German in Denmark

1.     Introduction

2.     The language in the country

1.    General information on the language community

2.    Geographical and language background

3.    General history and history of the language

4.    Legal status and official policies

3.     The use of the language in various fields

1.    Education

2.    Judicial Authorities

3.    Public Authorities and services

4.    Mass media and Information technology

5.    The Arts

6.    The business world

7.    Family and social use of the language

8.    Transnational exchanges

4.     Conclusion

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 German in Denmark

1. Introduction

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2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

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2.2. Geographical and language background

The German language (Germ. "Deutsch"; Dan. "Tysk") is used in its Standard High German variety in the district of South Jutland or North Schleswig (Dan. "Sonderjyllands Amt"; Germ. "Kreis Nordschleswig), an area of 3,938 km2 in the Danish Kingdom between the German-Danish border and the Kongeaaen, by members of a German national minority numbering between 15 and 20,000. Approx. 20% of these use German in daily communication. The Germans are concentrated in and around Tinglev (Germ. Tingleff), Aabenraa (Apenrade) and Haderslev (Hadersleben). Contact languages are the majority language, Standard Danish ("Rigsdansk") and South Jutish ("Sonderjysk"), a Danish dialect which is the dominant colloquial of the area, while German is the more formal "high" language used in meetings, discussions and in church. Denmark is officially monolingual; German is officially recognized and supported in the area, but has no official status.

Outside the minority area German is used by members of St. Peter's parish in Copenhagen, which maintains a church and a school.

German is the language of instruction in the (private) minority schools. It is taught as a subject in all Danish secondary schools. There is a minority press; German broadcasts on majority (Danish) radio and TV are rare. German is an important means of communication in cross-border transactions with the neighboring state of Schleswig-Holstein and with the German Federal Republic. German is the language of all cultural activities for the minority, which is politically represented by 16 councillors on 9 town councils in the area and has one representative on the district assembly (Dan. "amtsraad") of Sonderjylland. Further connection between community and local/regional administration is provided by the 'family counsellors' of the German minority.

The total population of the area has remained steady at about 250,000 over the past decades. The largest proportion is rural, many live in small towns, few in semi-urban areas. There are no large cities in the area. Approx. 8,000 members of the minority have acquired German as their first language and use it daily. Its status and usage receded immediately after WW II. It never quite recovered its losses. The region ist still predominantly agricultural, with the tourist business gaining increasing importance. Industrialization affected this 'peripheral' area much later and more slowly than the rest of Denmark. Its economy is still lagging behind, its standard of living staying somewhat below that of the rest of Denmark. Some of the better trained members of the minority, therefore, cannot find adequate employment in their community and move (or stay) away.

North Schleswig is officially monolingual in Danish, as is the rest of Denmark. Though German does not have official status in the area, the German minority is free to identify with German ethnicity and culture. This identification may not be denied or controlled by the authorities. Denmark is responsible for quality instruction of German as a foreign language. German schools, churches and libraries within the minority are supported. The Danish government accepts the existence of German kindergartens, schools, libraries, athletic clubs, and cultural organizations. Their status is guaranteed by the Danish-German Agreement of 1955 ("Bonn-Kopenhagener Erklärungen").

The German minority in Denmark is officially represented by/in the "Bund Deutscher Nordschleswiger" (4,100 members) and its political party, the Slesvigsk Parti ("Schleswigsche Partei") and the "Deutscher Schul- und Sprachverein für Nordschleswig" ("German School and Language Association for North Schleswig"), which actively promote German language and culture among the minority.

There have not been any real problems between this minority and the majority population since the German-Danish Agreements of 1955. The German language/minority receives support from the German state of Schleswig-Holstein and from the German Federal Government.

2.3. General history and history of the language

See Point 2.2.

2.4. Legal status and official policies

See Point 2.2.

