HERITAGE - 3: DANISH MADE SIMPLE, Just add English

In the concrete mixer of the English language - from back beyond Chaucer - there are still visible and audible links

The Danish flag, the Dannebrog traditionally originates from a banner dropped from heaven to rally Danish warriors during a battle fought in the 13th Century in what is now Estonia. The Danish royal line goes back further than any other in Europe
The Danish flag, the Dannebrog traditionally originates from a banner dropped from heaven to rally Danish warriors during a battle fought in the 13th Century in what is now Estonia. The Danish royal line goes back further than any other in Europe | Source
Battling the waves west across the North Sea - what began originally as a vengeance trip turned into colonisation, settlement and assimilation (with the language as well as the culture and blood ties)
Battling the waves west across the North Sea - what began originally as a vengeance trip turned into colonisation, settlement and assimilation (with the language as well as the culture and blood ties)

Ever thought of learning Danish instead of the usual French, German, Italian or Spanish? Just leaf through these pages at the grammar and pronunciation - not too far off English, and a key to understanding/speaking Norwegian and Swedish, and that's just the start of it... We've got more in common with Scandinavia than you might think.

Want to learn a foreign language that isn't really all that foreign? - As a matter of fact, one that even sounds much like English when spoken.

Danish grammar is not as easy as Russian grammar, but it has the advantage to us of looking familiar and has only two genders, common and neuter. Interested? There is a lot of common history, too. The Danes conquered much of Britain from the 9th-11th Centuries, and the language left an impression on English. Many of our words are shared, although written differently. They seem odd to look at, and it is only when the guidelines are explained that they begin to make sense.

Initially migration began from Jutland before there was such a thing as 'The kingdom of Denmark', as I have indicated elsewhere in my VIKING and DANELAW hubs. Hengist and Horsa would have spoken a language similar to that spoken by the Angles, their near neighbours who settled beyond the East Saxons' territory the other side of the Thames. The greatest imprint was left on the language the forefathers of the English spoke in Eastern Mercia and southern Northumbria. In Yorkshire and other north-eastern English dialect writing Danish comes through strongest along the coast from the Tees northward and inland in Yorkshire across to the Pennines. At one time there were two types of Norse spoken in the region, that along the coast and that inland and around Jorvik (York).

Much of Danish would be equally understood by North Germans, and a knowledge of German could help with learning Danish. When the Normans came, bringing their version of the French language, they brought many French words with them and it is this influx that has affected English pronunciation. Danish and German have been much less influenced by French and are therefore closer in their roots. Nevertheless the Danish way of pronunciation seeped through into modern English, to the extent that when we learn a foreign language we have to leave our 'mindset' behind, especially when learning modern European languages like Spanish and German with their purer vowels.

Things to remember in learning Danish pronunciation are:

'y' is pronounced like the German u with the umlaut (two dots above the letter): as in 'Tuesday';

there is an 'o' with a diagonal strike that is pronounced as the German o with the umlaut. We don't have a comparison in English, but I'll write it here as 'oe';

there is an 'ae', written as one that is pronounced as 'ay': as in 'May';

'g' in the middle and at the end of a word is swallowed: the Danish 'daglig' is pronounced as 'daily', and means the same;

in the combination 'nd' the 'd' is silent aside from 'Soendag' and 'Mandag' (Sunday and Monday), where the 'd' is not silent;

there is an 'a' over-written with a smaller 'o', that appears as a matter of coincidence in 'Mandag', and the letter 'a' becomes an 'o', written 'aa', effectively turning 'Mondag' into 'Monday';

Before I forget, there's a little thing about the glottal stop, that's where your tongue stops a letter or letters forming and it comes out as a sharp pause in or at the end of a word, usually cutting off a 't' finish, as in 'huset', which comes out as 'huse' and a break follows, a bit like trying to stifle hiccups.

