5 Cool Features of the Danish Language

Danish is a small language. With just about than 5.5 million native speakers, Danish is hardly a world language like Spanish or Mandarin, and the majority of the population is fluent in English anyway. So why learn Danish? Besides the beer, the pretty girls and the immediate goodwill you will receive from Danes as long as you know how to put 5 words together, you should learn Danish because… it’s an exciting language! Let me elaborate and introduce you to 5 cool features about the Danish language:

1. According to linguist Nina Grønnum, Danish has no less than 16 different vowel sounds most of which can be realized as long and short vowels – a total of almost 40 different vowel sounds. Wikipedia has adapted Grønnums findings into this chart which shows how the orthographic a in “kat” (cat), “barn” (child) and “tak” (thank you) is realized differently.

2. In addition to this obscene number of vowels, Danish has another neat phonological feature called “stød” (sd̥øð). Stød is a kind of creaky voice or glottal stop that occurs in stressed syllables in connection with long vowels and ending in a voiced sound. If your goal in life is to fool Danish native speakers into thinking you’re one of them, master the art of stød, and it should be in the bag. Stød is the only distinguishing feature between the words for “farmers” (bønder) and “beans” (bønner) – and who would want to be mistaking those.

3. Danish features the ingressive pulmonic “ja” which is an inhaled affirmative sometimes used instead of the regular egressive “ja”. This sound clip gives you a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about (even though the speaker is actually Norwegian, but you get the picture). The sound is produced by breathing air into the lungs, sort of like a reversed [h].

4. It is possible to form monster verbal phrases such as “skulle have været blevet spurgt”, which contains 5 verbal forms. This particular sentence translates to “should have been asked”, but with an added distance between the speaker and the utterance, sort of like the use of “Konjunktiv I” in German.

5. You’ll be the center of attention at every future gathering of your friends and family while impressing them with phrases like “skinneskidtskraberrenseriassistentaspirant” (yes, that is one word), “fem flade flødeboller på et fladt flødebollefad” and the ultimate evergreen “rødgrød med fløde”.

What are you waiting for? Go on over to the bab.la Danish dictionary and get a head start learning Danish right away!


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