About The Danish Language Council
About the Danish Language Council
- The main tasks of the Danish Language Council
- Fundamental principles of Danish orthography
- Online dictionaries and Electronic word lists
- The Danish Sign Language Council
- Contact information
The main tasks of the Danish Language Council
The Danish Language Council is a government research institution under the Ministry of Culture.
It was established in 1955 and has three main functions:
- to monitor the development of the Danish language, for example, by collecting new words
- to answer questions about the Danish language and its usage
- to investigate the current accepted orthographic norms, and to edit and publish the official dictionary of standard Danish orthography (Retskrivningsordbogen).
The Language Council’s functions are stipulated in:
- The Act of Parliament for orthography (Act no. 332 of 14.5.1997 on Danish orthography – text in Danish)
- The Language Council law (Consolidation Act no. 217 of 13.2.2015 on The Danish Language Council – text in Danish)
- The Ministry of Culture’s Executive Order no. 178 of 9.3.2009 on the Danish Language Council’s activities and structure (– text in Danish)
The following older executive orders can be viewed in pdf-format:
- Orthographic Executive Order from 1948 (text in Danish).
- Orthographic Executive Order from 1892 (text in Danish).
Monitoring how the Danish language is being used
The Council’s employees monitor the development of the Danish language by reading newspapers, magazines, social media, and books, and by listening to the radio and watching television. Its employees register new words and any citations containing these new words in an electronic word database or corpus. 300 000 separate words are represented in the one-million-word database which means that there are several examples of each word. Every year this corpus grows by 2000 to 3000 words and examples.
This database acts almost as a living dictionary of the Danish language. It charts in detail how Danish has developed since the mid-1950s when the first citations were collected using a card index system. This was subsequently digitized in 2008. The database gives a picture of which words are actually being used in Danish at any given point in time, without commenting on whether these terms are considered good or bad, correct, or incorrect. Just because a new word has been entered into the database does not however mean that it has been approved by the Danish Language Council. The database is there simply to reflect current usage.
The Danish Language Council’s corpus is central to its work. Internally, it is used by the Council’s employees to inform, advise, and conduct research. But it is also used externally by dictionary editors, students, and researchers who want to follow the latest developments in Danish usage.
In addition to the terms that have been collected manually in the database, the Council has access to several large text collections, such as KorpusDK and InfoMedia (the Danish print media database).
The Council has access to a wealth of advanced language technology tools. These are used to extract information about new words from these corpora and to help them analyse how Danish is actually being used.
The collection of citations and the word database are open to the public by appointment.
Providing advice and information about Danish
The language helpdesk
If there is anything you feel uncertain about in the Danish language, you can call the Language Council help desk on +45 33 74 74 74 for advice. This line is staffed primarily in Danish.
Here are some examples of what you might want to ask
- how a word is spelt
- what a word means
- how a word is pronounced
- whether an expression is correct
- what the etymology of a word is
- how a sentence should be understood
The Council receives approximately 6000 queries a year, mainly by phone. Most of these come from private companies and public institutions but private individuals also call the Language Council for advice.
The Language Council query line is open to all, and it is free.
From the queries received over the years, the Council has built a database of questions and answers. These tend to be particularly relevant as they often contain information about the Danish language and its usage which cannot be found in standard dictionaries or handbooks. Furthermore, these questions often pertain to changing language norms and to problems with the language. Since its establishment in 1955, the Danish Language Council had registered their answers on index cards and this resource was later digitized in 2010. This database grows annually by approximately 200 answers. The answers often represent research and explorative studies, and the database is an important resource for researching the development of new linguistic norms.
The Danish Language Council publishes information, research papers, and books, mostly in Danish. Some research publications, however, are also published in English and can be found on the personal websites of each researcher.
The Danish Language Council maintains the following webservices:
- The official dictionary of Danish orthography (Retskrivningsordbogen)
- The Dictionary of New Words (Nye Ord i Dansk (NOID))
- See descriptions of the various resources below.
Defining the official standard Danish orthography
The Language Council codifies the orthography of Danish by editing and publishing the official dictionary of standard Danish orthography (Retskrivningsordbogen). The most recent edition is the 4th edition 2012 (3rd edition, 2001, 2nd edition, 1996, 1st edition, 1986). You can also browse older editions back to 1872 by using ROhist – Danish Orthographic Dictionaries through History.
Following the orthography defined by the Danish Orthographic Dictionary is mandatory for all public institutions and schools, but nearly everyone, including private sector companies, complies with it. Paragraph 2 of the Act of Parliament for orthography describes in detail who is obliged to use the official orthography (Danish only).
The Danish Orthographic Dictionary gives the spelling and conjugation of approximately 64000 words. (Only in rare cases are definitions provided). In addition to the alphabetic dictionary, the Danish Orthographic Dictionary states the official orthographic rules, i.e. the rules for when to use upper-case and lower-case letters, rules for hyphenation, punctuation, and so forth.
Fundamental principles for Danish orthography
The key principles which the Danish Language Council must follow when defining Danish orthography, are tradition and usage. The Council must take these two fundamental concepts into consideration when describing the language and defining a standard orthography.
According to the principle of tradition, words and word forms must follow the guidelines laid down in the Executive Order on orthography of 1892, and used in the dictionaries published by the Danish Language Council since 1955.
