. Vernacular Danish started to appear in texts from the early 13th century, written with the Latin alphabet.
Danish became the language of administration during the 14th century, and absorbed many words from Low German during this time. In the 16th century Danish replaced Latin as the language of religion
In the 17th century Danish absorbed many French loanwords, and from the 19th century onwards, many English words have been taken into Danish.
Runic Danish (800-1100 AD) was written with a version of the Runic alphabet known as Younger Futhark. From the 11th century, the Latin alphabet was adopted, although in some areas runes remained in use.
The first written work of Danish literature was Gesta Danorum (History of the Danes) written in Latin in about 1200 by Saxo Grammaticus. This recounts the history of Denmark up to 1186 and includes Danish versions (in a somewhat Christianized form) of Scandinavian myths and sagas, including the earliest version of the Hamlet story.
You can see an online version of Gesta Danorum in the original Latin at: http://www.kb.dk/elib/lit/dan/saxo/lat/or.dsr/
The first book to be printed in Danish was Rimkrøniken (the Rhyming Chronicle), a history of Danish kings in rhymed verse published in 1495, probably by the Cisterican monastry in Sorø [source].
Danish began to be used a literary languge during the 16th century. In 1514 Christian Pedersen published a Danish version of Gesta Danorum, which was highly influential on subsequent Danish literature. Pedersen also published the first Danish translation of the New Testament in 1531, and a full translation of the Bible in 1550. The orthography used became the basis for standard written Danish.
The letters C, Q, W, X and Z are only used in foreign loanwords. Before 1948, the sound written å was written aa, which can still be seen in some place names, such as Aalborg and Aabenraa.
Details of Danish pronunciation provided by Marc Volhardt
Alle mennesker er født frie og lige i værdighed og rettigheder. De er udstyret med fornuft og samvittighed, og de bør handle mod hverandre i en broderskabets ånd.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Information about the Danish language
Online Danish lessons
Dansk for Alle - information about the Danish language and culture (in Danish)
Project Runeberg - a volunteer effort to create free electronic editions of classic Nordic (Scandinavian) literature: http://runeberg.org
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Page last modified: 23.04.21
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