Monday, January 25, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Denmark

So far in 2016, we've looked at the linguistic diversity of Sierra Leone, Nicaragua, and Kyrgyzstan. Since we've already focused on countries in Africa, Central America, and Asia, today we're going to check out a European country: Denmark.

The Official Languages

The de facto official language of the southernmost country in Scandinavia is Danish, a Germanic language. Over 5.3 million Danes, which encompasses the vast majority of the country's population, speak Danish as a native language.

Faroese stamps from 1983.
However, Denmark's government also officially recognizes three other languages: Faroese, Greenlandic, and German. Faroese is a Germanic language that is primarily spoken in the Faroe Islands, an archipelago between Norway and Iceland that is a constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark. There are about 66,000 native speakers of Faroese worldwide, almost exclusively within the Kingdom of Denmark.

Greenlandic, on the other hand, is an Inuit language that is primarily spoken in Greenland, the other autonomous constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark. Greenland is the world's largest island, yet is the least densely populated country in the world due to its tiny population of about 55,000 people. The majority of Greenland's population speaks Greenlandic, but many also speak Danish, which plays an important role in government and education. However, in recent years there have been efforts to promote greater use of the Greenlandic language instead of Danish, which is a colonial language.

Then there's German, which is recognized as a minority language in the southernmost region of Denmark. This area, which was part of Germany until the end of World War I, is home to approximately 25,000 native German speakers. However, German is also the second most popular foreign language in Denmark, with nearly half of the population speaking it as a second language.

Foreign Languages

While these four languages are the primary native languages used in Denmark and its constituent countries, two foreign languages deserve a mention: English and Swedish. English is spoken as a second language by over 85% of the country's population, while Swedish is spoken as a second language by over 10% of Danes.