There are only around six million native Danish speakers in Europe, and yet it's one of the most unique and versatile Germanic languages around today. Danish words derive from a variety of different cultures, and Danish vocabulary has much more in common with English than most people realize. Because of this, visitors to Denmark often find the language is much less intimidating than they expect, and Danish is both fascinating and somehow familiar.

The Origins of Danish Vocabulary

The Danish language as we know it today originated when Old Norse split into an East and West dialect, and then Old Norse East further split into Danish and Swedish. While Old Norse is still the root of the language, a large percentage of Danish words are borrowed from German and French due to how widespread those languages became around the 17th century. Modern Danish is actually heavily influenced by English, just like many European languages, and English speakers can sometimes spot what a word means in Danish just by looking at it. But it might surprise you that way back in medieval times, this influence actually went the other way. Danish was a huge influence on Old English, and common English words like are, they, have, for, over, and under come directly from Danish words. It's quite an interesting fact to keep in mind when native English speakers are attempting to learn Danish. You're actually learning where English itself comes from!


What to Understand About Danish Vocabulary

If you've ever heard anything read in Old English, you have probably heard Danish pronunciations. The change in the way vowels are pronounced happened between the 14th and 18th centuries, but Danish pronunciations stayed similar to medieval times because of the Danish accent and tendency to slur soft consonants. If you take a look at Danish vocabulary, you'll find a long list of words that are identical or very similar to English: time, land, ring, varm, vind, kold - just to name a few. Yet the pronunciations and sometimes the meanings are slightly different, starting with the v sound for the w. It's also important to remember Danish vocabulary is chiefly Germanic and based around the same principles as Norwegian and Swedish, including forming compound words. Danish in particular often uses an extra s or an extra e to distinguish a joined word, which can make them much easier to identify.

When you immerse yourself in Danish vocabulary, you're not only studying a unique European language, you're studying the origin of English itself. The divergence of western languages is a really interesting subject, but learning how to hold conversations on the streets of Copenhagen is just as great of a goal. There's no reason not to jump right in.

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