The Copenhagen Post: The Danish language's irritable vowel syndrome
An overabundance of vowel sounds makes Danish a difficult language to learn – even for Danish children, say linguists.
A 15-month-old Croatian child understands approximately 150 words, while a Danish child of the same age understands just 84 on average.
It’s not because Danish kids are dumb, or because Croatian kids are geniuses. It’s because Danish has too many vowel sounds, says Dorthe Bleses, a linguist at the Center for Child Language at the University of Southern Denmark.
“The number of vowels has big significance for how difficult it is to learn a language. Many vowels makes a difficult language,” Bleses told Weekendavisen newspaper recently.
The official number of vowels in Danish is nine: a, e, i, o, u, æ, ø, å and y.
“‘Y’ isn’t a vowel,” you say? Well, in Danish it is. In Danish, even consonants are vowels.
But written Danish is not the issue. The problems start when Danes speak. In spoken speech, Danish actually has some 40 vowel sounds, says Bleses, depending upon where the vowels are placed in words and sentence strings.
o make matters worse, modern Danes ‘swallow’ lots of the remaining consonants that would create more audible definition, or annunciation, between words. Linguists call it ‘reduction’ or ‘ellision’. It is how ‘probably’ becomes ‘probly’ in American English. In Danish, it is how ‘spændende’ becomes ‘spen-nă’, and how a simple, little sentence like 'Det er det' becomes ‘dā-ă-dā’. ...
I'm sure it is challenging but I can't imagine it is anything like a Westerner trying to learn Chinese.