The cinematic culture that is Danish

Some cinema owners do not seem to think that movies without subtitles will have a future in Denmark, and have completely abandoned them, according to the country’s public broadcaster.

But they mean for movies in Danish:

Pedersen blames the necessity for subtitles on the evolution of the use of Danish in movies. Whereas in the past, actors were focused on articulating themselves in a way understandable for everyone, their main emphasis has now shifted to being as authentic as possible. Hence, many actors have chosen not to imitate more common dialects and have stuck to local versions of Danish. “It’s a small country, but there are big differences between the Danish dialects,” Pedersen explained.

But couldn’t Danish actors put at least a bit more emphasis on mumbling less to attract a bigger audience? Well, apparently not.

“It is difficult to ask actors to speak more clearly. … Sometimes, speaking the most common Danish accents would simply make the movies and the characters seem implausible,” Peter Frandsen Siggaard, a journalist for the country’s public broadcaster, explained.

Here is the full WaPo story, via Helen DeWitt.


Danish is famously hard to understand. And even Danish kids take a relatively long time to master it.

Here is a Norwegian comedy short of two Danes having a
conversation that neither of them understand:

Technically, people in Scotland speak English, but I needed subtitles to follow Trainspotting.

Some Scottish accents are hard to for English speakers around the world to understand because they are unfamilar. But I've always found Scottish people always enunciate veerry distinctly. So even if you can't parse the sounds of Proper Scottish English, those sounds are still very non-mumbly.

But the claim made by other Scandinavians is that Proper Danish actually requires mumbliness. Hence the Norwegian joke about Danish people not being able to understand each other.

Fair point.

Love how the subtitles are used - I'm assuming that they are in Norwegian - but the Danish is without subtitles.

(Of course, there is apparently more than one way to write Norwegian, but that is a level too far to explore.)

Man, placement is a problem - the subtitles in the comedy skit.

The subtitles are Norwegian. The "Danish" is nonsense.

Well, not exactly a surprise, but if you had someone from Cologne trying to speak with someone from Bavaria, it could easily be that neither understood the other when using their own dialect.

Recall that many actors in the early years of cinema in America seemed to have British accents. Then came the authentic period in American cinema personified by Marlon Brando's mumbling. Today, all actors seems to speak in a flat monotone that's hard to identify. And it's not limited to actors: think young women who attended elite colleges. Why young women speak that way but not young men is a mystery? I'm from the South and, well, it's an accent that's difficult to lose. Ironically, the Southern accent comes closest to a British accent, a modified British accent, one more akin to Shakespeare than modern British: a rhotic vs. non-rhotic accent.

Since Douthat's column today is about the latest Harvard admissions scandal, I have to mention what was once called the Harvard accent that seems to have disappeared. Has it disappeared because of the democratization of the Harvard admissions policy, contrary to the common belief that it's the elite who get into Harvard. Douthat prefers the old school and, presumably, the Harvard accent. Douthat: "But the “more meritocracy” world — the world where bipartisan criticism produces a Harvard class of 2032 with fewer legacies and non-Asian minorities and an average SAT of 1570 — could be worse than what we have. Because such a change’s essential premise, that intelligence alone really merits power, is the premise that has given us many present difficulties, and if extended may only give us more."

Several years ago I read an article (probably in the New Yorker because that's where this type of article would appear) about Mrs. Kenndy's televised White House tour. It was a big deal for those old enough to remember. The article described how she prepared for the tour by practicing that unique dialect/accent then spoken by America's elite. For example, using the word "one" as the subject rather than "you" or "he": one would know more about economics if one were to read Tyler Cowen's blog.

It wasn't a British accent:

You post a link that says the English accent was taught to theatrical students. Are you daft?

"Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

President Captain Bolsonaro is coming to an America near you.

It is an impersonator.

I'm a bitch boy!

That is an impersonator.

The double negatIve followed by an ambiguous pronoun makes the first sentence really hard to follow. It's not immediately clear exactly what they think, nor whether they are proposing to get rid of the subtitles or the movies themselves.

Beginning with the Sopranos, I have often turned on subtitles in movies and shows where I care about the dialogue in detail. Often I’m watching where others are doing something else, so don’t have to have it very loud to catch the soft bits, or if someone in the room says something at just the wrong time.

I grew up in Germany. Regional dialects are hard to understand; the dialects of Saxony or rural Bavaria were hardest for me. When someone speaks in dialect, many words are the same, but many are different. The similarities cause the listener to think that the speaker is mumbling and would be intelligible if they spoke more clearly.

The difference is that Denmark is less than 6M people, whereas Germany is over 80M. It's really weird that so few people living quite close together have such troubles understanding one another.

The majority of Chinese movies are presented with hard coded Chinese subtitles. Many accents and dialects, both on screen and in the audience, and all that, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there isn’t more than a little paternalism going on there. A sort of, The screen director will tell you what to really think of the words you hear.

Chinese dialects are effectively different languages. The differences between (for example) Cantonese and Mandarin are so large that they swamp any differences between different German dialects. Unless you just mean accents when speaking Mandarin? Do Chinese really need subtitles when Beijingers are listening to Taiwanese speak Mandarin? Or vice versa? I'm not a native speaker but can understand both groups reasonably well. It's not even as big a difference as the Deep South vs. New Jersey.

Any PBS drama or comedy I've ever tried to watch.

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