Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Wonderful Copenhagen

Look away if nerdish behaviour upsets you.

One of the things I love about travelling is looking at signs, subtitles on TV and in shop windows to see how the language works. I couldn't speak any Danish, and I certainly didn't understand it when people spoke it (it sounds like a dog chewing German, if German were a bone), except for the odd word. But I found I could read it fairly well. Like English, it didn't seem overburdened with grammatical intricacy, except that the word order is fairly fixed. Maybe, I was thinking, that's why Scandinavians find English easy to learn. What's interesting in looking at Germanic languages is not what's the same, but what's different. The local name for Copenhagen, Kobenhavn - you'll have to imagine that "o" has a stroke through it - means "merchant's harbour", or so the guidebook says. Certainly, the "kob-" root means "buy" ("kauf-" in Germany and similar words in the other Germanic languages). But it's gone from English as a verb. You don't "chap" things.
You do get them "cheap", however, though not in Copenhagen.
It was interesting (for me! okay, I know it's not interesting for you... thank gahd I don't have any readers, eh?) to spot the differences between Danish and Icelandic. They have the same root, of course, but where Icelanders have perversely done all within their power to keep their language brainbreakingly difficult, Danish has become much less opaque, and more user-friendly. It would probably be fun to learn, especially since you more or less get three in one (Norwegian pretty much is Danish - or one of the Norwegians is... that's another story, and Swedish is so close that people from Malmo (I know, it has an umlaut but I'm buggered if I know how to do them - and attendant dweebs, I don't want to learn) can commute to work in Copenhagen without hitting the Linguaphone. But there'd be little point to learning it, since practically everybody in Scandinavia seems to have learned to speak English.

So, was it wonderful? Yes. I loved it. It was all very human. Loads of people on bikes, lots of kids in prams, everyone smiling and friendly. For a flaneur (add circumflexes to my list of ignorances) there is plenty to see, cobbled streets, little nooks, inexplicablenesses. Not that flaneurs need a lot to see.

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