“Det Dansk sprog er hard”. This I am told by the new Danes that I meet in casual circumstances. “Danish is hard.” At first I did not want to agree with the native speakers. I took their observations to be the collective agreement of a people who think that newcomers to the language ought to be duly challenged and respectful. I thought their warning about the difficulty of Danish was a matter of national pride like the white, cross-pathways on the red field of the Danish flag. It didn’t scare me.
As a matter fo fact, when Vivi, my beloved, first spoke it, Danish sounded so melodic to my ears, it was as if an old friend had called and sang me a greeting. “Hvordan gaar det?” (vor daan gor day?)” How goes it?” or “What’s going on?” That could be felt in the words. And though the unpronounced “h” in hvordan was different and the unfamiliar words “gaar” and “det” piqued my curiosity,I definitely fell hard for Danish. I remember asking Vivi:”How do you say ,’My heart is melting’ in Danish?” and “How do you say, ‘I love you in Danish?'” She said “Jeg elsker dig” was the phrase for “I love you” (yii el skaa die ). “Den smelter min hjerte” was the other. But it wasn’t the hailing phrase of “Hvordan gaar det” that attracted me, nor even the fact that I was falling in love with Vivi and wanted to express it in her language, but after I got a glimpse of the language in an online program, it was the apparent use of the word “good” and “God” in so much of the daily language that won my heart. Never in all my language training had I seen a language that was so unself-consciously optimistic, so full of God and goodness.
My beloved and I first met on the Internet where I learned she was a Dane and that her spoken language was Danish. But so many phrases she shared with me seemed to convey goodness. “Godmormorgen” “Goddag” “Godaften” “Godnat” “Sov godt!” “God rejse” “Det er godt vejr.”Det er supergodt”. As a newcomer to the visual appearance of the language, the word G-O-D looked familiar, and was pronounced “G odd” as I was accostumed to doing in American English , but here, it is pronounced with a kind of glottal stop that makes it sound like “gu” (goo), or a short cough–“Goo daa!” where the “d” is unvoiced and the “a” in day is long and the “y” is replaced by an unvoiced “g”. To my surprise, the word is not God at all. It is the word for “good.” And ,given how often it is used, I came to feel the language was full of nothing but good. Things are “dejlig”, meaning lovely or “nice” or “good.” “Det er merget dejlig” which means that things are very good or nice, or lovely. In some cases, the Danes say, They are “rigtig dejlig”, meaning righteously or downright good. Even the bad is expressed as good. Things are said to be “ikke godt” or not good. The cultural millieu is expressed as something called “hyggelig” (who gail lee), a cozy, good time, mellow with one’s loved ones,friends, even at a public event. Cool and good.
Last year, I visited Denmark or Danmark for two months in April and May. I attended a school called Copenhagen Danish Courses in Osterport, the west gate of Copenhagen. I took three weeks of a five week course, which I will finish this year, and I attended three days per week. It was intense and frightening for me. I have some hidden disabilities that challenge me more than does the language. First, I have hearing loss in my right ear ;second, I have dyslexia and tend to invert words or read right to left, or have trouble distinguishing my left from my right; and third, I am high strung and often become very anxious when I am trying to master a new skill or feel I am to be tested. Coupled with my late age and physiological changes, I am hard pressed to master Danish, but very determined–and motivated–to do so. I have moved to Denmark this year, and am taking short instruction twice a week at Frivillagecentre in Gentofte,a small community fifteen minutes from my home. I am working with a volunteer Danish tutor, a woman near my age,Bente Kronemann. In order to get permanent residency, I will need to speak and write and understand Danish.
That aside, in last year’s class,I got the basics by learning vocabulary, verb forms, and expressions. We also read and were required to memorize a single dialogue about Danish life or circumstances. Things like how to invite friend to the movies; how to count, tell time, give personal information, how to ask about a lost personal item; how to introduce oneself, and how to affect the rhythm and pronounciation of Danish. I was quick to get basic understanding of the alphabet and it’s whine, especially the fricative “T” “F” and the sibilant “S”and “C”, but Danish does things with vowels that go beyond long and short. They have three additional sounds that add alpaphets to the 26 we share: “aa” “oe” “ae”. Every Dane pronounces the language differently and enunciates as she or he pleases—except maybe the newscasters, who talk so fast I hardly understand a word beyond “Godaften, velkommen til ….Nyhedsudsendelse.” (“Good afternoon, welcome to this station’s newscast.”). Not only does the ordinary Dane speak a little differently from another, but the quality and content of a given word/mouthful may be enunciated or garbled in the most unusual fashion. Viv says Danes “swallow” the words. To me they mumble.
