Denmark Language and Languages
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As you search for your ancestors from Denmark, you will find most materials are written in Danish. Although you do not need to speak or read Danish in order to do research in Danish records, you do need some knowledge of the language to understand the records. You may also find some Latin and German in Danish records.
Because Danish grammar may affect the way words appear in the records, the words in a dictionary or word list may be slightly different.
The Family History Library has published a Danish-English list of genealogical words. For an extensive word list, click here. A Danish-English dictionary can also help you in your research. You can find the word list, dictionaries, and similar language aids at many research libraries.
The following are useful dictionaries:
Magnussen, Johs., Otto Madsen, and Herman Vinterberg. McKay's Modern Danish-English-English Danish Dictionary. New York: David McKay Co., 1954. (FHL Scand. 439.81321 M275m, film 1,440,033.)
Jensen, H. Juul. Ordbog over det Danske Sprog (Word Book of the Danish Language). København: S. L. Møllers Bogtrykkeri, 1975. (FHL Scand. 403.489 D2280, vols. 1-26.)
Additional language aids (including dictionaries of various dialects and time periods) are listed in the Place search of the FamilySearch Catalog under DENMARK - LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGES and in the Subject search under DANISH LANGUAGE - DICTIONARIES.
Danish Word List
This list contains Danish words with their English translations. The words included here are those that you are likely to find in genealogical sources. If the word you are looking for is not on this list, please consult a Danish-English dictionary. (See the "Additional Resources" section below.)
Danish is a Germanic language like Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic. A major spelling and grammar reform was introduced in Denmark in 1953. Most differences between modern and old Danish are simply a matter of spelling. Carefully study the spelling section in "Language Characteristics" below. This will help you find the words in this list.
Variant Forms of Words
In Danish, as in English, the forms of some words will vary according to how they are used in a sentence. Who—whose—whom or marry—marries—married are examples of words in English with variant forms. The endings of a word in a document may differ from those in this list, for example:
- Mand man Kone wife
- Manden the man Konen the wife
- Mænd men Koner wives
- Mænderne the men Konerne the wives
- Hans Kone his wife
This word list gives the standard form of each word.
Regions of southern Denmark north of Germany use a mixture of Danish and German words in cenus and church records. German letters ä, ö, ü are used instead of the Danish letters ø and å. Common Danish names have German variants: Jørgen is written Jürgen or Jörgen. Census records have the German "ihres kinder" for their children; German "tochter" for daughter instead of the Danish "datter". German "schwester" for sister. German "frau" for female. If a word doesn't translate from Danish to English, check for translation from German.
Written Danish has three additional letters: Æ (æ), Ø (ø), and Å (å). These letters are filed after A-Z alphabetically. The letter Å (å) was officially introduced in 1953, so it never appears in older records. Prior to that time it was usually written as Aa (aa) and filed at the beginning of the alphabet. Danish dictionaries and indexes, this word list, and the Locality section of the FamilySearch Catalog use the following alphabetical order:
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z æ ø å
Spelling rules were not standardized in earlier centuries. The following spelling variations are common.
- skov spelled as schov or schou
- kvinde spelled as qvinde
- Århus spelled as Aarhus
This word list includes only words most commonly found in genealogical sources. For further help, use a Danish-English dictionary. Several Danish-English dictionaries are available at the Family History Library. These are in the Scandinavian collection. Their call numbers begin with 439.81321.
The following dictionary is also available on microfilm for use in Family History Centers:
Magnussen, Johannes Julius. McKay's Modern English-Danish, Danish-English Dictionary. New York: David McKay, 1957. (FHL book 439.81321 M275m; film 1,440,033, item 1.)
Additional dictionaries are listed in the Subject section of the FamilySearch Catalog under
- DANISH LANGUAGE - DICTIONARIES
or in the Place search under
- DENMARK - LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGES.
A free online translator is available by Google. Just type "translate" in the address bar of CHROME web browser. It will translate from and to many languages--single words and phrases. Online text (not images) can be copied from source and pasted into the translator. Then select the to and from languages desired.
See also Parish Register Headings.
To find and use specific types of Danish records, you will need to know some key words in Danish. This section gives key genealogical terms in English and the Danish words with the same or similar meanings.
For example, in the first column you will find the English word marriage. In the second column you will find Danish words with meanings such as marry, marriage, wedding, wedlock, unite, legitimate, joined, and other words used in Danish records to indicate marriage.
|banns||trolovede, trolovelse, forlovelse|
|burials||begravede, begravelse, jordet|
|christenings||døpte, døbt, daab|
|husband||mand, husbonde, husfader|
|male||mandkjøn (køn), drenge (boy)|
|marriages||copulerede, vielse, ægteviede, bryllup|
|moving in||tilgangsliste, inflytning|
|moving out||avgangsliste, udflytning|
|wife||hustru, husmoder, kone, kvinde|