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Denmark/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

There is no official statutory document that nominates Danish as the national language for the Kingdom of Denmark. Danish language policy is not meant to be normative but to serve as a recommendation and guide, according to the Danish Ministry of Culture. This was the purpose of the Danish language authority (Dansk Sprognævn), a scientific institution founded in 1955 which sets out guidelines and gives advice on the use of the language, but does not attempt to control the evolution of the Danish language, which has been spoken for more than a thousand years.

In 2008, a report (Sprog til tiden) was launched by the Ministry of Culture to strengthen the position of the Danish language. The revitalisation of the Danish language is one of the underpinning themes that are highlighted in the government's cultural policy, elected in November 2007. The focus of this report and the initiatives resulting from it is promoting the Danish language. The committee wishes to promote joy and pride in the Danish language through three concrete initiatives:

  • strengthen the Danish language in the home, day-care and schools;
  • strengthen the Danish language in the universities; and
  • a campaign to increase the focus on the joy related to knowing and using the Danish language was launched in September 2010 at

The first point has led to action in schools accompanying the government's focus on good writing and reading skills, including for the new Danes. 

Several concrete initiatives have been taken in recent years including:

  • the increasing focus on cultural heritage in Danish cultural policy today has led to several governmental initiatives: and (2007) in order to present the Danish language and its history to its speakers;
  • Danish schools are obliged to instruct their pupils in the Danish language. Private independent schools, also, must teach in Danish, according to the Act on Private Independent Schools (Friskoleloven). Up to 10 private independent schools have been granted permission to operate, in some school departments, in English, German or French. Only 4 schools are allowed simply to instruct in English, German and French throughout the whole school year;
  • since 2002, Denmark has followed the EU-regulation in which all citizens from the European Union are entitled to receive instruction in their native language. This also includes citizens from the Faeroe Islands, Greenland and the Danish minority in northern Germany. Native language teaching for Danes living south of the Danish border in Germany has been regulated since the Copenhagen-Bonn Declaration from 1955. Instruction in the native language for all citizens living in Denmark does not include refugees or other new Danish for instance from Africa or the Middle East. However, instruction is possible if the individual municipality decides to offer citizens courses in their native language;
  • Danish pupils are introduced to Danish in old and new forms, but rarely to different dialects from individual regions of Denmark. Norwegian and Swedish are being studied also, in order to introduce the Danish pupils to their Scandinavian heritage (last verified by the Nordic Council at their meeting in November 2006: Declaration on Nordic Language Policy);
  • the influence from the English-speaking world is one of the main ongoing debates concerning the Danish language and culture. In opposition to other Nordic countries like Finland, Norway and Iceland, Danish authorities rarely recommend Danish words instead of English terms that are appearing in the language; and
  • In 2010, the political debate concerning language has evolved around the issue of whether there should be legislation concerning the influence of the English language at the universities and other higher education institutions.

Chapter published: 10-04-2012

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