Challenges facing Danish as a medium-sized
speech community – with a focus on Copenhagen
Marie Maegaard
Associate professor
Department of Dialectology & the Lanchart Centre
University of Copenhagen
[email protected]
Denmark and Copenhagen
Population in Denmark: 5,500,000
Covers an area of 43.000 km2
Population in greater Copenhagen:
1,700,000
Language: Danish
Danish as a foreign language is taught
in Greenland, the Faroe Islands and
in Iceland
The Danish state: From absolute monarchy to
democracy
In 1660 the king Frederik III declared Denmark an absolute
monarchy
 A very centralised power in Copenhagen
 The language of the capital became the prestige norm, the
“rigsmål”
The “almueskolelov” (law for school for the poor) (1814) meant that
all children in Denmark could and should attend school, at least for a
certain period of time.
 This created a much larger group of literate persons in Denmark,
and the literacy produced standard norms, norms of the “rigsmål”
 Up through the 19th and 20th century local dialects disappeared as
people began to speak the standard language, the “rigsmål”
In Copenhagen
Two varieties: High Copenhagen
and Low Copenhagen
The city grew increasingly but on
limited space, and became more
and more densely populated
Finally, in the 1850s, the fortification earthworks of the city
came down and the city expanded quickly into the surrounding
areas
In 1849 the king Frederik VII gave over the governing power to
the people and the democratic ”grundlov” was accepted as the
basic laws on which Danish society should be governed 
constitutional monarchy
By the mid/end of the 19th century the two varieties stood as
strong as ever, but since then the distinction between them has
diminished
Copenhagen 2010
Definitions of ‘Dane’, ‘immigrant’ and ‘descendant’ – according to the
official Danish authorities
“A person is Danish if at least one parent has Danish citizenship and is born in
Denmark. Thus, it is of no importance whether the person him/herself has
Danish citizenship or is born in Denmark.
If the person is not Danish, the person in question is:
-
Immigrant, if the person is born abroad.
Descendant, if the person is born in Denmark
It is apparent from the above that an immigrant is a foreigner born abroad,
while a descendant is a foreigner born in Denmark.
It is also apparent that it is of no importance to the statistical definition,
whether foreigners hold Danish citizenship or not. Consequently, immigrants
and descendants remain immigrants and descendants, respectively, even if
they gain Danish citizenship.”
(The Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs, 2009: 41)
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Immigration to Denmark
(Source: The Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs, 2009)
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Age of ‘Danes’, ‘Immigrants’ and ‘Descendants’
(Source: The Ministry of Refugee, Immigration and Integration Affairs, 2009)
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Immigrants from
“non-Western”
countries
Languages spoken in Copenhagen
abkhasian - akan (fante and twi) - albanian - amharic - arabic armenian - assyrian – azerbadjanian - azeri - bahdini - bambara
- bengali - berberic - bosnian - bulgarian - burmese – chin danish - dari - edo - english - esperanto - estonian - farsi finnish - french - frisian - fulfulde (peul) - faroese – georgian greek - gujarati - hakka - hassaniya - hausa - hebrew - hindi dutch - belarussian - igbo - indonesian - irish - icelandic - italian
- japanese - cabylic -catalan - khazaki - khmer - kikongo kirundi - korean - krio – croatian - kurmanji (kurdish) - lettish lingala - litauisk - luganda - mandarin - makedonsk – malinké mandinka - min - moldavian - nepalesian - norwegian - oromo
(galla) - pashto – polareskimoic - polish - portuguese - punjabi
- rohinga - romani - rumanian - russian - serbian - sindhi singhalesian - slovaki - slovenian - somali - soninké - sorani sorbic - spanish - swedish - susu - swahili - tagalog - tamil tatarish - thai - tigré - tigrinya - czech - turkmenian - twi turkish - german - ukrainian - hungarian - urdu - uzbekian westgreenlandic - vietnamese - wolof - wu - yue - zaza –
eastgreenlandic
(After Risager 2009)
Languages spoken in Copenhagen
abkhasian - akan (fante and twi) - albanian - amharic - arabic armenian - assyrian – azerbadjanian - azeri - bahdini - bambara
- bengali - berberic - bosnian - bulgarian - burmese – chin danish - dari - edo - english - esperanto - estonian - farsi finnish - french - frisian - fulfulde (peul) - faroese – georgian greek - gujarati - hakka - hassaniya - hausa - hebrew - hindi dutch - belarussian - igbo - indonesian - irish - icelandic - italian
- japanese - cabylic -catalan - khazaki - khmer - kikongo kirundi - korean - krio – croatian - kurmanji (kurdish) - lettish lingala - litauisk - luganda - mandarin - makedonsk – malinké mandinka - min - moldavian - nepalesian - norwegian - oromo
(galla) - pashto – polareskimoic - polish - portuguese - punjabi
- rohinga - romani - rumanian - russian - serbian - sindhi singhalesian - slovaki - slovenian - somali - soninké - sorani sorbic - spanish - swedish - susu - swahili - tagalog - tamil tatarish - thai - tigré - tigrinya - czech - turkmenian - twi turkish - german - ukrainian - hungarian - urdu - uzbekian westgreenlandic - vietnamese - wolof - wu - yue - zaza –
eastgreenlandic
(After Risager 2009)
Ideology and mother-tongue teaching
In December 2003 the EU parliament discussed a report from
the EU Centre for Observation of Racism (EUMC), that criticised
the Danish government for abandoning the law that ensures
children from non-EU countries free mother-tongue education.
