From Norwegian to Danish Language

I know many people say that Norwegian and Danish language are the same, or like my two teachers in Danish language and Danish history and culture class “jokingly” said and think that Norwegians stole their language. Despite the claim that Danish and Norwegian are similar, it’s not simply easy to switch between the two, especially for a non-native Nordic speaker like me who just passed Norwegian level 1. The fact that Norway and Denmark share close border and culture do not make their languages alike per se, particularly to the extremely different pronunciation which the two countries used, and some unusual expressions.


In June 2012, I started my first level of Norwegian language, a 6-weeks, 5 times a week, 4 hours per day, intensive class at International Summer School University of Oslo. Plus, plenty of cultural events which the university held, such as field trip, in Norwegian, to Hallingdal and other Norwegian spirit things. I also took another course that gave me more exposure to Norwegian state system: Norwegian Life and Society. Not to mention me living in a small city of Årnes with a Norwegian family (my husband’s family), in the middle of farmland, forest, and where the biggest river in Norway (Glomma river) laid beautifully in front of my bed room’s window. In addition, I also experienced my first (and hopefully my last) Norwegian style wedding which involved only 15 minutes simple civil-marriage in front of the judge at Tinghus (court/ small parliamentary house). These whole events, including my two previous visits to Norway in 2010 and 2011, were more than enough to drill my Norwegian language in beginner’s level. Although I know, I never really have a problem in learning new language (except Chinese and I don’t know why), one thing that I realized: profound love to particular culture and people will expedite my proficiency of certain language. Surrounded my self with Norwegian history, life, and culture, indeed has made me fall in love with Norway; my husband even introduced me to his friend as a person who loves Norway more than himself – in a joking way. As the result I nailed A in my Norwegian language course this year, and B for my Norwegian Life and Society. The second course was not mandatory and due to hectic preparation for my wedding in July, I had to skip 4 out of 11 lessons of Norwegian and Society. Bad…but still B was not so bad 🙂

Norwegian language involves a lot of singing rhythm; singing as if they pull certain part in the word longer and in an exciting way. Norwegians also pronouns the letter R in a bold rolling way, which is not so hard as my native language of Indonesian, and some Arabic and Spanish in me, also roll the same R. They also tend to say the words exactly as in the written language (not all, but almost), and spell the alphabet like roman alphabet – not like english alphabet. For example a letter A will be spelled [aa] like in the first mouth opening in saying “Auction”. Some Norwegians also smile when they speak, still… being in a north cold place, smiling and being warm are not considered as favorite things to do, but i noticed some of them do smile when speaking….so it’s still nice.

There are two written languages in Norway: Bokmål and NyNorsk. Bokmål was developed earlier, maybe since the 16th hundreds, where the absence of university in Norway caused many Norwegians scholars spent their education time in Denmark (Norway was under union of Denmark for 400 years and some more years with Sweden due to the wars between Denmark and Sweden which caused the country had to be handed over and over; union sometimes being thought as the same as province or part of the country, but technically Norway always seemed to be a subordinate among strong kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden).

The development of Bokmål started from Danish language, which evolved into Dano-Norwegian, and to Riksmaal (which is usually spoken among Danish Royal family) and finally to a Norwegian language. So the Bokmål, which adaptation was introduced by Knud Knudsen system, was originally developed from Danish with a lot of modifications and exceptions. For example many words which use letter “g” in Danish such as “bruger” (use) are replaced with “k” in Norwegian, becoming “bruker” (use).

The second written language is named NyNorsk, developed in 17-18th centuries during national romanticism era (inspired by the European enlightenment which involves a lot of nationalism, freedom, and non monarchical union feeling). Many Norwegians back then believed that, being free and no longer a member of the union, a sovereign nation had to have its own original language. NyNorsk was developed as a collection of Norwegian dialects from the north in the polar region down to south-east of Norway. It has closer relation with the original dialects of many provinces in Norway. The western part (such as Bergen) to the north of Norway still use NyNorsk, while the capital region of Oslo and its southeast and central Norway mainly use Bokmål as a written language.


Since my husband has to continue his study in Denmark, I followed him as well because my permit in EU is based on his existence. Earlier I though that coping with Danish language won’t be that hard as I have an intro in Norwegian. However, my first week trying my Norwegian in Copenhagen was a total failure, though I have to admit that speaking Norwegian language at first place gives some aid-kit in learning Danish 😀

Danish language is famous with its glottal stop and resting points. Glottal stop is a term used when a Danish holds the air/breath while saying a word or a phrase. And resting points, are parts of words/ phrase which are emphasized, so that they sound more important. Consequently, these two combination makes Danish sounds like a rap song, another form of singing :). For example the word “kommer” (come) will be said as “kommer” in Norwegian, without stop during the say and clear R. However in Danish the same word will be said as “ko'(m)me(r)” with the hold breath right after the part “ko-” and light “m” as the first m after the stop is sucked in to the glottal stop…and silent “r” with only a mouth that shapes the letter “r”.

Another popular example of a combination of glottal stop and resting point can be studied from the word “København” (Copenhagen), which is said as “Københa’vn” [Koben[ha’wn]]. The first part of “Koben-” is said in a fast, like a snap of fingers, way, that it almost sounds like “Kown-“. Start from the part -“ha’vn”, the emphasizing begins with glottal stop after “-ha”. Often when the Copenhageners speak really fast, the only thing I could hear from this word is only “ha’vn”, so open your ears wide apart :P.

Danish language also has a unique way of counting. Some two digits numbers are mentioned from the last digit and followed by the first one. The most bizarre thing is when the Danes started to count 50 and onward because they use the expression of 2 1/2 x 20 = 50, and 70 as 3 1/2 x 20 = 70, etc. Sounds like the Danes are very good in math. I will blog about it more. 🙂

I thank the Danish government for generously offering free Danish course for the next three years. The Danish government wants immigrants to be able to function in the Danish society, and language is one of the most important one (most Danes speak English fluently, but as cases in many non-English speaking countries, they prefer and more comfortable to speak in their own language). Currently, I am enrolled in intensive Danish 1A Level 3 at one of the biggest language schools in Copenhagen, IA Sprog. With the government support for immigrants in Denmark, a Danish history and culture class is also offered for about three months. This later class has so far ignited my interest in Danish historical and contemporary issues. From Christiansborg where the government located to Christiania where freedom from capitalism are shouted, Danish history and culture class brings me closer to understand my new home and neighborhood. My husband and I also constantly watch Danish TV series, Borgen, which depicts the political situation in Denmark. I should say that TV series help me a lot in getting used to listen a fast pace of speaking Danish and the glottal stop.

Every Wednesday, i also go to Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship/ Copenhagen Business School, just to get to know business ideas around Denmark and reminisce my world of entrepreneurship back in Indonesia. Topped with Politiken, one of the biggest newspaper in Denmark (quiet leftish) and Copenhagen Post, I keep myself informed about the news around me. My favorite news about wind power in Denmark (yes, they are one of the biggest sustainable energy consumers and producers), has smoothed my conversation with a recruiter from DONG energy, one of the largest energy companies here; I’m going to send the my CV as i am very ambitious working with renewable energy source…hope DONG will like me and wish me luck!

All of these environments should be enough as a starter pack to immerse more into Danish language and culture. They are not enough as there are more jobs to find, and more volunteering activities to do here, but within a month, all things i mentioned above are good enough as stepping stones in a Danish world. Copenhagen already makes me smile, and I am sure I will love Danish language too.


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