Two processes of de-dialectalisation- and a historical explanation for both

Inge Lise Pedersen

University of Copenhagen, Denmark


Denmark used to be a dialect speaking community like the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Germany, but today the Danish speech community is characterised by de-dialectalisation to a larger extent than any one of these countries.

To understand this difference between the uses of the sociolinguistic resources, I shall integrate an analysis of the historical processes characterising the Danish nation state in parallel and contrast to the neighbouring countries with the results of an analysis of the use of two morphological variables. The informants come from two (former) dialect speaking communities in East (Odder) and West (Vinderup) Jutland respectively, and the study is part of the LANCHART project. Recordings from 1978 and re-recordings with the same speakers in 2006 have been analysed, and so have recordings with a younger age cohort, also from 2006.

Historical analyses show that the Danish country people were more modern than their immediate neighbours about 1900 (Christiansen 2004). The rural districts still had a numerical increase of population, with the growth of new rural towns, and with considerable wealth among the farmers. Their way of organising the market conditions in cooperative societies made them less locally oriented than is usual among villagers, and this was accompanied by substantial dialect levelling during the first half of the 20th century, yet with geographically conditioned differences (Pedersen 2005).

A second wave of modernisation of the agricultural economy started about 1960, and the result is that we are left now with much fewer but much larger farms. This led to a decrease of the population in the rural districts, later on to newcomers from the towns, and more heterogeneous local communities. In the same period, the socialisation of pre-school children was institutionalised, as a consequence of the fact that a very large number of married women entered the labour market. One figure is illustrative: close to 90% of the 3-6 years olds were enrolled in some form of public or private day care outside the home already by 1997.

My hypothesis is that there are crucial differences between the dialect levelling processes in the two periods. While horizontal levelling in the form of regionalisation (Auer and Hinskens 1996) might have taken place in the early 20th century, the contemporary changes must be seen as part of a standardisation or a metropolisation process spreading from the metropolitan area of Copenhagen.

The hypothesis seems to be confirmed by a comparison between the two local communities under study, the East Jutland community of Odder, where the dialect levelling is far more advanced, seems to have more regional variants not belonging to traditional local dialects, than is the case in the West Jutland community, where especially the young speakers tend to adopt the standard variants wholesale directly, while more local usage seems to be restricted to certain masculine communities of practice only (Pedersen and Sch√łning 2007).

Session: Paper session
Levelling 2
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 16