History of the Danish Language

The Beginning of Danish

The Danish language stemmed from a common Germanic language. In the 8th century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia, Proto-Norse, went through a number of changes and, soon enough, became Old Norse. This language began to experience new changes that did not reach every part of Scandinavia. This development caused the emergence of two related dialects. These dialects included Old West Norse (Norway and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Denmark and Sweden).

Today, around 6 million people speak Danish as their native tongue. Currently, most of these speakers reside in Denmark. Danish is also considered a minority language in Germany as nearly 50,000 Danes in Germany still commonly use it. It is also an official language in the Danish territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands and is taught in schools in Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

Old East Norse and Runic Danish

The Danish language shares much of its roots with Swedish. This is because they both have evolved from the East Nordic group of dialects. In Sweden, Old East Norse is called Runic Swedish. In east Denmark, it is called Runic Danish. Before the 12th century, the dialect was generally the same in the two countries. These dialects are called runic due to the fact that the main body of text appears in the runic alphabet. The runic alphabets are a set of similar alphabets that use letters called runes to write a variety of Germanic languages. Different than Proto-Norse (written with the Elder Futhark alphabet), Old Norse was used with the Younger Futhark alphabet. This alphabet only consisted of 16 letters.

At one point in time, Old East Norse was commonly spoken in the northeast parts of England. There are numerous surviving words from Norse such as "gate" (gade) for street. These words are still in use in Yorkshire and the East Midlands (parts of eastern England) that were colonized by Danish Vikings. Long ago, the city of York was the Viking settlement of Jorvik. Many other English words also come from Old East Norse. Examples of these are "knife" (kniv), "husband" (husbond), "call" (kalde) and "egg" (æg).

The suffix "-by" for 'town' is popular in regards to the names of places in Yorkshire and the East Midlands. These places include Selby, Whitby, Derby and Grimsby. The word dale in Yorkshire and Derbyshire is usually used instead of the word valley.

Danish Today

Currently, Danish is not as common throughout the world but still an important language. Interestingly enough, in Denmark itself there is no law specifying an official language. This means that Danish does not have official status there. In spite of this, Danish is not under threat in Denmark. Although it has no official status in Denmark it has been well established in law as the official language of the courts. Many still wonder why Danish has not been proclaimed as the official language of the country.

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