'lg' will be said as 'ly', as in 'saelge': 'sell';

'ld' will be pronounced as 'll' as in 'fuld': 'full';

'v' in mid-word is pron. as 'u', as in navn = name (noun);

'j' pronounced as 'y': young;

'i' comes long or short, long as in 'mien', short as in 'sit';

I will just use words in their simplest form here, but a word to the wise: Using the common gender: words ending in 'en', i.e., 'manden', mean 'the -' (the man) , and luckily most words are in the common gender; In the neuter: words ending in 'et', as in 'huset', the house.

It's time to get on with the words:

Danish....................English.......................Notes...........................................................

barn........................child............................bairn in N E and N.W. England and Scotland with the plural. 'boern' (in the Danish and Norwegian alphabets this is indicated by / through the 'o')

begynde.................begin...........................

binde......................bind/tie........................

binding...................binding........................

bitter.......................bitters(drink)...............

bivej........................byway.........................

blind........................blind...........................

blaa.........................blue...........................

hvit .........................white

bolvaerk..................bulwark.....................

britisk......................British........................

broed......................bread..........................

baek........................beck/brook.................. beck in N and E England

daglig......................daily............................

dal...........................dale............................ N and Mid England, Scotland

dansk......................Danish........................

dem.........................them......................... .

de............................they...........................

dig...........................thee...........................dialect only now

din...........................thine.......................... d/o

dram.......................drink (small).............. N England, Scotland

droem.....................dream........................

eftermiddag............after midday/afternoon

efternavn................after name/surname/family name

efteraar..................afteryear/autumn.......

fugl.........................fowl/bird....................as in 'wildfowl' or 'farmyard fowl'

egen.......................ain/own.................... 'ain' is dialect: 'ain folk' = family, ................................................................N E England, Scotland

folk..........................folk/people...............

folder.......................folder.......................

folde........................fold (vb)...................

forfaedre.................forefathers...............

forgrund..................foreground...............

fortid........................foretide/past............

foraar......................foreyear/spring........

foraeldre.................fore-elders/parents

frihold.....................freehold...................

fragt........................freight.....................

fremsende..............send from/forward(post)

far...........................father..................... O.D. 'father'

mor.........................mother................... O.D. 'mother'

bror.........................brother................... O.D. 'brother'

soester/soestre.......sister/sisters............

friskbagt.................fresh(ly) baked........

frygt........................fear.........................(gudsfrygt... fear of god)

fuldkornsbroed.......full corn bread/rough wholemeal bread

flygtig.....................flighty*/casual..........*Engl. regional

gang.......................walk/gait..................N E England, Scots dialect: 'ganging'

grim........................grim/ugly/nasty........

grin.........................laugh.......................

gru..........................horror...................... (gruesome)

hikke......................hiccups.....................

herunder................hereunder.................

herved....................hereby......................

hjemme..................home............... ........N E Engl dialect: ................................................................'come yam t'neet' (come home tonight)

hjerte......................heart..........................N.E. Engl, Scot also pron 'hert'

hjertestop...............heart failure...............

hop..........................jump.........................

hund........................hound/dog................

hus..........................house.......................N.E. England, Scot 'hoose'

hvid.........................white.........................

hvidvin.....................white wine................

haeng(ning).............hang(ing)................

husmand..................husband/man of the house

hindre.......................hinder/obstruct........

juleaften...................Yule eve/Christmas eve

julegave...................Yule gift/Chritmas gift

jury...........................jury..........................

hestesko..................horseshoe...............

hestekraft.................horsepower.............

hytte..........................hut/cottage.............

kaj(side).....................quay(side)......................

kast(e).......................cast/throw/toss (verb in brackets)

kirke...........................church............................'kirk' in N England, Scotland

kat..............................cat..................................

klint.............................cliff................................'clint' in N England, Scotland

kogsalt........................cooking salt..................

kostald........................cow stall.......................

kaelder........................cellar............................

kyst..............................coast...........................

