Danish, Druids and the Futhork

I’ve always been interested in the Scandinavian or North Germanic Languages, and so what better way to spend December than learning a little but about them (and maybe adding to Surface Languages in the process).

Germanic languages are traditionally divided into West (English, German, Dutch and Afrikaans), East (extinct) and North (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian).

My interest arose because of the Runic alphabet which we used when we were kids as a secret way of passing messages. At the time, I thought it was used by ‘druids’ and the like, and it was only as an adult that I realised that the Runic alphabet (Younger Futhork) was used in Denmark, Sweden and Norway for purposes ranging from magic (yah!) to commerce (sigh) to graffiti (woop).

The Younger Futhark evolved from the Elder Futhark itself descended from a Runic alphabet whose origins are lost in the mists of time.

The dialects of Denmark, Norway and Sweden form a dialect continuum and are mutually intelligible. So whay have I picked Danish for December and not Norwegian or Swedish? Norwegian would seem to be the natural choice as it is midway between the dialect continuum.

Well, I have two reasons, one rational and the other not particularly. The first and rational reason is that in a month I’m not going to learn to say very much, maybe a few words (and I’m very unlikely to need to ever speak Danish), but apparently Danish is the easiest of the three to learn to read. I’m always intrigued to see how much I can make out in different languages on the internet, and so hello Danish!

The second reason, is that a certain popular Danish ‘Police procedural’ has been very popular in the UK, and so this has (irrationally perhaps) piqued my interest in the language.

So there we have it.



Put your hands up if you think Spanish is easy?

Shame on you if you raised your hand.

I’ve been looking at Portuguese just to get a feel for the language (I’m not trying to learn it as such), but in a similar way to the idea behind the 52 languages in 52 weeks blog (although not so ambitious), I’m keen to expand my language horizons.

The dude behind 52 languages in 52 weeks project aimed to cover 52 languages in a year. The idea appeals to me, especially as someone who has difficulty finishing projects, but I digress.

Personally I think a more relaxed timescale such as a month per language is more suitable, allowing time off for holidays, good behaviour, work? and so  on.

As I said, I’ve been looking at Portuguese which has in turn made me consider Spanish again.

In Portuguese, as in Spanish it is in fact straightforward to string together simple sentences, as you will see when the fruits of my labour are released onto Surface Languages.

You only need to know some easy grammar/constructions to make a sentence. Grammar that you can pick up over a few hours. Subject followed by verb followed by object. Plurals add an s. Etc. Only two genders. Feminine nouns mainly ending in an a and masculine nouns mainly ending in o. Lots and lots of regular verbs ending with ar. And so armed with this information, you can make a simple sentence!

I’m messing around here, but the idea is sound. You can not do this with, for example, POLISH. Sigh.

I think it is this that gives the misleading impression that Spanish (and Portuguese) are easy languages to learn.

But, they are not easy to learn well. The initial barrier to entry, to start speaking is easy to overcome. But  anyone can speak a language badly, so don’t be fooled. It takes time to learn to speak any language well.  Even, the so-called easy languages.

And what about comprehension?????

How many of you who put your hands up are able to understand Spanish radio? Or films? Or native speech when it is not dumbed down? Or even directions when you ask ‘donde está el bar’?

Or you ask someone Qué tal? and they reply Estoy de mala uva. He pasado la noche en blanco. Easy? No, it takes time to learn these expressions. Easy is the wrong word to learn with any language. It gives the wrong impression.

The reason people erroneously consider these languages easy, is that it is (in comparison) to other languages straight-forward to start making simple (and I mean simple) sentences.

But they are not easy.

They are not difficult either.

But they all need time.



Learning lots of languages.

One of the things that interests me is learning a little bit from a lot of languages. I don’t mean in the hyper-polyglot type of way but more a snippet here, a word there, a greeting, a rhyme, how to say hello, maybe count to ten and so on.

Another thing that intrigues me is learning slightly more than a snippet, just to get a feel for or idea of a different language, and again I don’t mean necessarily learning a lot. Some of the most useful expressions (hello, goodbye, how are you doing?), counting to ten, and some very basic grammar.

I’m keen on the idea of sufficient basic grammar to be able to modify phrases from phrasebooks, munge them together and make new ones. I.e. a few basic verbs (present tense only), possessives (my, your and so forth), maybe a demonstrative or two, articles and some simple sentence structures.

And so I’m currently learning what I can about Brazilian Portuguese during November. So, to recap, in a short period of time, a good (or at least enjoyable) approach is to learn useful expressions, very basic grammar, and specific expressions that you are likely to need.

If for example, you are travelling to watch the World cup in Brazil your group of specific expressions might include football related phrases and eating, drinking and travelling type phrases.

If you are hanging about with your Portuguese mates, then maybe your group of specific expressions will include phases to amaze and amuse like ‘England are going to win the (football) world cup’.

Hmmmm. Well, who knows.

As I’m not travelling anywhere, only have a few hours to spare, and am just interested in learning a bit about the language, I’m just going to learn some useful expressions and some key grammatical points.

Naturally, I will get translations completed where appropriate – as can be seen by the deliberate mistake on the SL home page where I link to a Brazilian course that doesn’t yet exist. I hope somebody else will find these useful in days to come. One of these somebodies will probably be me, as once we move into December I will almost certainly forget what I have learnt.

Probably retaining only a snippet, a word or two! Hmmmmm.

I’ll leave you with a *snippet* of Polish, which is after all the language I’m supposed to be learning. Maybe it is true – I lack focus ????

ślimak ślimak pokaż rogi
dam ci sera na pierogi.