The Danish Writing System

The History of Danish Writing

The oldest existing pieces of written Danish are in the Runic alphabet. These date back to the Iron and Viking Ages. The Latin alphabet emerged into Denmark with the introduction of Christianity and at the end of the High Middle Ages. At this point, the Latin letters had mostly replaced the Runes. The first written work of Danish literature was Gesta Danorum (History of the Danes). Saxo Grammaticus created this piece in Latin around 1200. Gesta Danorum tells the history of Denmark until 1186. It also contains Danish versions (in a rather Christianized way) of Scandinavian myths and sagas. The piece included the first version of the Hamlet story.

Fraktur Types

Similar to Germany, the Fraktur types were popular in Denmark at the end of 19th century. Danur letters weren’t introduced in school until 1875. Fraktur is a calligraphic hand along with any of many black-letter typefaces that come from this hand. Many books have been printed with Fraktur typesetting (even in the beginning of the 20th century). Conservatives have predominantly created these books. In spite of this, modernists also used the Latin alphabet. Nouns were capitalized (much like German) until the spelling reform, in 1948.

The Danish Spelling Reform

Danish is written using the Latin alphabet, with three added letters. These letters are æ, ø, and å and come (in that order) at the end of the Danish alphabet. A spelling reform in 1948 brought about the letter å. This letter was previously used in Norwegian and Swedish and was introduced into the Danish alphabet as a substitute for the letter aa. The previous usage of the letter still appears in certain personal and geographical names and old documents.

An example of this would be the name of the city of Aalborg, which is spelled with Aa because of a decision by the City Council in the 1970s). Aa acts just like å in regards to the alphabet (despite it looking like it is two letters). Because of certain technical restrictions, these letters are sometimes not available (in URLs for example). When this occurs, ae (Æ, æ), oe or o (Ø, ø), and aa (Å, å) are used instead.

The spelling reform, in 1948, brought about changes in regards to the spelling of certain popular words. These words included the past tense vilde (would), kunde (could) and skulde (should). They were then changed to their current forms of ville, kunne and skulle (this made them the same as the infinitives in writing, as they are in speech). The spelling reform also abolished the practice of capitalizing all nouns. Capitalizing nouns is still done in German. The same alphabet is used in current Danish and Norwegian use, though spelling varies slightly.


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