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Cultural Semantics and Social Cognition: A Case Study on the Danish Universe of Meaning
 9783110294651, 9783110294606

Table of contents :
Figures and tables
Conventions and symbols
Chapter 1. Danish as a universe of meaning
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Overview
1.3 Language and cultural values
1.4 Danish identity, culture and language
1.4.1 The new concepts dansk ‘Danish’ and sprog ‘language’
1.4.2 Grundtvigianism and the peculiarities of Danish enlightenment
1.4.3 Scandinavian unity and diversity
1.5 Approaches to Danish cultural values
1.5.1 Parameter-based comparative approaches
1.5.2 Monographs
1.5.3 A critical summary
1.6 Doing linguistically grounded analysis: Caveats and challenges
1.6.1 Natural language and linguistic corpora
1.6.2 Linguistic and cultural heterogeneity and change
1.6.3 Ethnocentrism
Chapter 2. The NSM approach to linguistic and cultural analysis: Key issues in contemporary cultural semantics
2.1 Introduction
2.2 The NSM metalanguage
2.2.1 Semantic primes
2.2.2 Metalanguage grammar
2.2.3 Issues in Danish NSM
2.2.4 Semantic explications
2.2.5 Semantic templates
2.2.6 Semantic molecules
2.3 Perspectives and discussion
2.3.1 Conceptual vs. extensional approaches
2.3.2 Reductive paraphrase vs. metaphor mapping
2.3.3 Representational vs. critical perspectives
2.4 NSM and cultural values
2.4.1 Cultural keywords
2.4.2 Cultural scripts
2.5 Concluding remarks
Chapter 3. Roots of Danish sociality: Hygge as a cultural keyword and core cultural value
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Rolling together hygge: The limitations of English
3.3 Hygge in cross-cultural encounters
3.4 The elaborations of hygge in Danish language
3.5 The semantics of hygge
3.5.1 Explaining the rise of the verb hygger
3.5.2 Stemning ‘atmosphere’, a hygge-related word
3.6 The ethnopragmatics of hygge
3.6.1 Social cognition
3.6.2 Communicative style
3.6.3 Sensation and symbolism
3.7 How culture-specific is hygge?
3.8 Concluding remarks
Chapter 4. “It’s all about being tryg”: Danish society, socialisation and ethnopsychology
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Tryghed as a Danish cultural value
4.3 The Cardamom Law
4.4 The semantics of tryg and tryghed
4.4.1 A tryg place
4.4.2 Tryghed vs. security
4.4.3 Feeling tryg
4.5 Towards a Danish ethnopsychology
4.5.1 The concept of rammer ‘frames’
4.5.2 The importance of “overviewability” and “pedagogy”
4.6 Concluding remarks
Chapter 5. The dark side of the Danes? A semantic and discursive analysis of janteloven ‘the Jante Law’
5.1 Introduction
5.2 The literary origin of janteloven
5.3 Anti-janteloven discourses in contemporary Denmark
5.4 The semantics of janteloven
5.5 Janteloven’s hidden message of selvværd ‘self-worth’
5.6 Janteloven - a Danish super demon
5.7 Concluding remarks
Chapter 6. Danish cognitive values in cross-cultural perspective: Evidence from the cognitive verbs synes and mener
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Cognitive verbs and cognitive values
6.3 The semantics of synes
6.4 The semantics of mener
6.5 Danish cognitive values
6.5.1 A cultural script against “telling others what to think”
6.5.2 The value of selvstændig ‘independent’ thinking
6.6 Danish cognitive style in cross-cultural comparison
6.6.1 Danish and Russian verbs and values
6.6.2 Danish and Anglo English verbs and values
6.7 Pedagogical scripts
6.8 Concluding remarks
Chapter 7. Are Danes truly the happiest people on earth? Semantics meets “happiness research”
7.1 Introduction
7.2“Happiness”, meaning and culture
7.3 Explicating lykkelig, glad, and tilfreds
7.3.1 The lykkelig of intense emotion
7.3.2 The lykkelig of life quality
7.3.3 The semantics of glad
7.3.4 The semantics of tilfreds
7.4 Comparative, historical and cultural perspectives
7.5 Cultural semantics vs. “happiness research”
7.6 Concluding remarks
Chapter 8. Conclusion
8.1 Introduction
8.2 Living with Danish concepts
8.3 Achievements and implications
8.4 Suggestions for future research
8.5 Closing remarks
Author index
General index

Citation preview

Cultural Semantics and Social Cognition

Trends in Linguistics Studies and Monographs 257


Volker Gast Founding Editor

Werner Winter Editorial Board

Walter Bisang Hans Henrich Hock Heiko Narrog Matthias Schlesewsky Niina Ning Zhang Editor responsible for this volume

Volker Gast

De Gruyter Mouton

Cultural Semantics and Social Cognition A Case Study on the Danish Universe of Meaning by

Carsten Levisen

De Gruyter Mouton

ISBN 978-3-11-029460-6 e-ISBN 978-3-11-029465-1 ISSN 1861-4302 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A CIP catalog record for this book has been applied for at the Library of Congress. Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at ” 2012 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston Printing: Hubert & Co. GmbH & Co. KG, Göttingen 앝 Printed on acid-free paper 앪 Printed in Germany

For Christina

This is what semantics is very largely about: the exploration of the depths of our consciousness (Wierzbicka 1980:22)

Preface Words and meanings do not emerge out of culturally neutral worlds. They are the conceptual products of emerging communities, and as such they reflect speakers’ dominant cultural logics. Some word meanings have become pivotal for social interaction and societal life. This book is about such key words. In a sense, then, it is a word-based linguistic ethnography. My target of analysis is “The Danish Universe of Meaning” and my aim is to undertake a deep, semantics-driven exploration of the “emic realities” of Danish speakers, looking in detail at their words – indigenous social terms and value terms, such as hygge ‘pleasant togetherness’ and tryg ‘safe, secure’. In another sense, linguistic typology is the main concern of the book. Using Danish as a case study, the aim is to break new ground into crosslinguistic semantics and lexical typology. Every page of the book has a global and comparative outlook, even in its most local and Danocentric moments. Books don’t emerge out of neutral worlds either – this one is, to a considerable degree, shaped and formed by events, people and place. It’s the story of a Danish research student, trained in socially oriented linguistics, who took the Semantics Masterclass at the Australian Linguistics Institute in Brisbane in 2006. Anna Wierzbicka and Cliff Goddard were lecturing together every morning for a whole week. Deeply committed to finding out what words mean to speakers, they talked about ‘semantic’ in the same breath as ‘conceptual’. And they spoke comfortably about both ‘universal’ and ‘culture-specific’. The way they did linguistics was different – but highly appealing. I have since learnt that people are drawn to the Natural Semantic Meta-language approach for many different reasons: Its methodological rigor, its impressive number of empirical studies, or its practical relevance and applicability. What attracted me was simply: what a generous approach this is, it allows me to do all the linguistics that I want to do: Language and culture, language and cognition, language and society, language and life. Also, I was attracted to the deeply creative and explorative process of explicating, the collaborative aspect of analysis, and the emphasis on bridging the gulf between the linguist and ordinary speakers. In 2007, I moved from Denmark to Australia to start a PhD project with Cliff Goddard as my supervisor. Now things unfolded in the stimulating linguistic environment at the University of New England. In the vibrant, international postgrad community at UNE, cross-linguistic semantics was an



integral part of our daily discussions, or, really, of everyday life. This time at UNE has achieved an almost legendary status for me, and I know that others feel the same. With a creative, crazy energy and a caring social atmosphere, life was beautiful, and I couldn’t imagine a better place for thesis-writing. In Australia, I spent some of my most memorable days at the Australian National University, at half-yearly semantics workshops. I can only describe each and every workshop as a truly mind-expanding experience. It was a privilege for me to participate, and I received invaluable feedback and cross-semantic input, all crucial to my research. In many ways, the physical and linguacultural transplantation from Denmark to Australia was a great advantage, not only for my intellectual formation but for the project as a whole. My Danish friends were sceptical – but why would you move to the other side of the planet to study Danish? I believe that it is a general fact, though often not recognized, that one’s insider beliefs, concepts and worldviews need to be denaturalized before they can be identified and fully understood. Immersed in English, “that Danish something” underwent a profound illumination, as my semanticconceptual awareness sharpened through everyday life and work. A research stay at the linguistics department at Aarhus University in early 2009 was also of great importance, as it allowed me to present my work and test my hypothesis on Danish speakers, and to engage in the deep collaborative reflections that are characteristic of NSM research. This book is a revised version of my thesis, completed in 2011. It is my hope that it will inspire linguists and other students of language to take up semantics-driven cultural and typological studies in unstudied and understudied languages. Also, I hope that learners of Danish and international scholars with an interest in Denmark will use this book as a resource for semantic-conceptual learning and understanding. Carsten Levisen Aarhus, September, 2012

Acknowledgments In my work and life, I am deeply indebted to my supervisor Cliff Goddard for his generous support. His contagious dedication to understanding meaning across languages and cultures, and his entire way of communicating linguistics, has been a constant source of inspiration. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to my co-supervisor Anna Gladkova. Our hour-long semantic conversations over a Russian cup of tea have been a great source of inspiration and clarity. It is no exaggeration to say that this book owes its very existence to Anna Wierzbicka, her semantic works and visions. I am grateful for her detailed suggestions for improvements of the book manuscript and her many encouragements. I would like to thank my teachers and mentors at Aarhus University: Bill McGregor, Peter Bakker, Jan Rijkhof and Jakob Steensig who over the years have infused into me a deep sense of fascination with language and languages. Also, I would like to specifically thank the following people for their stimulating input, criticisms and suggestions: Christina Levisen, Sophia Waters, Sophie Herzberg Nicholls, Zhengdao Ye, Helen Bromhead, Sandy Habib, Ben Mc-Innes, Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Catherine Travis, Michael S. Roberts, David Penn, Jeff Siegel, Nick Reid, Mee Wun Lee, Bert Peeters, Kyong-Joo Yoon, Jean Harkins, Liz Ellis, Brett J. Baker, Diana Eades, Inés Antón-Méndez, Cindy Schneider, Jock Onn Wong, Julia Petzl-Barney, Vicky Knox, Serena Stecconi, Anne Sibly, Gavin Austin, Joshua Nash, Isabel Knoerrich Albado, Rachel Hendery, Lise Hedevang Nielsen, Torkil Østerbye, Gitte Grønning Munk, Miriam Vestergaard Kobbersmed, Janus Mortensen, Jeppe Trolle Linnet, and Jeppe Bach Nikolajsen. The active and responsive audiences at conferences, workshops and presentations in Denmark and Australia also deserve a mention. My students at Aarhus University have often challenged and inspired me to revise, rethink and improve my analyses. Vicky Knox, Christina Levisen, Lise Hedevang Nielsen and Mee Wun Lee all read versions of my manu-scripts carefully and all helped me make important improvements. At De Gruyter Mouton in Berlin, I would like to thank series editor Volker Gast, Birgit Sievert, Julie Miess, and Wolfgang Konwitschny for their comments, help and advice. The anonymous reviewer gave many helpful and insightful suggestions that have all helped improve the final text.

Contents Preface Acknowledgments Figures and tables Conventions and symbols

ix xi xvii xix

Chapter 1. Danish as a universe of meaning 1.1 Introduction 1.2 Overview 1.3 Language and cultural values 1.4 Danish identity, culture and language 1.4.1 The new concepts dansk ‘Danish’ and sprog ‘language’ 1.4.2 Grundtvigianism and the peculiarities of Danish enlightenment 1.4.3 Scandinavian unity and diversity 1.5 Approaches to Danish cultural values 1.5.1 Parameter-based comparative approaches 1.5.2 Monographs 1.5.3 A critical summary 1.6 Doing linguistically grounded analysis: Caveats and challenges 1.6.1 Natural language and linguistic corpora 1.6.2 Linguistic and cultural heterogeneity and change 1.6.3 Ethnocentrism

1 1 4 6 11 13

35 36 38 39

Chapter 2. The NSM approach to linguistic and cultural analysis: Key issues in contemporary cultural semantics 2.1 Introduction 2.2 The NSM metalanguage 2.2.1 Semantic primes 2.2.2 Metalanguage grammar 2.2.3 Issues in Danish NSM 2.2.4 Semantic explications 2.2.5 Semantic templates 2.2.6 Semantic molecules 2.3 Perspectives and discussion

42 43 43 44 47 48 54 55 59 61

17 20 24 25 28 34

xiv 2.3.1 2.3.2 2.3.3 2.4 2.4.1 2.4.2 2.5


Conceptual vs. extensional approaches Reductive paraphrase vs. metaphor mapping Representational vs. critical perspectives NSM and cultural values Cultural keywords Cultural scripts Concluding remarks

61 64 66 69 70 75 79

Chapter 3. Roots of Danish sociality: Hygge as a cultural keyword and core cultural value 3.1 Introduction 3.2 Rolling together hygge: The limitations of English 3.3 Hygge in cross-cultural encounters 3.4 The elaborations of hygge in Danish language 3.5 The semantics of hygge 3.5.1 Explaining the rise of the verb hygger 3.5.2 Stemning ‘atmosphere’, a hygge-related word 3.6 The ethnopragmatics of hygge 3.6.1 Social cognition 3.6.2 Communicative style 3.6.3 Sensation and symbolism 3.7 How culture-specific is hygge? 3.8 Concluding remarks

80 80 82 85 87 90 93 96 99 100 103 106 110 113

Chapter 4. “It’s all about being tryg”: Danish society, socialisation and ethnopsychology 4.1 Introduction 4.2 Tryghed as a Danish cultural value 4.3 The Cardamom Law 4.4 The semantics of tryg and tryghed 4.4.1 A tryg place 4.4.2 Tryghed vs. security 4.4.3 Feeling tryg 4.5 Towards a Danish ethnopsychology 4.5.1 The concept of rammer ‘frames’ 4.5.2 The importance of “overviewability” and “pedagogy” 4.6 Concluding remarks

115 115 117 121 125 126 130 133 136 137 139 144



Chapter 5. The dark side of the Danes? A semantic and discursive analysis of janteloven ‘the Jante Law’ 5.1 Introduction 5.2 The literary origin of janteloven 5.3 Anti-janteloven discourses in contemporary Denmark 5.4 The semantics of janteloven 5.5 Janteloven’s hidden message of selvværd ‘self-worth’ 5.6 Janteloven – a Danish super demon 5.7 Concluding remarks

145 145 147 149 155 158 162 163

Chapter 6. Danish cognitive values in cross-cultural perspective: Evidence from the cognitive verbs synes and mener 6.1 Introduction 6.2 Cognitive verbs and cognitive values 6.3 The semantics of synes 6.4 The semantics of mener 6.5 Danish cognitive values 6.5.1 A cultural script against “telling others what to think” 6.5.2 The value of selvstændig ‘independent’ thinking 6.6 Danish cognitive style in cross-cultural comparison 6.6.1 Danish and Russian verbs and values 6.6.2 Danish and Anglo English verbs and values 6.7 Pedagogical scripts 6.8 Concluding remarks

165 165 167 170 175 180 182 184 186 186 189 192 196

Chapter 7. Are Danes truly the happiest people on earth? Semantics meets “happiness research” 7.1 Introduction 7.2 “Happiness”, meaning and culture 7.3 Explicating lykkelig, glad, and tilfreds 7.3.1 The lykkelig of intense emotion 7.3.2 The lykkelig of life quality 7.3.3 The semantics of glad 7.3.4 The semantics of tilfreds 7.4 Comparative, historical and cultural perspectives 7.5 Cultural semantics vs. “happiness research” 7.6 Concluding remarks

197 197 201 205 207 210 214 217 220 226 228



Chapter 8. Conclusion 8.1 Introduction 8.2 Living with Danish concepts 8.3 Achievements and implications 8.4 Suggestions for future research 8.5 Closing remarks

229 229 230 232 234 236

Appendix Notes References Author index General index

238 251 266 316 322

Figures and tables Chapter 1 Figure 1.1 Table 1.1 Table 1.2 Table 1.3 Table 1.4

Map of Denmark The strata of rigsdansk (the Danish standard language) Danish-Swedish and Danish-Norwegian false friends (Type 1) Danish-Swedish and Danish-Norwegian false friends (Type 2) Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions (Australia, Denmark, Russia, China)

Chapter 2 Table 2.1 Table 2.2 Table 2.3 Table 2.4

Semantic primes, English exponents Semantic primes, Danish exponents Some Danish lexemes and lexical units Exponents of the semantic prime TRUE in English, Russian and Danish

Chapter 3 Table 3.1 Figure 3.1

The “weekday+hygge” construction Semantic nesting in hygge

Chapter 4 Table 4.1 Table 4.2 Table 4.3

Tryghed: Noun collocates (related value words) Tryghed: Verbal collocates Tryg: Noun collocates

Chapter 5 Table 5.1 Table 5.2 Table 5.3 Table 5.4 Table 5.5

Janteloven, Sandemose’s Norwegian original (1933) Janteloven, English translation A typology of anti-janteloven discourses A positive version of janteloven A positive version of janteloven, English translation


Figures and tables

Chapter 6 Table 6.1 Table 6.2

“Perspective-changing adverbs” in the collocation profile for synes The three top grades of the 13-scale system explained

Chapter 7 Table 7.1 Figure 7.1

Lykkelig, glad, tilfreds: Frequency table Happy, lykkelig and related European concepts

Conventions and symbols 1P 2P ALI ALS ANU Berl CDA CG CMT COCA CuDA DDO DSL ELF ExB GRO HI I/C IPA INF lit. KD LC LCRC LRP [m] m1 m2 MI n. NG NSM ODC ODS

first person (pronoun) second person (pronoun) Australian Linguistic Institute Australian Linguistic Society Australian National University Berlingske Tidende (newspaper) Critical Discourse Analysis common gender (grammar) Conceptual Metaphor Theory Corpus of Contemporary American English Cultural Discourse Analysis Den Danske Ordbog [The Danish Dictionary] Det Danske Sprog- og Literaturselskab [The Danish Society for Language and Literature] English as a Lingua Franca Ekstra Bladet (Newspaper) Gyldendals Røde Ordbøger [Gyldendal’s Red Dictionaries] Horizontal individualism Individualism/Collectivism International Phonetic Alphabet Infinitive literally Kristeligt Dagblad (newspaper) Left collocate Language and Cognition Research Centre (UNE) Light reflexive particle (sig, mig, etc.) Semantic molecule First meaning/sense of of a word (lexical unit) Second meaning/sense of of a word (lexical unit) Mutual Information (statistics) noun neuter gender (grammar) Natural Semantic Metalanguage [The Dictionary] Ordbog over det Danske Sprog [Dictionary of the Danish language]


Conventions and symbols


Ordbøgerne over Faste Vendinger [The Dictionaries of Fixed Phrases] PAST Past tense p.c. personal communication pmw per million words p.n. Person name P1 Danmarks Radio P1 (radio channel) Pol Politiken (newspaper) PPART Past participle PRES Present tense RC Right collocate SAE Standard Average European transl. translated UNE University of New England v. verb VI vertical individualism * ?


ungrammatical questionable grammaticality allolex

Chapter 1 Danish as a universe of meaning

Shared values, shared ideals, and shared attitudes are reflected in shared language Wierzbicka (1997: 200)



This book is the first to undertake a semantic analysis of Danish word meanings and ethnopragmatic analysis of Danish speech practices, values and attitudes, using the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) framework (Goddard and Wierzbicka 1994, 2002a; Wierzbicka 1996; Peeters 2006; Goddard 2008c).2 It is also the first linguistic work to systematically investigate the relationship between everyday Danish language and Danish cultural values, showing how the meanings of cultural keywords relate to tacit norms, attitudes, values and beliefs widely held in the Danish speech community. Along with leading scholars in cognitive and cultural linguistics (see e.g. Wierzbicka 2006a) this book argues that language is a key to unlocking “the universe of meaning” of any culture, and that linguistic semantics is of great importance for understanding everyday cognition in its cultural context. The aim of this book is to explore and explain salient aspects of the Danish universe of meaning as it has been captured in Danish language. The insight that words can be indicative of speakers’ value orientations is not altogether new in the Danish context. To exemplify, the American anthropologist and observer of Danish culture, Jonathan M. Schwartz, identified three words which he called the three Danish graces: “What is Danish in Denmark is so obvious to the foreigner there. Hygge (cozyness), tryghed (security) and trivsel (well-being) are the three graces of Danish culture and socialization” (Schwartz 1985a: 123).


