Danish in "North Denmark"


New Member
Hi verybody.

I'd like to know if anyone knows (preferably from first-hand experience) anything about the extent of usage of Danish in Greenland and the Faroe Islands (sometimes referred to as "North Denmark", at least here :)) and Iceland (former Danish territory). For example:

To what extent do the locals master the language?

Is it spoken publically (presumably from Danish immigration), i.e. can you go through, for example, a week in Tórshavn or Nuuk without having to speak any Danish?

Is the television mainly in Danish, the local language, Swedish or Norwegian or something third?

If I went to these places, could I get by using Danish or would I also have to use English.

And finally, are there any political reasons why the locals wouldn't want to learn/speak Danish? (old grudges, oppression, imperialism, that sort of thing :))

I am aware that Iceland is different from the other two, since it's now an independent country.

  • klandri

    I am aware that Iceland is different from the other two, since it's now an independent country.

    Yes, Iceland is quite different from the other two. My understanding is that in the Faroes and Greenland everyone speaks at least passable Danish and the large majority is fluent but in Iceland almost only old people speak the language to any real extent. Despite it being a core subject in both middle and high school most young people never learn Danish properly and would struggle to keep up more than a very elementary conversation. Generally the older the person the better the odds of them speaking Danish. In Reykjavík you'll never hear Danish unless you're speaking to Danish tourists.

    On paper Icelandic speakers learn standard Copenhagen Danish but in practice most Icelanders never grasp Danish pronunciation and supposedly sound more like they're trying to speak Norwegian.
    There aren't really any political reasons not to like Danish (not since 1944 anyway) but the subject is seen as boring and pointless by most Icelandic students which is a significant part of the reason why so few young people learn to speak the language properly.

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Nederlands (België)
    Icelandic television consists of a few Icelandic channels and lots of pan-European and pan-Nordic channels in English. You can turn on Danish subtitles if you want, but I don't think many Icelandic people do that.

    Pan-Nordic kids channels carry both English and Danish audio tracks, but I don't think Icelandic children ever want to watch cartoons in Danish, so only the adverts are in Danish.

    I didn't have any Danish channels when I was in Iceland. Granted, I barely watched any television back there.


    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    I am aware that we used to say "Syd-Danmark" for Denmark without the Atlantic Islands which in turn made them "Nord-Danmark" - something that I have not heard really often.
    However, today I would consider those names an absolute no-go. Denmark is Denmark and even though the Faroe Islands and Greenland are under the protection of Denmark they are autonomous states hand have their own names - and Iceland is completely autonomous without any other connection with Denmark than being one of the Nordic Countries and also part of the European Economic Area which cooperates closely with the EU.

    I mean, they said "thank you and goodbye" in 1944, almost 80 years ago. They are not Denmark. They are nice and pleasant partners in the international co-operations, Icelandic students often study in Denmark because they usually know the language very well and of course there are more possibilities in a 5,5 mill peoole state than in a population of approx. 300,000. But Iceland is a state of its own, not Demark.


    Senior Member
    Icelandic & Swedish
    Icelandic students often study in Denmark because they usually know the language very well and of course there are more possibilities in a 5,5 mill peoole state than in a population of approx. 300,000
    Correct, except that it is no longer true that Icelanders know Danish very well. Nowadays, only those that have actually spent time working or studying in Denmark are able to speak the language. Since 1999 Danish is no longer the first foreign language taught in Icelandic schools, and this has gradually led to a situation where very few people study the language at the secondary and tertiary levels (at the University of Iceland, only about 20 people are currently studying for a first degree in Danish). In Iceland, only a very small group of people read or speak Danish on a regular basis anymore. Sales of Danish language magazines and paperbacks have plummeted (“Ný dönsk” used to be a selling point in bookstores, meaning that new Danish magazines had arrived), and a person addressed in Danish in the street would probably not be able to reply in that language.


    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    ... which at least destroys the last bit of justification in calling Iceland a part of "North-Denmark", if there ever was one in my life time.


    New Member
    English, American
    Everyone on the Faroes speaks - or at least understands - Danish with the exception of quite small children. However the cartoons are in Danish, so the kids have to be able to understand it or no entertainment ;)
    I've experienced a few times speaking Danish to someone and having them reply in Faroese, but my experience was that this is more of a political statement. Approx. 50% of the Faroe population wants independence, and the present Danish government is open to the possibility. All of the adult Greenlanders I know speak Danish, but from what they tell me it is not a given that everyone masters the language.


    New Member
    Agree with Sepia.

    It is linguistic colonialism calling Iceland part of "North DK."

    It does not, on par with other politically correct statements such as f.ex, "continental breakfast" exist.
    It is damned nonsense.
    Danish has a lot to thank Icelandic for.
    Not the other way round.