Category Archives: Denmark

Language Globalization in Denmark: English Spoken Here


While following some interesting personalities in Denmark lately on my Twitter feed,  (I have a pretty good online translator and sometimes people write in English), I came across a curious development that probably exists in other non-English speaking countries as well:  American English has infiltrated Danish in technology, business, and education to the extent that now there are movements to protect the Danish language.

New Lene photoOne new Twitter acquaintance is Copenhagen-based freelance journalist Lene Hundborg Koss (pictured right).  Ms. Koss gave me her take on this fascinating language phenomenon, which she often writes about.

JS: What is language globalization? Is this the development of English infiltrating Danish and other languages?

LHK:  When we in Denmark speak of the language globalization it is mainly about Danish being influenced by the American English language.  Denmark is a small country, and it is important that the inhabitants speak other languages than Danish in order to maintain a certain level of competitiveness in the fields of research, business, and more.

Danish universities hire teachers from other countries, and when you are a student at the master level, the lectures in many fields will be in English. This is for good reason as it means that the university has a broad diversity in research and education and that the students are offered highly skilled teachers within their fields. The students in many areas have to write their reports and theses in English in order to build themselves a position in the international research environment.

But with this being the case, some language specialists fear that the Danish language over time will lose its technical/research terms.

JS: When did this globalization start to appear?

LHK:  The Danish language has always been under influence of other languages, for example English, German and French. But the influence of American English is increasing fast–not least because of the globalization.

JS:  Are English words being used only for technical things, like computer culture and the Internet? Or is there a general way that English is creeping into the language?

LHK:  Areas that are mostly affected are science/research, tech, business, PR, sports, entertainment and political journalism.  But yes, it is also coming into the language in a general way.

JS:  How do people in Denmark react to this? Is there a generational divide? Is it mostly in people below a certain age, say people under 40, who use English?

LHK:  Outside of business and education language, as described above, it is mostly the younger population that uses American English terms a lot. In order to communicate with the world–via Twitter for example–you have to write in English. That is a natural evolution and again a fact of globalization.

JS: What has been the effect of American television on your culture? For example, MTV and youth culture. Are there any specific films and TV programs that have influenced the language?
LHK: TV affects the language, but this has been the case for many years, as programs and movies from abroad are broadcast in the original language
with Danish subtitles. The globalization is especially affecting research, tech, and business language. (Business language, however, cannot be regulated easily as one cannot force businesses to write or speak in a certain way. But the education system can be regulated).
Today a teacher who speaks English does not really need to learn Danish in order to work at the university because he or she can also use English socially. This is an evolution that has taken place since the 1990’s. But a teacher that stays for years will still need to learn Danish, if he is expected to lecture the students below the master level as these lectures will typically be in Danish.
Teaching at the master level in English can also be a problem for some Danish teachers, if they don’t feel at home in the English language. This can lead to uninspiring and limited lectures  as the teacher mainly will stick to his or her manuscript without the humor and comments that are born out of mastering the language.
JS: How do people feel about the new influence of English? Are they upset, happy, don’t care?
LHK:  In the field of language research some people are upset, but for the most part I do not have the feeling that the general public is really upset about it.
JS: Is there a concern, as I’ve seen in some of the comments on your blog, that people may lose Danish or their first language and speak English instead?  I find that hard to imagine.
LHK:  In general Danish is not regarded as a language that is about to die, but some people find that we ought to be more careful about preserving the language in all its facets. In 2006 the first International Mother Language Day was celebrated with a special ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters. Goodwill Ambassador and former President of Iceland,  Mrs. Vigids  Finnbogadóttir highlighted the value of languages both as a means of communication and as expressions of culture and identity. Mrs. Finnbogadóttir qualified languages as “humanity’s most precious and fragile treasures”.
JS:  Are there any movements–either cultural or political–to preserve Danish and make sure that this English globalization doesn’t corrupt the language?  If so, what are they?
LHK:  In 2007 there was a political initiative to look into the situation of the Danish language – a committee of experts discussed the issue and in 2008 they published their views in a report called “Sprog til tiden” (“language in time” or “timely language”). This has resulted in a campaign called “Gang i sproget” (loosely translated as “come on, use the language” or “power to the language”), which is now going on.
The committee  agreed it is important that the Danish people are skilled in both Danish and English at a high level (and also are skilled in other languages). Researchers must publish and use their knowledge internationally in order to pay back society for their education. They also agreed on the importance of the universities incorporating language politics that serves both the preservation of Danish (also in research terms) and the use of English and other languages. They could however not unite on a set of rules that could be incorporated in the law about the universities. This means that there is a diversity in the use of English and Danish language at the universities today. The goal of the rules was to secure that the Danish language also in the future will be a full language with, for example, all research and technical terms.
JS:  Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with us on this subject?