Danish as a universe of meaning

By inserting Danish words into his English text, Schwartz seems to insist that there is something “special” about these Danish words, and that his English translations are only approximations. While Schwartz’ insights are now commonly cited in non-linguistic literature on Denmark and the Danes (Le Bossé 2000: 213; Gundelach 2002b: 94; Østergård 2006: 92), linguists have not engaged with his claim. This is surprising, since the claim is of a fundamentally linguistic nature. Schwartz’ observations are highly compatible with the notion of “cultural keywords” (Wierzbicka 1997), i.e. that words such as hygge, tryghed and trivsel are not culturally neutral, but culture-specific packages of meaning, which are intimately linked with Danish value orientations and cognitive styles. Ethnographic description traditionally revolves around “remote Others” (Eriksen 2002: 96), and from an Anglo viewpoint, Danish culture does not look particularly remote. In fact, from a global perspective, it is tempting to gloss over the differences within the Western world and simply talk about Western values as a monolithic set of concepts and ideals. The danger of this approach is that cultural differences within the Western world are trivialized and downplayed, and practically, it often means mistaking the cultural values of the Anglosphere for the values of “the West”. To overcome the Anglocentric bias, we have to qualify that “Western” views of the world embrace a variety of construals, concepts and beliefs which do not automatically equal those of the Anglosphere. This book aims to go beyond highly ideologized and politicized Danish words such as ytringsfrihed ‘freedom of speech’, ligestilling ‘(gender) equality’, and menneskerettigheder ‘human rights’, or beyond well-worn sociological descriptors such as “post-materialism”, “post-modernism” and “secularization” (Bondeson 2003; Zuckerman 2008). By focusing on the semantics of everyday life, this work takes its starting point somewhere else – in “humble” and “trivial” words, such as cognitive verbs, emotion adjectives and value terminology. The study of everyday words allows us to tell a different story about the texture of Danish everyday life – the story about speakers’ folk models of the world and the culture-specificity of everyday language and linguistic practices. Serious scholarly literature seeking to understand the Danish cultural universe is rather sparse and far outnumbered by the “pop ethnography” and “pop semantics” of tourist publications.3



In the past, Danish society and culture have attracted the attention of international scholarship mainly for macro-societal reasons. The main research trends have been studies in “Danish welfare state democracy” with its peculiar blend of socialism and liberalism (e.g. Campbell, Hall and Pedersen 2006; Christiansen et al. 2006) and “Danish education”, in particular the peculiar exam-free and degree-free “Danish Folk High School” tradition (e.g. Borish 1991). On the whole, the story of Danish society emerging from scholarly Anglo-phone literature is that Denmark is an “extreme society”; Denmark is the nation where people pay the highest income taxes (Horn 2008), where fewest people are said to practice religion (Zuckerman 2008), and where more people than anywhere else believe that other people can be “trusted” (Levinsen 2004). International “happiness research” has time and again declared that Denmark is “the happiest country in the world” (see e.g. Biswas-Diener, Vittersø and Diener 2010). Danish society is also commonly referred to as a “classless” (Kristiansen and Jørgensen 2003: 2), as highly “egalitarian” (Hofstede 2001; Reddy 1992: 176) and as a “social laboratory” for humanistic and progressive values (Reddy 1998: 16). Observers have described Denmark (with Sweden and Norway) as an epicentre for “tender values” – highlighting both the distinct focus on societal care and the strong cultural aversion towards violence and aggressive behaviour (Hendin 1964; Daun 1989, 1996; Borish 1991; Mellon 1992; Hofstede 1998a). Even though Danish society may be considered “extreme” from an outsider perspective on most sociological parameters, it is important to bear in mind that the cultural norms of this society are considered most natural and normal to members of the Danish speech community. From a Danish insider-perspective, there is nothing “extreme” about the Danish way of living, and certainly, Danes do not see themselves as “extremists”. In fact, Danish culture has often been described as “anti-extremist” in its cultural orientation, discouraging extreme displays of emotions and the advancement of extreme viewpoints (Reddy 1992). Danes are said to value “balance” in all areas of life (Hansen 1980) and to sceptically evaluate things which deviate from den gyldne middelvej ‘the golden middle road’, a salient, conventional metaphor for “the optimality of compromise” (Østergård 2006: 82). Paradoxically then, Danish society seems from the outside to be an “extreme society”, but guided by cultural rules from the inside which actively discourage “extremism” of any kind.


Danish as a universe of meaning

This book seeks to make sense of this unusual society by undertaking detailed studies of Danish keywords and the Danish linguistic worldview. The aim is to contribute to the emergent linguistic disciplines of cultural semantics and ethnopragmatics. Danish, like many other national European languages, is well-studied in structuralist linguistic frameworks (for an overview, see Heltoft 2003),4 but due to the hegemony of the structuralist paradigm, the study of Danish as a cultural universe has so far not been advanced in linguistics. In fact, it seems that sociologists, anthropologists and cultural psychologists, more often than linguistics, have contemplated the meaning of Danish words. To a large extent, the wealth of information about Danish assumptions, values and attitudes hidden in Danish linguistic categories and speech practices is therefore still uncharted territory. This book will take the first steps into these new areas of linguistic research, tapping into the meanings of everyday life as they are encoded in Danish language. By analysing words and linguistic practices, unwritten rules of Danish speech culture can be hypothesized and hidden value orientations can be brought to light. Through semantic techniques we can illuminate the meanings and attitudes which are obvious to the cultural insider but perplexing and puzzling to the outsider. 1.2.


The first chapter provides a big picture view on language and cultural values, situating the present work within previous studies and ongoing developments in culturally oriented linguistics. This is followed by an introduction to Danish identity, language and culture and an induction into commonly identified themes of Danish culture. Calling for a new, linguistically grounded analysis of Danish social and cultural concepts, I will critically review previous studies and claims, and discuss important methodological issues for doing linguistically grounded cultural analysis. The next chapter (chapter 2) will describe in detail the theory and analytical practice of NSM semantics, with an emphasis on perspectives and problems in Danish language. Having introduced the Danish speech community and described my methodological and theroretical framework, the core chapters 3–7 study Danish cultural keywords and Danish-specific lexical grids. These chapters all provide detailed semantic analyses and situate word meanings in their broader cultural contexts, and they all con-



tribute in various ways to the cultural-semantic and ethnopragmatic exploration of language. The overarching theme is Danish cultural values, with a particular focus on sociality, cognition and discourse. Chapter 3 provides a semantic analysis of hygge ‘pleasant togetherness’, a widely recognized Danish cultural keyword and a national emblem. It is argued that the culture-specific conceptual package of meaning captured in hygge ties together salient and distinctive aspects of Danish sociality, including ways of communicating and ways of thinking about others, and that the concept of hygge plays an important role for the interpretation of Danish symbols in everyday life. Chapter 4 provides a semantic analysis of tryghed ‘security’, a cultural keyword which is highly revealing of social and psychological concerns in the Danish speech community. The chapter explores the relation between Danish society at large, socialization practices and Danish ethnopsychology. It argues that tryghed constitutes a powerful mental ontology in everyday Danish as an important discourse tool in a diverse range of cultural domains, from pedagogy to politics. Chapter 5 studies janteloven ‘the Jante Law’, a much-cited but often misunderstood Danish cultural construct. The chapter explores the cultural semantics of janteloven and studies how the term functions in contemporary Danish discourses. Through an original semantic exegesis, the chapter exposes stereotypes commonly associated with janteloven. It argues that the underlying values can be identified in accordance with, not in opposition to, dominant cultural discourses of “tender values” in Danish society. Chapter 6 provides a semantic analysis of synes and mener, two important verbs in the elaborate Danish lexical grid of cognitive verbs. The Danish-specificity of these verbs is explored in the context of intercultural communication and cross-cultural differences in cognitive styles. It is argued that synes and mener reflect aspects of a Danish democratic ethos and mindset, and that the peculiar semantics of the Danish cognitive verbs is culturally motivated. The chapter also advances the idea that the cognitive verbs in a given language can serve as a vantage point in the study of cognitive styles and language-internal themes and approaches to cognition. Chapter 7 provides a semantic analysis of the lexical grid of good feelings by studying the three Danish “happy”-adjectives lykkelig, glad and tilfreds, none of which actually matches English ‘happy’. This chapter criticizes Anglo-international “happiness research” for relying on English happy as a comparative concept in cross-national research. The story of


Danish as a universe of meaning

the Danes as “the happiest people on earth” is critically examined from a cross-semantic perspective. Chapter 8 offers a conclusion, painting an integrated picture of the Danish universe of meaning which has emerged from semantic analysis of Danish keywords and culture-specific lexical grids. The final chapter also offers direction for further work on the Danish semantics and ethnopragmatics, reflects on theoretical impacts of this work and discusses practical applications. 1.3.

Language and cultural values

The study of the language-culture interface has had a turbulent history in linguistics. Very roughly, the language-culture question moved from the centre of linguistic inquiry (in the linguistics of Wilhelm von Humboldt, Franz Boas, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf), to the periphery in the second half of the 20th Century (in particular in Noam Chomsky’s linguistics).5 At the turn of the century, however, the question has made a vigorous comeback (cf. Evans 2010: 162). In this section, I want to briefly situate the present work by relating it to both early and recent insights into the language-culture relationship and by identifying the cultural-linguistic and intellectual schools of thought which have inspired and shaped the conception of this book. (On the general vindication and cautious reintroduction of Whorfian thinking in contemporary linguistics, see also Wierzbicka 1985, 1992; Lakoff 1987a; Lucy 1992; Gumperz and Levinson 1996; Lee 1996; Slobin 19966; Niemeier and Dirven 2000; Pütz and Verspoor 2000; Boroditsky 2001, 2003; Goddard 2003b; Evans 2010). First and foremost, this book is indebted to the groundbreaking empirical-analytical work on language and cultural values by the Australian semanticists, Anna Wierzbicka (ANU) and Cliff Goddard (UNE), and in particular by their work on cultural keywords and on the cultural “baggage” hidden in words (Goddard 1998, 2002a, 2006a, 2008a; Goddard and Wierzbicka 2004a; Wierzbicka 1985, 1992, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2006a, 2010). Chapter 2 discusses in detail the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach, developed by Wierzbicka, Goddard and colleagues. Unlike many other linguistic approaches, which have tended to marginalize the lexicon, lexical semantics has always had a prominent place in NSM theory. Wierzbicka (1996) says: “Words are a society’s most basic cultural artefact, and – properly understood – they provide the best key to a culture’s values and assumptions” (p. 237).

Language and cultural values


Any speech community, be it a national, local or regional speech community, has words which are revealing of speakers’ value orientations and assumptions. What assumptions and values are hidden in widely recognized cultural keywords such as Danish hygge (Hansen 1980; Schwartz 1985a), Swedish lagom (Daun 1989: 137), Finnish sisu (Lewis 2005: 59) or in characteristic regional words such as Viennese German Schmäh (Agar 2009: 112) or Jutlandic Danish træls (Skautrup 1968; Nielsen 2006)? Despite stretching the boundaries of English, such keywords demonstrate the limitations of conventional translation. It is clear that translational attempts such as hygge ‘cosy atmosphere’, lagom ‘exactly right, not too much, not too little’, sisu ‘persistence, resilience, inner strength’, Schmäh ‘ironic, misanthropic wit’ or træls ‘rather annoying, but unavoidable’, do not do full justice to the indigenous meanings. As Wierzbicka (1996) remarks, it is only if words are “properly understood” that they can become the key to understanding the cultural values of a speech community, and to understand words properly, we must come as close as possible to modelling speakers’ own perspectives. The important point here is that natural languages consist of experience-near concepts (Geertz 1984; Shweder and Sullivan 1993; Wierzbicka 1999: 10; Shweder 2003, 2004). Unlike experience-distant technical descriptors such as “post-materialism” or “egalitarianism”, everyday words such as hygge, lagom, sisu, Schmäh and træls, are a part of speakers’ everyday experience in their respective speech community. Also, experience-near concepts are much more language-specific than experience-distant constructs. If we want to understand cognition and cultural values “from the inside”, we must study in detail the experience-near concepts of everyday language. Instead of asking “how does the value of postmaterialism manifest itself in Danish words” or “how is the value of egalitarianism represented in Danish discourses”, this book takes its point of departure in experience-near, ordinary words and illuminates cultural values and cognitive styles from the language-internal perspective. Objecting to “truth-conditional” paradigms which dominated linguistic semantics before the 1990s, Wierzbicka envisioned a semantics which did not take its point of departure in external logic, but took seriously the internal, cultural construals of meaning: “In natural language, meaning consists in human interpretation of the world. It is subjective, it is anthropocentric, it reflects predominant cultural concerns and culturespecific modes of social interaction as much as any objective features of the world ‘as such’” (Wierzbicka 1988: 2).


Danish as a universe of meaning

This book takes Wierzbicka’s two central tenets, the anthropocentricity of meaning and the culture-specificity of natural languages, as fundamental. Because natural languages are culturally transmitted, words can be viewed as historically transmitted “cultural artefacts” (Hockett 1960; Wierzbicka 1997; Tomasello 1999: 164f), and Danish can therefore, like any other language, be viewed as a cultural universe inhabited by linguistic concepts which reflect the cultural history of the speech community. When communities of speakers pass on their language to the next generation, they simultaneously pass on knowledge, skills and values in and with language. Words have not emerged in a cultural vacuum, and languages differ widely in their semantic-conceptual construals. Applying Wierzbicka’s general insights to the Danish context, we can say that “Danish values, Danish ideals and Danish attitudes are reflected in Danish language”. In a broader sense, this work also reflects the cognitive turn in linguistics (Senft 2009). At the turn of the century, cognitively-oriented linguists have brought the language-cognition question back to the centre of scholarly inquiry (cf. volumes such as Tomasello 1998; Niemeier and Dirven 2000; Harkins and Wierzbicka 2001; Goddard and Wierzbicka 2002a; Enfield 2002a; Cuyckens, Dirven and Taylor 2003; Achard and Niemeier 2004; Dirven and Verspoor 2004; Goddard 2006a, 2008b; Luchjenbroers 2006; Amberber 2007a; Schalley and Khlentzos 2007; Sharifian and Palmer 2007; Gómez-Gonzáles et al. 2008; Kristiansen and Dirven 2008; Sharifian et al. 2008; Pishwa 2009; Malt and Wolff 2010). Cognitive linguist Gilles Fauconnier (1999) sums up the the cognitive view of language as follows: “…language is in the service of constructing and communicating meaning, and it is for the linguist and the cognitive scientist a window into the mind” (p. 96). The emphasis on words as constructing meaning, not merely labeling pre-existing concepts, has gained currency with the cognitive turn. As conceptualizations, words constitute and reflect culture-specific ways of “paying attention” to the world. The traditional fallacy of separating the semantic from the conceptual has been challenged and rejected by cognitive linguists. What follows from a cognitive understanding of language is that language is conceptualization. A number of American anthropologists have gone as far as to abandon the distinction between language and culture altogether, suggesting unifying terminologies such as “linguaculture” (Friedrich 1989) or “languaculture” (Agar 1994). (For an illuminating discussion, see Risager 2006). While partly sharing the concerns of these linguistic anthropologists, this work maintains that it is

Language and cultural values


possible and helpful to distinguish “linguistically encoded meanings” from “dominant cultural interpretative norms”, or, roughly, “language” from “culture”. In the NSM framework (see chapter 2), language and culture are viewed as intimately related, yet distinguishable social constructs. This view is reflected in NSM terminology and practices, where a distinction is maintained between semantic explications (representations of linguistically encoded meanings) and cultural scripts (representations of dominant cultural interpretative norms). The cognitive turn is in some ways a “return” to the early cultural linguistics of scholars such as Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), Franz Boas (1858–1942), Edward Sapir (1884–1939) and Benjamin L. Whorf (1897–1941) (see Darnell 2009; Lee 2009; Nerlich and Clarke 2009; Vermeulen 2009). The intellectual roots of cultural and linguistic relativism can be traced back to the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt (cf. Humboldt 1988), whose studies led him to conclude that individual languages carry particular worldviews (Risager 2006: 59). He said: “The diversity [of language] is not a diversity of sounds and signs but a diversity of the views of the world” (von Humboldt, as quoted in Trabant 2000: 25). In America, Edward Sapir (1949) came to similar conclusions: …the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached…We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation…From this standpoint we may think of language as the symbolic guide to culture. (p. 69-70)

Sapir (1949) also observed more than half a century ago, that the lexicon of abstract concepts differs just as much as words in the material, concrete domain: “Languages differ widely in the nature of their vocabularies. …Such differences of vocabulary go far beyond the names of cultural objects, such as arrow point, coat of armor or gunboat. They apply just as well to the mental world” (p. 27). To exemplify Sapir’s insight, English speakers would not expect to find universal counterparts of obviously culture-specific gastronomical terms, such as the Danish øllebrød ‘rye bread-and-beer porridge’ or gløgg ‘warm Christmas drink of mulled wine with raisins, almonds and spices’.


Danish as a universe of meaning

On the other hand, English speaking scholars tend to take for granted that terms for sociality, emotion and cognition, such as polite, happy and believe, are human universals. Recent cross-semantic studies, however, have confirmed Sapir’s observations that variety and difference are found in all semantic domains, including the abstract domains (Goddard forthcoming), such as sociality, emotion and cognition (Wierzbicka 1992; Goddard 2008a). Cross-semantic studies have also confirmed that languages share some concepts and functions. This shared side of languages has convinced some scholars of a “psychic unity of mankind” (cf. Boas 1911) and a common ground which can be utilized in our investigation into linguistic and cultural diversity. Franz Boas’ insight that everyday language use is largely an unconscious activity is also of great theoretical importance. The hidden aspect of everyday language use is exactly what makes linguistic conventions so valuable in the search for “unspoiled” information about everyday cognition, cultural values and the differences in human interpretations of the world. The culture-specificity of their words and linguistic routines is hidden to speakers, who tend to think of their own ways as natural and normal, even though they might be typologically highly unusual. By studying everyday Danish language, a Danish “folk model” of the world, including the social world, can be brought to light (cf. Holland and Quinn 1987). From the point of view of experience-near concepts of everyday language, I will explore how words capture human experience (cf. Malt and Wolff 2010). To sum up, this book undertakes empirical-analytical studies of Danish language and culture using the NSM framework, in consideration of both the early insights from German-American cultural linguistics and of the general cognitive turn of contemporary linguistics. In the following section, I will introduce Danish identity, culture and language through the lens of cultural history. The story of Denmark and the Danes serves as background for the semantic and ethnopragmatic analysis in chapters 3–7. Painting a portrait of the Danish speech community and the salience of dansk ‘Danish’ in contemporary Denmark, I will also reflect semantically on conceptual innovations in the Danish folk sociolinguistic vocabulary which charaterized Danish identity nationalism in the 19th Century.

