History of the Danish Language

Danish is spoken by about 6 million people. It’s the official language of Denmark, and also one of the official tongues in the Faroe Islands and Greenland – provinces of relative autonomy. It’s also the language of a Danish-speaking population in the German region of Schleswig-Holstein. Danish derives from the East Old Norse dialect, along with Swedish. It belongs to the East Scandinavian languages, in the family of the North Germanic languages.

Origins

Danish derives from the Old Norse dialect. It is classified, together with Swedish, as deriving from the East Old Norse, while Norwegian evolved from the West Old Norse. Danish used the runic alphabet, as well as Swedish and Norwegian, while today its graphic system uses the Latin alphabet.

Official Language

The official language of the Kingdom of Denmark, Danish is also one of the official languages, along with English, on the Faroe Islands and in Greenland. It’s a minority language in the German region of Schleswig-Holstein, and also spoken by Danish emigrant communities, the most significant of which are in Argentina, the USA and Canada.

Varieties

Dialect distribution in Denmark follows a specific criterion. About 25% of the population lives in the capital city of Copenhagen. The official standard of the language is based on the Copenhagen dialect, and other dialects are difficult to be found within the boundaries of the Kingdom. Significant dialects can be found in Greenland and on the Faroe Islands. Generally, the linguistic unity is quite strong. Danish had a strong influence in some parts of Great Britain, and today many Danish words can still be detected in the Yorkshire dialect of English, for instance.

Brief History

The Danish language evolved from the Old Norse dialect. After the formal split into West and East Old Norse, Danish took the Eastern branch along with Swedish. It’s hard to clearly determine the exact diachronic boundary between Danish and Swedish. Still, some declare it to be in the 12th Century.

The first written documents in Danish date back to 1495, and the first Bible was translated into Danish in 1550. The separate development of the language was also enhanced by key writers and public personalities, such as fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.

Today, Danish is classified according to contemporary criteria. The Scandinavian languages are separated into three groups, based on mutual intelligibility. This new classification sets Danish as Southern Scandinavian, while Swedish and Norwegian are Northern Norwegian.

Did you know?

Danish is spoken by about 6 million people in total, while once Denmark ruled the entirety of Scandinavia for centuries. The Kingdom of Denmark, in fact, ruled over a larger territory encompassing various parts of Northern Europe and Great Britain in various periods. Some British dialects still use Danish words in their vocabulary. Danish is also spoken in Germany, in the region of Schleswig-Holstein.

Danish once used the runic alphabet, as did all Scandinavian languages. Today, its writing system is based on the Latin alphabet.