A couple of days ago, my fellow blogger Stefan talked about the etymology of different words in Danish. Being a bit of a language geek myself, this kind of information is right up my street. I’m fascinated by the interrelationship and development of different languages, and I enjoy discovering examples of one language’s influence on another.
As a French speaker, one of the things I have noticed whilst learning Danish is, as Stefan pointed out, the number of words that have a French influence. Words like paraply (umbrella), elev (school pupil), roman (novel), billet (ticket) and niveau (level) are all difficult-to-guess words for English speakers…unless you happen to speak French as well, in which case they’re easy-peasy!
I have also been helped with my understanding of various grammatical rules in Danish, such as the concept of agreeing adjectives (for example, using the right choice of smuk, smukt or smukke), or using have or være to form the past tense according to the verb that follows (i.e. it’s jeg HAR spist but jeg ER kommet) by my knowledge of French, which has similar language patterns.
As well as this, the fact that English, like Danish, is part of the Germanic language branch (English is West Germanic, Danish is North Germanic) has been really helpful for my comprehension of numerous other items of vocabulary, as well as assisting my general understanding of Danish sentence construction, which on the whole is pretty similar to English.
Between them, I think that my knowledge of French and English have been extremely helpful for my Danish language studies, and have helped me to ‘hack’ Danish that little bit quicker than might otherwise be the case. According to Stefan’s article, it seems that if only I spoke German too, I’d be laughing!
Some examples of similarities between Danish and other languages
What about you? I wonder if you have also found your native or second languages a helpful influence in any way whilst learning Danish.
Whilst we’re on the subject of language hacking, I’ve just finished watching the third series of The Bridge (and can I just state for the record here that I thought Henrik was an excellent replacement for Martin! Please let there be a fourth series…). One of the basic tenets of this show is that the Danish and Swedish police can work together so easily because they can keep talking their own languages and still understand each other. (According to this article from Wikipedia, mind, it appears that it’s the Malmö and København police in particular, rather than the Swedish and Danish police in general, that might have this facility for working with each other.)
This series, my level of Danish, although still fairly basic, was developed enough to be able to start spotting some of the similarities between the two languages – for example, the Danish jeg gik til dit hus (I went to your house) becomes the Swedish ‘jag gick till ditt hus’. So similar! And not only that, I did a little research and it appears that the same phrase in Norwegian is ‘jeg dro til huset ditt’. A little more different but still recognisably similar. All of which makes me feel that, although I’m currently learning Danish, my studies might also eventually end up giving me a handy head-start on any future Swedish and/or Norwegian studies – giving me, in effect, a sort of three-for-one deal on my current efforts!
So, with the new year upon us tomorrow, I think that this is a good thought to keep in mind for the year ahead. We may be studying Danish at the moment, and it may be tricky sometimes (or even often!), but the time and effort we put into it now will eventually reward us with the fluency we seek…and, as a bonus, the ability to understand a fair amount of Swedish and Norwegian into the bargain.
On that note, may I finish by taking this opportunity to wish a godt nytår til alle / gott nytt år till alla / godt nytt år til alle*!
(* The Danish / Swedish / Norwegian for ‘happy new year to everyone’)