Danish influence on English pronunciation

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Roel~, Sep 26, 2013.

  1. Roel~ Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    I remark how the pronunciation of Danish and English are somewhat similar. Has Danish had any influence on the pronunciation of English? I know that they influenced the vocabulary, but I don't know if they have influenced the pronunciation too.
  2. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    It is difficult to think of any European language that sounds more different from English than Danish. The distinctive Danish laryngealisation makes it sound more like Vietnamese than like English.
  3. Nino83 Senior Member

    Danish has 20 different vowels, English has only 12 (American English only 9) vowels.
    English is the only German language that doesn't have any front rounded vowel (y, ø, œ).
  4. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    English (US)
    The extent to which languages A and B appear to sound alike depends heavily on the linguistic background of the listener and the degree of his familiarity with A and with B. I don't have high expectations of our reaching any satisfying conclusions in this discussion. :)

    Regarding English and Danish, one thing that occurs to me is this: In most European languages, including Danish-neighbors Swedish and Norwegian, the letter "a" tends to be pronounced somewhere around IPA [a]. In English and Danish however, "a" is frequently near [e]. However I don't see this as justification for saying that these two languages "have similar pronunciation".
    I count 13 phonemically distinct vowels in the most widely spoken variety of Amer Eng, which is reflected in American dictionaries (NOT including the necessarily-diphthongal units, sometimes referred to as "vowels", exemplified by the words "buy", "(to) bow", and "boy", which would make 16). Some dialects appear to have 14 (17 with diphthongs), some 12 (15).

    However counted, whatever the exact numbers, I don't see any reasonable justification for claiming that Brit Eng has three more vowels than Amer Eng.

    There are different methodologies for counting vowels, but I can't imagine any under which Danish would have 20 and Amer Eng 9.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2013
  5. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I am not sure this is pertinent, but...

    There are regions of the U.S. where the accent has been heavily influenced by Norwegian. This is specifically the region known as the Upper Midwest, which includes the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan - and sometimes parts of northern Illinois and northern Indiana, which aren't technically part of the Upper Midwest, but you can still hear a bit of that accent. I don't know of any Danish influence, but that doesn't mean there isn't any.
  6. Nino83 Senior Member

    Hi Dan.
    Yes, diphthongs excluded.
    I'm not an expert. I read that in AmE [ə], [ʌ] and [ɜ] merged into a single phoneme.
  7. Dan2

    Dan2 Senior Member

    English (US)
    Thanks for the clarification, Nino.
    Because [ə] occurs in unstressed syllables only and [ʌ] in stressed syllables only, some Americans who write phonetics write both as [ə] to save a symbol, letting stress determine which is meant. The same could be done in BrE. This is merely notational and doesn't represent a difference in number of vowels between BrE and AmE.

    [ɜ], the vowel of "girl", (usually written [ɝ] for AmE) is extremely distinctive and hasn't merged with anything in AmE.

    The one vowel distinction that most Americans have truly lost is that between "short o" and "the 'father' vowel". So "bother" and "father" rhyme for most (not all) Americans (and the vowel is unrounded, so more like BrE "father").

    On the other hand, most Americans distinguish, for ex., "tuner" [ɚ] from "tuna" [ə], while standard BrE does not. That would "even the score", unless you view [ɚ] as merely an unstressed version of [ɝ].

    (Somewhat off-topic, true, but I don't like to see American English maligned... :) )
  8. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    Listen to the Lincolnshire dialect of English and you'll find they are very similar.
  9. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    First of all we should remember that Danes were present in England 900 years ago, while you compare English with contemporary Danish. I don't believe that Danes 900 years ago spoke the same way as they do now. Actually very much of Danish phonetics is quite young. In the XVIII century Danish grammarian praised the Norwegian way of pronouncing Danish as a better one (more traditional) than that of the Danes.
  10. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Exactly. Modern Danish is by far the Scandinavian language that has sustained the most West-Germanic, mainly Low German and Frisian, influence. If any Nordic language is not indicative of how Old Norse must have sounded than it is modern Danish.
  11. Hulalessar

    Hulalessar Senior Member

    English - England
    I lived in Lincolnshire for 18 years and find that a somewhat surprising statement. However, the fact remains that you perceive them to be similar. You can hear the dialect here. Glottal stops are a feature which stand out and the fact that stød may be realised as a glottal stop may account for any (to me) superficial similarity.
  12. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Does it mean that for instance replacing consonants with a glottal stop (stød) and a weak (soft) pronunciation of stop consonants (bløde konsonanter) is a feature common with Low German?
  13. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    No, they aren't Those are two very idiosyncratic features of Danish.
  14. Havfruen Senior Member

    English - American
    I had a listen to the Lincolnshire and I'd say while the language is English, some qualities definitely remind me of Danish. It sounds more like the variety of Danish spoken in Jutland than that in Copenhagen. However The Lincolnshire dialect is rare these days, so I'd hardly say it stands for all of English.

