If you have decided to learn Danish, (and why would you not?) it's only natural that you should want to know more about Danish speaking countries.
I would like to welcome you on a little world tour of global Danish. The club of Danish speakers may be exclusive, but perhaps less exclusive than you thought!
This article will hopefully make you just that tad wiser on that topic, and why and how this came to be.
It's hardly a surprise to anyone that Denmark is the hub of all things Danish, including the language.
But apart from the roughly 5.6 million Danes in Denmark, the language is also spoken in other regions of the world the world. Some of the Danish speaking countries might even surprise you!
A Seafaring Nation
Traditionally and historically, the Danes set the sails. Wherever you go in Denmark, the sea is never far away.
From beautiful handcrafted wooden boats back in the viking age, to the enormous container ships of modern transport, going to sea was always a viable way for Danish people in pursuit of happiness and adventure.
This, in turn, has given the Danes an insight into other cultures and ways to go about things. And with them, the Danes brought not only their dubious cuisine, but also their language, which has probably mystified a few good people around the world.
Such going round and about has had some rather peculiar consequences. Are you familiar with the word “kitchenmidden”? Perhaps not, and it's not very likely to pop up in your everyday Instagram conversations. But it exists.
The Danish version is Køkkenmødding – The French and Japanese use Kjoekkenmoedding – and the word’s origin dates back to the stone age.
What this strange creature of a word means is something along the lines of a “kitchen middling”, literally a “kitchen heap of manure”, historically a place where you would store leftovers from the kitchen, especially oyster shells, that decompose very slowly.
A more recent example would include the ombudsman. A Danish invention, and thus given its Danish name, internationally.
It specifies an institution or an official who works within a larger organisation, such as a government, parliament and the like. The job of the ombudsman is to handle complaints from the public against the organisation.
Danish Speaking Countries & Regions Where Danish Has An Official Status
From Denmark, you need to travel north to find a country where this language is spoken. Danish is, alongside Greenlandic, the official language of the world’s largest island.
Legally speaking, this can be disputed since the devolution of 2009. However, Danish is still used in much public administration. Most Greenlanders speak both languages, while smaller minorities only master one of the two.
While this could sound like a lot of people, Greenland is not what you would call densely populated. Despite its whopping 2,166,086 km², the country boasts a population of roughly 57,000 people.
The ties between the two countries remain strong. The Greenlandic/Danish short film “Ivalu” was nominated for a 2023 Oscar.
And the Danish crown prince gave his youngest daughter the Greenlandic name “Ivalo”. Greenlandic, though, is incomprehensible to most Danes.
Incidentally, the name “Greenland” is a wonderful example of the Vikings’ great sense of PR and advertising. Since more than 80% of Greenland is covered with ice sheets, green is perhaps not the colour that would immediately spring to your mind.
And the name was of course coined by a viking king, who wanted to attract settlers to his new found island. Talk about manipulation, right?
The Faroe Islands
South-east of Greenland, you'll find the Faroe Islands. As is the case with Greenland (and Iceland), the Faroe Islands were kept under the Danish throne in 1814, as a result of the Treaty of Kiel.
Compared to Greenland, The Faroes are only 1,400 km², but the population, at 54,000, is nearly as big.
And on these 18 rugged islands, Danish has an official status, as indeed does Faroese. Basically all Faroese speak Danish on some level, and they have even developed a regional variant.
Surprisingly, recent studies show that the young Faroese prefer to speak “official” Danish, rather than the regional variant.
Many younger people of the Faroe Islands speak Danish without the hint of an accent, as cities like Copenhagen are often an obvious choice for education, job opportunities etc.
Now, it must be said that the Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, have a bloody history of violence, not least among themselves. On and off, each country has been under the throne of another, and at times even gathered together as one country.
Sometimes, the northern islands appear to have been used as bargaining chips, when kings and nobility, discussed divisions of the respective countries.
Next stop on our quest for Danish speaking countries takes us south of the border, to the German region of Southern Schleswig, or Sydslesvig as the Danes have it.
The reason for this must again be found in the more gruesome pages of the history books. The Danish-German border has cost more lives than I care to think about, and the current one was established in 1920.
Consequently, on both sides of it, significant German/Danish minorities are found. Danish, for that reason, has a minority status in Southern Schleswig.
The version of Danish spoken here, it must be said, is very peculiar. Actually, to some degree, this is true of many of the southernmost parts of Jutland.
So much so in fact, that some linguists speak of an altogether different language, known to the locals as æ sproch (the language).
Heavily influenced by the huge neighbouring country, articles are used very differently from Danish, syntax is altered, and nouns unknown to other Danes are used. Æ sproch, for this reason, in its purest form, is largely incomprehensible for people from other parts of Denmark.
Many people from this area have learned a regional variant of official Danish, in order to be understood. They quickly and effortlessly switch to this more intelligible variant, when addressing non-locals.
In particular, young people moving to other parts of the country have a tendency to disown their local dialect, favouring a more standardised Danish.
This in turn, has led to efforts being made to save the dialect, including a Southern Jutland dictionary. Good to get your hands on if you’re planning on going there!
Danish Speaking Countries Where Danish Doesn't Have Official Status
Of course, the short answer here would be: anywhere the Danes go. But that would probably make you none the wiser. So, let’s try to narrow it down.
You can find Danish-speaking communities in countries as varied as Sweden, Norway, Spain, Canada, USA, Brazil, and Argentina.
As neighbouring countries, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are sometimes referred to as an “Continental Scandinavian Continuum” – that is, mutually understandable, yet clearly different.
So apart from meeting actual Danes in other Scandanavian countries, you have a good chance of making yourself understood there, once you have learned Danish.
More unlikely are of course the other, far away Danish speaking countries mentioned above.
Brazil And Argentina
From around 1864-1914, approximately 300,000 Danes, more than 10% of the population, left Denmark to try their luck around the world.
They went to many places, New Zealand and South Africa included, but the settlements in Brazil and Argentina proved especially fruitful.
It's estimated that thousands of Danes went to each of the countries, especially concentrated around Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, respectively.
The expats there establish Danish churches, social clubs, cultural institutions, organisations to promote commerce and so on. These can be found there to this day, and Danish is still spoken.
Mind you, it's the form of Danish spoken in Denmark some 100 years ago, so it may sound a bit dated to your modern ears!
The USA And Canada
By far the largest number of the emigrants went to USA and Canada, as these places account for about 90% of the expats of the period.
Many of these, historians have it, settled on false pretences of prosperity and wealth. States like Wisconsin, Iowa, California and Utah seemed to have be particularly popular.
Like their countrymen in South America, they too established their own institutions, even publishing their own Danish newspaper, Den Danske Pioneer (The Danish Pioneer).
Some of the communities were very keen on holding on to their Danish heritage.
Examples of this phenomenon can be found even today in Elk Horn, Iowa, and perhaps most famously Solvang in California.
The town is also known as “The Danish Capital of America”, and here you’ll find Danish-style windmills, churches, architecture, cooking and well, all things Danish.
The people there may not speak a clear, fluent Danish, but they still use words and phrases from their old home far away.
Danish Speaking Countries Around The World
So there you have it, a Danish learner's guide to the four (and more) Danish speaking countries worldwide.
Authorities estimate that about 250,000 Danes live outside of Denmark right now.
So, besides the regions mentioned, Danes can be found anywhere in the world. Yet another reason to learn Danish!
And you be very sure they would love to share a few phrases from their mother tongue with you!
Before you know it, your Danish will be good enough to take you to one of these Danish speaking countries!