Alex Ahrendtsen (wearing a shirt with an English slogan) in an October 2014 football match with fellow politicians. Photo: Simon Skipper/Scanpix
Danish People’s Party MP Alex Ahrendtsen became the talk of the Danish political world – and the target of much mockery – on Thursday when he suggested that “it should cost a bit more” when advertisers use English words.
Although his party’s leaders quickly clarified that it wasn’t official policy, Ahrendtsen told The Local in an interview that the growing influence of English is a concern that more politicians should share.
Why are you worried about the use of English in Denmark?
About 20 percent of all courses at universities are now taught in English and it’s a growing trend. This means that university professors and students, all of whom are Danish, are now taught in English. We know from analyses and reports that professors are a bit worse when they teach in English and the students learn less than when they are taught in Danish.
The other thing is that this attracts a lot of students from Europe and they get all the benefits from the state and the [student stipend] SU which means they are paid every month to study. Danish taxpayers are paying for foreigners [to study in Denmark] and for Danes to learn in a language that is not theirs. If European citizens come and study in English, they should pay for it themselves.
If the problem is in education, why go after advertising?
More and more companies, and not just multinational companies but also Danish ones, are starting to advertise in English and only in English. I don’t mind having foreign words in our language – we’ve always had that – but communicating to a Danish audience in a language other than Danish doesn’t make sense to me. It’s quite condescending, because not everybody in Denmark speaks English.
I love our language, and when you look at the size of the vocabulary, it’s one of the 100 biggest languages. There are a lot of words to use if you want to communicate to the Danish audience, and I don’t get [why they use English]. It annoys me.
What do you have against English?
I’m not afraid of foreign languages. I myself speak English, German and French. The issue is that we are slowly giving up our own language.
Fifty-six percent of all companies that are members of the Confederation of Danish Industry now use English as their main internal language and they don’t have to.
Just look at the Faroe Islands. It’s 18 windy islands with a population of 50,000 people. They speak their own Faroese language. If they hadn’t fought for it they would all be speaking Danish now. Sometimes I wish that Danes, particularly in the capital, would do what the Faroese did instead of turning to English.
We’re on track to become the 51st state of the United State of America in a lot of aspects. I have nothing against the US, or England, [but] the elite have become so soft on Danish culture and they think English is so cool.
Do you think it’s a metropolitan thing?
I live on the island of Funen and we have this beautiful Danish singing dialect and we don’t use all these English words. We tend to stay a bit more puritan and it’s a beautiful and simple Danish. But we’re also influenced by the capital because the media and culture are so centralized in Copenhagen that it has a huge impact on our language and culture.
I think we have language anxiety in Denmark. We are afraid of not being hip and international so we tend to do things in English and not do things in Danish. I think its a sad mentality.
How do you react to being mocked for your tax proposal?
I don’t mind mockery; it’s an election campaign. But I wanted to have a debate about whether it’s time to start using our own language a bit more. Some people are concerned about it and some are not. But for the ones who are in power, and who are so hip, this isn’t a problem. And that concerns me.
I wanted to urge our companies to be more considerate and more respectful to our language and our culture, and I hope they will listen [but] I need more support from my colleagues. They don’t think it’s an issue. They’re politicians so they should be interested in our language because they’re communicating in Danish.