Danish is spoken by about 5.000.000 people. The vast majority of the speakers live in Danmark in northern Europe. There are a few Danish speaking minorities outside the borders of Denmark, mainly in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany. There has been a Danish speaking population in South Sweden until the 17th century or later. Danish has heavily influenced to Bokmål variety of Norwegian.
Danish belongs together with Swedish to the eastern subgroup of the North Germanic languages. The Germanic languages form a top-level constituent of the Indo-European language family.
Danish is national language in Danmark and Greenland.
Danish used the Roman alphabet with three additional letters. The relationship between spelling and writing is not one to one.
The first Danish texts date back to the early 13th century. In the late 14th century the administration language of the country shifted from Latin to Danish. The Danish literary language began to evolve in the 15th century.
The stød isogloss subdivides Danish into northern and southern dialects. The varieties north of the isogloss boundary feature stød, a co-articulation resembling a glottal stop without complete closure. The dialects south of the isogloss don't have stød. There is another isogloss that runs from the north to the south: the dialects in the east have a three-gender sytem (male, female, neuter), the dialects in the middle have a two-gender system (common, neuter) and the dialects in the west do not feature gender.
The written language is standardized ('Advanced Standard Copenhagen') and there is also a spoken standard called 'Rigdansk'.
The following informations on phonology, morphology, syntax and lexis concern the Advanced Standard Copenhagen variety of Danish.
The most remarkable phonological feature of Danish is the existence of stød, a kind of co-articulation that resembles a glottal stop without complete closure.
Danish has a quite complex vocalism with 13 short vowels, 13 long vowels, 19 diphtongs with short first element and 19 diphtongs with long first element.
The Danish consonant inventory on the other hand is quite simple. The contrast voiced vs. voiceless does not play a prominent role in Danish consonantism. There are four voiceless fricatives, three voiced fricatives, three nasals, one lateral liquid and four semivowels. Stops are always voiceless with a distinction aspirated vs. plain.
Native Danish non-compound words are stressed on the first syllable. Non-native words often have the stress on non-first syllables. Compounds are stressed on the first syllable when they have the structure free morpheme + free morpheme or free morpheme + bound morpheme. They are stressed on the first or second syllable when they have the structure bound morpheme + free morpheme.
Nouns are inflected for number, definiteness and gender. Case inflection found only in pronouns. Advanced Standard Copenhagen nouns have two genders: common and neuter. Gender is not marked overtly in nouns, it can be seen only in the inflection of attributives, predicatives and determiners agreeing with the noun.
The 'genitive' suffix -s is a phrasal form, which can be attached also to complex noun phrases.
The definite article is suffixed to the noun. It agrees with the noun in gender in the singular forms. There are also 'adjectival article' forms which precede the head noun.
Regular plural forms of nouns are formed with a suffix or zero, irregular forms are formed by alternation of the stem vowel (umlaut).
There are two levels of politeness in second person pronouns: familiar and polite. The familiar form is used far more extensively than the polite one.
Gender occurs in the third person forms of pronouns (male, female, neuter) together with a +/-human distinction.
Personal pronouns have distinct subject forms, object forms and possessor forms. These are the only remnants of case inflection in Danish. Demonstrative pronouns do not inflect for case.
Adjectives have two kinds of inflection: weak and strong. The strong forms are inflected for number and for gender in the singular agreeing with the head noun. The weak forms have the invariable suffix -a and occur after the adjectival article, possessive pronouns and in front of proper names.
Comparison of adjectives is made up by suffixes or suppletion, but also periphrastic forms are found.
Verbs have few inflectional categories, number and person are not morphological marked. There are two synthetic tenses, past and non-past, a number of compound tenses, such as future and perfect, exist as well. Two passive forms occur: a synthetic passive and an analytic passive. Some verbs form a middle voice similar to the synthetic passive. The Danish verb has two moods: indicative and imperative, fossilized remnants of the old optative are found, as well.
Danish verbs can be subdivided into various inflectional classes.
New word are created by derivational processes and compounding in Danish.
Danish word order is complex, governed by discourse-pragmatical principles. The verb usually occupies the second position in the clause.
Danish vocabulary has adopted Greek and Latin loan words as a result of the christianization. During the Middle ages the Danish lexicon received many Middle Low German words. Afterwards mostly High German and French loan words have been accepted, whereas in the 20th century loans from English prevailed.