How the Danish Language Survived Migration

Two major charitable organizations in Denmark have funded a research study that will examine Danish speakers who migrated to Argentina and the United States. Specifically, they will be looking at second and third generations of migrants to see how well the Danish language and culture have survived.

My family and I first moved from the United States to Denmark when I was two years old, and I moved back to the U.S. on my own at 18. Each move really took its toll on my identity and sense of belonging. I have kept certain traditions, especially the ones revolving around the most important holidays. Otherwise, my day-to-day life mimics that of someone born and raised in the U.S. and, unfortunately, does not reflect much of my Danish heritage.

The research study found that Danish migrants who moved to the United States were less likely to form colonies or live close to other Danes. This isolation made it hard to hold on to Danish traditions and to stay current with the language. The Danes that migrated to America over the years developed a new form for Danish; one that the study refers to as America-Danish.

Foundation of a Language

The foundation of the Danish language is branded on my mind, like the ability to ride a bike. But the various nuances, trendy slang words and current technological terms are a challenge keep up with.

“Over the years I have adopted more English into my Danish vocabulary.”

The study found that others like me did as well. It’s reassuring to know that I’ve followed the same patterns as the subjects in this investigative project.

Cultural Exchange

The study also addressed the fact that many Danish migrants espoused people from different cultures, which made it much that much harder to keep the Danish traditions and heritage alive through subsequent generations. I married a Norwegian-American, and I have not been successful in raising our kids to be bilingual. Unless both parents speak both languages, it is challenging to add a second language to the household. I tried, on numerous occasions, to teach my kids a few Danish words and terms, but without complete dedication to the new language it is hard to keep up. Because Danish is such an uncommon language, there is little hope my children will be able to learn it in school.

I am avidly keeping track of the progress of this well-funded study, and I look forward to their final conclusion. Yet, I have a feeling that I should just look in the mirror for the answer, as it appears that my life is running parallel to that of their research subjects. Keeping the spirit of your culture alive while you live your life in another can be difficult, but worthwhile in the end, especially when the next generation is old enough to look for a sense of identity in their heritage.