The minister of education responded to this:
“It hasn’t been clearly proven that mother-tongue teaching
leads to better integration. I think it is the job for the public
school in Denmark to teach the children Danish. That is the
language that we speak in Denmark, and it gives the pupils the
best opportunities for succeeding both academically and
socially”
Mother-tongue teaching in Copenhagen
At the institutional level, the City Council states:
The Municipality of Copenhagen recommends mother-tongue
teaching because it supports the identity development of the
child and the acquisition of the additional academic and
linguistic knowledge in school. Mother-tongue education is an
offer for every bilingual pupil from 1st to 9th grade.
At the moment, the Municipality of Copenhagen offers mothertongue education in the following languages:
Albanian, Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Finnish, French, Faroese, Greek,
Icelandic, Italian, Chinese, Kurdish, Lithuanian, Polish,
Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Somali, Spanish, Swedish, Thai,
Tigrina, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese
Attitudes towards linguistic minority pupils
Editorial, 25th of October 2006, Jyllandsposten:
The so called bilingual pupils do not alone have problems in
elementary school – those, who enter the gymnasium, also
have serious problems there. It seems strange, that people,
who master two languages, should have larger problems than
those, who only master a single one.
The notion [bilingual] does of course not really cover the
reality. It expresses how linguistic entrepreneurs and other
influential circles abstain from calling things by their correct
name. Bilingual really means zerolingual – that the student
neither masters his or her mother tongue nor the language
spoken in the country the parents of the pupil have migrated to
by their own decision.
The City School
 The community of practice constituted by the four 9th grade
classes at the City School (15-16 years old)
 A school with 850 pupils
 30 % bilingual children
 School district includes children from lower or middle socioeconomic backgrounds
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Ethnography
 Participant observation and interviews through seven months
 Participated in classes, breaks, sports days, school parties
and so on
 Data: field notes, diary notes, audio-recordings of interviews
(64), self-recordings with specific pupils
 Focus:
Which social categories and practices are socially meaningful to
the pupils?
Which linguistic resources do they use?
04-10-2015
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Networks in class 9 D
(boys and girls)
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Networks in class 9 D
(boys, girls,
’foreigners’ and
’Danes’)
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Phonetic features
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Variation – girls, boys, “foreigners” and “Danes”
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Linguistic minority kids leading linguistic change?
 The categories “foreign girls” and “foreign boys” play
an important part as poles in the social and linguistic
space in the City School, and possibly in other similar
communities.
 They use existing variation in new ways, and new
variation that has not previously been reported in
linguistic studies, and they do this in combinations with
other practices that are socially meaningful in the
community.
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The Øresund region
The distance between Copenhagen and southern Sweden (in
particular Malmö and Lund) has decreased with the Øresund
bridge
Built 10 years ago (finished in July 2000)
20,000 commuters each day, 13,000 Swedes
Tourism and language - English
Copenhagen as tourist goal and conference city
Every year 6,000,000 overnight stays in the city
The official visitors’ website, Wonderful Copenhagen,
(www.visitcopenhagen.com):
Language
Our mother tongue is Danish, which is closely related to both
Swedish and Norwegian.
However, most Danes speak English well, especially among the
young generation. German and French are also taught in
school, so when you visit Denmark you will have no problems
language-wise.
Visitors to Copenhagen
Summing up – challenges facing Danish
Uniformitivity and normativity as major ideologies – little
tolerance and openness
Negative attitudes towards bilingualism and bilingual speakers
– unless English is the other language
Low interest in learning other languages – than English
Problems regarding a broadly represented literature
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