kviksoelv......................quicksilver/mercury

kvitte.............................quit/yield/give up

koebe...........................buy...........................'cheaping', translates in Engl. place.names to 'chipping' Koebenhavn is Cheaping Haven, (trading haven)

by.................................town........................ as in 'Whitby', 'Maltby'

torp...............................thorp/village.............as in 'Scunthorpe', 'Nunthorpe'

tofte...............................toft/farm...................as in 'Lowestoft'

borg...............................borough/fortress as in 'Trelleborg', 'Aggersborg'

gard...............................garth........................garth, N E strengthened.residence/manor

**This is only the first half of the alphabet. There are many words that would make more sense to German speakers, but there are as many that are unique to just Denmark and Britain, specifically Eastern and Northern England and Scotland. I have just extracted these words to illustrate a point.

The Teach Yourself series is noted for its accuracy. Have a go at learning Danish this way. A cd helps get your tongue around the sounds such as the 'glottal stop' where you swallow the last consonant (ref. Northern English pronunciation)

Take a trip across the deep blue sea...

Esbjerg is the stopping-off point for ferries across the North Sea and main shipping port for goods - largely food, especially pork products - to Britain. We have a lot in common with the Danes, they're friendly, not pushy, and welcoming. Jutland - Jylland in Danish - the largest constituent part of the kingdom (another thing we have in common) accommodates a broad historical and cultural spectrum, common tastes and a willingness to share.

Beyond Jutland is the isle of Funen - Fyn in Danish - largely agricultural with fishing (Baltic species), as is Falster to the south of the main isle, Zealand - Sjaelland - where the present capital Copenhagen - Koebenhavn, 'Cheaping Haven', a trading port - looks over the narrows to southern Sweden. Earlier capitals were Lejre or Leithra, and more recently Roskilde.

Air connections to Copenhagen are frequent, as also to Esbjerg.

Another of the Routledge series, an Essential Danish Grammar to help you on your way - one way or another we'll get you there

The Danelaw and Kingdom of York in the 9th Century are marked out in the buff-coloured area on the map
The Danelaw and Kingdom of York in the 9th Century are marked out in the buff-coloured area on the map
The 'Burh' or Peterborough Chronicle within the framework of the 'Saxon Chronicles' took over from the Wessex centres in the 11th Century, and introduced a Danelaw vernacular element to the language of the Chronicle until the mid-12th Century
The 'Burh' or Peterborough Chronicle within the framework of the 'Saxon Chronicles' took over from the Wessex centres in the 11th Century, and introduced a Danelaw vernacular element to the language of the Chronicle until the mid-12th Century

Common traditions and history

What we've got in common, aside from sharing the North Sea - there's the historical connection that began with an invasion in the 9th Century and led to a cultural infusion with the eastern and northern English. A Danish king, Knut (or Canute) ruled England before succeeding his older brother Harald to rule both kingdoms until 1035 in prosperity.

The only time we were on opposing sides since then was during the Napoleonic Wars, when the Danes were browbeaten by the French into an alliance.

In Victorian times the heir to the throne, Edward, married a Danish princess by the name of Alexandra. When Prussia and Austria stepped into a Danish succession dispute in 1864 she begged her husband to ask Victoria for help. However Victoria was firmly pro-Prussian. Denmark lost territory south from Flensborg - where the Angles originated - to Germany. Shortly after that Prussia turned on their ally, defeating the Austrians in 1866 at Koniggraetz in Silesia (now Poland).

It's what's under the skin that matters. The psyche binds us together, a desire to get on with life and try not to get under one another's feet - or trample on them. There's one Danish word we don't have: hygge, that's described as 'cosiness', although there's more to it than that, maybe more like contentment.

Eyewitness Travel, Denmark

Eyewitness produce an extensive range of travel guides. In 'Denmark' we have a map for each area of the kingdom, between Jylland (Jutland) and Sjaelland (Zealand) to Bornholm off the coast of Sweden. Each section tells what's there to see, how to get there, the historical aspect and where to stay. Worth the outlay..