Danish identity, culture and language



Danish identity, culture and language  Present-day Denmark comprises three main areas: 1) The Isles (Danish: Øerne), including the m ain islands of Zealand (Danish: Sjælland) and Funen (Danish: Fyn), with the capital Copenhagen (Danish: København), located on Eastern Zealand; 2) to the west, Jutland (Danish: Jylland), a continental European peninsula bordering Germany, with the main city of Aarhus (Danish: Århus or Aarhus); 3) to the east, Bornholm, an island located in the Baltic Sea, geographically closer to both Sweden and Poland than to the rest of Denmark.

Figure 1.1 Map of Denmark


Danish as a universe of meaning

Contemporary Danish is spoken by approximately 5–6 million people, most of whom live in Denmark and the northern part of the German state Schleswig-Holstein (Danish: Slesvig-Holsten). Danish is an official language in the European Union, and the vitality of the Danish language is generally considered very high (Bakker and van der Voort 2003) even though some concerns about the “threat from English” occasionally are voiced, mainly by non-linguists.7 Much like modern Austria, which was formed after the disintegration of a much larger Austrian empire, modern Denmark emerged from the gradual disintegration of the historical Danish Empire, a multilingual and multiethnic composite-state that once stretched from Greenland and Iceland, over Norway, Southern Sweden, Northern Germany and present-day Denmark, to the Islands of the Baltic Sea (presently part of Sweden and Estonia). This history is still evident in North Atlantic language curricula. Danish was once the language of instruction in schools in Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, and it is still taught as a foreign language in Icelandic, Faroese and Greenlandic schools (Eriksen 2002; Vikør 2002, 2005; Jacobsen 2003).8 By European standards, Danish stands out as an extraordinarily homogenous language in terms of its spoken standard (Pedersen 2005: 171). Traditional Danish dialects have virtually disappeared9 due to a very powerful standardization ideology (Kristiansen 1998; Kristiansen and Jørgensen 2003: 2). By a very rapid dialect shift in the 20th Century the Copenhagen standard became the language of Denmark (Kristensen 2003; Pedersen 2003). This drastic linguistic change is closely linked to what has been called a “grand narrative of Danish identity” and the emergence of a national Danish speech community (Korsgaard 2006: 147). In Danish history the year 1864 is of great symbolic value because it came to symbolize a breakdown of the Danish Empire and at the same time a breakthrough for a new Danish national psyche (Monsson 2005: 1465). It marks the end of the Second Schleswig War, when the Danish Empire was forced to cede two fifths of its territory to Prussia. The military failure of the old Empire was subsequently “celebrated” through a positive spin known as the discourse of “the internal front” (Campbell and Hall 2006: 25). Under the motto “outward loss – inward gain”10 (Borish 1991; Østergård 2006: 73), a new vision of Danishness was launched based on identity nationalism

Danish identity, culture and language


and the ideology of Denmark as a “homogenous society”. In the new, heavily “trimmed” Danish nation-state, language became the prime marker of identity. The standard language concept of rigsdansk, literally ‘empire Danish’, was re-invented as the language of the New Denmark. However, even within the tiny territory of the New Denmark, the linguistic and cultural situation was quite heterogenous and characterized by many distinctive mål ‘local vernaculars’ and local cultures, but this pre-national linguistic diversity has often been ignored in national accounts of Danish history (Frandsen 1996). With time the new ideology of homogeneity “successfully” suppressed and virtually annihilated the many mål (Kristiansen and Jørgensen 2003: 2). 1.4.1. The new concepts dansk ‘Danish’ and sprog ‘language’ To present-day speakers, the concept dansk ‘Danish (language)’ and the demonym dansker ‘Dane’ are entirely uncontroversial. If a person from Jutland were asked today whether he considered himself to be a dansker ‘Dane’ and a speaker of dansk ‘Danish’, he would look bewildered, or more likely, take it as a joke. Obviously he does! If a late 18th Century peasant in Jutland had been asked the same question, he would have looked bewildered too, but for a different reason; his identity would have been linked to his stand ‘class’, his sogn ‘parish’, his mål ‘local vernacular’ and perhaps to the closest købstad ‘market town’, but not to any dansk identity as such (Feldbæk 1992: 58). At that time the concept of dansk was associated with the Danish Empire, the Danish King and the Danish Court (where German and French, by the way, were the dominant languages). When a new Herder-inspired notion of “identity nationalism” reached Copenhagen in the 18th Century, this old world order began to change and a Danish national movement gained ground, mainly in opposition to the evolving German national identity (Østergård 2006: 71). (On language and nationalism in Northern Europe, see also Barbour and Carmichael 2000; Gregersen 2002). Danish historian Uffe Østergård (2006) classifies Denmark as an almost prototypical example of an ethnonational nation, in which language is a primary marker of national identity: “Ideologically, Danish identity belongs unequivocally to the family of the Germanic, Celtic and Slavic identities, where national identity, in the tradition of Herder, is conceived primarily in terms of language and culture


Danish as a universe of meaning

…Denmark belongs firmly in the group of ethnonational European nations for which culture has priority over state in defining the political nation” (p. 83, 85). The Danish linguist Frans Gregersen sheds further light on Herder’s influence. He says: “I think it is impossible to overestimate the influence of Herder’s thought on contemporary ideas if only for the simple reason that it formed the basis for research and national language policies from then on. The very idea of a language must have changed” (Gregersen 2002: 373, my emphasis). The observation that “the very idea of a language must have changed” is crucial for understanding the emergence of dansk ‘Danish’ as a new concept. In line with Gregersen, I suggest that a “conceptual landslide” occured in which a new understanding and conceptualization of “ways of speaking” overwhelmed the past. Not only did the new language concept of dansk rely on the re-conceptualization of Danmark ‘Denmark’, dansk also came to exemplify the new ethnonational concept of sprog, roughly ‘national language’, as opposed to the old concept of mål ‘local vernacular’.11 From a semantic-conceptual viewpoint, the language concept dansk must be considered an 18th Century invention. Needless to say, I am not denying the presence of some “Danishes” prior to this period; traditional lexicography talks about “stages of Danish”, such as Old Danish, Middle Danish and Early Modern Danish. The problem with the “stage” metaphor, however, is that it assumes a continuity of the same thing. What is important to note is that something radically new happened with the conceptualization of a Danish speech community, with dansk ‘Danish’ as its shared sprog ‘national language’. In the following, I will provide a sociohistorical overview of this new conceptual formation, which forms the basis for the contemporary Danish “universe of meaning”. Johann Gottfried Herder’s (1744–1803) thoughts were adapted by Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783–1872), who can be thought of as one of the main “architects of Danishness” in the New Denmark. The legacy of Grundtvig will be discussed in more detail in section 1.3.2, but to understand the primacy of language as a marker of national identity in the New Denmark, Grundtvig’s views are indispensable. In one of his many nation-building songs, he wrote:

Danish identity, culture and language


They belong to a people / who count themselves as part thereof / who have an ear for the mother tongue / and a passion for the fatherland / The rest, like dragon dolls / exclude themselves from the people/ banish themselves from descent/ refuse themselves a native’s right.12 N.F.S. Grundtvig (as quoted in Adriansen 2003: 29, my translation)

Grundtvig’s view on national identity was in some ways more modern than many of his European contemporaries. In Grundtvig’s thinking, national identity was not about “blood” but about “sense of belonging”. The way to show one’s national belonging and essential core identity became strongly linked with speaking and with the new national logic that “Germans speak German and Danes speak Danish.” The discursive creation of a new distinct national psyche13 went hand in hand with the construction of dansk as the national language of Denmark.14 (On the discursive construction of a national consciousness, see also Anderson 1991; Berthele 2008; Goddard 2009a.) In a semantic study of the “language” concepts in everyday English, Goddard (2009a, 2011) argues that the word language (in the crosslingustic sense, e.g. English language, French language, Chinese language) captures the idea that different ‘kinds of people’ live in different places and say things with different ‘kinds of words’. He concludes: “The language concept is essentializing, both in reifying word use and ways of speaking into something akin to natural kinds (French, Spanish, Chinese), and, perhaps more insidiously, in its implicit linkage between different ways of speaking and putatively different ‘kinds of people’ belonging in their different places” (Goddard 2009a: 23). Arguably, Goddard’s general insights are applicable to other European concepts, dominated by standardization and nationalism, including the Danish concept of sprog ‘national language’. However, Herder’s and Grundvig’s legacy of “language-based identity nationalism” seems to have taken one step further in the Danish sprog concept. Historically, the semantics of sprog was greatly shaped by discourses in the formative years of the Danish speech community, and sprog became the single most debated issue in the discursive creation of a Danish ethnonational identity. The dominant (Grundtvigian) view in these discourses was that everyone who felt dansk and spoke dansk had the right to be part of the New Denmark. Those who did not feel dansk and did not “have an ear for the mother tongue” did not belong in the New Denmark (Adriansen 2003: 29). In this way sprog became the key to ethnonational inclusion or ex15 clusion, and this aspect is reflected in the semantics of sprog.


Danish as a universe of meaning

Table 1.1 The strata of rigsdansk (the Danish standard language)16 Strata Copenhagen (North Zealand) Low German varieties High German French

Lexical contribution vernacular substratum 17 radical influence 18 extensive lexical influence considerable lexical influence

The concept sprog emphasized the “contrastive” perspective. An individual’s claim to national identity was grounded in his or her commitment to “using words of the right kind”. Several authors have pointed out the irony, that the dansk which became the vehicle for Danish identity nationalism was based on numerous continental European words, in particular German and French words. The literary written standard which came to be the source of rigsdansk had evolved on the basis of different lexical and grammatical strata: a Copenhagen (or North Zealand) substratum, but with radical continental European influences, see Table 1.1. From a semantic point of view, the etymological origin of vocabulary is in itself not particularly interesting. Essentially, Danish-specificity cannot be determined on the basis of the origin of word forms, but must be determined on the basis of meaning. Semantically, a Danish word with, say, a German origin, is not necessarily less “Danish” than a word with a distinctly Scandinavian origin. Haugen (1976: 40) maintains that Danish is somehow “more European” than the other Scandinavian languages due to its intense and century long German influences. This, I believe, is true to some extent. However, the breakdown of the Danish Empire and the breakthrough of the Danish national psyche marked a turning away from Continental Europe and in particular German influences. New orientations towards Norden ‘the North’, and also towards the Anglosphere were established. As we will see shortly, the discourse of the “internal front” meant, above all, a re-orientation towards the New Denmark and the birth of a national Danish speech community. At a most crucial state of Danish semantic development, the new-born Danish speech community turned around her own axis. In other words, this speech community was more Nordic than European, but more Danish than Nordic.

Danish identity, culture and language


1.4.2. Grundtvigianism and the peculiarities of Danish enlightenment Et jævnt og muntert, virksomt liv på jord ‘A simple, cheerful, active life on earth’ N.F.S. Grundtvig

The Enlightenment is often taken to be a monolithic change in Western values and priorities, but studies in enlightenments (with lower case e and in plural) show that different Western cultures took different paths (Borish 1991; Himmelfarb 2005; Wierzbicka 2006a) and that the Danish enlightenment therefore needs to be distinguished from, say, the British enlightenment, the Swedish enlightenment or the French enlightenment. First and foremost, the Danish enlightenment was intimately linked to the teachings of Grundtvig (see section 1.3.2) and his project of folkeoplysning ‘inclusive, popular enlightenment’. It is beyond the scope of this book to map out the full legacy of Grundtvigian influences on Danish se-mantics, but arguably it can be compared to the enormous influence of John Locke and Jeremy Bentham for British enlightenment and English semantics (Wierzbicka 2006a, 2010). None of Grundtvig’s internationally more renowned contemporaries of “the Copenhagen Golden Age” (1800–1850), such as the existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the linguist Rasmus Rask, or the fairytale author Hans Christian Andersen (Rask 2002; Pedersen 2004; Thielst 2004, Østergård 2006: 88), are believed to have shaped the emerging Danishness as much as Grundtvig and his followers, the Grundtvigianists (Lundgreen-Nielsen 2002).19 It is telling for Grundtvig’s orientation that he never travelled to Germany,20 and that he visited Britain on several occasions. Denmark’s breakaway from con-tinental Europe, the new orientation towards the Anglosphere and the new conceptual creation called Norden ‘the North’, were both orchestrated by and welcomed by Grundtvig. While inspired by other European enlightenments, Grundtvig was a highly original, subjective and independent thinker. On the one hand, he radically embraced some enlightenment values such as personal freedom. On the other hand, he was never a straight “enlightenment philosopher”; in fact, the longer he lived, the more sceptical he became of “reason” and “rationality”. In many ways, his thinking was pre-modern; one of his main 21 sources of inspiration was ancient Norse mythology. First and foremost, however, Grundtvig was an anti-elitist. His vision was the “enlightenment of everyone”, and behind this vision was a new synthesis of national,


Danish as a universe of meaning

educational, democratic and Christian-humanistic values. At the centre of Grundtvig’s attention was the peasant-farmer masses, the majority of the New Denmark. Grundtvig became the spiritual leader of “The Danish Folk High School movement” through which generations of uneducated classes of peasant-farmers were to be transformed into “enlightened Danes” (Borish 1991), not through university degrees or formal schooling, but through community-building, nation-building and “learning for life”, under the auspices of folk high schools placed in rural areas around the country. Grundtvig taught mainly through songs and hymns. One special feature of Danish popular enlightenment discourse is fællessang ‘community singing’. A Folk High School Songbook with Grundtvigianist teachings spread and gained popularity in Danish schools, homes, associations and societies. These ideologically “packed” songs had an enormous cognitive impact on the emerging Danish mentality.22 Ordinary people remembered many “one-liners” from his songs which over time turned into sayings. To exemplify, et jævnt og muntert, virksomt liv på jord, roughly, ‘a simple, cheerful, active life on earth’; a stanza capturing Grundtvig’s ideal for life became a saying as well as a practical doctrine for his many followers. Grundtvig strongly believed in “voluntarism” in all areas of life, the free formation of social life and the pluralism of ideas and beliefs (Østergård 2006: 92; Campbell and Hall 2006: 22ff). This mix of inclusiveness and voluntarism greatly influenced the ideals of Danish sociallity and led to the development of a culture of democratic attitudes, above and beyond mere adherence to democratic principles in the operations of government formation. Grundtvig’s belief in free social formation led to a new “groupy structure” of society, based on beliefs and convictions, rather than only social class or kinship. The Grundtvigian ideal of frihed ‘freedom’ is reflected in the saying frihed for Loke såvel som for Thor ‘Freedom for Loke as well as for Thor’. This generous inclusion of both Loke, the villain-God, and Thor, the hero-God of Norse Mythology, highlighted his understanding that freedom always must “rest on reciprocity”, because “reality everywhere consists of relations” (Allchin and Lossky 1997: 162):

Danish identity, culture and language


As a positive alternative to the revolutionary French conception of freedom and as an alternative to the British economic theory of liberalism, Grundtvig advocated what he called ‘a Nordic concept of freedom’… …a liberty which is actively constrained by responsibility towards one’s fellow man. Liberty is closely knit together with a commitment to care for the well-being of other people. (K. E. Bugge, in Allchin and Lossky 1997: 162)

Grundtvig valued both human intellect and imagination, but he downplayed the value of rationalism in its pure form.23 In his view, rationalism alone would lead to a detachment from the cultural rootedness and the experience of belonging which he thought was essential for an “inclusive enlightenment”. Through the sayings “school for life” and “the living word”, the Danish Folk High School discourse emphasized the human, cultural and narrative-imaginative aspects of human life, rather than “rational thinking” and “factual knowledge”. The iconoclastic Grundtvig despized all formal learning, exams, degrees, systems and exercises. He preferred discussion among peers. Hence, Grundtvigianist educational philosophy came to be based on narratives and discussion valourizing det levende ord ‘the living/spoken word’.24 Theologically, Grundtvig stood for an anti-systematic, anti-literalist form of Lutheran Christianity which diverted considerably from Lutheranism’s German origins. He had a “fundamental optimism with regards to people’s capacities” (Østergård 2006: 81), and Grundtvigianism became known as den glade kristendom, roughly, ‘happy Christianity’. (The Danish word glad will be analysed in chapter 7.) His theology can best be described as a form of “Lutheran Protestant humanism”. The Grundtvigian doctrine capturing best this attitude is Menneske først og kristen så ‘First human, then Christian’. Grundtvig’s conviction was that no-one would be able to grasp the nature of the Christian faith without an understanding of his or her cultural and historical rootedness. Finally, Grundtvig came to play a crucial role in “the Danish national movement” in which Denmark was portrayed as the “little land” which should not pursue “outer” grandeur, but only could prosper through its people (Hansen 1980; Østergård 2006: 91). Grundtvig’s teachings have been called “untranslatable” (Allchin and Lossky 1997) because his main means of expression were songs, hymns and poetry. To exemplify the ideological density of Grundtvigian discourse in the construction and consolidation of Danishness, I have extracted a discursive summary of one of this most widely sung nation-building songs Langt Højere Bjerge


Danish as a universe of meaning

[Far Higher Mountains]. Stylistically it can best be described as a “humble triumphalism” (cf. Østergård 2006: 92). Others places might have far higher mountains than we do, but we’re satisfied with our hills, and it suits us better to remain on earth. Other places might have more spectacular scenery than we do, but we belong to the land of the beech, the flowering fields and the beautiful sea. Other peoples might have done more courageous things in the past than we have, but we’re loyal and we fight for what we believe in. Other peoples might be more intelligent than we are, but we know how to live everyday lives. Other peoples might speak a more distinguished language than we do, but we can sing about all the important things in life with ours. Other peoples might be richer in natural resources than we are, but we’re happy with our daily bread. (Grundtvig’s Langt Højere Bjerge [Far Higher Mountains], my summary)

The song ends with a poetic praise of “eradication of poverty” and “redistribution of wealth”, claiming that true richness is achieved “when few people have too much, and even fewer too little” (Borish 1991: 245ff). From this brief introduction to Grundtvigianist philosophy, it should be clear that Danish popular enlightenment differed in many ways from other European enlightenment agendas. Certainly, communities in Britain were not singing Locke’s or Bentham’s songs in their homes when they had friends over for dinner. The all-embracing, multi-coloured nature of Grundtvigianist thinking – a theology, a philosophy, a nationalism and an ethos for everyday living informed and shaped the emerging Danish speech community. Østergård (2006) goes as far as to call Denmark’s emerging social democracy a “Lutheran Democracy”, influenced much more by the sociocultural teachings of Grundtvig than the socialist teachings of Karl Marx (p. 79). (See also Allchin and Lossky 1997: 162.) Grundtvig’s preoccupation with Norden ‘the North’, developed over time into a rather strong pan-Scandinavianist cultural movement. This ideological heritage poses a number of problems which I will now briefly discuss. 1.4.3. Scandinavian unity and diversity In introductory linguistics textbooks, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian often serve as an illustration of Weinreich’s famous dictum that “a lan-

