The Danske Tekster

by Oliver

I’ve recently become a freelance copyeditor. It’s pretty neat so far, although working from home is an adjustment. My favorite half-joke of the past two weeks (since I received the good news) is to talk about how, as a freelancer, I can work anywhere. That includes my home, a local coffee shop, the public library, on a ridge in West Virginia, or Copenhagen. I really want to go to Copenhagen.

I joined the Brooklyn Public Library and found Danish: An Elementary Grammar and Reader by Elias Bredsdorff. (I really like the cover.) I’ve always been more interested in Swedish because of my love of Ingmar Bergman’s films but, in terms of destinations, I prefer Copenhagen to Stockholm.

I’ve only just started glancing through the book, but I’ve already found my favorite part: The Danske Tekster. In the subsection “The Written Language” (p. 2), Bredsdorff explains,

It is fairly easy for a British or American student to acquire a reading knowledge of Danish.

Three things are essential for that purpose: an elementary knowledge of the structure and grammar of the Danish language, a Danish–English dictionary, and a little imagination. Even without the help of the two former assets it is possible to understand many Danish words and sentences, because they have a close resemblance to English. As an illustration and a proof of this, three Danish texts are given below, with a total vocabulary of more than 150 common Danish words, of which only five are given in English translation. Using his [or her] imagination any English student should be able to understand and translate 90–100 per cent of the texts, even if they are the first Danish texts he has ever seen.

I had to read that twice, mostly because of how presumptuous the author was in claiming that any old Anglophone can translate Danish without having learned a lick of the language. I’m not offended by that though, because it plays right into what I like best about language: using it. Chances are good that I won’t learn much Danish (not pessimism, just realism), so it’s not a whole lot of fun to read about the specific parts of the language if I won’t ever have to use that knowledge. However, what you learn about a language means a lot more if you know that you’re learning it for a reason.

So, here’s the challenge: translate the following paragraph from Danish to English. It seems a ridiculous task, but I tried it and it was pretty fun. Go ahead and post what you think the text says in English and mail it to patrickpatrickswayze at gmail. I’ll post the book’s translation on Thursday.

It’s also worthwhile to know that the text is not especially complex, grammatically or semantically. That doesn’t make it any easier, but just keep in mind that your translation should not sound like Proust.

Nu vil vi begynde. Vi vil lære dansk. Mange danske ord er i familie med (‘med’,
with) engelske ord.

Vi er i et rum i et hus i England. her er en dør, og (‘og’, and) der er to vinduer. Vi kan se ud i en park, hvor der er mange børn. Solen skinner; det er en varm dag. Det er mandag den første september. I parken sidder en ung mand på (‘på’, on) en bænk og drømmer. På hans knæ er en åben bog. Et lille barn går i det grønne græs. Det lille barn har en ny spade i hånden; barnet vil grave et dybt hul. I et bed, hvor der er friske røde og hvide roser, går en høne og en tam ravn. En stork flyver over græsset. På græsset står en fed mand med en rød næse; han sægler iskrem. Alle børnene bil have is. Det er en varm eftersommerdag.