My Adventures in Danish
Part One: Al begyndelse er svær
Here in the US of A, people who speak a second language are something of a rare commodity—let alone those who speak a third or fourth one. The reasons for this are myriad, way beyond the scope of this article, but it offers a few disadvantages to us monolingual Yanks.
There is something uncanny about hearing someone switch gears from your native language to another, unfamiliar one. It is almost eerie—the voice is the same, although the accent changes, but suddenly the words become incomprehensible. There’s an odd feeling as if your brain just lost its ability to process words altogether. Perhaps there is just a mild drop of helplessness too…or at least self-consciousness.
I vividly remember the occasion when I introduced a wonderful German client to a coworker whom I knew spoke a bit of that language. It was a very odd experience, hearing two women I knew pretty well as they happily chatted—barely a word of their conversation understandable to me.
While visiting London with Dimview, I had several occasions to remember that my own tongue is not her first or only. She would show me texts—absolutely undecipherable to me—peppered with strange-looking words like 'og' and 'på.' I told her it looked like moon-man language.
I will confess that I had next-to-no background in Danish. As much as I love languages, I had never studied the Nordic ones at all. I just knew a bit about their taxonomy (technically Danish is part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family—by the Ethnologue version of language taxonomy, which is the only one I understand even a little bit...oops, I have digressed) and the high degree of mutual intelligibility among them. I knew the word 'bastard' in a couple of them (I used to collect that word in foreign language—don’t ask, I can’t explain these things). I had seen "the Kingdom" (Riget in Danish) and heard a lot of the language because of that, but all I knew was it sounded a touch like German.
One afternoon, I sat at the end of my bed in our room at the Lynton Hotel in London, and Dimmie napped peacefully on the other bed. I went to wake her gently with a hand massage. I sensed consciousness returning to her. She sighed and said something like this:
The three pound meat computer between my ears went "Database search—not found. Alert: Data received contains no information."
I think I awkwardly said something like, "Are you awake?"
Upon which, she opened her bright blue eyes, made strong eye contact and said,
For an instant, I had the irrational fear that the English lobe of her brain had shut down and this could put a real dent in our holiday. But mercifully, she blinked her eyes slowly, stretched and said, "Was I speaking Danish?"
Soon after the end of our vacation, I resolved to learn some Danish. Who knows? I love learning language, this could be fun!
Next time: Hvaba'?