LHK: I am a freelance journalist and as such professionally interested in the language for my work. I blog about writing and about language: http://skrivebloggeren.mediajungle.dk. I am also married to a German researcher who is an associate professor and teaches at DTU–The Danish Technical University. This means that I know about using a language, which is not your mother tongue, and have an interest in the debate about using two languages parallel in everyday life, for example at the university and at home. I tweet in Danish under the name @DenMagiskePen.

 P.S. From JS:  If you live in Denmark and have some personal experience of the American English globalization, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below and join the discussion here–in the language of your choice.  Tak!
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Denmark’s Paprika Steen Is Ready For Her Close-up…And Her Oscar


On Friday night, I had the pleasure of screening for the second time, the Danish award-winning film Applause at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, Ca.  Applause, directed by Martin Pieter Zandvliet from a screenplay by Anders Frithiof August and Zandvliet, stars Denmark’s leading actress Paprika Steen and is produced by her husband Mikael Christian Rieks, founder of Koncern Film.  I had originally seen the film this past January when I covered the Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2010 for Moving Pictures Magazine. The powerful drama impressed me the first time I saw it, and more so this time as I realized that Paprika Steen is in every frame of this film–much of the time in extremely unforgiving close-up–and is captivating throughout.  She was equally appealing in person, with a charming, smart, likeable personality.

Left: my snapshot of Paprika Steen at the Aero Theater, Friday, December 3, 2010. 

Applause, which won both the Bodil (Denmark’s Golden Globe) and the Robert (Denmark’s Oscar) is making Oscar-qualifying runs in America, which started on December 3 in Los Angeles and continue this week in New York City prior to a wider national release by World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation (formerly OTCBB:WWMO), who has acquired exclusive North American distribution rights for the feature. Ms. Steen is here to support the film and her role, participating in a number of the screenings with an audience Q & A.   

Paprika Steen has already won a Robert for Best Actress for her role in Applause and was nominated for Best Actress for the Bodil.

If there ever was an Oscar-worthy performance, it is Steen’s compelling tour-de-force role as the 40-something aging actress Thea Barfoed in  Applause. Shot on 16mm, the film has a grainy, gritty quality and the almost monotone blue and amber tones give the movie an overall somber, dark ambience that underscores the film’s darker themes. At the moment, there is little sunlight in Thea’s life. 

Returning after an 18-month hiatus from her children’s lives and time spent in rehab, recovering alcoholic and famous stage actress Thea comes home to reclaim her life. At the same time that she attempts to re-connect with her children, ex-husband and his new wife as a sober woman, we see flashbacks of her on stage as she plays the booze-drenched Martha in  Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which, in a strange art imitates life situation, is actual footage from Steen’s brilliantly successful role in the play in a Copenhagen production.  Martha mirrors Thea’s inner demons as she struggles to leave the past behind and find the light.  

Using a process that the actress describes as relying more on intuition than method, Steen creates for us a refreshingly naturalistic and nuanced, unabashedly flawed human character that we cannot look away from, no matter how painful the moment.  With raw, honest emotion and intimate camera close-ups, Steen  ably lets us identify with and feel compassion for an imperfect woman who is struggling to recover her life and dignity, not always successfully but very humanly, with all the flaws, wrinkles and mistakes that real people experience.   Like the toys she buys for her sons–plastic Viking weapons–even her moments of playfulness are potentially menacing and emotionally ambiguous.  

Half-American, the 46-year-old actress was born in Denmark to the American actress Avi Sagild and Danish musician and conductor Niels Jørgen.  Steen is looking forward to returning to her mother’s roots and working in  America. When an audience member asked her when she would be coming here, she  was delighted to answer candidly that she’s currently in talks with people in the States.

So, we may be seeing more of  Paprika Steen in  America soon, maybe  as soon as February…at the Oscars.

(Photo right: Steen with  screen/real life son (left) Otto Leonardo Steen Rieks and child actor Noel Koch-Søfeldt)

Production stills courtesy of World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation.
See more about Paprika Steen at: http://paprikasteenofficial.com
See more about Applause at: http://applausemovie.com