Denmark: Public broadcaster gets new accent

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Mar 20 16:51:25 UTC 2009

Public broadcaster gets new accent

Friday, 20 March 2009 13:31 KR Culture

Public service broadcaster DR is introducing a new language policy to
improve, preserve and promote the use of Danish and other Nordic
languages across its various media DR is overhauling its language
policies to improve the standard and usage of Danish among its
employees. The company is appointing a number of language ambassadors
in each of its departments to ensure that the terms of the new policy
are being upheld. These ambassadors will offer language courses to
other employees and focus on improving the quality of subtitle

Many media in recent years have leaned towards adopting a generic
accent across the board, but DR now wants to protect the regional
dialects being heard on its radio and television stations. The new
policy proposes the introduction of an annual dialect day.
Martin Kristiansen, DR’s language editor, told The Copenhagen Post
that the day would allow staff to speak in the dialect that they were
brought up with and help re-introduce disappearing dialects to the
rest of Denmark. ‘Linguists say that some of the regional dialects in
Denmark will disappear in 20 years or so. When we mentioned our idea
to staff  many of them got excited and wanted to take part.’

DR said that it had taken inspiration for the new language policy from
similar initiatives by other European broadcasters, like the BBC in
Britain which has had ‘The Pronunciation Unit’ since 1926. In addition
to promoting better use of the native language, DR will also work to
protect other Nordic and European languages. For example, if a
Norwegian is being interviewed as part of a DR programme, then the new
policy dictates that he should be interviewed in his own language,
rather than through English.

Kristiansen said that DR is not afraid of the influence of the English
language, but that sometimes it is misused. ‘I have a feeling that
English expressions are used in the Danish language and the audience
is not always aware of the meaning. Sometimes people are using the
English words to signal that we are global, but I question whether it
is always necessary to use the English expression, or whether the
Danish one would suffice.’

The new policy will aim to bring more transparency to the language
used by employees at DR, who Kristiansen believes have a
responsibility to lead by example. The word ‘invandrere’ meaning
‘immigrants’ is widely used in the media, but usually not in reference
to immigrants from Western Europe or the US, but from middle-eastern
regions. In Copenhagen, it is most commonly used when referring to
criminal gangs that contain second and third generation immigrants
from Muslim countries.

When asked why the media uses terms in this way, Kristiansen was quick
to admit that it is a tricky issue. ‘It’s a very good example of an
issue where you have to find a middle ground. You don’t want to be too
politically correct, but in the Danish language it can be helpful when
one word can quickly describe what you are talking about. However, you
don’t want to generalise too much, especially if that word has other

Kristiansen said that the new transparency policy will encourage staff
to question their sources to clarify their meaning when, for example,
an interviewee uses value-laden words. The mumbling style of speech
that also makes it difficult for foreigners learning the language is
something which Kristiansen hopes to avoid, adding that television is
partly to blame.

‘Hosts have developed the idea that they have to burn through the
screen with their charisma, but some people think energy equals speed
and that’s when it becomes tough as they talk very fast and have
difficulty pronouncing all the word endings.’While similar speech
styles are also common in society, Kristiansen said he hopes DR can
lead the way. ‘We have the opportunity and the responsibility to at
least come forward with a good example for others.’

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