3. The use of the language in various fields

3.1. Education

24 German kindergartens and 18 German schools are maintained by the German School and Language Association ("Deutscher Schul- und Sprachverein"). German is the main and obligatory language of education in all German kindergartens, in German primary schools and in the German high school ("Deutsches Gymnasium") in Aabenraa. About 600 children attend German kindergartens, 1200 students are enrolled in the German schools. The enrolments have been stable over the past decades. There is plenty of German teaching material available for all levels of instruction. In Danish public schools German is studied as a language by approx. 90% of all students. It has been available from 7th grade up, and is soon going to be offered even earlier. It is offered in some vocational and technical schools. German study programs are available at all Danish universities and teachers' colleges and evening colleges. There are sufficient numbers of well-trained teachers of German available. The Danish government as seen to the inclusion of information on German language and culture in public education. The Danish Ministry of Education maintains a special consultant for German. The Head of Education for Nordschleswig supervises the German minority schools.


3.2. Judicial authorities

In the court system interpreters are supplied when the litigants' knowledge of Danish is insufficient. All proceedings and documentations are in Danish. Officers of the court must use Danish.

3.3. Public authorities and services

German is seldom used in public administration in officially monolingual Denmark. All members of the German minority are fluent in Danish. Knowledge of German is an asset among Danish officials and very useful for border transactions.

In accordance with Denmark's official monolingualism all official documents and communications are in Danish. unofficially it is possible to use German with, e.g., recent German (im-)migrants whose Danish is deficient. Within the minority area, German will occasionally be used in the public service sector. German first names and family names are used throughout the minority population, German place names rarely. Official signs and directions are in Danish only, unless they refer to installations of the German minority.

3.4. Mass media and information technology

German is officially allowed for use in the media, although not especially supported. A German paper "Der Nordschleswiger", nearly 100% in German, has a daily circulation of about 4000 copies. The journal of the German association for ethnic regional studies ("Heimatkundliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Nordschleswig") is published twice a year in German and a German calendar ("Deutscher Kalender für Nordschleswig") is produced annually. Papers and magazines from Germany are easily available at local newsstands.

There are no German radio or TV stations in the minority area, but German radio and TV programmes can and will be received regularly and frequently, and are quite popular with the majority population, too.

3.5. The Arts

The small German minority produces only very few books of their own (about a handful a year), mostly of poetry and short stories, in small editions. Professional theater is offered by visiting groups from across the border. An old tradition of amateur theater productions is still alive in North Schleswig, supported by the Union of German North Schleswigers ("Bund Deutscher Nordschleswiger"). Every year a very popular culture and athletics festival is celebrated on the Knivsberg hill ("Knivsbergfest"), where German is the main medium of interaction.

German libraries are supported by Danish funds, other institutions and activities primarily from official German sources through the Union of German North Schleswigers.

In addition the District of Sonderjylland is increasingly sponsoring and supporting bilingual cultural initiatives, where Danish and German are used side by side.

3.6. The business world

A knowledge of German is a clear asset for employment in the area, especially in the tourist business. German is not used very often in advertising, though its use seems to be increasing to attract German shoppers from across the border. All inscriptions and consumer information on Danish products has to be in Danish. In addition they may be in German (and/or English). Many products marketed in the area are imported from Germany. German is clearly desirable in business transactions in this border area and heard often in retail stores and in tourist trade. Official Danish educational policy stresses the national importance of knowledge of other languages, not only but especially of German, besides English and French.

3.7. Family and social use of the language

Nearly all German speaking parents use the language with their children. After WW II the importance and usage of German decreased for political reasons. Most young people use the South Jutish dialect (of Danish; "Sonderjysk") to form social ties, occasionally German. Most marriages are exogamous. The rate of church attendance in the minority is a little higher (6%) than in the majority population. All through the area there are German and Danish ministers holding regular services in both languages. About 75% of the local clergy know German. They are all, or in the vast majority, Protestants. The Danish national church has opened special offices for speakers of German in the towns of the area (Aabenraa, Haderslev, Sonderborg, Tonder). In rural areas a 'free parish' established by Danish law and affiliated with the North Elbian Church of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg, serves the minority membership.

