As a native Dane, something that I've noticed when speaking to people from far and wide (and especially the US.. Sorry, Americans!) is that people tend to be confused about my nationality and my language.
I've lost count of how many times people assumed that the Danish speak Dutch. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind being confused by the Dutch.. I just cannot help wonder what causes the mixup?
- Is it because the names "Danish" and "Dutch" sound somewhat similar?
- Because the languages are related?
- Or maybe because Americans know for a fact that a "Danish" is a kind of pastry and therefore definitely not a nationality?
These are all possible reasons. If you've got some insight that I haven't, though, please do share!
To be clear, Danish is the language of Denmark, a Scandinavian country squeezed in between Norway, Sweden and Germany. It is also a pastry, and a very nice one of that.
Dutch is the language of the Netherlands. Some people call the country Holland, but Holland is really just a region of the Netherlands, but that's a battle for another day.. Why their language is called Dutch instead of "Netherlandish" is a long story. Oh and in case you didn't know, in German, the German language is called "Deutsch". Perhaps the Germans picked the English name to avoid too much confusion.
But now that we've established that Dutch and Danish definitely are two different languages and nationalities, let's have a look at what the actual differences are between the two languages.
In the following, I'll try looking into some of the similarities and differences between Dutch and Danish.
Dutch And Danish Two Germanic Languages From Northern Europe
Dutch and Danish are both part of the same language family, more specifically the Germanic branch of the Indo European language tree. While this means that the two languages have common roots, it doesn't exactly make them mutually intelligible.
While Danish is a North Germanic language like languages such as Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic, Dutch is a West Germanic language, which means that it is closer to German, Frisian, Scots and.... English.
Yes, Dutch is linguistically closer related to English that it is to Danish. At least when it comes to the roots of the two languages. This is visible in grammar structures and some of the very basic vocabulary.
During history, however, English has been influenced by a great number of foreign languages such as Latin, French and.. Danish. This means that Dutch an English appear like two quite different languages despite their closely-knit roots.
But what are some of the differences and similarities between Dutch and Danish?
Let's get into it.
Dutch VS Danish Alphabets And Pronunciation
When it comes to the Dutch and Danish alphabet and how they're pronounced you'll notice some differences.
Sure, they both use the Latin alphabet - but Danish has a couple of extra letters and each language has letters that are pronounced differently from one another but also from how they're pronounced in English.
In the following, I'll have a look at the letters in the two alphabets that stand out and point out when each one is either different from one another or from English.
A. A Danish "a" is most often pronounced like "apple" whereas Dutch (most often) pronounces their A more like "father".
G. This one is quite different. The Dutch "G" is one of the letters that stands the most out when listening to Dutch. It's more or less similar to the Czech "CH", the Arabic "خ" and the Spanish "J". In Danish, the G is pronounced like "Ground" but in neither Danish nor Dutch is it ever pronounced like "Giraffe".
J. Both the Dutch and the Danish J is pronounced like "yay" but never like "Jack" and "Jill" except in certain loan-words and foreign names.. Like, say, Jack. Or Jill.
O. The Dutch O, like the English O resembles the Danish Å a little more than the Danish O. In Danish, the O is pronounced with a shorter sound and with less force. It's closer to the French word "l'eau" which, ironically, doesn't even contain an O.
R. In Dutch, the R can be pronounced in three different ways. As a thrilled R, like in Spanish, Scottish and so on, as a guttural R from the back of your throat (like the infamous "French R") or, in the end of words, as the English R.. (But don't do that in the beginning of words!) In Danish, you have to get used to the "French R". While the other two will obviously be understood, they just sound strange in Danish.
U. In Dutch the "U" is pronounced much like it is in French, and exactly like the Danish "Y" (which is a vowel in Danish). In Danish, however, it's pronounced like "oo" like in "Shampoo" but not necessarily for as long as it's pronounced in English. The Dutch U (and Danish Y) is usually quite difficult for English speakers to pronounce.
V. Dutch V's are mostly like English and Danish V's but sometimes they're pronounced like an F, like it's the case in German. In Danish, this doesn't happen.
W. The Dutch W sounds a lot like the English and Danish V, but the sound is less dominant. Your front-teeth sort of have to tough your lip when pronouncing the sound. For a good explanation, have a look at this video explanation of the Dutch W. As for the Danish W? It doesn't exist apart from in loan-words, and even in those cases, it's mostly pronounced just like the V.
Y. In Dutch, Y is pronounced "ay" a little like the English word "way". In Danish, the Y is pronounced just like the Dutch U, as mentioned before.
Z. The Z in Dutch is pronounced just like the Z in English. In Danish, however, the letter is only used for loan-words, and it's pronounced exactly like an S... (And Danes have trouble with pronouncing it no matter which foreign language they speak).
And now for today's three special guests. The last three letters in the Danish Alphabet.
Æ. This is a vowel in the Danish language which represents a mix of A and E. It is pronounced like the German Ä. The sound ressembles the "E" in "Ellen", but it has no direct equivalent in Dutch.
Ø. Another Danish vowel that neither exists in Dutch nor English. Ø is pronounced like the German "Ö", and it is a sound that many foreigners have troubles pronouncing correctly. It's a little like the vowel sound in the English word "sir".