    Here is a page with recordings of various Danish dialects. See if you agree that the Vestjysk examples sound more like Lincolnshire than any other Danish Dialect?

    Those from Jutland (Jylland in Danish) include Vestjysk (West Jysk), Sønderjysk (Southern Jysk), and Østjysk (East Jysk) and all 3 areas have similarities. The years are year of birth and of recording.

    Contrastingly, standard Danish is closer to the Copenhagen dialect found on Island of Zealand, Sjællandsk.
  15. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    Could you be more specific and describe what features are common in the English and Danish dialects?
  16. Stoggler

    Stoggler Senior Member

    Sussex, GBR
    UK English
    Overall Danish does sound very different to English but if you hear individual words or the odd short phrase in Danish then it does (to my ears anyway) sound a bit like Geordie and other north-east England accents.

    I've also got the impression that Danish maybe showing signs of a vowel shift (again, to my ears!) similar to English's GVS, but that's based on limited exposure to the language and drawing largely on the fact that pan-Scandinavian /a/ does tend to be pronounced as /e/ in Danish in some places these days (as in the place name Skagen as an example), which is what happened in English before that sound diphthongized at a later date. That of course is just speculation by me (based on one vowel sound) and Danish might change along similar lines to English, but on the other hand it might not!

    However, languages sharing a few phonological similarities (chosen because they stand out to individuals rather than any rigourous scientific comparison) does not equate to any causal influence. One could argue that relative geographic proximity between Denmark and eastern England may have meant continuing cultural links over the centuries, but there have been very strong cultural links over time between the Low Countries and eastern England, so wouldn't Dutch and/or Frisian have had an influence too (perhaps they have...!)?
  17. CitizenEmpty Senior Member

    English & Korean
    Maybe Scandinavian accents influenced a handful of English dialects beyond southern England.
  18. Stoggler

    Stoggler Senior Member

    Sussex, GBR
    UK English
    Why Southern England? Southern England was the area of the country not colonized by the Norse from the 9th century onwards - barely any (direct) influence at all.
  19. CitizenEmpty Senior Member

    English & Korean
    I meant Northern England. Forgive my mistake, please.
  20. Stoggler

    Stoggler Senior Member

    Sussex, GBR
    UK English
    No probs
  21. ryba

    ryba Senior Member


    I'm not aware of any sort of traceable systemic influence, but there are quite a few examples of words which feature a distinctively Norse pronunciation. Those are words where a palatal pronunciation would be expected - i.e. before or after a (historically) front vowel - but what we have is a velar one, as in get < Old Norse geta, cf. Modern Danish gide (vs. Old English ġietan, where ‹ġ› corresponds to Modern English ‹y›) or as in give < ON gefa, cf. Modern Danish give (vs. OE ġiefan). The thing is the palatally pronounced versions of the words either didn't make it into Modern English (as with Old English ġietan > Middle English ȝeten) or are considered obsolete (as with OE ġiefan > ME ȝiven, yeven > ModE yive), as they got displaced by the "norsified" variants with a velar consonant. The same applies to some -k- vs. -ch-, as in Scots (and Scottish and Northern English) kirk < ON kirkja, MD kirke (vs. OE ċiriċe, whose ‹ċ› corresponds to ModE ‹ch›, whence church) as well as to numerous -sk- (rarely -sc-) [sk] vs. -sh- [ʃ], where most Modern English sk-words are of Norse origin, as with skirt < ON skyrta, cf. MD skjorte (vs. OE yrte, where ‹› corresponds to ModE ‹sh›, whence shirt). As you can see, both skirt and shirt survived, with different meanings. There are even words like shriek and screech, which are etymologically the same Germanic word, just featuring an ON-descended and an OE-descended solution in different places. :)

    PS. The Old Norse forms indicated above are actually Old Icelandic (and, thus, West-Norse) and not East-Norse (which was the dialect exported to Danelaw), that's the most general convention both in English and Danish historical linguistics.

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