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Comments 13 comments

Patty Kenyon profile image

Patty Kenyon 4 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

Wow, that is very Interesting!!! I was not familiar with the Danish language and definitely found this Interesting and Useful!!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Mange tak (that's 'many thanks')! If you want to get the drift of what I'm saying, travel up to Leeds and around the area. Lots of glottal stops (that's where your tongue stops a letter forming, like the 'k' in 'tak'. The 'mange' should come out as 'manye'. See how easy it is? There's a lot of old Danish in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Lancashire dialect. There's also a clue in West Essex and South Hertfordshire (the Lea Valley, where the Danes settled in the 10th Century), but only in pronunciation.


aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 4 years ago from American Southwest

I love this stuff! So, of Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and English and German, which is closer to which? What makes them separate languages, and how long ago were they just dialects and misspellings of each other? Then there's the whole other question of when will American English become a distinct language from English English, or is the Internet homogenizing English?


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

American English already is distinct, or you could say it's a 'dialect' with different words such as 'sidewalk' for pavement. 'Diner' is an American word for cafe of restaurant. As to the Scandinavian variations of Norse, Old West Norse is the tongue still spoken on the Faeroes and Iceland. Until the 16th Century Shetland and Orkney still used Old West Norse, after which they gradually learned Scots English. Norway's tongue is modern West Norse. Denmark and Sweden use East Norse, but their tongues are distinctly different to each other, with different spellings and different words. English monks converted the Norwegians, although Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf Haraldsson themselves were converted in Normandy and the Scilly Islands (off the coast of Cornwall) respectively. Both English and German monks were instrumental in the conversion of the Danes, and the Danish alphabet was influenced by their links with England. Sweden was converted (eventually) by German monks. The way the Swedes write is reminiscent of German as opposed to their western neighbours, whose spelling was more akin to English. Harald Fairhair's son Hakon was fostered by King Aethelstan of England, so there was that distinct link. The letter not shared with the English alphabet, such as the 'o' with the diagonal strike pronounced 'oe' (as in German 'o' with the 'umlaut'). There were letters both in English and Norse that vanished with the advent of the Gutenberg printing alphabet. There was a letter that stood for the 'silent g', and a letter that combined 's' and 'j' (as in the spelling of Shetland) that looked like an old lower case 'z' with a tail, so 'z' was used concurrently with 'sh' to spell the name. So whereas you have the isles of Shetland, originally 'Sjetland', the title of earl is that of Zetland (who owned swathes of land in North Yorkshire).

You have to ask yourself how far back did English become a language in its own right (before 1066) after being sub-dialects of Anglian and Saxon origin. As after Norman French was 'knitted' into English, the Anglian, Jutish and Saxon tongues were 'knitted'. Yet even in the 18th Century, before the standardisation of English Kentish folk and Londoners couldn't understand each other (neither certainly couldn't understand even people from Hertfordshire northward). The Scots learnt their English from the Northumbrians, hence the similarities in words like 'bairn' for child and 'lass' for girl.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Wow! I just sat and read all of them outloud to hear the sounds! isn't it amazing? I do remember when working for Ford I had to translate from a few languages using free translate, handy little gadget! lol! and we always ended the Letters that we wrote with the words, Thanks for helping, and I was suprised to see the norwegian and I think it was danish, the words were almost exactly alike for example:

Takk for Helpin, Tack fir Halpen and so on, sorry if the spelling is wrong, long time ago! lol!