Å. Lastly, the Danish Å is pronounced "somewhat" like an exaggerated version of the O in the word "slow". Neither English nor Dutch has this letter.
And these are just the letter-sounds that stand out the most. When you count letter combinations and diphthongs Danish actually has 27 vowel sounds whereas Dutch only has 16. All in all, it's clear that Dutch and Danish are quite different pronunciation-wise.
Finally, Danish is famously inconsistent in its spelling. Like it's the case with English, Danish isn't always (or ever) pronounced the way it's spelled, which can make it a little complicated to learn new vocabulary and pronounce it correctly.
Dutch on the other hand is a lot simpler. Once you've figured out how it's supposed to be pronounced, you can pretty much reach all Dutch texts out loud.
Danish also has its "stød" or "glottal stop" which is a pronunciation feature that can be quite difficult to master for foreigners. The glottal stop is when you suddenly block the air-flow in your vocal-chords while speaking, making the sound you're pronouncing stop abruptly. The glottal stop doesn't exist in Dutch, but in some British accents it can be observed, like when "butter" is pronounced "bu'er".
Grammar In Dutch And Danish. How Similar Are they?
Germanic languages like English, Dutch and Danish share a lot grammar-wise, and generally, they're grammatically simple languages. Conjugation and tenses are simple and easy and there are no cases like in Russian, Arabic or even German.
There are a few differences, though.
One such is the articles. Dutch, like English places the article before the noun. "The house" becomes "het huis" in Dutch, but in Danish it becomes "huset" (hus + et, or house-the). In Danish the definite article is added as a suffix after the noun rather than a separate word before the noun.
English and Danish word-order have more in common with each other than with Dutch. Generally, English and Danish formulate sentences as subject - verb - object whereas Dutch is also a SVO language, but often (but not always) it organizes the sentence as subject - object - verb. "I will sing tomorrow" is "Jeg vil synge i morgen" in Danish but "Ik zal morgen zingen" (I will tomorrow sing) in Dutch.
Finally, Dutch doesn't rely on the auxiliary verb "do" in as high a degree as English, meaning that "where do you come from" becomes "where you come from" and "I don't like juice" becomes "I like not juice". This is the case for Danish too.
Dutch And Danish Vocabulary
In terms of vocabulary, Dutch and Danish share many roots given that they're both Germanic languages. Many of the same words have equivalents in English, but because of the vast number of French and Latin loan-words in English, Dutch seems to have more in common with Danish vocabulary wise.
Interestingly, Dutch also has a very high amount of French loan-words, but not as many as English, and it rarely seems to be the same French words that are borrowed into each language.
Comparison Of A Text In Both Dutch And Danish
Finally, to compare the two languages, it's also interesting to look at their written form next to each other. But while there might be similarities that stand out in the written word, these aren't necessarily as obvious when you hear the spoken language, so keep that in mind.
In the following, I'm going to illustrate the difference between Danish and Dutch with an example of the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in both languages as well as the English version for reference.
So first, let's look at the first article in English:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
And now in Dutch:
Alle mensen worden vrij en gelijk in waardigheid en rechten geboren. Zij zijn begiftigd met verstand en geweten, en behoren zich jegens elkander in een geest van broederschap te gedragen.
And finally in Danish:
Alle mennesker er født frie og lige i værdighed og rettigheder. De er udstyret med fornuft og samvittighed, og de bør handle mod hverandre i en broderskabets ånd.
Looking at the above examples, many differences as well as similarities stand out. Some words the three languages have in common (at least when you consider the word-roots), like "all" "free" "rights" and "brotherhood".
One language that appears to stand out more than the others, however, is English. This is because of the French loan-words that are used where Dutch and Danish mostly rely on words with Germanic roots. English speaks of "human beings" where Dutch calls them "mensen" and Danish "mennesker". In English, we say "equal" but in Dutch it's "gelijk" and in Danish "lige". "Dignify" in English is "waardigheid" in Dutch and "værdighed" in Danish.
Finally, there are words that are simply different despite being Germanic words. English uses the word "Born" and Dutch "geboren", but in Danish, the word is "født". And while Dutch calls it "geest", something that ressembles "ghost" in English and "gejst" in Danish, the French loan-word "spirit" is more correct in English and the Danish language calls for the word "ånd".
Conclusion - Danish VS Dutch - How Similar Are They Really?
Danish and Dutch, despite their similar-sounding names and despite both being north-European languages belonging to flat, peaceful countries where people like to eat cured herring, is far from being the same language.
There's no doubt that the two languages share common roots, but there are as many differences as there are similarities, and a Dutch and a Danish person will not hesitate for a second to speak English together rather than try and make sense of each other's languages.
Dutch is much more similar to German, and it would, actually have been very close to English too, had it not been for the strong French influence on the English language..
Danish is much closer to the other Scandinavian languages, particularly Norwegian and Swedish, but even a language like Icelandic has more in common with Danish than Dutch has.
Interestingly, the country that separates the Dutch and Danish landmass, Germany might be one of the missing links between Danish and Dutch. Like Dutch, Danish also has a lot in common with the German language and this might bear witness of a linguistic progression that takes place over geographic distances.
But I digress. Here are my final words:
Danish and Dutch are quite different languages. They've got a lot in common, sure, but not as much as you might think.