Danes - Orientation

Identification. The Danes live in the country of Denmark and Danish is their national language. The state-affiliated church is Protestant, historically a branch of the Lutheran church. Danes outside of Denmark, particularly in the United States, tend to become highly assimilated, with almost no development of ethnic neighborhoods or enclaves. The term "Dane" (Danish "Dansker"), as the name of people living in what is now Denmark, can be traced to the early Middle Ages when the Old Nordic term "Danir" was in use. Between the ninth and eleventh centuries, Old English chronicles referred loosely to all Scandinavians who invaded England as Danes (Dena).

To comprehend Danish national character in our time it is necessary to look back to Denmark of the eighteenth Century. At that time, Danish cultural distinctiveness was not really evident on manorial estates or in towns. Aristocrats and burghers each lived in terms of Europe-wide cultural norms that tended to blur and diminish their uniqueness as Danes. A national identity was to be found, however, in the way of life of the majority of the population who lived on farms and in villages. The roots of a Danish identity reach deeply into peasant culture.

Location. Geographically, Denmark is the most northerly extension of the West European Plain, which projects into Scandinavia as the peninsula of Jutland. Jutland points northward toward Norway and Sweden. Denmark also includes several hundred islands. On the largest island, Zealand, the capital city of Copenhagen lies within view of Malmö on the southern shore of Sweden. Copenhagen is located on "The Sound" (Øresund), which narrowly separates Denmark from Sweden and which provides valuable, strategic shipping links between the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea.

Demography. Denmark has a population of 5.1 million. Probably because they number so few and live in propinquity with other nations, many Danes speak a second language. German was the most popular before World War II, but now it is English.

Linguistic Affiliation. Like most Europeans, the Danes speak an Indo-European language. The three most widely distributed branches of this family are the Romance languages, the Slavic languages, and the Germanic languages. Danish is a Germanic language, and thus it is less distantly related to German and Dutch than it is to other European languages such as French or Russian. However, it has its closest ties to neighboring Scandinavian languages. The oldest known example of a Scandinavian language is a Gothic translation of parts of the Bible surviving from the fourth century. The modern Scandinavian languages in addition to Danish are Norwegian, which many Danes can understand, as well as Swedish, Icelandic, and Faroese. Although Finns share in Scandinavian culture and a minority of Finns speak Swedish as their family tongue, the Finnish language as such is non-Indo-European.

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