Danish identity, culture and language


guage is a dialect with an army and a navy” (Weinreich 1945: 13).25 Scandinavian languages are commonly thought of as dialects which split up for political reasons as three separate nation-states evolved (Hudson 1996: 35; Crystal 2002: 8; Wardhaugh 2006: 31). Sociolinguistically, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian26 are thought of as ausbau languages rather than abstand languages (Kloss 1967; Haugen 1976: 44; Ammon et. al. 2006: 1747; Fishman 2008). A closer examination shows that these claims need to be deconstructed and liberated from their panScandinavian straitjacket. While an English speaker is likely to supercategorize a person from Denmark as a Scandinavian, a person from Denmark will most likely (when speaking English) present himself or herself as “Danish”. To exemplify the importance of the more specific ethnonational terminology in Danish, consider the different distributions of Danish and dansk “Danish” in COCA (Corpus of American English) and KorpusDK (Corpus of Danish). In COCA, Danish is only used 2.5:1 times more often than Scandinavian.27 By contrast, in KorpusDK, the word dansk ‘Danish’ is used more than 71:1 times more often than skandinavisk ‘Scandinavian’. These figures seem to affirm the importance of dansk as a cognitively salient category to ordinary speakers of Danish. A recent comparative study in sociology concluded that Scandinavian countries exhibit “a complicated pattern of both similarities and differences” (Christiansen and Åmark 2006: 335). What is true in general sociological terms, is, I believe, also true for linguistic semantics. It is important to recognize both diversity and unity in all types of Scandinavian studies (linguistic, sociological, historical or literary), but it is equally important to recognize the hegemonic, privileged status of panScandinavianism which has sought to minimize, or even trivialize, Scandinavian diversity. The historical diversification hypothesis, i.e. that Scandinavians originally were the same and spoke in the same way, has greatly shaped pan-Scandinavian attitudes to language. The old theory of Scandinavian languages (sometimes referred to as “The Orthodox Model” or “The Common Nordic Model”) hypothesized a homogenous Scandinavian past, followed by gradual fragmentation and, in recent times, politically motivated ausbau. In this model, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian were seen as developments from a once homogenous North Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. Scandinavian diversity, in this model, is thought of as recent, superficial and primarily politically motivated. This description, however, is an oversimplification, and it is historically misleading. As Östen Dahl (2001) has shown, the


Danish as a universe of meaning

traditional evolutionary story must be turned upside down: “The Scandinavian languages are much more similar to each other than they ought to be if they had simply developed on their own out of the medieval languages spoken in the respective countries” (Dahl 2001: 231). One crucial interfering factor in Scandinavian language history is the fact that Copenhagen was the centre of gravity, politically, culturally and eclessiastically at a crucial time of linguistic development. All urban centres throughout the Scandinavian region were extensively influenced, in different waves, by this cultural centre (Kristiansen and Jørgensen 2003: 7). I shall refer to this phenomenon as “the Copenhagen factor”, and to the waves of “Hafnification”28 (from Hafnia, Copenhagen’s old Latin name). The top-down “Hafnification” of Scandinavia happened at a most crucial time in Scandinavian history – at the time of Bible translating and the establishment of writing practices. The relative formal and graphemic unity of today’s Danish, Swedish and Norwegian (cf. Nesse 2003: 63) has its roots in the practices of the Hafniosphere, as formal writing in Scandinavia was modelled on Hafnia writing practices. In effect, the formal literary language which came to be codified in Sweden29 was so influenced by Hafnia writing practices that Swedish can be considered Hafno-Swedish (with the prefix Hafno- signifying the influence of Hafnia practices). Subsequently, in the process of standardization, the main literary languages were essentially Hafno-Swedish and Hafno-Danish.30 Later Hafno-Norwegian was added, modelled on Hafno-Danish. (For this reason, standard Bokmål is often referred to as Dano-Norwegian, “derived from written Danish, as pronounced by Norwegians” (Vikør 2006: 1751).31 The relatively strong formal similarities between Scandinavian languages seem to be mainly due to the parallel development of three “hafnified” standard languages. The semantic discrepancies in Scandinavian lexicons, on the other hand, appear to be due to the infusion of indigenous local meanings and speech practices into these “hafnified” linguistic forms. The claim that Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are, linguistically, dialects of Scandinavian, is based on the claim they are “mutually intelligible” (Haugen 1987). “Intelligibility”, however, is a notoriously fuzzy notion. Attitudes and “willingness to communicate” interfere drastically with what speakers think of as “intelligible”. Due to strong pan-Scandinavian sentiments in modern times (Østergård 2006: 72), interScandinavian communication has relied on a very high willingness to communicate and to accommodate. As pan-Scandinavianism has somewhat declined in recent years, especially in Denmark, young speakers

Danish identity, culture and language


have been reported to increasingly use English as a Lingua Franca for cross-Scandinavian communication (Börestam 1991) in order to understand each other. It seems clear that without a strong, ideologically motivated willingness to communicate, practical “intelligibility” among ordinary speakers of the Scandinavian languages can be surprisingly low. Evidence for this new awareness of differences is also found in recent productions of inter-Scandinavian dictionaries, courses in inter-Scandinavian communication, etc., all of which was previously thought to be unnecessary. As pan-Scandinavianist ideologies have faded, the substantial semantic differences between Scandinavian languages have become more evident. Einar Haugen (1987), himself an ardent pan-Scandinavianist,32 optimistically stated that the discrepancies in the Scandinavian lexicons “add spice to intra-Scandinavian contacts, but rarely lead to basic misunderstandings” (p.177, my emphasis). Looking at today’s Scandinavian lexicons, it is clear that Haugen’s “extra spice” metaphor underestimates the semantic discrepancies between Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. The editor of the first general Norwegian-Danish dictionary paints a more realistic picture taking semantic considerations into account: “Danish looks like Norwegian, but there are differences not only in words, but also in meanings. One can, therefore, easily be misled into thinking that we understand each other” (Nilsen 2007:ii, my emphasis, my translation). Consider the following words from the interpersonal and social lexicon. While similar in form, some words differ drastically in meaning (Table 1.2), whereas others differ in a more subtle way (Table 1.3): Table 1.2 Danish-Swedish and Danish-Norwegian false friends (Type 1) Danish grine ‘laugh’ Danish rar ‘kind, pleasant’ Danish rolig ‘calm, quiet’ Danish lun ‘snug, warm’

Norwegian grine ‘weep, cry’ Norwegian rar ‘strange’ Swedish rolig ‘fun, amusing’ Swedish lugn ‘calm’

Table 1.3 Danish-Swedish and Danish-Norwegian false friends (Type 2) Danish dejlig ‘lovely’ Danish fornøjet ‘cheerful’ Danish artig ‘well-behaved’ Danish kunstig ‘artificial’

Norwegian deilig ‘beautiful, delicious’ Norwegian fornøyd ‘content’ Swedish artig ‘polite’ Swedish konstig ‘strange’


Danish as a universe of meaning

While much attention has been paid to high-profile false friends of the type presented in Table 1.2, the more subtle discrepancies of the type in Table 1.3 are much more common but much less noticed. These less obvious false friends pose the most serious problems to successful interScandinavian communication. The formal similarities between contemporary Danish, Swedish and Norwegian do not guarantee semantic equivalence, and consequently, studies in Danish semantics do not automatically convert into a general “Scandinavian semantics”. Rather, similar Scandinavian forms constitute a problem field for both comparative semantic analysis and for interScandinavian communication. To be sure, there is considerable semantic overlap between the Scandinavian languages, but the constant challenge from “slight dissonance” and “false friends” calls for a cautious approach. Semantically, there is no alternative but to treat Danish as a separate language, rather than merely a dialect of “Scandinavian”, and to tread with caution in the cross-linguistic semantics of Scandinavian languages. Equivalence cannot be taken for granted but must be established through careful cross-semantic analysis. In this section, I have argued, using evidence from language history and conceptual semantics, that dansk is a separate language with its own set of semantic conventions and its own community of discourse which had its popular breaktrough in the 19th Century. The folk ideology semanticized in the meaning of sprog ‘national language’, appears to be, in a nutshell, “you are what you speak”. In the following section, key texts and approaches to Danish cultural values and Danish identity will be critically reviewed. 1.5.

Approaches to Danish values

So far, the main studies in Danish cultural values have been undertaken in the fields of sociology, anthropology and cultural psychology. Two kinds of studies can be distinguished, namely, large-scale parameter-based studies where Danish data have been included in a broader international, comparative study, vs. monographs, focusing on Danish cultural norms and orientations. In this section, important studies of both types will be reviewed and discussed. The parameter-based approaches are the Individualism/Collectivism theory of the American cultural psychologist Harry C. Triandis and colleagues (Triandis 1994, 1995, 1999, 2001;

Approaches to Danish values


Triandis and Gelfand 1998; Singelis et al. 1995; Sivadas, Bruvold and Nelson 2008), and the theory of Cultural Dimensions of the Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede (1998a, 2001; Hofstede and Hofstede 2004). Both approaches attempt to “measure” cultural values via certain parameters. The review of Triandis and Hofstede is followed by six research contributions into Danish values and culture: The works of Herbert Hendin (1960, 1964), Judith F. Hansen (1970, 1976, 1980), Stephen M. Borish (1991), G. Prakash Reddy (1992, 1998), Peter Gundelach (2002a, 2002b, 2004; Gundelach, Iversen and Warburg 2008), and Phil Zuckerman (2008). Though none of these scholars are explicitly linguistic in orientation, they all deal with important issues relating to Danish semantics, and most of them comment directly on Danish-specific semantic concepts. 1.5.1. Parameter-based comparative approaches In the Individualism/Collectivism (I/C) literature, Danish society is seen as a pristine example of a “horizontal individualist” culture (Nelson and Shavitt 2002; Sivadas et al. 2008). In this typology, Danish culture is grouped with other “individualist” Western societies, valuing selfreliance, self-expression and independence, and giving priority to individual goals. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, place more value on the group, on interdependence and cooperation. Triandis’ theory recognizes two different orientations inside individualist cultures, namely, the distinction between “horizontal individualism” (HI) and “vertical invidualism” (VI). In HI cultures, people dislike hierarchies and are uncomfortable with authority. They prefer to cooperate, and are uncomfortable with competition (Triandis 1995: 164). In VI cultures, people are comfortable with differences in status and accept authority and hierarchies. This form of individualism is oriented toward competition and achievement. Mainstream American culture is thought to be a prime example of a VI culture (Sivadas et al. 2008: 202). Research into Scandinavian socialities has called into question the usefulness of “individualism” as a descriptive term, by prescribing various modifications and qualifications, such as “relational individualism” (Furseth 2006), or even “collectively oriented individualism” (Gundelach et al. 2008). The need for radically modifying the meaning of “individualism” by such modifier words calls into question whether “individualism” is a felicitous category at all in accounting for Danish culture.


Danish as a universe of meaning

Even if we accept the claim that Danish culture is also a “horizontal” culture, it is important to note that speakers of Danish neither think nor speak of themselves in such terms. The terminology of I/C theory exemplifies well the problematic distance between “the analyst” and “the analysed” that characterizes comparative social sciences. The term “horizontal individualism” might be sophisticated, but it lacks in cognitive plausibility because it is unrecognisable to speakers and distant from their own concepts and understanding. I/C theory does not consult the categories provided by natural language, and neither does it take into account the folk knowledge and the insider-perspectives of speakers. Ultimately, the construct “horizontal individualism” is too experiencedistant and obscure to adequately describe Danish culture (on experiencenear concepts, see section 1.2). Arguably, Triandis’ constructs of “individualism” and “collectivism” have been successful in terms of impact, but forcing cultures into this four-way typology of individualism vs. collectivism, horizontal vs. vertical, is highly problematic in the case of Danish. Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions differ from Triandis’ work by measuring cultures according to multiple parameters. Hofstede and colleagues have ambitiously set up a programme to compare cultural values and behaviours across nations. So far 56 countries and regions have been analysed. While admitting that “nations” are not the most natural unit of cultural analysis, using them is justified as being “the only kind of units available” (Hofstede 2002: 2). The core of Hofstede’s contrastive analysis consists of four cultural dimensions: “power distance”, “individualism”, “masculinity” and “uncertainty avoidance”. (A fifth dimension “long-term vs. short-term orientation” has been added recently but has not yet been applied to the analysis of “Danish national culture”.) In Hofstede’s analysis, Denmark stands out as a strikingly non-average country, having extreme scores on all four “cultural dimensions”. To exemplify, Danish national culture figures very low in the “power distance index”; in other words, Danish culture is found to be one of the world’s most “egalitarian” societies, where people do not expect or accept that power is distributed unequally. Even though it does not score as high as countries dominated by Anglo values,33 Denmark figures in the top 10 of the “individualism” index. In the “masculinity index”, Danish culture figures very low, indicating that “tender” values are dominant. In Hofstede’s terminology, “masculinity” implies that people (and men in particular) are competitive, assertive, ambitious, focused on accumulation of wealth and material possessions and maximally different from what he

Approaches to Danish values


views as “feminine” values: being caring, modest, and focused on relationships (see also Verweij 1998). Finally, Denmark stands out on the “uncertainty avoidance” dimension, which has to do with the degree of belief in absolute truths. In a global comparison, Denmark turns out to be an exceptionally “relativistic” country. Hofstede’s value indices for Australia, Denmark, Russia and China are summarized in Table 1.4. Table 1.4 Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions (Australia, Denmark, Russia, China) Australia

Denmark Russia


Power distance:


very low

very high



very high



very low



very low



Uncertainty avoidance:


very low

very high


Linguists have criticized Hofstede’s and Triandis’ approaches for forcing data into ready-made technical categories, and thereby distorting indigenous viewpoints (Goddard 2006a: 15; Wierzbicka 2006a: 24). To exemplify, speakers of Danish do not think of themselves as having a low degree of “masculinity”. In fact, this perspective is as meaningless for female speakers as it is offensive for male speakers. Speakers of Danish, no matter which gender, simply do not recognize “a low degree of masculinity” as a Danish national value. Semanticist Catherine Travis elaborates the critique of Hofstede’s approach in the following way: …even with the four dimensions the analyst is still forced to consider different cultures in the one mould, in terms of where they fall on each of the dimensions. Rather than determining where on a given continuum different cultures lie…cultural analysis can be more insightful if we are able to look from within, view the culture as it is seen by its members, and describe it as a cultural insider, or at least in a way that is accessible to cultural insiders. One of the clearest manifestations of cultural models is found in the linguistic practices of that society. (Travis 2006a: 201; my emphasis)

Hofstede admits that his dimensions are constructions, but so, he argues, is “culture” and “values”. Hofstede fails to address the problem of experience-near and experience-distant concepts (see section 1.2) and it is


Danish as a universe of meaning

not always clear to which degree “masculinity” and “power” are English words, or if and when they mean something different in Hofstede’s terminology. Is it “masculinity” and “power” as Hofstede defines it, or is it masculinity and power as defined by everyday English? Sometimes the words seem to take on a more technical sense, and at other times, they seem to be interpreted via everyday English semantics. To avoid obscurity, it is important to solve these definitional problems. 1.5.2. Monographs34 Hendin’s now classic Suicide and Scandinavia: A psychoanalytical study of culture and character (1964) studies the psychodynamics of suicide in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Hendin sets out to explain the “Scandinavian Suicide Phenomenon”, the puzzling distribution of Scandinavian suicide rates: very low in Norway and very high in Denmark and Sweden. Hendin’s work was innovative in that he claimed that cultural models were all-important in explaining suicide as a psychological and social phenomenon, and that only differences in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian cultural values could explain different tendencies in suicidal patients. Hendin’s work relates to the research trend into “national character” of the time (e.g. Bateson and Mead 1942; Benedict 1946, 1949; Haring 1948; Gorer and Rickman 1949; Adorno et al. 1950; Mead 1951; Gorer 1955; Barzini 1964). In Hendin’s view, Scandinavia was to be viewed as a modern psychological laboratory: Denmark, Norway and Sweden comprized three relatively homogenous populations, and at the same time, three distinct national cultures, each with a different dominant “psychosocial character”. Hendin argued that the Danish psychosocial character from early childhood was built on “control of aggression” and “social dependency”. Danish children were found to be indulged in for much longer and cuddled much more than Norwegian, Swedish (and American) children, and “avoidance of aggression” seemed to be a key theme in Danish child rearing. Arousal of guilt and social exclusion were found to be major parental tools in socialization toward “non-aggressiveness”, and humour was found to be the only socially acceptable outlet of “aggression”. In Hendin’s (1964) analysis, the Danish socialization towards nonagressiveness led to a “character attitude of passivity” (p. 35), particularly prevalent in Danish males. Generally, Danish psychosocial character showed very strong tendencies towards “social dependency”, and Danish

Approaches to Danish values


suicides were generally found to be of the “dependency loss” type (p. 146). In comparison, Swedish suicides were found to be largely of the “performance” type (p. 146), committed in self-hatred for not living up to social expectations. In Norway, where suicide rates were remarkably low, a “moral” type of suicide prevailed (p. 147), explained by Hendin as a result of the dominating puritanical, rural aspects of Norwegian culture. Hendin ascribed great value to the role of language and reflected at length on words like forurettet ‘to feel righteously angry and unjustly abused’ which did not have counterparts in his native English, and the idiom at tie noget ihjel ‘to deliberately stop speaking of some sensitive issue until people have forgotten about it’ (lit. ‘to silence something to death’). He said: “Language is obviously a vital factor in any psychoanalytic approach…Much can be revealed by special words and idioms of a language” (Hendin 1964: 155). These observations, however, did not lead Hendin to undertake further semantic studies. Hendin’s idea that Scandinavian “lexicons of emotion” differ considerably is a plausible thesis which has not yet been followed up by empirical-contrastive Scandinavian semantic analysis. Judith F. Hansen’s main work We are a Little Land: Cultural assumptions in Danish everyday life (1980) is a foundational text in Danish linguistic anthropology. Influenced by Erving Goffman’s interaction analysis (Goffman 1967), Hansen undertook detailed anthropological studies of Danish social interaction, focusing on a sociocultural analysis of “Danish values”, “cultural assumptions” and “observed behaviour” (Hansen 1980: 3). Her work partly relies on semi-technical English words such as “egalitarianism”, “moderation”, “balance”, “inclusion”, “accommodation”, “compromise” and “critical orientation”, which might not be the most helpful in terms of understanding Danish culture from the inside, but at the same time she is a great observer of words. Hansen anticipated contemporary studies in “folk linguistics” and cultural semantics by studying Danish words such as hygge ‘pleasant togetherness’, stemning ‘atmosphere, the feel of a place’, omsorg ‘care, solicitude’, samfundet ‘the society at large’ as windows on Danish cultural values.35 The two Danish words Hansen studied in detail were festlighed ‘festivity’ and hygge ‘pleasant togetherness’, and there is much to be learnt from her work. Generally, her treatment of hygge is the more convincing, whereas her work on festlighed has some weak points. In chapter 3, I will provide a semantic analysis of hygge ‘pleasant togetherness’ and stemning ‘atmosphere’ based on linguistic and discursive evidence, taking into account Hansen’s observations.