In that former Danish course, I learned that the spoken language often bares little resemblance to the written. In the written language the “d” and “g” may be silent and often is. The “h” in question-words like “where” when” “how”–that is “hvor,”hvornaar”,”hvordan” is silent. The “j” may be pronounced like an “I” and the “Y’ like a “U”. These variables with the awesome collection of pronouns that play musical chairs in sentences is enough to send one to the Engelsk/Dansk dictionary every two minutes. I tell you this Danish plays tricks on my ears, eyes, and my mind.
But the Danes know English. They speak it well or haltingly depending on their closest friends,family and work environment. Vivi is well-spoken and has an impressive vocabulary, although she may be hard-pressed to translate Danish cultural idiom to English, but her sister, who has good command, shys away from English because she is not often required to speak it and feels the limitations of concepts and conjugation of irregular verbs. Personally, I like the various constructs that Vivi makes to convey her thoughts. Instead of saying, Dinner is ready; she might say “Skal vi spiser os nu?” or “Can we eat our meal now.” The Danish language has terrific courtesy and democratic consideration built in. One doesn’t stay things in an autocratic or authroritative tone of voice. One invites the other to cooperate. “Come in and have a seat,” we Americans might say. The Danish will do the same,but avoid a directive. “Komindefore, det er dejlig til se De!”
There are many spellings and words in Danish that look or mean the same as in English. For example:
at=that bus=bus kan=can dog=yet end=than familie=family
graffiti=graffiti hund=hound/dog is=ice or ice cream journal=journal kapital=capital
lease=lease magnet=magnet normal=normal over=over park=park quiz=quiz
resume=summary sekund=second trods=in spite of unacceptabel=unacceptable
vat=cotton weekend=weekend xylofon=xylophone zoo=zoo
But the pronouncation is often so radically different, one knows it will take a while to acclimate and internalize the particular aggregation of French/German/Swedish/English and old Danish that the Danes speak. It’s a proper language, and I feel one morning I will awaken after all this exposure and find I can hear and speak it fluently. Even now, I catch a phrase on two during televison commercials, and recognize (maybe after a 20 second delay) that I actually understood what was said. Because I am telepathic and intutitive, I often “know” without actually understanding the exact content of the spoken utterance. I also hear the music of it and understand. Praise God for these gifts. Speaking of which, the word for being married is “gift!”. “Er du gift? Ja, jeg er gift!” (Are you married? Yes, I am married.)
Two ladies at the traffic light, and bus stop,respectively,decided to speak to me. One asked the time. The other commented on the sunshiny day.
“Hvad er klokken?” She said without preliminary introduction. Stricken and called up short, I glanced at my watch. It was 4:30 o’clock.
“Den er fire. Nej, nej! Den er tretten. No, uh, nej, Den er fjortende….”I garbled the time,trying to remember whether 4:00 PM is 13:00 or 14:00 and if the half hour is kvater or kvart. Neither. It’s “halv” or half. The woman (“kvinder”) at the light then smiled and gave me a quick review: “Danish is a difficult language. The “h’s” don’t sound. The “d’ is soft.” and she said more, “Det er halv fem,” (quarter to 5) amused with the absurdity of it. I laughed too. I see. I begin to see why they say it is so hard.
The other woman, next to whom I sat as I waited to take a bus to my favorite restaurant, said, “Det er god solenskinner i dag!” It was said so naturally and easily and quickly that I wasn’t sure she was talking to me nor if I even heard and understood. For there was my usual delay in realizing what was said and that I had a response to generate. “Oh, ja, det er det!” I said, having recognized the phrase for “sunshine” and my favorite word,”good.” “Yes, that’s so!”
There is one more thing I am learning –Danes like the tradition of exchanging known greetings. When one says, thank you, or “tak for det”, the other is to say “Velbekomme” (you’re welcome) or “Det var saa lidt!” (That was so little). At the table, one is to say “tak for mad” at the end of dinner,not during or before the meal. If one did something in return for a favor or worked with another, one can say “Tak” but the other will say “det lige mode” or li’moede.” One uses “skal”, “kan”, “hvad”–that is–shall/can/or what to ask some specific questions that are to include two: “skal vi se et film?” “kan du lige en slik?” Hvad laver du? Want to see a movie? Do you like candy? What are you up to? or Where do you work? There are nuances of politeness built into the language, cultural mores insinuated and made to carry the intention to be fair or cooperative. These are not only learned behaviors; they are transmitted by the language.
So I go on with my apprehension of Danish. Being transformed and acclimatized. Det er rigtig godt!” Oh, by the way, the Divine Source, God, is called “Gud”, and “Herren” (the Lord).