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the official language of Denmark, belonging to the North Germanic branch of the Indo-European family
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the language of the Danes and the official language of Denmark. Danish is spoken by more than 5 million people (1970 estimate). Between the 16th and 19th centuries Danish was also the official and written language of Norway. Danish belongs to the Scandinavian (North Germanic) subgroup of the Germanic group of languages. Three periods are distinguished in the history of the Danish language: Common Scandinavian, the parent language (third to ninth centuries); Old Danish (ninth to 16th centuries); and New Danish (16th to 20th centuries), including Modern Danish (20th century).

The oldest records in Danish, which were written in Danish runic script, date to the ninth century, when features distinguishing Old Danish from the rest of the Scandinavian languages began to appear; diphthongs shifted to monophthongs (tenth century); the “Danish consonant shift” occurred; consonant length disappeared; the stød appeared, replacing musical stress (12th and 13th centuries); the four-case declensional system was replaced by a two-case system, and the three-gender system became a two-gender system; verbs ceased to be conjugated for persons; and the vocabulary became enriched with loanwords, especially from Middle Low German (13th and 14th centuries). As a result of the Reformation, the area in which Danish was spoken expanded, and this had a great effect on its development. Verbs ceased to be inflected for number, the modern word order became fixed, compound sentence syntax developed, and the vocabulary was further enriched by borrowings from German, English, and French. The modern Danish literary language had taken its basic shape by the 18th century. Danish dialects are divided into three main groups—Jutland (northeastern and southwestern), Island Danish (Sjælland, Fyn, etc.), and Eastern Danish (Bornholm, Skåne, etc.). The Danish literary language originated from the Sjælland dialects.

Modern Danish, which is ranked among those languages having an analytic structure, is characterized phonetically by the presence of long and short vowel phonemes (ten pairs). Consonants are only short. All voiceless obstruents are classed as aspirated (p, t, k) and unaspirated (b, d. g). Stress is dynamic (usually falling on the root syllable). Danish also has a st0d (a form of ejective emphasis of a sound). Grammatically, nouns have common and neuter gender, singular and plural number, common and genitive case, and an article, which can be a separate word (indefinite and free definite article) and part of a word (suffixal definite article). Adjectives are not declined, but they agree with the dependent word in gender and number. Personal pronouns have a subjective and objective case. The earlier genitive case forms (third person) function only as possessive pronouns. Verbs have two simple and six compound tense forms, active and passive voice (analytical and inflectional form), and indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods. The verb is not inflected for person and number. The sentence is characterized by binomiality and specific positioning of the principal members—the subject and predicate. Word formation is accomplished by suffixation of nouns and adjectives, by prefixation of verbs and nouns, and by nominal and verbal compounding. The writing system is based on the Latin alphabet.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.