Danish as a universe of meaning

The main problem with Hansen’s study of the Danish “festive orienttation” and her reliance on the Danish word festlighed is that this word is not a very common Danish word. Since Hansen (1980), major Anglophone publications on Danish cultural values (such as Borish 1991 and Reddy 1992) have repeated her claim that festlighed is a quintessentially Danish concept. From a cognitive point of view, however, it would seem unlikely that a whole Danish cultural domain would be based around a Danish word which is only infrequently used. There are, in fact, more salient concepts in the Danish lexicon of social events, such as fest, ‘party, celebration’ (15 times more frequent in KorpusDK than festlighed) and fejre, roughly ‘celebrate’ (9 times more frequent in KorpusDK). Hansen does mention these words but persistently advances the idea that festlighed is the main guide to understanding the “festive orientation” of Danish culture.36 In The Land of the Living: The Danish Folk High Schools and Denmark’s non-violent path to modernization, Stephen M. Borish (1991) explores Danish culture, taking as his point of departure a study of højskolen ‘the Danish Folk High School’ and the peculiar Danish education system. His analysis of Danish culture falls into two parts: historical and contemporary. Central to his historical thesis is that Denmark adopted a “people-oriented strategy of modern cultural modernization” (p. 110), and that the social revolutions which led to the modern Danish nation-state were remarkably peaceful and non-violent compared to other emerging European nation-states. The second part discusses “national character” and “core values” in contemporary Danish society, such as the “ethic of social cooperation” (Borish 1991: 310). Borish discusses hard-to-translate Danish words such as hygge ‘pleasant togetherness’, the Grundtvigian concepts of folkelig, roughly ‘inclusive, unassuming’ and folkelighed ‘enlightened, democratic inclusivity’, as well as janteloven ‘the Jante law’. (Hygge and janteloven will be explored at length in chapter 3 and 5, respectively.) Unfortunately, Borish’s linguistic analyses do not always live up to his high quality historical and cultural analysis. To exemplify, he incorrectly analyses folkelighed as a compound noun, with the constituents folke+lighed ‘people+equality’; in reality, however, the suffix -hed nominalizes the adjective folkelig, and hence folkelig+hed is the correct analysis (Borish 1991: 307). The claim that lighed ‘equality’ is a linguistic component in folkelighed is therefore invalid. In Borish’s analysis of the janteloven, ‘the Jante Law’ (p. 315ff), he buys into the Danish selfstereotype that it is bad to be different, and to distinguish oneself from

Approaches to Danish values


others. Borish fails to recognize the central semantic aspect that janteloven is in itself a self-critical concept which opposes, rather than promotes, “conformist values”.37 This might not be clear from an interviewbased approach, but when linguistic and discursive evidence is taken into account, a quite different picture emerges (see chapter 5). The book Danes are like that! Perspectives of an Indian anthropologist on the Danish society is written by the unorthodox Indian scholar G. Prakesh Reddy (1992).38 His first-hand experience with a Danish village was in many ways insightful and characterized by culture shock: Coming as I do from India, and born and brought up in a village, I am used to seeing people, people in the streets, outside their houses, in the fields, and in public places…But here in this village not a single soul was sighted, and except for the sound of a passing automobile absolute silence prevailed. The doors of all houses were closed and created a doubt in me, as to whether this village had any people at all. (Reddy 1992: 13)

Reddy’s analysis is partly inspired by Borish, but Reddy focused on two aspects that Borish did not elaborate on, namely “privacy” and “emotion”. Reddy described Danish culture as lacking in overt emotionality and Danish conversational style as mysteriously anti-confrontational. He described Danish social life as being centred around private celebrations. Values such as “egalitarianism”, “democracy”, “freedom” and “social responsibility” were also identified, and Reddy described Danish society as a “social laboratory” for humanistic, progressive values (Reddy 1998: 16). Moreover, Reddy raised critical points about loneliness and isolation in Danish society, and what he saw as the shady side of Danish culture: a tendency to exclusivism and scepticism toward foreigners. The strength of Reddy’s work lies in his perspective as the first Indian scholar to study Danish cultural values and his ability to supplement traditional anthropological approaches. In chapter 6, I will utilize some of Reddy’s descriptions of the Danish-Indian encounter, to illuminate Danish cognitive style. Reddy’s experience as an outsider in Danish society is revealing, but his lack of linguistic reflections raises doubts about his depth of understanding of Danish insider-perspectives. The Danish sociologist Peter Gundelach has specialized in the study of Danish national character, in the uniqueness of Danish society and in Danish “happiness research” (Gundelach 2002a, 2002b, 2004). A recent publication by Gundelach and colleagues I hjertet af Danmark [In the Heart of Denmark] (2008) investigates Danish attitudes and values on the


Danish as a universe of meaning

basis of a large number of interviews. Gundelach and colleagues particularly investigate Danish social institutions and “mental patterns”. They touch on important Danish linguistic concepts such as tryghed ‘security’, tillid ‘reliance, trust’, lykke ‘happiness’, glæde ‘pleasure, joy, happiness’, frihed ‘freedom’ and lighed ‘equality’. From a semantic perspective, Gundelach can be criticized along with Hofstede for mixing up natural language with technical language. To exemplify, a section on the Danish concepts tryghed ‘security, trust’ and tillid ‘reliance, trust’ is followed by a section on “kollektivt orienteret individualism” ‘collectively-oriented individualisme’. From a linguistic point of view, this is confusing. Tryghed is a word from everyday Danish and, as such, can be directly linked to a Danish folk theory of meaning, unlike “collectively oriented individuallism”, a phrase which reflects a sophisticated “expert theory”. This leaves the reader unsure as to whether Gundelach and colleagues attempt to describe Danish values from an insider-perspective or from an outsiderperspective. Also, it is important to point out one major methodological difference between Gundelach et al. (2008) and the present study. Where Gundelach and colleagues base their sociological analysis on interviews and on people’s reflection on their own values, this work investigates conventions of meaning as found in natural language, that is: Danish words, phraseology and speech routines. In the sociological study interviewees are asked about what they think and feel, and researchers receive relatively well-reflected answers. This, of course, can be a valuable way of doing research. The cognitively-oriented semanticist, however, seeks to study what speakers say in their language and focuses on the tools for cultural orientation laid down by language39. Chapter 7 deals with Danish “happiness”-related concepts, and in that chapter I will interact further with Gundelach’s views on language and culture. This review concludes with Society Without God: What the least religious nations can tell us about contentment, a recent book on Danish secularity by the Jewish-American sociologist Phil Zuckerman (2008). As a leading scholar of secularity, Zuckerman has a particular research interest in Denmark (and Sweden), which he considers to be “the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world” (p. 2). Based in Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, Zuckerman conducted interviews with Danes on religion or, rather, as it turned out, “irreligion”. From the interviews, he concludes that the mainstream Danish attitudes to religion range from “benign indifference” (p. 104) to “utter obliviousness” (p. 106): “The general irreligion of most Danes and Swedes is not anti-religion at all. It is mere disinterest. Religion is simply

Approaches to Danish values


not a part of their world, and they just don’t really give it much thought” (p. 105). Zuckerman uses Denmark as a counter-example for the common claim in American discourses that society will become immoral and chaotic “without God”. Eager to advance secular values in North America, Zuckerman describes Denmark as an irreligious Shangri-La, an extra-ordinarily peaceful, safe, clean, moral and well-functioning society, yet “without God”. He quotes research on “happiness” and “subjective well-being” (p. 7), claiming that the Danes have the highest degree of self-reported happiness in the world. Zuckerman also writes about the high degree of “security” in Danish society and links this feature of society with secularization quoting sociologists who argue that the most “secure societies” also tend to be the least religious (Norris and Inglehart 2004).40 I do not question Zuckerman’s general insight that “religion” is not publically verbalized as in many (or most) societies in the world. What I do question, however, is Zuckerman’s reluctance to take seriously Danish insider-perspectives. In particular, three aspects must be criticized: First, Zuckerman’s descriptors of “secularity” and “irreligion” seem somehow too definitive. He seems confident that his in-depth interviews reveal “general irreligion” in Danes, but it is tempting to conclude that Zuckerman equates religiosity with “American religiosity”, and that the Danish insider-perspective does not really count unless it matches his American expectations. A study by a sociologist of religion Ina Rosen (2009) discloses this clash between the terminology of secularity scholars and people’s own self-categorization. In her study on self-categorization the majority of Copenhageners classified themselves as troende ‘believers’, but only a small minority of the same people considered themselves to be religiøse ‘religious’. Studies have also found that speakers prefer to relativize the category troende ‘believers’ with the linguistic appendage på min egen måde ‘in my own way’ (Iversen 2006b: 38). These insider-categorizations reveal a less clear-cut picture than the one presented by Zuckerman. Second, the lack of linguistic considerations in his work leaves a number of open questions. To exemplify, the Danish swearword vocabulary is almost exclusively based on God-and-devilrelated concepts. Unlike its Puritan English counter-parts, which revolve around bodily-sexual taboos, the strong Danish swearwords include for satan ‘by satan’, for helvede ‘by hell’, for fanden, ‘by the devil’.41 This is a striking feature of an allegedly “irreligious” speech community. Third, if Zuckerman’s theorizing on the relationship between “secularity” and “security” is correct, one would imagine that “security


Danish as a universe of meaning

talk” would be absent or at least toned down in the “secular” Danish speech community as opposed to other more religious societies. This, however, turns out to be not the case. Chapter 4 of this book looks into Danish “security”-discourses viewed from the culture-specific and culturally salient linguistic concept of tryg.

1.5.3. A critical summary This review has exposed a major gap in the literature on Danish values, namely, the lack of systematic semantic analysis. Evidence from language, the single most important source of information into the cultural universe of speakers, is either “missing” or without systematic treatment in previous works. The American linguist-cum-anthropologist Charles Hockett’s warning that “anthropology without linguistics is blind” and that “linguistics without anthropology is sterile” (Hockett 1973: 675) serves as a good starting point for this critical summary. We cannot ask the “why” question in semantic analysis without consulting the cultural history of speakers and inquiring into the cultural environments in which concepts have emerged. By the same token, language is crucial for understanding cultural values; culture-specific concepts cannot be properly understood without semantic analysis. Culture depends on language, and the conceptual grid laid down by language is crucial to the study of worldviews and cultural assumptions in general. The importance of linguistics, and in particular, semantic analysis, cannot be disregarded if we are to make headway in our understanding of the cultural insider-perspective. This book calls for a renewed awareness of the conceptual power of language, and provides a systematic linguistic analysis of Danish conceptual semantics with its embedded Danish linguistic worldview. A linguistically grounded analysis is necessary, not only to correct the occasional questionable use of linguistic evidence in the non-linguistic literature. Something much more important is at stake. If we want to understand speakers’ construals of the world, we cannot rely on outsiders’ technical terms, because speakers do not think in these terms about their own lives, ideas and values. Consider the following collection of technical words, summarizing Danish themes as found in the reviewed literature:

Approaches to Danish values (1)


“accommodation”; “anti-authoritarianism”; “anti-elitism”; “balance”; “collectively oriented individualism”; “compromise”; “control of aggression”; “critical orientation”; “democratic attitudes”; “egalitariannism”; “festive orientation”; “general irreligion”; “high degree of selfreported happiness”; “horizontal individualism”; “humanism”; “inclusion”; “moderation”; “lack of overt emotionality”; “low degree of masculinity”; “low degree of uncertainty-avoidance”; “passivity”; “positive orientation”; “post-materialism”; “post-modernism”; “relational individualism”, “secularity”, “social cooperation”; “social dependency”; “social responsibility”.

These descriptors, while informative to a certain degree, do not represent the Danish insider-perspective. Speakers of Danish are unlikely to talk or think about themselves in terms of “social dependency” or “relational individualism”. In other words, we cannot rely on these descriptors because of their “obscurity” and their “experience-distant” perspective (Geertz 1985: 57-58). The present work does not seek to base its analyses on technical, sophisticated descriptors. Nor does it attempt to group Danish words according to a typology of ready-made value parameters, as in the work of Triandis and Hofstede, or interviewing speakers as was done by Hendin, Gundelach and Zuckerman. In contrast, I will base my analysis on experience-near, linguistic categories found in the Danish language and work from the view that language is a key to understanding cultural values from the insider-perspective. Arguably, some technical terms can be helpful along the way, but they cannot be ultimately relied on in re-presenting the meanings of words and the insider-perspectives of speakers.


Doing linguistically grounded analysis: Caveats and challenges

Compared with the interview approaches of the social sciences, there are major advantages in pursuing a linguistically grounded analysis. When interviewed, people can share their conscious thoughts about a topic, but the linguistic medium in which they express themselves is usually taken for granted. Lexical, grammatical and illocutionary meaning in language is viewed merely as a tool for communication. In contrast, the priority of linguistically grounded analysis is to denaturalize Danish and to unpack the taken-for-granted word meanings in the speech community.


Danish as a universe of meaning

I will now briefly introduce and discuss the main challenges in doing linguistically grounded analysis. They include: — Using natural language data. To ensure linguistic authenticity this book uses examples from naturally occurring language, primarily online corpora of Danish texts. The benefits and limitations of using online text corpora will be discussed with special reference to the ideal of “naturalness”. — Making valid generalizations. Like any other speech community, the Danish speech community is not homogenous; also, Danish is changing and has changed over time. How can we capture the meanings of a changing and heterogenous speech community? — Avoiding bias. Two key problems can be identified with respect to bias: cultural stereotyping, and conceptual imposition. It is important to go behind the prevailing cultural stereotypes in order to represent linguistic categories and cultural models in a balanced way. At the same time, conceptual imposition must be avoided. In a book written in English about Danish, it is particularly important to be aware of the danger of imposing English-specific conceptual categories on Danish semantics and thereby distorting the Danish viewpoint. 1.6.1. Natural language and linguistic corpora Corpora of texts in electronic form have become an invaluable tool for explorations of language, and corpus linguistics has revolutionized the way researchers undertake linguistic analysis (Sinclair 1991, 2004; Biber, Conrad and Reppen 1998; Stubbs 2002; Sampson and McCarthy 2006; Wierzbicka 2010). The immediate advantages are clear: instead of relying on constructed examples, the analyst has direct access to a large number of actual strings of words used by speakers in real-life communicative situations; word frequencies can be established and salient words identified statistically. The primary corpus used in this book, KorpusDK, is the largest Danish collection of texts, currently consisting of 56 mil. words.42 It is a balanced corpus consisting of written texts in different genres. Moreover, KorpusDK enables researchers to establish collocational profiles of words via statistical computation, e.g. in the form of “mutual information scores” (MI-scores).43 High MI-scores indicate “mutual attraction” between words and provide evidence for collocations and semantic-conceptual linkages made by speakers. Collocational profiles can provide important clues to the meanings of words.

Doing linguistically grounded analysis


Unlike many other modern corpora (cf. Tognini-Bonelli and Sinclair 2006), KorpusDK does not include any spoken language corpora. This is a major weakness. The lack of spoken data leads to an under-representation of certain important interactive words and phr ases, such as, interjections, response markers and speech routines in general. Also, other key features of spoken language such as intonation patterns, overlaps and turn-taking patterns do not show up in the KorpusDK.44 The relatively small size of KorpusDK is also problematic, especially in research on everyday phraseology. To compensate, this work makes use of Google searches as a secondary source of naturalistic examples. Google searches provide much larger machine-readable collections of texts, and include more speechlike, interactive data, for example in online discussion. (cf. Crystal 2006). The main purpose of using naturally occurring text is to give prominence to common intuitions about how words are used in context (as recorded in KorpusDK and Danish-language pages on the World Wide Web). It is important to note, however, that while corpus tools can greatly assist, they can never replace semantic-conceptual analysis. The complexities of natural language, such as the extremely widespread phenomenon of polysemy, preclude a mechanical treatment. It is, I believe, important to steer clear of “naïve empiricism”, when it comes to evaluating the corpus tools. Especially dangerous is the view that natural data can somehow “speak for itself” without being interpreteted or analysed. Wierzbicka (2010), herself a committed user of corpus linguistic tools, issues the following warning: “Objective data, such as those that occur in contemporary linguistic corpora, cannot interpret themselves, and to make sense of them, one still needs to consult one’s semantic intuition” (p. 20). The point is that the need for a “disciplined semantic intuition” (Wierzbicka 2010: 20) cannot be obviated by linguistic corpora as such. In this book, I ultimately rely on my intuition as a native speaker of Danish, an intuition disciplined by a rigorous semantic methodology and tested against natural language usage. Linguistic corpora, then, are viewed as extremely valuable, in that they provides clues and correctives to the interpretative-analytical practice. From the interpreter’s perspective, however, it is clear that corpus data must be constantly and critically monitored. First, corpus data is vulnerable to a number of interferences. To exemplify, there is no technical way of separating, say, the different senses of the Danish cognitive verb mener, e.g. distinguishing the mener of “intention” (cf. English ‘mean’) from the mener of “opinion” (cf. English ‘think’), further discussed in chapter 6). Second, precautions need to be taken into account with respect to cross-linguistic homography. In


Danish as a universe of meaning

Google searches it is possible to narrow down searches to a specific language, and (at least in theory) to separate Danish hygge ‘pleasant togetherness’ from, say, its irrelevant Swedish homograph hygge ‘clearing (of forest)’. In order to ensure maximal relevance and protection from interference from cross-linguistic homography, searches have been carried out in (Danish Google searches), rather than the default search.

1.6.2. Linguistic and cultural heterogeneity and change It is important to recognize the two variables “heterogeneity” and “change” in semantic analysis. Obviously, speakers of Danish do not all think alike. They speak differently and can have different personal values. This does not mean, however, that there are no linguistic and cultural norms or tendencies in the Danish speech community, and that there are no dominant values or accepted norms with which everyone is at least familiar. Studies in historical semantics have emphasized the dynamic aspect of languages and cultures, the fact that meaning in language can change over time, and that semantic change can be indicative of cultural change (Brinton and Traugott 2005; Traugott and Dasher 2005; Wierzbicka 2006a, 2010; Vanhove 2008; Bromhead 2009). Wierzbicka says: Ways of thinking which are widely shared in a society become enshrined in ways of speaking. Ways of speaking change as the underlying ways of thinking change. There can be a lag between the two, but as one can see by studying ways of speaking at the times of revolutions and other dramatic social transformations, ways of speaking can change very quickly, too, in response to changes in prevailing attitudes. (Wierzbicka 2006a: 22)

The emerging cultural values and salient discourse topics of a linguistic community are likely to crystalize in the lexicon of a language. The meanings of words can change, slightly or radically, as a response to the changes in prevailing attitudes. In transitional phases, word meanings are likely to co-exist because semantic change is likely to lead to polysemy (Sweetser 1990; Wilkins 1996; Traugott and Dasher 2005). Also, as pointed out by Nicholas Evans and David Wilkins (2000), prior to these new developments, “bridging contexts” (p. 550) must have existed, that is,

Doing linguistically grounded analysis


communicative conditions in which a “regularly occurring context supports an inference-driven contextual enrichment”. They comment further: “In exploring bridging contexts, the primary question is: what recurrent contexts, and what cultural scripts allow particular pragmatic extensions to occur with sufficient frequency that they get lexicalized as distinct, but related meanings of a form” (p. 550). Semantic change, then, appears to occur as a response to discursive and cultural change, with “bridging contexts” facilitating lexicalization. In chapter 7, I will argue that the Danish word lykkelig harbours two concepts; one related to “an intense positive emotion”, and the other polysemic meaning related to “everyday life quality”. The new meaning has not erased the old meaning, and the two co-existent meanings are distinct, although related. Historical semantic analysis can uncover the bridging contexts that have triggered the lexicalization of a new word meaning (Wierzbicka 2010). In focusing on frequently used Danish words and their cultural underpinnings, this work investigates a normativity linked with the Danish speech community. This does not mean that a more fine-grained analysis of, say, the semantics of certain Danish sociolects or subcultures could not or should not be pursued. But the focus on the “normal”, and the denaturalization of the “normal” through analysis, is I believe, an important task because the norms constitute mental ontologies and value orientations of great importance to the Danish speech community at large, including the subcultures and their related semantic sociolects. The generalizations made in this book are not to be taken as essentialist claims of “how the Danes really are”. Because the generalizations are based on linguistic evidence they reflect the cognitive and conceptual perspectives which have been captured in language. In short, heterogeneity and change are important variables in linguistic and cultural analysis reflecting the evolving nature of speech communities. In semantic analysis historical change can be accounted for systematically, just as the semantics of subcultures in a speech community can be accounted for empirically and systematically.