SommerDalton profile image

SommerDalton 4 years ago

Wow! Great hub-very, very informative! Voted up, awesome, interesting, and useful!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Thanks Sommer. You might like to know I think your husband's family name has Yorkshire connections. There is Dalton Gates near Northallerton on the East Coast Main line, nearby is the village of Dalton on Tees on the A167, and when I was a 'bairn' (little lad) we lived in Dalton Road, Grangetown near Middlesbro'. There's also the actor Timothy Dalton who did one of the James Bond films.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 4 years ago from Dubai

Danish does sound tough, even if we know English. English has been influenced by other countries, an interesting read. Thanks for sharing all this information.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Vellur, although there's been a lot of input into English, the 'mechanics' are much as before the Normans, i.e., Anglian, Saxon and Danish. The nature of the language stems from its name, not Saxon, English (from Aenglisc, the 'sc' is pronounced as 'sh') is a sister tongue to Danish and Jutish - the Jutes were first to land 'by invitation' after the Romans left in order to 'police' the warring Celtic tribes and they settled in Kent and the Isle of Wight (Iuta = Jutes, then Wiht). Their neighbours were Saxon, West Seaxe, (Wessex), Suth Seaxe or South Saxons and Suthrige (Sussex and Surrey to the west, East Seaxe or East Saxons (Essex) to the north. The Angles took the east beyond the East Saxons, Mercia in the midlands and Northumbria from east to west Humber to Mersey northward to the boundary with the Picts (later Scots). Overlay that with the Danes in East Anglia, Eastern Mercia and Deira (Southern Northumbria) which later became the Kingdom of York. The Norman Conquest only added a 'veneer' to the language, with building, cooking and military terminology from the Frankish language. Latin was government, medicine and church, Greek came in later, during the Age of Enlightenment (17th Century) in mathematics, physics and technology.


daskittlez69 profile image

daskittlez69 3 years ago from midwest

This was an interesting read. I will have to look into learning some Danish. Most of my family is German, English and Native American. And both sides were originally Normans that came over with William the Conqueror. I tried learning German, but it didn't go as planned.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello again Scott. It's certainly easier than German/French. I tried Russian but although the grammar is simple the alphabet is the hurdle. The key to understanding Danish from an English-speaking point is to know some German as well, because both are linked.

Whenever I tried to converse with Germans in German I was given the same old answer, 'Deutsche Sprache, schwere Sprache'. Not much encouragement for multi-lingual exploration! I gather the French are just as dismissive. When I wrote off to the Danish newspaper 'Morgenavisen - Jyllands-posten' (The Morning Post) published in Aarhus, to say I wished to learn some collocquial Danish I was sent a couple of weekend papers, something like a hundred pages apiece aside from the attachments. How's that for encouragement?

(there are some interesting names on my mother's side, going down from Upper Saxony via Moravia, Hungary and Slovenia to Austria. Equally there's some interesting lineage on my Dad's side via Yorkshire, North Norfolk and Sussex. Lancasters started in NW England, so there's a double-dose of Norse - Norway and Denmark - as well as Lower Saxon).


Jemjoseph profile image

Jemjoseph 2 years ago

I've always wanted to be fluent in a foreign language, but french verb conjugation back in high school wasn't much fun. I figured a language with many English-like words might be a better option if I ever decided to venture into foreign languages. Danish sounds like a good option, unfortunately it's worldwide usage is very small. Good to know English and Danish share so many similarities though.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello again Jem. The grammar's not a lot more complicated than English, the vocabulary is the stumbling block. There are many words of one or two letters that bear no resemblance to either modern English or German, the 'modus operandi'. However as indicated above there are many more similarities.

If you knew 'Broad Yorkshire' (the dialect spoken in all three Ridings - there are three versions, some words that cross over from east to west or east to north) you'd have an even better understanding.

English has made several shifts since Old English, from the time before the Danes landed in the 9th C and through the Norman Conquest, Angevin and Plantagenet eras to the time of Chaucer, Tudor to the time of Shakespeare and Georgian at the time of Dr Johnson.

They've all added their 'bits', and now the Oxford English Dictionary gets peppered with more bits in common use, 'newspeak' included.

The Danish is still there, though, in the woodpile with the trolls ('trolder', don't pronounce the 'd' after an 'l').

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