German is sure to survive in the area as a "high" language or "language of culture", perhaps less so as a colloquial. Minority members regard it as very necessary, outsiders as rather useful, especially in communication with their southern neighbors and with German visitors. Graduates from the minority schools have a good command of German. They know it better than their parents. Nearly all Danes are taught German at school and have access to facilities for continuing and improving their (German) education.


3.8. Transnational exchanges

Regular and frequent exchange across the border with neighboring Germany exists on all levels.

4. Conclusion

There are some interesting similarities and differences between the German minority, the "Nordschleswiger", north of the Danish-German border in Denmark, and the "Sydslesvigse", the Danish minority south of that border in Germany. Their most obvious similarity is the enjoyment of the status of protected and supported minorities since the safe-guarding "declarations" of both national majority governments, the famous "Bonn-Kopenhagener Erklärungen" of 1955, which assured both sides of the border of the right to use their languages in education, religious worship and political campaigning. In both minorities all members have a good command of the majority language.

The differences begin with the political histories of the two, which have been strongly divergent since the Franco-Prussian wars. In their effect upon the present situation only the political events of the past half-century will be considered here. 1945, the end of WW II, marked a turning point in the history of both communities: for the German Danes it meant a sudden drop from supreme status and power into national disgrace and stigma, for the Danish German cause a rise to power, popularity and unprecedented attractiveness, accompanied by a surge in consciousness, ethnic identity, language use and prestige of Danish south of the border. The very opposite happened to German in the north, with concomitant increases and decreases, respectively, in membership. The 'Kieler Erklärung' of 1949 further supported the Danish movement in North Germany; the demise of the German Danes in North Schleswig was not halted by similar assurances until the restoration of German sovereignty and its momentous economic recovery, which made possible the 1955 declarations 'equalizing' both minorities. For the German minority in Denmark, however, the losses were irrecoverable; for the German Danish minority Germany's rise to prominence meant a certain reduction to its committed core population. Still, the Danish minority party has managed to surpass the 5% clause and still maintains at least one representative at the supra-regional government level; the corresponding German party in Denmark has lost its seat.

There are quantitative differences between the two: while their geographic areas are similar in size, the minority communities differ strongly in membership. Total community membership figures are correspondents' estimates and differ widely. More reliable membership figures are: 'Bund Deutscher Nordschleswiger': 4,100 members; 'Sydslesvigsk Forening': 17,000 members. Enrolment in German Kindergardens and schools: 1,800, in Danish institutions in Germany: 7,500.

The social distribution of the minority membership again is rather similar. Both are settled in small towns and in the countryside, though the Danish minority in Germany has a strong concentration in the (larger) border city of Flensburg's shipyard labor force. The Danish side now enjoys a steady stream of German tourists throughout the area, whereas Danes come as day tourists or shoppers mostly to German Flensburg, less so to the countryside and to inland small towns.

The national status of the German language in Denmark is incomparably higher than that of Danish in Germany. Every Danish school offers German above 6th grade, so hardly any educated Dane is completely ignorant of German; Danish is offered only as an elective in German schools close to the Danish border. Many German radio and TV stations are received all over Denmark, Danish stations are only received in Northern Germany, primarily in the border area.

Finally, and very importantly, the use of the ethnic language is very different in the two communities. A somewhat regionally tinted variety of Standard Danish ('Rigsdansk') is-- besides German--the daily means of communication of the Danish minority in Germany. The German minority in Denmark uses the regional Danish dialect of 'Sonderjysk' as the daily colloquial means of interaction and reserves German, in its High Standard variety of 'Hochdeutsch', for use in (formal) community meetings, in church and in written communication. The German Danes are, therefore, always diglossic (in Sonderjysk and Rigsdansk) and bilingual (in Danish and (High) German); the Danish Germans mostly bilingual (in the German and Danish standards), occasionally also additionally diglossic in High and Low German.