Challenges facing Danish as a medium-sized language

Jens Normann Jorgensen, Universitat de Copenhagen | 8 octubre, 2009

J. Normann Jørgensen (University of Copenhagen) entitled «Challenges facing Danish as a medium-sized language» starts by describing the general sociolinguistic situation of this Scandinavian language, which is not only fully established as the main vehicle of social interaction in virtually all domains in Denmark, but also enjoys the benefits of being thoroughly described and firmly standardized. Although in a position that many may regard as idyllic from the point of view of linguistic sustainability, Danish faces a number of challenges which are the object of explicit language policies and ideological controversies in at least two different dimensions. On the one hand, there is the encroachment of English in a number of domains, namely higher education, science, business, and as a linguistic marker of smartness and cosmopolitanism. This trend is perceived by some sectors as threatening the Danish language, and is triggering a number of defensive reactions against alleged domain loss, among them the parallelsproglighed, i.e. ‘language parallelism’ policy — systematic use of both languages in these delicate domains. Scarce as it is, the research on the matter nevertheless suggests that Danish is not in danger of being pushed aside by English in these domains, but draws attention to another danger — that of depending exclusively on English-speaking sources to understand the rest of the world, due to the decreasing familiarity with other major languages.On the other hand, the general push towards egalitarianism and uniformity in all aspects of Danish society has a number of unexpected consequences in linguistic terms, such as the dissolution of traditional dialects and the progressive loss of familiarity with linguistic diversity among Danes. Jørgensen analyses this trend in connection with political and educational practices, and claims that this reduction of contact with internal diversity is at the root of the decreasing ability of the Danes to understand other Scandinavian languages. In his view, lack of tolerance towards (linguistic) heterogeneity is also strongly related to widespread reluctance to accept immigrants, their heritage languages and their ways of speaking Danish. In short, Danish faces two challenges: uniformity, with its practical and attitudinal implications, and isolation.



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