- Eva Skafte JensenEva Skafte JensenDanish Language Board
Danish is a North Germanic language, spoken by approximately 6 million people. Genealogically, it is related to the other Germanic languages, in particular the other North Germanic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese), but also, for example, German, Dutch, and English; typologically, Modern Danish is closer to Norwegian and Swedish than to any other language.
Historically deriving from Proto-Germanic, Danish morphology once had three grammatical genders (the masculine, the feminine, and the neuter) and case inflection (nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive) in all nominal words; it also had inflection for mood, tense, number, and person in the verbal conjugations. In Modern Standard Danish, much of the traditional nominal and verbal inflection has disappeared. Instead, other kinds of morphosyntactic constructions and structures have emerged. Middle Danish and Modern Danish are typologically very different languages. One of the structural innovations linked to the typological change is that a syntactic subject becomes obligatory in Danish sentences. Correlated to this, Danish develops expletive constructions with det ‘it’ and der ‘there’. Another important point differentiating Middle Danish from Modern Danish concerns agreement. Traditional Indo-European agreement (verbal as well as nominal) has receded in favor of more fixed word order, both on the sentence level and internally within phrases. As part of this, Modern Danish has developed a set of definite and indefinite articles. The traditional three genders are reduced to two (common and neuter) and have developed new syntactic-semantic functions alongside the traditional lexically distributed functions. In the verbal systems, Danish makes use of two different kinds of passive voice (a periphrastic and an inflected one), which carry different meanings, and also of two different auxiliaries in perfective constructions, that is, have ‘have’ and være ‘be’, the latter doubling as an auxiliary in periphrastic passive constructions. Perfective constructions are made up by an auxiliary and the supine form of the main verb. Danish is a V2-language with a relatively fixed word order, often depicted in the form of the so-called sentence frame, a topological model designed specifically for Danish. Like most other Germanic languages, Danish has a rich set of modal particles.
All these morphosyntactic features, Danish shares with Swedish and Norwegian, but the distribution is not completely identical in the three languages, something that makes the Mainland Scandinavian languages an interesting study object to the typologically interested linguist. Exclusive for Danish is the so-called stød, a suprasegmental prosodic feature, used as a distinctive feature.
Modern Danish is strongly standardized with only little of the traditional dialectal variation left. From the end of the 20th century, in the larger cities, new sociolects have emerged, that is, multi-ethnolects. The new multi-ethnolects are based on a substrate of Danish with lexical features from the languages of Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In addition to the lexical innovations, the multi-ethnolects are characteristic in intonation patterns different from Standard Danish, and they have morphosyntactic features different from Standard Danish, for example, in word order and in the use of gender.
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