1.6.3. Ethnocentrism Ethnocentrism is a major obstacle for linguistic and cultural analysis. It comes in two main “flavours”: cultural stereotyping, and conceptual imposition. Cultural stereotyping typically involves making unsolicited generalizations about a specific group of people, and thereby mis-


Danish as a universe of meaning

representing their culture, often in a stigmatizing, or at least, overly simplistic fashion. Needless to say, crude stereotypes of any culture or language should be exposed, rather than endorsed, in linguistic and cultural analysis. Cultural semanticists and cognitive scientists are obliged to not take stereotypes at value, but go beyond and behind the stereotypes, seeking to understand what has led to these views. In contemporary academic literature, the endorsement of stereotypes is rather rare, but as one potential example, consider Richard Hill’s treatment of the Danes in his book We Europeans (1992). Hill gives voice to people who say that Danes are hypocritical environmentalists (p. 218), that they cheat in business (p. 221), and that the Danish language is a throat disease (p. 217). Without further analysis, Hill lets these propositions stand uncommented and undisputed. He does not attempt to go beyond the claims and he does not seek to understand why such opinions have been voiced. The fact that insiders (in this case, members of the Danish speech community) do not find these descriptions incisive does not seem to bother Hill. While globalization has greatly fuelled the need for crosscultural communication and education (Tannen 1986a: 30), this kind of stereotyping, even if intended to be witty, does not in my view serve a constructive purpose. It is important to distinguish stereotyping analysis from stereotypes in language. Linguistically encoded stereotypes often provide insights into cultural values. (For a recent linguistic account of stereotyping and language, see Allan and Burridge 2006.) While stereotypes as such do not provide any reliable source of information about the stereotyped culture, they can provide information about the stereotyping culture. When Swedes in traditional Danish stereotyping are described as “stiff”, “without a sense of humour” and “overly politically correct” (Syréhn 2005), this reveals something about Danish value orientations, namely, the value placed on “flexibility” and “sociability”, the value of “humour” and the dislike of “orthodoxies”. While the critique of cultural stereotyping has been on the academic agenda for years, the other main variety of ethnocentric bias, conceptual imposition, has only recently been called into attention (cf. Wierzbicka 2006a). Conceptual imposition refers to the process in which a researcher takes for granted that a linguistic concept of his or her own language, necessarily exists in other languages as well. Projecting a concept from his or her own language, the researcher, so to speak, plants a conceptual package of meaning in another language where the concept is unknown. To exemplify, it is widely believed by English-speaking researchers that

Doing linguistically grounded analysis


highly Anglo-specific words such as mind, politeness and happiness have equivalents in other languages (see chapter 2 and 6 for discussion), and that these words can be relied on as culture-neutral concepts in crosscultural comparison. Conceptual imposition is distorting because it does not take the indigenous viewpoints seriously. To steer clear of ethnocentric bias, linguistic and cultural researchers must actively expose both analytical stereotyping and conceptual imposition. This chapter has provided an introduction to the study of Danish language, culture and society and laid the foundation for doing linguistically grounded cultural analysis of Danish word meanings. To summarize, the novelty of my project can be characterized as follows: To undertake systematic semantic analysis of key concepts in the Danish speech community by using everyday words and language use as linguistic evidence. This introduction has presented Danish as a universe of meaning. I have argued, using corpus evidence, that dansk ‘Danish’ is a conceptually prominent concept in the contemporary Danish speech community, and I traced the roots of Danish identity nationalism, linking it to Herder’s and Grundtvig’s philosophies of language. I critically reviewed key texts and approaches to Danish values, and identified the lack of linguistic awareness as the single most serious obstacle for advancing our understanding of Danish cultural values. I discussed the caveats and challenges in doing linguistically grounded cultural analysis with special reference to the problem of natural language and corpus linguistic tools, the nature of generalizations and the problem of ethnocentrism.

Chapter 2 The NSM approach to linguistic and cultural analysis: Key issues in contemporary cultural semantics

Looking into the meaning of a single word, let alone a single sentence, can give one the same feeling of dizziness that can come from thinking about the distance between galaxies or about the impenetrable empty spaces hidden in a single atom (Wierzbicka 1996: 233)



This work adds a “new” language and cultural sphere to the growing body of NSM studies: Danish and “the Danosphere”. This expansion into Danish words and concepts leads to new challenges; theoretically and practically. The chapter contains three main parts. Section 2.1 outlines the NSM system and explores its theoretical claims with a special reference to Danish semantics. It introduces the NSM concepts ‘semantic primes’, ‘metalanguage grammar’, ‘semantic template’, ‘semantic molecule’, and exemplifies the technique of ‘semantic explication’. Section 2.2 compares the general conceptual framework of NSM with other contemporary frameworks. To illuminate key issues in contemporary cultural semantics, this section focuses on differences in assumptions, practices and priorities within the linguistic study of language and cultural values (see section 1.2). Section 2.3 deals with cultural semantics and exemplifies how the NSM approach can be useful in dealing with practical problems in the language-culture and language-cognition interfaces. The NSM concepts ‘cultural keywords’ and ‘cultural scripts’ will be demonstrated through analysis and with examples from the literature.

The NSM metalanguage



The NSM metalanguage

The NSM approach is solidly grounded in “conceptual semantics” (Goddard and Wierzbicka 1994, 2002a; Wierzbicka 1996; Goddard 1998, 2008b; Peeters 2006). Historically, the NSM approach grew out of lexical semantics, but its scope has expanded to embrace “all meaning-related phenomena in languages” (Goddard 2009b). NSM theory has been shaped by numerous empirical-analytical studies and stands out as a well-defined and well-tested theory of linguistic semantics which has facilitated a large number of studies in previously under-studied areas of linguistics, including the semantics of cultural keywords, ethnopsychological constructs, value terms, interjections, discourse markers and ethnosyntax (On current trends in NSM research, see section 2.2). As a foundation for exploring cross-linguistic and cross-cultural variation, NSM semanticists rely on a shared, universal core of concepts, which are hypothesized to have exponents in all languages. These core concepts, called semantic primes (or semantic primitives), have been identified from decades of experimental-analytical, cross-linguistic research. Semantic primes are non-decomposable, indefinable and intuitively self-explanatory units of meaning (Goddard 2002c: 13). The list of semantic primes includes elements such as I, YOU, SOMEONE, PEOPLE, THIS, OTHER, THINK, FEEL, WANT, KNOW, DO, HAPPEN, GOOD, BAD, ONE, TWO, IF, BECAUSE, etc. (See Table 2.1 for the full list of English exponents of semantic primes). Each semantic prime has its own grammatical frames. Together, the semantic primes and their frames make up a crosstranslatable “mini-language” which can be carved out of any natural language (Wierzbicka 2003: 7, 2006a: 17). The name “Natural Semantic Metalanguage” emphasizes the reliance on words from natural languages, as opposed to abstract or technical metalanguages which rely on symbols and invented technical terminology. Since primes are found in natural languages, they are in a sense, “pre-theoretical” (Wierzbicka 2002e: 263), and unlike elaborate formalisms and classificational symbols, they do not require further explanation. British semanticist John Lyons once observed: “any formalism is parasitic upon the ordinary everyday use of language, in that it must be understood intuitively on the basis of ordinary language” (Lyons 1977: 12). Ultimately then, there is no way of escaping ordinary, everyday words, and this is where the NSM theory has advanced a very important point: the need for a natural metalanguage. As an alternative to abstract metalanguages, one could of course rely on specific languages such as


The NSM approach

English or Danish, but in their culture-specific richness fully-fledged languages are not suitable tools for cross-linguistic semantic analysis and comparison. If we analyse Danish words simply through English it is inevitable that we impose an English perspective on Danish word meanings and distort the original meaning. In other words, using English as a metalanguage leads to Anglocentrism, because it imposes Anglo cultural categories upon Danish with a distorting effect (Goddard 2008c: 4). The NSM approach offers a metalanguage which is based on simultaneously ordinary, transparent words (as opposed to technical, abstract languages) and on shared human concepts (as opposed to, e.g. Englishspecific concepts). Goddard (2008c) explains: “an optimal semantic metalanguage must be based as transparently as possible on ordinary natural languages, and it must consist only of elements whose meanings are present in all natural languages, i.e., of universally lexicalised meanings. In short …‘the intersection of all languages’” (p. 5). Research into this “intersection of all languages” has uncovered a small set of crosstranslatable meanings, which are intuitively simple and at the same time, it seems, shared by speakers of all languages. 2.2.1. Semantic primes Goddard (2008c: 2) has sketched the history of NSM semantics as consisting of three phases: the “early development period” (1970s to mid1980s), the “expanding set phase” (mid-1980s to late 1990s) and “whole metalanguage studies” (late 1990s and onwards). In 1972 Wierzbicka cautiously proposed 14 primes,46 but in the “expanding set phase”, the number of primes increased, as trial-and-error testing revealed new primes and disconfirmed others. The set of primes has expanded to the current model of 64 elements (Goddard 2012), and the changes in the metalanguage have been infrequent since the turn of the millennium as the number of primes has stabilized. Anna Wierzbicka laid the foundation for the NSM theory in her seminal book Semantic Primitives, published in English in 1972. Inspired by the Polish linguist Andrzej Bogusławski and his reappraisal of 17th and 18th Century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s concept of an “Alphabet of human thought”47 (Wierzbicka 1972: 6, 12), Wierzbicka set out to establish empirically what this “Alphabet of Human Thought” would look like if pursued using linguistic, rather than philosophical methods (Wierzbicka 1980: 9). By decomposing words into their simplest semantic

The NSM metalanguage


elements, Wierzbicka hypothesized a “Lingua Mentalis” (1980), a mental language consisting of simple and cross-translatable human concepts. Later, Wierzbicka and Goddard adopted the name “Natural Semantic Metalanguage” (Goddard and Wierzbicka 1994) for this “core language”, and the systematic quest for exponents of these basic, human concepts was expanded by extensive empirical investigations into a diverse range of languages. Before identifying the Danish exponents of semantic primes, I will exemplify the list of primes through a well-established version of NSM, English NSM (Wierzbicka 1996, 2006a; Goddard and Wierzbicka 2002a, 2008; Goddard 2008b). The English exponents of primes is taken from Goddard (2012).48 Table 2.1 Semantic primes, English exponents I, YOU, SOMEONE, SOMETHING~THING, PEOPLE, BODY KIND, PART THIS, THE SAME, OTHER/ELSE

Substantives Relational substantives Determiners








Mental predicates Speech Actions, events, movement, contact Location, existence, possession, specification Life and death Time


Space Logical concepts Intensifier, augmentor Similarity


The NSM approach

Table 2.2 Semantic primes, Danish exponents JEG I, DU you, NOGEN (PERSON) someone, NOGET~TING something~thing, MENNESKER people, KROP body SLAGS kind, DEL part DEN HER this, DEN SAMME the

same, ANDEN other

ÉN one, TO two, NOGLE some, ALLE all, MEGET~MANGE much~many, LIDT~FÅ little~few GOD good, DÅRLIG bad STOR big, LILLE small TÆNKER think, VED know, VIL HAVE~VIL want, FØLER feel, SER see, HØRER hear SIGER say, ORD words, DET PASSER true GØR do, SKER happen, BEVÆGER SIG move, RØRER touching ER (ET STED) be

(somewhere), DER ER there is, (someone/something)


LEVER live, DØR die NÅR~TID when~time, NU now, FØR before, EFTER after, LÆNGE a long time, KORT TID a short time, ET STYKKE TID for some time, ØJEBLIK moment HVOR~STED where~place, HER here, OVER above, UNDER below, LANGT VÆK far, TÆT PÅ near, SIDE side, INDE I inside IKKE not, MÅSKE maybe, KAN can, FORDI because, HVIS if MEGET very, MERE more SOM~MÅDE like~as~way

In nearly 40 years of research, semantic primes and their related grammatical-conceptual frames have been identified and tested in a variety of languages, spanning across language families and linguistic areas (Goddard and Wierzbicka 1994, 2002; Peeters 2006; Goddard 2008b). A number of European languages have been explored, but also a considerable number of non-SAE49 languages including Chinese (Chappell 2002; Ye 2006a), Japanese (Asano 2003; Hasada 2008), Korean (Yoon 2008), Lao (Enfield 2002c), Malay (Goddard 2002b), Arabic and Modern Israeli Hebrew (Habib 2011a), (West Africa) (Ameka 1994), Amharic (Ethiopia) (Amberber 2008), Yankunytjatjara (Australia)

The NSM metalanguage


(Goddard 1994), Bunuba (Australia) (Knight 2008), Mbula (Papua New Guinea) (Bugenhagen 2002), East Cree (Canada) (Junker 2004, 2008), Hawai’i Creole English (Stanwood 1999), and others.50 In Table 2.2, I have provided the Danish exponents of semantic primes. The proposed Danish exponents will be “tested in action” through-out this book through reductive paraphrases of Danish words and attitudes. All semantic explications and cultural scripts will be presented in both English NSM and in Danish NSM. Some explications are fairly lengthy however, so for the sake of readability, the explications in Danish NSM will be presented in the appendix . 2.2.2. Metalanguage grammar Each semantic prime has well-specified conceptual frames or “syntactic (combinatorial) properties” (Goddard 2008b). When NSM is reffered to as a mini-language carved out of natural languages (Wierzbicka 1998: 115), it is a language in a very real sense, in that it consists of both a minilexicon and a mini-grammar (Wierzbicka 2010: 17). The systematic exploration of metalanguage combinatorics began in 1994 with research into the “canonical contexts” of primes. These studies have led to new insights into how semantic primes combine universally (Goddard and Wierzbicka 2002b). To illustrate such basic frames, consider (1)–(8), which are basic frames for the English exponents DO, SAY, THINK, KNOW, WANT, FEEL, SEE, HEAR (1a)–(8a) and their Danish counterparts: GØR, SIGER, TÆNKER, VED, VIL HAVE, FØLER, SER and HØRER (1b)–(8b). (1a) (1b) (2a) (2b) (3a)

someone does something to someone someone does something to something (with something) nogen gør noget ved nogen nogen gør noget ved noget (med noget) someone says something (to someone) someone says something (good/bad) about someone/something nogen siger noget (til nogen) nogen siger noget (godt/dårligt) (om nogen/noget) someone thinks something good/bad about someone/something someone thinks like this: – –


The NSM approach


nogen tænker noget (godt/dårligt) om nogen/noget nogen tænker sådan: – –


someone knows something (about someone/something) someone knows that – – nogen ved noget (om nogen/noget) nogen ved at – –

(4b) (5a) (5b)

someone wants something someone wants to do/know something nogen vil have noget nogen vil gøre/vide noget

(6a) (6b)

someone feels something good/bad (in part of the body) nogen føler noget godt/dårligt (i en del af kroppen)

(7a) (7b)

someone sees someone/something (in a place) nogen ser nogen/noget (et sted)

(8a) (8b)

someone hears something (in a place) nogen hører noget (et sted)

The examples here are all very basic, and many more combinations are possible, e.g. frames which involve the operators NOT, CAN, MAYBE and BECAUSE. (Danish: IKKE, KAN, MÅSKE, FORDI). To ensure true cross-translatability, the combinatorics of primes is an integral part of the metalanguage. In the following section, more frames will be exemplified.

2.2.3. Issues in Danish NSM This section discusses further the Danish version of NSM and some of the issues arizing from carving out a mini-Danish of 64 concepts,51 from the full language. In the following, I will elaborate on the process whereby the Danish exponents for semantic primes were identified. There is in NSM literature a tradition of talking about easily identifiable exponents of primes and a less straightforward identification process (Goddard and Wierzbicka 2002b). This pattern holds true for Danish too. The majority of exponents are rather unproblematic, but some require a more careful consideration. My point of departure is the identification guidelines below (Goddard 2002, 2008b; Peeters 2006):

The NSM metalanguage


— Exponents of primes exist as the meanings of lexical units (not at the level of lexemes). — Exponents of primes may be words, bound morphemes, phrasemes or constructions. — Exponents of primes can be formally complex. — Exponents of primes can have different morphosyntactic properties, including word-class, in different languages. — Exponents of primes can have combinatorial variants (allolexes) — Combinations of primes can be expressed in a single portmanteau form. Exponents of primes exist as the meanings of lexical units (not at the level of lexemes). Lexical units are the pairings of a single meaning/sense with a lexical form (Cruse 1986: 77-78), and polysemous words are lexemes consisting of several distinct, but related lexical units (Koptjevskja-Tamm 2008: 9). Semanticist Alan Cruse (1986) notes that “there is a tendency to regard the lexeme as the primary semantic unit, and the different lexical units as “merely variants” (p. 80). Cruse maintains that the semanticists must take the “individual lexical unit as the primary operational semantic unit”, and “[consign] the lexeme to a secondary position” (p. 80). The abstract concept of “the lexeme”, which has emerged from traditional Western dictionary making, must be differentiated from simple lexical units (cf. Cruse 1986; Mel’čuk 1989; Vanhove 2008). To exemplify, consider the polysemy patterns of the Danish words in Table 2.3. Table 2.3 Some Danish lexemes and lexical units lexeme mennesker dårlig tænker meget

m1 lexical unit PEOPLE BAD THINK VERY

m2 lexical unit ‘human beings (as opposed to animals)’ ‘sick’ ‘imagine’ ‘quite’

Each of the Danish polysemous lexemes mennesker, dårlig, tænker and meget contains multiple lexical units, one of which is identified as the exponent of a semantic prime: PEOPLE, BAD, THINK and VERY. These lexical units are in a polysemic relationship with the other, non-primitive lexical units. For example, the plural noun mennesker can mean ‘human


