Danish word of the day: Rigsdansk

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Danish word of the day: Rigsdansk

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

Today’s Danish word of the day belongs to king and country.


What is rigsdansk? 

Rige is the Danish word for a territory which is ruled by a monarch, sovereign or other head of state. It can be translated to ‘kingdom’ in English and is closely related to the German word Reich.

Though distinctive from the adjective rig, meaning rich or wealthy, the two words share some similarities, having connections to power and control.

There are several situations in which the word rige can refer to a territory, and its use is not limited to kingdoms. Det Osmanniske Rige is the Ottoman Empire, Romerriget is the Roman Empire but Kongeriget Danmark is the Kingdom of Denmark – meaning not just Denmark but also the territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Incidentally, Denmark was a kongerige both before and after King Frederik X took over the throne from Queen Margrethe II – so the word is unchanged regardless of whether there is a king or queen on the throne.

The term rige can also be used in a more abstract fashion, such as in Guds rige (‘the kingdom of God’ or heaven), or de dødes rige, ‘the realm of the dead’.

Denmark’s largest hospital, Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, uses rige in its name, which could be loosely translated to ‘The National Hospital’.

Dansk is of course the adjective for Danish in Danish.


Why do I need to know rigsdansk? 

Rigsdansk, literally ‘the kingdom’s Danish’, is a term used to refer to a standardised form of Danish dialect without any prominent regional accent.

The Danish language is rich in different regional dialects and inflections – perhaps surprisingly so for such a small country. Denmark’s composition of islands and peninsular regions has contributed to this over the centuries.

For a foreigner learning the language, it can initially be hard to distinguish these different regional accents, although some are certainly easier to understand than others: the German-influenced South Jutland accent, for example, is harder to parse than the twang of a Copenhagen dialect recognisable from many television shows.

This makes it easier to explain the existence of rigsdansk, a neutral form of Danish comparable to Received Pronunciation or “the Queen’s English” as it used to be known in the United Kingdom.

Newsreaders are a good example of people you’ll hear speaking rigsdansk, but it’s not really a marker of class: many Danes with regional accents are able to code-switch to a more neutral form of Danish resembling rigsdansk if they want to.

It’s worth noting that the Danish royal family don’t really speak rigsdansk, but rather a more old-fashioned sounding dialect associated with higher status. This particularly applies in Queen Margrethe’s case.

If you watch old Danish television shows and films it might seem like everyone is speaking like Queen Margrethe. This ‘upmarket’ dialect is, in modern times, often described as tresserdansk (‘1960s Danish’).


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