Dialect and Happiness

Danes are the happiest people in the world.

The Danish language sounds pretty awful.

Both of these statements tend to pop up when you discuss Danishness with foreigners, and at least one of them is wrong.

As every Dane knows, the Danish language is home to a host of different dialects, and the only awful one is Københavnsk. This cacophony of schmuckness can be heard rolling of the tongues of people born in the capital region, if you should ever be lucky enough to meet them. And by lucky I really mean lucky, because as every Dane also knows, everyone living in Copenhagen moved there from Jutland or Funen, and despite sounding schmuck, the local københavnere are some of the nicest people around… if they do in fact exist, that is.

This is not just something I am making up by the way, the thing about dialects. People have studied this stuff. I mention this mainly to have a go at københavnere, but also in order to point out that you should not judge people by the way they talk, but by what they say. Actually, it would probably be even better if you could manage to judge people by what they mean by what they say, rather than by what they actually say, but this can be quite tricky. Especially so when you encounter Danes for the first time who only seem to complain about the weather. I’ll get back to that. The important thing right now is that the study I mentioned also showed that a majority of Danes agreed that I, and my fellow Fynboere (i.e. people from the island of Funen), had the most beautiful of all the Danish dialects. Go,Fyn!

In Taldansk Online we actually encourage our Danish volunteers not to downplay their dialect when having online conversations. Unless they are from Sønderjylland of course. No one has ever understood a word of sønderjysk… including sønderjyderneI bet. The reason we encourage people to employ their dialect (to a normal, reasonable amount of cause) is that the online conversations are supposed to prepare you for real-life encounters with real-life Danes, and they all speak different dialects. Legend even has it that some Danes are born and raised in the capital region, and that these creatures champion a particularly hideous variation of this noble tongue. No matter what type of dialect you encounter, it is our mission to make sure that you are prepared. Unless you go to Sønderjylland of course. Then you’re on your own.

It’s quite astounding, actually, that such a varied array of dialects is contained within such a tiny nation, just as it is quite surprising how Danes tend to top the happiness index when all they seem to use their dialectically diverse language for is complaining about the weather. They say that the indigenous people of Greenland have forty-something words for snow (they are wrong by the way), and sometimes I wonder how many ways of complaining about stuff Danes might have. It seems to be a lot. Maybe that’s the key to happiness. Complain all the time. Expect the worst. If your expectations are met, then at least you were right, if not, even better. Another reason Danes like to talk about the weather is that we can be quite private people, and by focusing on the weather, we conveniently avoid any uncomfortably private subject matter. So the next time a Dane complains to you about the weather just remember that, whatever dialect he speaks, he is trying to be polite, and he is preparing both of you to be happy.


F*** you, Clouds!



One thought on “Dialect and Happiness

  1. “The reason we encourage people to employ their dialect (to a normal, reasonable amount of cause) is that the online conversations are supposed to prepare you for real-life encounters with real-life Danes, and they all speak different dialects.”

    As a former language teacher myself I don’t actually agree with this statement – especially in Denmark. The variation in dialect across Denmark is so vast that learning one could seriously hinder your conversation with someone from another part of the country. You only need to observe the phenomenon of Danish subtitles added to Danish movies and television to understand that Danes themselves are struggling to understand one another.
    One is much better off learning something like Copenhagen Danish then acquiring a dialect and adopting the local slang if/when one moves elsewhere in Denmark. At least with Copenhagen Danish you will be understood in most places; a bit like the Queen’s English.
    Currently I’m studying at a local Danish language school which tends to teach in the local dialect. My husband who is from Copenhagen (and his mother who used to teach Danish back in the day) are besides themselves due to the slang and pronunciation we are being taught.
    I find watching the news presenters often speak in lovely Danish – a Danish I can understand and build on, not the ‘drunk’ Danish so often being taught.

    Just my view.


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