Denmark: Philologists in Agony

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jan 29 14:38:22 UTC 2007

Sunday, January 28, 2007
Philologists in Agony

It's not really news, you know: Danish is in the decline. Of course it is.
It's not a very pretty language and people who learn it as adults have to
accept that the native speakers will try to bully them because of their
accents. And even the said native speakers have to sing songs about the
beauty of their mothertongue in order to achieve the right amount of
mental brainwash... (BTW: if any of you knows about songs with this kind
of content in other languages: please let me know. It would comfort me no
end to know that the Danes are not the only people to do this.)

According to Dansk Sprognaevn's recent memorandum 130 of 379 or so courses
at Danish universities are held in English despite the fact that only a
very small percentage of the students consists of foreigners. (The body's
English name would be "Danish Language Board", and their website is - very
appropriately - all in Danish.) Something has to be done before English
becomes the general language of the professional classes. From 2008 all
teaching at the Faculty of Life Science at Copenhagen University will be
in English. This will produce a linguistic missmatch between future
veterinarians, whose professional language is English, and the owners of
their patients who still will expect them to explain everything in Danish.

Since 20 % of the Danish population do not understand English at all and
the majority of the other 80 % aren't really very good at it this will
have an impact on the relationships between people. There will be those
who'll explicitly belong to a group of educated people - and there will be
the rabble who only speak the vernacular. Nowadays, however, this is no
longer perceived as a social problem. In these times where everybody tries
to sell emotions to other people it's about emotional connections to
language. (They must have stopped singing about the beauty of their
mothertongue at school.)

It's not about the fact that it doesn't really matter what we call the
language we use in our dealings with each other. The Danish People's Party
have realised this - so they have proposed a bill in order to strengthen
Danish within the realms of education and public administration. And
here's the problem: it's them, you know. And whatever comes from that
political corner can't be good. And of course they can't talk about the 20
% of the population they would very much like to have as voters (they may
even have realised that not understanding English does not equal sharing
their views ). They have to talk about identity - and national roots, and
common heritage, and all the stuff that I am not the only one to despise
and abhor.

It is so completely un-Danish, of nothing else. So the philologists who
work for the Danish Language Board are having a difficult time - because
demanding active language politics will make them the laughing stock of
their learned profession. And those, ladies and gentlemen, are the people
they socialize with. But that's because they all agree not to talk about
the social and socio-cultural aspects of the lack of an active language
policy. Today it's all about emotions. So let the philologists revel in
their agony.


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