I have set myself a language challenge. I will work through basic introductory language courses on Danish, Swedish and Norwegian, working each day on one of the languages. I’ve picked these languages because:
- I first started looking at these 3 languages (together with several other languages) around 45 years ago when I first got into learning languages. But I didn’t work through them fully at the time and since then have looked at them only intermittently and briefly, usually just before short holidays or work trips. So I have retained only a basic and passive knowledge.
- I have usually found it easy to reacquire knowledge quickly. Ironically, this ease of re-acquisition has proved to be a barrier to acquiring a more lasting knowledge. I hope that working on them systematically and in parallel will ingrain my knowledge more deeply.
- Although the three languages are similar, there are some interesting differences.
I started today with Danish. I am using Danish in Three Months (1998), published by Dorling Kindersley under the Hugo imprint. This book contains a brief introduction, a guide to pronunciation (and spelling), 12 chapters, a key to the exercises, a list of irregular verbs, a vocabulary of about and an index. The book contains 237 pages and is laid out clearly and attractively, with plenty of white space.
The Danish alphabet contains the 26 letters used in English, plus:
- Å (pronounced when short like English o in hot and when long like o in English Oh!)
- Æ (pronounced like the vowel in English bed or, in some words, particularly before r, somewhat like English tray)
- Ø (pronounced like German ö or French eu, as in peu).
An é (e with a grave accent) appears in a few words to indicate only that the e is stressed, to distinguish it from unstressed e.
The vowels are pronounced broadly as in German or French (though naturally with some differences in detail). In general, the vowels are much shorter than English vowels. Vowels may be short or long. They are always short before a double consonant and almost always long before a single consonant followed by another vowel.
Several consonants are pronounced broadly as in English, but the following consonants require more attention:
- d and g are often softened (to sounds like English th and k/y respectively) and are often barely perceptible. d is always silent before t, and after l, n and r, and is often silent before s: eg godt [got]; ild [eel]; mand [man’]; jord [yord]
- ng is always pronounced as ng in English sing, not as in English finger.
- c is pronounced as in English sit
- h is silent before v and j, eg: hjælb; hvilken
- j is generally like English Y, but in words borrowed from English is occasionally like English j in jungle. Occasionally like English sh in shell in words of foreign origin.
- k is sounded before n, eg: knive, Knud
- r is ‘slightly gutteral, like Scottish r’. It is almost silent at the end of of a word or syllable.
- s is always unvoiced (like English sit, not like English rise)
- v as in English, except that it is almost like a vowel (u) when it follows a vowel. Usually silent at the end of a syllable, eg: tolv [tol’], halv [hal’]
- q, w, x and s are rare, and mostly used in words of foreign origin. w is pronounced like English v and z is pronounced like English z.
A distinctive feature of Danish pronunciation is the stød . According to Hartmut Haberland in chapter 10 Danish of The Germanic Languages (Ekkehard König and Johan van der Auwera,1994), the stød (literally push, or thrust) resembles a glottal stop pronounced at the same time as a long vowel, or as a short vowel followed by a sonorant.