The NSM approach

beings’, in contrast to dyr ‘animals’. This meaning is clearly related to, but different, from PEOPLE.52 The adjective dårlig can mean ‘sick’, as in e.g. Han fik det dårligt ‘he got sick (dårlig)’. This meaning is clearly distinct from but related to BAD. The verb tænker can mean ‘imagine’, e.g. in examples like Jeg tænker det bliver godt vejr i morgen ‘I imagine (tænker) the weather will be fine tomorrow’; again, a meaning or sense, related to but different from THINK. The fourth example, meget, apart from VERY, can also mean ‘quite’ as in e.g. Det gik da meget godt ‘it went quite (meget) well’. Historically, it can be hypothesized that the bridging context for the ‘quite’-polysemy in meget has to do with the values of “downtoning” and “dispreference for extremes” in Danish speech culture; but nevertheless the two meanings ‘VERY’ and ‘quite’ co-exist as clearly distinct lexical units. ‘Quite’ is pragmatically restricted and tends to attract certain “downtoning” discourse particles, mainly da and jo. The primary nature of meget1 ensures that the unmarked interpretation of the NSM phrase ‘something very good happened’ is that of VERY, the semantic prime. Unlike the semantic primes, the m2 meanings in Table 2.3 are not intuitively simple. They can be explicated, and often, due to the history of polysemy, these explications will rely on the primitive meanings, that is, mennesker2 will rely partly on the concept of PEOPLE, dårlig2 will rely partly on the concept of BAD, etc.) Polysemy (or homonymy) between primes can also occur. To exemplify, the Danish word meget is an exponent for the intensifier VERY (MEGET1) and also for the quantifier MUCH/MANY (MEGET2 – which alternates systematically with MANGE). There is plenty of languageinternal evidence to indicate that the two meget’s are distinct. For example MEGET (quantification) functions as an adjective and is inflectable as such. By contrast, MEGET (intensification) is non-inflectable and functions as an adverb. Also, only MEGET (quantification) alternates with MANGE, MEGET (intensification) does not. The relation between the two primes is of a different kind than conventional polysemy which is based on overlapping meaning components. The felt polysemic relation has to do with the closeness of the primes themselves. In NSM literature, this phenomenon has been dubbed non-compositional polysemy or motivated homonomy (Goddard 2002c: 26, 2008d: 63, 73). Exponents of primes may be words, bound morphemes, phrasemes or constructions. Like the English exponents, the Danish exponents are mainly single words or phrasemes. The English phraseme A LONG TIME, has a single-word counterpart in Danish LÆNGE, whereas the Danish

The NSM metalanguage


phrasemic exponent VIL HAVE has a single-word equivalent in English WANT. Primes can be formally complex. Like the English SOMEONE, which is formally decomposable as some+one, some Danish exponents are formally complex. The Danish exponent ØJEBLIK (MOMENT) can be formally decomposed as øje+blik (lit. ‘eye+wink’). Semantically, however, it is safe to say that these are lexicalized as whole units. They are decomposable for the (historical) linguist, but, unless a particular pun is intended, they are left undecomposed by speakers. Primes can have different morphosyntactic properties, including wordclass, in different languages. Typologically, the world’s languages differ widely in terms of formal structure. Formal aspects of variation in grammar are both expected and allowed for in NSM, as long as the principle of “no paraphrasable difference” can be maintained (Goddard 2002c: 21; Peeters 2006: 23). The NSM metalanguage can aptly be described as rigorous in terms of meaning and flexible in terms of form. To exemplify this formal diversity, consider the primary exponents of TRUE, which are realized in Russian as PRAVDA (a noun) (Gladkova 2007a), in Danish as DET PASSER (a verb), and in English as TRUE (an adjective) (Goddard 2008a). Table 2.4 Exponents of the prime TRUE in English, Russian and Danish English NSM: Russian NSM: Danish NSM:


(lit. ‘it truth’) 53 (lit. ‘it be.true-PRES’)

Primes can have combinatorial variants (allolexes). In NSM, the term allolexy designates multiple lexical realizations of a semantic prime. Allolexy (multiple forms, one meaning) can be viewed as the converse of polysemy (one form, multiple meanings) (Goddard 2002c: 20; 2008b: 6). The Danish realizations of the first-person singular pronoun JEG and second-person singular pronoun DU exhibit case allolexy. JEG and MIG are allolexes of JEG, and DU and DIG are allolexes of DU. Preverbally, the primes JEG (‘I’) and DU (‘you’), are realized as JEG and DU, but elsewhere as MIG (1p) and DIG (2p). These are only formal, positional differences. There is no semantically paraphrasable difference between these forms. Danish NSM also exhibits combinatorial allolexy based on the Danish


The NSM approach

gender system. There are two formal genders, traditionally referred to as common gender (CG) and neuter gender (NG).54 Gender assignment in modern Danish is a purely grammatical phenomenon (Allan, Holmes, and Lundskær-Nielsen 1995). Descriptors, evaluators, determiners and some quantifiers follow grammatical rules for gender agreement. The prime ONE, for example, can be realized as ÉN (CG) or as ÉT (NG), e.g. ÉN TING ‘one thing’ (CG) vs. ÉT STED ‘one place’ (NG). THE SAME can be realized as DEN SAMME (CG) or as DET SAMME (NG), e.g. DEN SAMME TING ‘the same thing’ (CG) vs. DET SAMME STED ‘the same place’ (NG). The Danish version of NSM also exhibits two other kinds of combinatorial allolexy for the primes WANT and KNOW.55 As noted earlier, the Danish exponent of WANT is a phraseme VIL HAVE. Identifying the allolexy of VIL HAVE is relatively simple: VIL HAVE is realized as VIL when followed by a verb, elsewhere as VIL HAVE. (9a)

X vil have noget X vil have Y til at gøre noget` X vil have noget til at ske

X wants something X wants Y to do something X wants something to happen


X vil gøre noget X vil vide noget

X wants to do something X wants to know something

The allolexy of the prime KNOW is more intricate and requires a closer study. I have suggested that VED is the Danish exponent for KNOW, but there is more to the story, because ved cannot be used in all the proposed frames. The combinations KNOW+SOMEONE (know-personally constructions), and KNOW+WELL (familiarity constructions) require a different lexical realization, namely the Danish word kender. (10a)

X ved (at) – –

X knows that – –


X ved noget X ved noget om nogen/noget

X knows something X knows something about someone/something


X kender nogen

X knows someone


X kender noget/nogen godt

X knows someone/something well

The two words ved and kender seem at first to distinguish what in traditional grammar is called “knowing for a fact” and “knowing per-

The NSM metalanguage


sonally”. Does this then mean that ved and kender differ conceptually, kender somehow encoding an “experiental base” as opposed to ved? Or is it rather the combination with ‘someone’ which adds the personal meaning to kender? At first glance, this data from Danish could seem to threaten the universality of KNOW Since both ved and kender are needed to account for the full set of proposed phrases. The alternative is to propose a ved~kender allolexy and argue that ved and kender are different lexical realizations of the same prime. If we look at the problem in a contrastive perspective, we will find that there is nothing sensational about the Danish ved~kender problem. Allolexy analysis has been proposed for similar phenomena in German (wissen~kennen) and Polish (wiedzieć~znać) (Wierzbicka 2002d: 93f; Goddard, Wong and Wierzbicka forthcoming). Underlying this proposal is the fact that the traditional distinction between “knowing for a fact” (ved) vs. “knowing personally” (kender) is overly simplistic and, in reality, incorrect. One can well say jeg kender fakta ‘I kender facts’, whereas *jeg ved fakta ‘I ved facts’ is ungrammatical. The basic distributional rule appears to be that complement noun phrases take kender, while complement clauses take ved. This complementary distribution speaks in favour of the allolexy analysis. If allolexical rules govern how ved and kender are used, the Danish exponent of KNOW can be determined to be VED, alternating systematically with KENDER.56 The allolexical rule can be phrased like this: VED is realized as kender when combined with someone/people and with well, elsewhere as ved. To compare, the NSM frames for English KNOW and Danish VED/KENDER can be stated as in (11a–b) . (11a)

someone knows something (about someone/something) someone knows that – – someone knows someone someone knows someone/something well


nogen ved noget (om nogen/noget) nogen ved at – – nogen kender nogen nogen kender nogen/noget godt

Combinations of primes can be expressed in a single portmanteau form. The various versions of NSM (English NSM, Danish NSM, etc.) can have language-specific portmanteau forms; that is, a combination of primes can be expressed in a single form. In Danish NSM, sådan is a portmaneau for


The NSM approach

the combination LIKE+THIS, vedkommende is a portmanteau for THIS + SOMEONE, and derfor is a portmanteau form for BECAUSE (of) +THIS. I have now outlined the basic tenets of the NSM system and proposed a Danish version of NSM. In the following, I will look at how reductive paraphrase works as a tool for semantic analysis. 2.2.4. Semantic explications Semantic explications are reductive paraphrases framed in the metalanguage of semantic primes. The aim is to model what speakers mean in maximally clear and cross-translatable semantic formulas. Provided that a semantic explication is accurate, the meaning of a given culture-specific and complex concept can be made accessible to outsiders by explaining it in the NSM metalanguage. By explaining complex concepts via simpler terms, and culture-specific concepts via shared terms, the problems of obscurity and ethnocentrism can be effectively circumvented, and culturesensitive, yet precise hypotheses about meanings can be formulated. This is, in essence, what NSM’s reductive paraphrase method is all about. Semantic explications are in a sense, “semantic texts”, that is, they are not only words or sentences; rather they consist of a number of sentence components which make up whole texts, some of which can run to thirty or more lines. The NSM technique of semantic explication has been applied to a diverse set of semantic domains. The following list is far from exhaustive, but it includes some of the recent and current research trends in NSM semantics. — Cultural keywords (see e.g. Wierzbicka 1992, 1997, 2006a, 2009b, 2010; Goddard 2001a, 2001b, 2005; Peeters 2004a; Yoon 2004; Ameka 2006; Stollznow 2007; Gladkova 2008) — Ethnopsychological constructs and emotion research (see e.g Wierzbicka 1999, 2009a, 2009c; Harkins and Wierzbicka 2001; Ye 2001, 2004b; Junker 2003; Junker and Blacksmith 2006; Gladkova 2007a; Yoon 2006, 2007b; Goddard 2010a, 2011) — Social cognition, social interaction, sociality terms and human social categories (see e.g. Ye 2004, Yoon 2004; Ameka and Breedveld 2004; Nicholls 2010; Roberts 2011; Waters in preparation; Goddard and Wierzbicka forthcoming)

The NSM metalanguage


— Cognitive verbs and cognitive styles (see e.g. Wierzbicka 2006a; Gladkova 2007a; Ye 2007b; Yoon 2007a; Goddard and Karlsson 2008) — Epistemic markers (see e.g.Wierzbicka 2006a; Bromhead 2009; Asano-Cavanagh 2009). — Discourse markers and interjections (see e.g. Ameka 1992; Wong 2004b, 2005: Travis 2005, 2006b) — Sensation and perception (see e.g. Nicholls 2003; Wierzbicka 2010) — Speech act verbs and verbal concepts (see e.g. Wierzbicka 1987, 2006e; Maher 2002; Goddard 2002d, 2006b, 2009a; Wong 2006) — Memory concepts (see e.g. Amberber 2007b; Goddard 2007; Wierzbicka 2007e; Ye 2007a; Yoon 2007c) — Religious concepts (see e.g. Wierzbicka 2001; Habib 2011b, 2011c) — Visuality and colour (Wierzbicka 2006c, 2006d, 2007a, 2008) — Grammatical categories and ethnosyntax (Enfield 2002b; Goddard 2002a; Wierzbicka 1998b, 2002b, 2006a; Priestly 2008) — The human body (see e.g. Wierzbicka 1980, 2007c; Ameka 1996) — Physical activity verbs (see e.g. Goddard and Wierzbicka 2007b; Sibly 2010; Godddard forthcoming) — Ethnobiology and ethnozoology (see e.g. Wierzbicka 1996: ch12; Goddard forthcoming) — Ethnogeometry (see e.g. Wierzbicka 2006d; Brotherson 2008) — Ethnogeography and landscape terms (see Bromhead 2011, in preparation) In terms of topics and trends, the present research is most directly inspired by the first half of the list, the works related to values, cognition, emotion and sociality, etc. but in terms of theory, all of these current research trends, have, if not directly, then indirectly, influenced the present work, by leading to new insights which have shaped the explication practices of NSM. 2.2.5. Semantic templates Semantic explications differ in their structure depending on their lexicogrammatical status and their semantic domain. More generally, one can say that different kinds of words conform to different semantic templates, that is, textual-conceptual, organizational structures. In the fol-


The NSM approach

lowing, I will exemplify the three main kinds of semantic templates with which I will operate in this book: the templates for abstract nouns, cognitive verbs and emotion adjectives. I will begin with the templates for emotion adjectives and cognitive verbs, because they are simpler. First, consider adjectival emotion constructions like “X is […] (e.g. sad, embarrassed)”. Emotion adjectives, which fit into this construction, seem to share the following semantic template (Goddard 2012). [A] a. b.

Semantic template for “X is […] (sad, embarrassed, etc.)” someone X thinks like this at this time: “......... .........” because of this, this someone feels something (very) good/bad at this time like people feel at many times when they think like this

The template [A] is a semantic skeleton shared by most emotion adjectives. The shared structure consists of a cognitive scenario (a), linked with a ‘feeling state’ (b). The content of the cognitive scenario can obviously vary greatly. The content of the feeling state typically varies between ‘feels something good’, ‘feels something bad’, ‘feels something very good’, ‘feels something very bad’, or just ‘feels something’. The conceptual differences between, say, sad, embarrassed and other English emotion adjectives, can be located in different cognitive scenarios. To exemplify, consider explications [B] and [C], taken from Goddard (2012). [B] a.

b. [C] a.


X is sad (at this time) someone X thinks like this at this time: “I know that something bad happened I don’t want things like this to happen I can’t think like this: I will do something because of it now I know that I can’t do anything” because of this, this someone feels something bad at this time like people feel at many times when they think like this X is embarrassed (at this time): someone X thinks like this at this time: “something is happening to me now, not because I want it someone knows about it this someone is thinking about me I don’t want people to think about me like this” because of this, this someone feels something bad at this time like people feel at many times when they think like this

The NSM metalanguage


Sad shares with embarrassed the negative feeling component ‘this someone feels something bad at this time’, but apart from that, the two scenarios are, as one would expect, very different. In chapter 7, the emotion adjective template will be employed for three Danish “happy” words, in comparison with English happy. In this case the concepts in question share the component ‘this someone feels something good’, but differ in cognitive scenarios. Let us now move to cognitive verbs, which are also fairly simple in terms of semantic organization. As Wierzbicka (2006a) has shown, English exhibits a number of peculiar features with respect to cognitive verbs, in particular its frequent use of parenthetical epistemic phrases like I believe, I think, I suppose which are different in meaning and grammar from the construction X believes/thinks/supposes that It is the latter construction I am now considering. For cross-linguistic comparison, (at least, in other European languages), the semantic template in [D], appears to be valid. [D] a. b.

Semantic template for “X believes/thinks/supposes, etc. that […]” when X thinks about it, X thinks like this: “......... .........”

The two components in this template are a cognitive-evaluative frame (a), followed by a prototypical cognitive scenario. The scenario varies from verb to verb and across languages that share such a semantic template with English, and there can be considerable semantic-conceptual differences. Consider explication [E] and [F], which portray the semantics of English believe, in the construction “X believes that” and the less confidentsounding Swedish quasi-equivalent tror, in the construction “X tror att” (Goddard and Karlsson 2008). [E] a. b.

she believes that […] when she thinks about it, she thinks like this: “I know that someone else can think not like this I can say why I think like this I can say why it is good if someone thinks like this”

[F] a. b.

hon tror att […] (‘she tror that […]’) when she thinks about it, she thinks like this: “I don’t say I know it I think like this because I know something I know that someone else can think not like this”


The NSM approach

While believe and tror share a common template (cf. Wierzbicka 2006: 218, Goddard and Karlsson 2008: 231), they differ in their prototypical cognitive scenarios, and the difference can be pinned down through careful semantic analysis. In chapter 6, I will analyse Danish cognitive verbs from a cross-linguistic and cross-cultural perspective, using the template presented in [D]. Let us now move from cognitive verbs and emotion adjectives to words like security, love and happiness which in traditional grammatical terminology are called “abstract nouns”. Such words can equally well be thought of as either “mental ontologies” because they postulate a reality or as “concept words” because they reify concepts; for example, the concept of happiness (but hardly *the concept of happy) and the concept of love (but hardly *the concept of lovely). Goddard and Wierzbicka (forthcoming) have devised the following semantic template for such words. [G] a. b. c. d. e.

Semantic template for security, happiness, love (etc.) something people can say what this something is with the word ‘.........’ people can say something about something with this word when they think like this: it can be like this: “......... ...........”

First, the component (a) of [G] suggests that concept words are reifying, that is, they present the meaning of the words as ‘something’. Component (b) conveys the idea of a labeling function and a certain degree of metalexical awareness (‘people can say what this something is with the word’). Component (c) states that these concepts can facilitate discourses and be used as discourse tools (‘people can say something about something with this word’). A prototypical cognitive scenario is introduced in (d) with the phrasing ‘when they think like this’ followed by a factual component ‘it is like this’. In the English word security (Goddard 2009c), the status of the concept word is modelled as in the template [G]. The explication of security follows the mental ontology template. The core content of the meaning is modelled in the (e) component. In chapter 4, I will come back to the meaning of security in comparison with Danish tryghed; for now, the focus is on the template itself:

The NSM metalanguage [H] a. b. c. d. e.


Semantic explication for security something people can say what this something is with the word security someone can say something about something with this word when this someone thinks like this about a place: it can be like this: “people know that something bad can happen in this place because someone does some bad things in this place they know that if it happens, it can be very bad for many people they don’t know when something like this can happen in this place it can be not like this if some people do some things because of this, it is good for many people if these people do these things”

In the chapters 3, 4 and 5 I will analyse Danish words which share the same semantic skeleton as English words such as love, happiness and security, but which postulate different mental ontologies than those conveyed by any English concept. These Danish cultural keywords model prototypical cognitive scenarios, which are culture-specific and difficult to translate. With semantic explications, the exact nature of “difference” can be articulated in simple, universal concepts. 2.2.6. Semantic molecules As we have seen, semantic explications are composed of semantic primes. Many concepts can be paraphrased directly into primes, but some concepts require intermediate elements,57 which in NSM theory are called “semantic molecules”. They are marked with the notation [m]. Goddard (2008c) defines a semantic molecule as a “complex lexical meaning, which functions as a semantic unit … in the structure of other, more complex concepts (p. 19)”. Semantic molecules can be viewed as “chunks of meaning” in the conceptual structure of words, i.e. meanings which can be further decomposed into semantic primes. To exemplify, the English words bark, leash, kennel, puppy and snout, all seem to incorporate the concept of dog in their semantic-conceptual structure (Goddard forthcoming). The semantic molecule dog [m] is therefore needed in the explication of such words. It is not an arbitrary feature of the English lexicon that it includes a number of words which conceptually rely on the concept of dog, nor that no English words rely conceptually on wilderbeast or walrus. The molecule status of dog in English is indicative of the cultural importance of dogs in society.


The NSM approach

Unlike dog, which is not a universal semantic molecule, some semantic molecules might be universal or near-universal. For instance, basic social categories, like men [m] women [m] and children [m], are believed to be universal molecules (Goddard and Wierzbicka forthcoming). These basic molecules are needed in the explication of many other words. For example, the semantic molecule children [m] is needed in order to explicate English words like toy, play, school, mummy and daddy (Goddard 2009b). Goddard and Wierzbicka (forthcoming) explicate children as follows. It is crucial to the molecule concept that all semantic molecules are ultimately reducible without circularity into semantic primes. For a fully adequate and theoretically satisfactory explication of any linguistic concept which relies on semantic molecules, it must be shown how each semantic molecule can be explicated into semantic primes. The majority of words in this book can be explicated straight into semantic primes. This appears to the case with many value terms, social, emotion and ethnophilosophical concepts. If semantic molecules are used, they will be justified and discussed in detail. [I] a. b. c. d. e. f.