This means that:
- The spelling of words is fixed, except for changes governed by the principle of usage. That is to say words are spelt according to traditional guidelines.
- Loan words that have become common in Danish are spelt according to the same rules as traditional Danish words and much older borrowings. These are mainly words of Greek, Latin, and French origin.
- Words from other languages are usually spelt as in the language of origin, notably English.
The principle of usage, on the other hand, states that words and word forms may be altered or updated over time to reflect the written norms of competent language users.
Other important principles are phonetics and constancy:
- This principle that one letter corresponds to one phoneme (or sound), is common to all alphabetic writing systems
- Danish orthography is quite complex in this respect, due to an increasing discrepancy between the orthographical tradition and the development of Danish pronunciation – much like English, but unlike Finnish or Italian.
Here are some examples:
krage (’crow’), krave (’collar’) are prounced the same way: ~ krau
noget (’something’), nåde (’grace’), nåede (’reached’) are pronounced the same way: ~ noeth
- The principle that one morpheme (or unit of language) is always written in the same way, irrespective of its pronunciation in different contexts:
flag (’flag’) vs. flagstang (’flagpole’) flag is pronounced differently: ~ flae and ~ flau
The Language Council Law contains provisions for which orthographical changes the Danish Language Council can make on its own, and which changes require authorisation from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education. The former are called “changes and updates of a non-fundamental character”, while the latter are called “changes of a fundamental character” (paragraph 2, articles 2 and 3). This is elaborated on in Henrik Galberg Jacobsen’s article ‘Ordnede forhold. Om retskrivningsloven og sprognævnsloven’ (text in Danish).
The Danish Language Council consists of a board of representatives, a board of directors and the Research and Information Institute.
Board of representatives
The board of representatives consists of 40 representatives from different institutions and organisations, who are either language experts or engage in activities that may affect the development of the Danish language: for example, The Prime Minister’s Office, The Danish Ministry of Justice, The Ministry of Education, the universities, radio and television and the teachers’, journalists’, writers’, and actors’ unions. In addition, the board of representatives can choose up to 3 personal members, who are selected because of their special expertise on the Danish language. Members are appointed for 4 years at a time.
The board of representatives has appointed a number of subcommittees that interact with the Research and Information Institute on important issues such as the editing of the orthographic dictionary. They also look into language technology and language for special purposes.
The board of representatives meets at least twice a year.
The board of directors
The board of directors has responsibility for the finances of the Language Council. It also has a say in developing the direction and strategies for the Council’s future. One member of the board of directors is appointed by the Ministry of Culture, five are appointed by the board of representatives and one is appointed by the members of the Research and Information Institute.
The Research and Information Institute
The Institute is made up of the Council’s employees and is responsible for conducting research and for providing information. In addition, the Institute administrates the board of representatives, the working committee, and the Danish Sign Language Council.
NOID is an online dictionary that describes the use and origin of new words that have recently been observed in the Danish Language. The dictionary can be browsed and filtered by various labels such as the word, the year the word was first observed, or its language of origin. It grows by approximately 200 new words every year.
ROhist enables you to browse older editions of the official orthographic dictionary as far back as 1872 and allows you to compare the vocabulary contained within them. Only the editions after 1955 are simultaneously searchable and allow direct comparison. Earlier editions are indexed as searchable pdf-files.
The site sproget.dk is the place to go if you are looking for guidance, information, or answers to questions about the Danish language and its usage. The vast majority of this site is in Danish, though an introduction to it is provided in English.
The purpose of the website is to:
- provide a single point of access to those who are looking for official and authoritative references.
- provide clear, accessible, and reliable advice and guidance about any problems you may encounter with the Danish language.
- use the Internet and other online media sources to increase language awareness, particularly with regard to nuance, accuracy, and linguistic impact.
- spread information about the Danish language and focus attention on it.
sproget.dk is the result of collaborative work with the Ministry of Culture’s two institutions for language and literature: The Danish Language Council and The Society for Danish Language and Literature.
Electronic word lists and full-form dictionaries
The wordlist from the latest edition of the Official Dictionary of standard Danish Orthography (Retskrivningsordbogen) is available in various formats for use in language technology etc.
- A complete list of the lemmas from the dictionary with part-of-speech information can be downloaded for free: RO2012.opslagsord.med.homnr.og.ordklasse.zip.
- A version of the dictionary containing inflected forms and part-of-speech information only, is available without charge. Sample list.
- A complete word list with xml-markup including inflected forms etc. is also available free of charge.
The word lists may be integrated into any language technology product, except for a stand-alone Danish dictionary of orthography (printed or electronic). Just write to email@example.com, and we will send you the lists as zipped files.
The Danish Sign Language Council
The Danish Sign Language Council was established through a change in the law governing the Danish Language Council on May 13 2014. The new law is LBK no. 217 of 13/02/2015.
The Danish Sign Language Council is in charge of providing principles and guidelines for monitoring the development of Danish sign language. Furthermore, it provides advice and information on its use. The Research and Information Institute of the Danish Language Council administrates the Danish Sign Language Council.
Dansk Sprognævn/Danish Language Council
Adelgade 119 B
Phone: +45 33 74 74 00
Language questions: +45 33 74 74 74
Opening hours for questions:
Wednesday – Friday 9.30am-12.30pm