The Danish language, like Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese, is a member of the northern (Scandinavian) branch of the Germanic language group. Written Danish bears a strong resemblance to these languages (the biggest resemblance is to the Bokmål variant of Norwegian.)

Learners of the language will find Danish's evolution in pronounciation the hardest to follow or understand, however. It has been compared to hearing a Norwegian mumbling, and this is due to softening of the sounds /t/, /p/, /d/, /k/, /g/, and /b/, and also the Stød -- somewhat similar to a glottal stop.

Gramatically, however, Danish has the same general rules and syntax as both the Germanic and Scandinavian languages. Like Swedish it has two genders -- common and neuter -- and like the Norwegian and Swedish it inflects the definite article by way of suffixes to the noun.

Like German, Danish has a polite form of address -- using the personal pronouns De and Dem -- generally used when speaking to senior citizens and officials -- and a polite form (du and dig) when speaking to anyone else.

As with Norwegian Danish uses the characters å, æ and ø, which will be found at the back of a dictionary. The character å became "official" after language reforms in 1948 -- before then the town Åbenrå was spelled Aabenraa (this was a major point of contention with the inhabitants). These also included the dropping of capitals on nouns, and some other provisions.

Funny thing about Danish (the pastry) is: it isn't really that Danish...

At some point in the early 20th century there was a strike among the Danish bakers. Seeing possibilities for a career many foreign bakers immigrated to Denmark. In one small bakery in Copenhagen worked an apprentice baker recently immigrated from Vienna. One day, it is said, he had forgotten to add butter to the dough of the tea cakes he was making.

A popular cake in the Turkish area of the old Ottoman Empire was the Baklava, square and made from layers of dough and butter and served in syrup. Since the whole of the Balkans was part of the Ottoman Empire for almost halv a millennia much of the Turkish culture spread all the way up to Vienna.

The bakerboy, having seen this Turkish cake solved the butter-in-the-dough problem by applying the butter on top of the flat dough, and then fold the whole thing. The new creation proved to be a success and quickly got the name Wienerbrød, Vienna-bread, after the bakerboy.

In Scandinavia it is still called Wienerbrød, but in the German-speaking world it got the name Kopenhagener Gebäck. After all; it was baked in Copenhagen! The English-speaking world followed this idea and started calling it Danish (Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark, as you probably know). Hence the name issue.

The ideal Danish is made up of 24 layers of dough with 23 layers of butter in between. It doesn't require as much counting as one may think: you simply make three layers of dough and butter and fold it three times. Voila: 24!

The first one being intended to become a tea cake, the typical danish is round and flat. But of course there are variations. It is normally filled with some sort of sweets; chocolate, vanilla créme, icing of varying colours and flavours, fruits or berries et cetera.

Over time the Danish has become something of a national flavour of Denmark, alongside the Smørrebrød and the beer. Should you visit Copenhagen at some point in your life I advice you to take a walk down to Nyhavn, enter a small café, buy a Danish and a cup of coffee and savour the moment in the sunny harbour.

If you're interested in languages or are from Scandinavia, you have heard of Danish numbers. The Danish numeral system is my favourite example of how language can be beautifully insane.

Let us illustrate with the Danish word for 50. Halvtreds.

Halvtreds is literally "half-third". You may ask, how the fuck do you get 50 from "half-third"?!

Ah, but halvtreds is actually an abbreviation of halvtredsindstyve... literally "half-third times twenty". We are still baffled, because (1.5 * 20) is definitely not 50.

But it turns out that half-third works like Roman numerals! Just as we write IV = (5 - 1) to represent 4, halvtreds means (3 - 0.5), or, (2.5).

If you do the math, 2.5 * 20 is actually 50!

Languages are beautiful, aren't they?

Dan"ish (?), a. [See Dane.]

Belonging to the Danes, or to their language or country.



The language of the Danes.

Danish dog Zool., one of a large and powerful breed of dogs reared in Denmark; -- called also great Dane. See Illustration in Appendix.


© Webster 1913.

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