English no threat to Danish

Danish is among world’s sturdiest languages and can withstand the influx of English words, experts say


Even though Danish is sandwiched between Bhili and Minangkabau in terms of number of native speakers – don’t worry, say experts: Danish will be alive and kicking long after thousands of other languages die off.

In parliament, on panels and in the press in recent years there has been lots of fretting over how much English has snuck into DaneÂ’s everyday language, through television and radio programs, and into the very names of official Danish organisations.

The Danish People’s Party has featured at the fretting forefront – demanding that immigrants achieve higher scores on Danish language exams and complaining that Denmark’s hair-geled contestants in the last Melodi Grand Prix music competition sang – for søren! – in English.

But the worriers can relax. Danish is a hardy language and shows no signs of disappearing any time soon.

Danish stands within the top 100 languages with the most native speakers, but “counted in terms of muscle, Danish lies within the top 20 of the world’s strongest languages,” Ole Stig Andersen, the editor of sprogmuseet.dk, told Politiken newspaper.

Adam Hyllested, a language researcher at the University of Copenhagen, agreed.

“Danish is among the worldÂ’s strongest languages, because it is a national language. And because almost everyone who grows up here, has Danish for their native tongue.”

Languages mainly go extinct in societies where several minor languages are spoken and different languages are used for different contexts. In contrast, Danish dominates almost every context of Danish life – even if English is also widely used on the side.

“Danish is also powerful, because the Army and the Navy are commanded in Danish, parliament conducts its business in Danish, the education system works in Danish, and the media speak and write in Danish,” said Jens Normann Jørgensen, professor in Danish at the University of Copenhagen. Jørgensen says those things give Danish status and clout throughout Danish society, and indeed the EU.

“The Catalans in Spain don’t have a fully built-out educational system or an army, even though in terms of number of speakers [Catalan] corresponds to Danish,” he added.

Danish has staying-power because its native speakers value it highly, said Hyllested. But that could also change in the future, he warned, if Danes themselves start using too much English in high-status contexts.

“But we could worry about the status of [Danish] decreasing, and the so-called domain-loss to English at the universities and in the biggest workplaces is a sign of that. Because the domain-losses are exactly in those places that have the highest status,” he said.

As an illustration, Hyllested pointed to the city of Aarhus changing its spelling from ‘Århus’ to ‘Aarhus’ to make it easier for the rest of the world – without Danish keyboards – to find it on the internet.

“The excuse for that sort of thing is often that it’s just practical, but it also has to do with status and the signals that are given,” said Hyllested.

Approximately two of the worldÂ’s approximately 6,000 world languages die out every month, because children are learning regional or national languages instead of their parentsÂ’ native tongues, in order to gain better access to education and work, reports Politiken.

With only a few hundred nation-states in the world versus approximately 6,000 languages, it is clear that the majority of the worldÂ’s languages are spoken by minorities or tribes.

By the year 2100, it is estimated that half of the world’s languages will have disappeared, and three-fourths of the ones that remain will be threatened with extinction. In other words, in just 90 years only about 600 of the world’s languages will still be solidly anchored. Swedish, Norwegian – and, yes, Danish – are expected to be among them.

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