Children [m] people of one kind all people are people of this kind before they can be people not of this kind when someone is someone of this kind, this someone has lived for a short time, not a long time the bodies of people of this kind are small when people are like this, they can do some things, they can’t do many things because of this, if other people don’t do some good things for them, bad things can happen

It is crucial to the molecule concept that all semantic molecules are ultimately reducible without circularity into semantic primes. For a fully adequate and theoretically satisfactory explication of any linguistic concept which relies on semantic molecules, it must be shown how each semantic molecule can be explicated into semantic primes.58 The majority of words in this book can be explicated straight into semantic primes. This appears to the case with many value terms, social, emotion and ethnophilosophical concepts. If semantic molecules are used, they will be justified and discussed in detail. I have now provided a basic account of “how to do things with NSM”. In section 2.2, I will add to this foundation the concepts of cultural keywords and cultural scripts and go deeper into the application of NSM in the field of cultural semantics. Before passing to the cultural theme, I

Perspectives and discussion


will take a closer look at other contemporary approaches to meaning in language and situate the NSM approach within the landscape of alternative frameworks in semantics and pragmatics.


Perspectives and discussion

The renewed interest in language as a cultural or non-neutral phenomenon (see section 1.2) has led to new developments in the linguistic disciplines of semantics and pragmatics. In this section, I have chosen to compare the NSM framework with three different contemporary frameworks. These frameworks are Levinsonian Pragmatics, Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT), and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA).59 Taking my point of departure in NSM’s conceptual approach, its reductive paraphrase technique and representational perspective, I will now consider three alternatives: the extensional approach to meaning (Levinsonian pragmatics), the metaphor-mapping technique (CMT), and the critical discourse perspective (CDA).

2.3.1. Conceptual vs. extensional approaches The first discussion relates to the nature of semantic inquiry. The conceptualist viewpoint, advanced with the “cognitive turn” in linguistics, argued that language is conceptualization (cf. Wierzbicka 1972; Lakoff and Johnson 1980; Langacker 2000; Croft and Cruse 2004: 40), and that languages therefore constitute specific construals of the world. Conceptual approaches are therefore sceptical of any work that takes its point of departure in pre-linguistic facts about the world. Extensionalist researchers60 do not explicitely see themselves as defenders of pre-linguistic analysis, on the contrary, research in the extensionalist traditions have been highly critical of e.g the “simple nativism” in North American cognitive science (see e.g. Levinson 2003b: 25-28). There is, however, in extensionalist methodology traces of traditional externalist logics. One salient characteristic of extensional approaches is the reliance on elicittation of words (and the extensional range of words) from pictures, videofootage and other external stimuli. Visual stimuli might be helpful in the initial phase of some types of semantic research, but they cannot be relied on as semiotically neutral tools for elictiation. Neither do they provide an


The NSM approach

escape from language. The outmoded logic of “reality first, language then” seems to be lurking in the praxis of extensionalist research, despite its good intentions (for a criticism of current practices in extensional linguistics, see Wierzbicka 2007c; Goddard 2012). The influential works of Stephen C. Levinson and colleagues are paradigmatic examples of the extensional paradigm (Levinson 1983, 2000, 2003a; Brown and Levinson 1987; Bowerman and Levinson 2001; Levinson and Jaisson 2005; Enfield and Levinson 2006a; Levinson and Wilkins 2006; Evans and Levinson 2009). Levinson is the originator of Politeness Theory (with Penelope Brown) and has recently launched an interdisciplinary research agenda on Human Sociality (with N. J. Enfield). Levinson identifies himself as a neo-Gricean scholar (Levinson 2000), acknowledging that his work is thoroughly inspired by the British philosopher of language, H. P. Grice, who pioneered the discipline of pragmatics with the theory of “conversational maxims” (Grice 1957).61 Like that of Grice, Levinson’s work is dedicated to identifying abstract universal principles of communication. Levinson’s universalism is not grounded in the meaning categories of natural languages; rather he is interested in the “underlying universal properties of human interaction” (Levinson 2006: 44). The types of “universals” suggested by Wierzbicka and Levinson are therefore of a very different nature: natural language universals vs. language-external universals (see also McGregor 1997). The Gricean assumptions that “meaning is independent of language and convention” (Enfield and Levinson 2006b: 5) and that “meaning is a property of minds in mediated interaction with other minds” (Enfield and Levinson 2006b: 6) differ radically from the NSM position. Wierzbicka has argued that Levinson’s universalism, like that of his predecessor H. P. Grice, is Anglocentric in its outset, and that its “universals” reflect English language use and Anglo conversational norms, rather than conversational principles found in all languages (Wierzbicka 2003: 69). “Human behaviour”, Wierzbicka argues, needs to be distinguished from “Anglo culture”, and “natural inference schemata” from “Anglo cultural norms” (Wierzbicka 2006b: 33). By relying heavily on keywords from the Anglosphere, such as mind and politeness, in the exploration of meaning and speech practices in other cultures, Levinson’s universalism leads in effect to “conceptual imposition” (see section 1.5.3). When Levinson talks about culture shaping “all the modalities of interaction” (Levinson 2006: 41), he does not seem to mean it in a fundamental, conceptual way. The “human interaction engine” is guided by universal principles, and it is symptomatic that the research of

Perspectives and discussion


Levinson and colleagues focuses on “human sociality”, rather than “human socialities”, on sociality “as such” rather than on how speakers of different languages construe their social worlds through language and linguistic practices. For Levinson, “human” is mainly a contrastive term, and comparisons with the “sociality” of other species (ants, apes, etc.), therefore, seem more important than the comparisons of different human languages, cultures and socialities. One wonders at the ease with which researchers like Levinson and Enfield can access the “human” dimension of communication, without consulting the conceptual semantics of natural languages. To exemplify, Enfield and Levinson assert that “cooperation”, “commensality” and “morality” are uniquely human phenomena, which constitute “human sociality” (Enfield and Levinson 2006b: 3). These features, it is claimed, are not shared by e.g. ants and apes. At the same time, they say: “Ants… have hierarchies, complex divisions of labor, advanced fungal agriculture, communication, organized transport, colonization, and warfare” (p. 2). It is, in my view, quite mysterious how one can argue that ants have “warfare”, “agriculture”, and “organized transport” and yet, at the same time, assert that they have no “cooperation”? Even “talking about ants” involves a language, and using a language means categorizing and reenacting culturally encoded ideas. To exemplify, the ants in this passage are talked about in English, with highly culture-specific Anglo conceptualizations such as division of labor, transport and colonization. The whole enterprise of analysing meaning from hypothesized abstract principles of communication, with cross-species evidence, and without a solid base in natural language semantics, is deeply problematic. By ignoring natural language semantics, a theory becomes highly vulnerable to ethnocentric bias. Evidence from natural languages suggests that even the most “trivial” words (incl. interjections, discourse particles and emotion words, etc.) encode culture-specific meanings. As a challenge to En-field and Levinson’s Roots of Human Sociality, with its extensionalist assumptions and reliance on an externalist, semantics-avoiding universals, this book seeks to identify the “roots of Danish sociality”, as it has been construed with and by Danish keywords. The cultural analysis offered by Levinson seems to be dominated by a belief in pre-existing restraints which, on a closer inspection, seem suspisciously English-oriented. The reliance on cross-species evidence and the reluctance to consider semantic-conceptual diversity leads to untestable and, at times, puzzling claims about universality (cf. the uncooperative ants vs. the cooperative humans). Enfield and Levinson’s


The NSM approach

“theory of human sociality” suffers from the same basic problem as Politeness Theory, namely the reliance on English (technical) terms which, despite evidence from cross-semantic studies, is uncritically assumed to be neutral. From a practical perspective, the shortcoming of extensionalist methodology is perhaps most apparent in the non-concrete domains of semantics. Goddard (2012) argues that extensionalist methodologies are simply “inapplicable” when it comes to “abstract domains, such as cognitive, emotional, and value terminology” (see also Gentner and Goldin-Meadow 2003: 8). These domains are exactly the ones this book wants to explore. 2.3.2. Reductive paraphrase vs. metaphor mapping The second discussion relates to methodology. In the following I will contrast the reductive paraphrase method of NSM with the metaphor mapping method,62 devised by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 1999; Lakoff 1987a, 1987b, 1993). I will refer to the Lakoff-Johnson paradigm as the Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT), (see also Yu 1998, 2009a, 2009b; Barcelona 2000; Kövecses 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006). CMT is based on the assumption that everyday language and thinking rely on networks of conceptual metaphors which are “fundamentally conceptual, not linguistic, in nature” (Lakoff 1993: 244). With the technique of metaphor mapping the pairing of two domains, a target and a source domain, is identified. LIFE IS A JOURNEY and ARGUMENT IS WAR are two of the more prominent conceptual metaphors suggested in CMT literature (Lakoff and Johnson 1980), in which the target domains life and argument are understood by the source domains journey and war. The conceptual metaphor LIFE IS A JOURNEY is proposed on the basis of linguistic manifestations such as Look how far we’ve come, We’re at a crossroad, We can’t turn back now; ARGUMENT IS WAR on manifestations such as Your claims are indefensible, He shot down my argument, His criticisms were right on target. According to CMT, speakers “live by” by such metaphors (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). In an influential publication, Lakoff (1996) analyses American political worldviews via child-rearing metaphors, linking the Republican worldview with a STRICT FATHER model of society and the Democratic worldview with a NURTURANT PARENT model of society (for further CMT perspectives on language and politics, see also Lakoff 2004, 2006, 2008).63 On a more generic level, the conceptual metaphor

Perspectives and discussion


THE MIND IS THE BODY (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, 1999) is a paradigmatic and defining metaphor in CMT theorizing. Conceptual metaphor is seen as cognitive strategy, by which speakers understand more abstract concepts (such as life, argument, politics, the mind) through more concrete concepts (such as a journey, war, child-rearing, the body). CMT, however, shares with NSM the understanding that values, emotions and cognition are to be studied through language. Wierzbicka and Lakoff also share a conceptual view of language (Goddard 1998). However, the reductive paraphrase method of NSM and the metaphor mapping method of CMT differ substantially. I will not undertake a detailed comparison here, but focus on CMT’s reliance on “metaphor”. (For critical NSM reviews of CMT work, see Wierzbicka 1980, 1996; Goddard 1988; Peeters 1991, 2000a; for critical CMT reviews of NSM work see Lakoff 1990: 45-46; Yu 1998: 34f; Kövecses 2000: 47f.) The metaphor mapping technique is fundamental to the CMT framework. At the same time, it is also the most contested. In particular, Lakoff’s (1987b) dramatic declaration of the “death of the dead metaphor”, which in effect, rejected the psychological reality of lexicalization, has been widely criticized. Deignan (2003) points out that many of the proposed conceptual metaphors in the CMT paradigm, are in effect, historical metaphors. The link to cognition is “indirect” at best because the original imagery is no longer obligatorily active in speakers. From a meaning-based point of view, the original metaphor might provide helpful clues to the lexicalized meaning (the “indirect” link), but the historical imagery cannot be taken as solid evidence for contemporary meaning (for further critique, see also Wierzbicka 1980; Mühlhäusler 1995; Dobrovol’skij and Piirainen 2005). Goddard’s (2004) contrastive semantic analysis, which includes perspectives from indigenous Australian languages (Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara) as well as from Malay, shows that active metaphorizing is far from a universal phenomon. He says: “As an artefact of a particular cultural tradition with its origins in classical Greek rhetoric, this word [metaphor] encapsulates a complex meaning which lacks precise equivalents in many, probably most, of the world’s languages” (p. 1211). The Dutch historian of metaphor, Michiel Leezenberg (2001), reaches the same conclusion: “Metaphor as a deviation from literal language, and as involving a category mistake or a mapping between conceptual domains, cannot be considered a universal or culture-independent notion” (p. 25).


The NSM approach

Such insights, however, have not discouraged CMT researchers from asserting the universal applicability of the metaphor mapping method or from suggesting supposedly universal metaphors on the basis of “common bodily experience” and evidence from English (and a handful of other languages) (Kövecses 2005).64 It goes without saying that such suggestions are highly speculative and lack cross-semantic grounding. Leaving aside the speculative aspects of CMT, a semantic methodology based primarily on “metaphor” is bound to be restricted in its applicational range. The cultural keywords and linguistic grids I will investigate in this book are not metaphors, and therefore, they do not lend themselves well to metaphor mapping in the tradition of CMT. The reductive paraphrase method is a unified framework of conceptual semantics in general, not only for “conceptual metaphor”, with which we can account for meaning in language, including metaphorical meaning. 2.3.3. Representational vs. critical perspectives Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verändern (Karl Marx, as quoted in Bontempelli 2004: 239)

The third discussion deals with analytical perspectives. While the NSM approach is committed to representing the meaning of words by paraphrasing them into simple universal concepts, NSM generally does not have a critical agenda against language use.65 Like the ethnographer seeking to understand the underlying cultural assumptions without imposing value judgements – from, say, a morally or aesthetically superior position – NSM researchers do not seek to criticize speakers. In line with the non-prescriptive tradition of modern linguistics, NSM researchers, in other words, do not attempt to undertake normative semantics or normative pragmatics. NSM semanticist Anna Gladkova says in her linguistic biography: “As I learned about other cultures, their norms and speech practices, I understood that there are no right or wrong ways of speaking – other norms are just different, but as humans we develop an attachment to the ones we grow up with and then tend to consider them the best” (Gladkova 2007c: 141). Gladkova deflates the idea that some linguistic norms and speech styles are inherently “good” or “bad”, drawing attention to the mistake of

Perspectives and discussion


equating “familiar” with “good” and “different” with “bad”. In the NSM literature on cultural keywords, it can be observed how the insiderperspective, modelled through reductive paraphrase, can bring to light both different and familiar perspectives, by denaturalizing linguistically encoded assumptions and raising awareness of these assumptions rather than making value judgements. This view may seem affronting to critical scholars in social sciences, committed to agendas of social change, with a highly developed sense of words as agents for either the empowering of people or the suppression of people. In linguistics, the critical approach is most notably represented by Critical Discourse Analysis, as associated with the work of Teun van Dijk (1998, 2008a, 2008b, 2009), Ruth Wodak (1989; Wodak and Meyer 2009), Norman Fairclough (1995, 2001) and others. CDA studies have proliferated greatly since the early 1990s. CDA practictioners come from a variety of fields and tend to take pride in their methodological diversity: “What unites critical discourse analysis is neither methodology nor theoretical orthodoxy, but a common goal: the critique of the hegemonic discourses and genres that effect inequalities, injustices, and oppression in contemporary society” (van Leeuwen 2006: 290). The keywords of CDA seem to be power and power struggle, and the key technical terms hegemony and ideology. Unlike the descriptive and anthropological traditions in linguistics, many critical discourse analysts are openly politically engaged. The Marxist doctrine that what counts is changing the world, not “just” interpreting it in different ways, seems to have informed the CDA agenda. CDA analysis focuses on exposing hegemonies as found in the discourses of discrimination, racism and xenophobia (van Dijk 1984, 1991, 1993; Wodak and van Dijk 2000; Wodak and Reisigl 2001; Wodak 2003), sexism (Wodak 1997; Lazar 2005), national identity discourses, the exclusion of minorities (Wodak et al. 2009) and dominating discourses in the media such as “globalization” (Fairclough 2006). In opposition to “value-free” linguistics, van Dijk (2001) has portrayed CDA as “discourse analysis with an attitude” (p. 96) and provocatively stated that “CDA is biased – and proud of it” (p. 96). (For criticisms, see e.g. Schegloff 1997; Stubbs 1997). CDA mainly focuses on “ideology”, on the institutionalized oppression or systemic exclusion of certain groups of people through language and discourse.66 Therefore, CDA analysts tend to concentrate on media talk and on the rhetorical use of language in the public sphere. In the CDA view, languages are not interesting in their own right, e.g. Weiss and Wodak (2003) say that “language is not powerful on its own” and that “it


The NSM approach

gains power by the use powerful people make of” (p. 14). “Power” executed through language, not meaning as such, is the focal point in CDA. Language, it seems, is mainly important because it preserves and upholds certain ideological hegemonies, and thereby becomes a constituting part of these ideologies (Hodge and Kress 1993). CDA seems to have identified certain themes, e.g. “racism”, “social exclusion” and “stereotyping” which are then searched for in texts and discourses, exposed and problematicized. Some critical linguists view other branches of linguistics as “laissez-faire” (Pennycook 2001: ch3), because they do not actively fight the hegemonies in society. In my view, the CDA approach is both socially and theoretically important for modern linguistics. It has contributed with an important and enriching body of studies, documenting how text, discursive and social practices are intervowen. NSM semantics maintains a different focus, namely, the representtational perspective. While sharing the understanding that most words are not neutral, but carriers of values and cultural baggage, NSM focuses on “culture” and “linguistic worldview”, rather than “politics” and “ideology”.67 Even though “expert ideologies” can interact with linguistic worldviews over time, there is much more to everyday semantics than highly ideologized discourses and ideological keywords. Rather than working in a top-down manner through a pre-identified sociopolitical theme, the NSM approach begins with particular linguistic concepts and works “upwards” from linguistic evidence to cultural claims. In the critical literature on linguistic conceptualizations, it is, by contrast, not uncommon to find cultural keywords at the center of a cultural critique involving some of the earlier mentioned topics (e.g. social exclusion, sexism, racism, fascism, etc). Very visible words within a linguistic community are the most likely to attract the attention from critical analysts. For example, the common Australian English term of address mate has been described as inherently “sexist” and “racist” (for discussion, see Wierzbicka 1997: 118), and the German concept of Gemütlichkeit has been referred to as inherently “dangerous” and “cryptofascist” (for discussion, see Schmidt-Lauber 2003: 48). It is also fashionable, in critical analysis, to point to the Danish concept of hygge as a concept designed to socially exclude foreigners from Danish social life (e.g. Dencik 2006). These examples show how top-down critical analysis can take words and make them fit a particular agenda, rather than starting from and with the semantic analysis of a word.

Perspectives and discussion


The reductive paraphrase method works in a bottom-up fashion, beginning with the word and the conceptualizations of the word. From a semantic point of view, the top-down “externalist” nature of most critical approaches is highly problematic. If we want to tap into language as a resource for understanding how speakers have organized their worlds, “external” top-down agendas can lead astray. It is important to treat linguistic evidence with care and not jump to (politically motivated) conclusions. Another difficulty with the critical approach is the biased assumption that power and power struggle are universal human concerns. The English concept of power (and its closely related European concepts) is not the only important concept in the world’s lexicons of social relations, and it is problematic to assume that power and power struggle are (or should be) basic human concerns. To exemplify, in Malay the indigenous semantics and speech styles tend to capture the discourses of social relations in a different way. Goddard (2006a) notes: “Malay ways of speaking about social relationships…are typically framed not in terms of “power” (Malay kuasa), but in terms of the cultural keyword hormat (roughly “respect”) (p. 15).68 In this review, I have argued for the need for a representational approach to semantics, that is, the modelling of speakers’ linguistic worldview as it is embodied in linguistic conventions. Critical approaches have mainly focused on “tip of the iceberg” phenomena in the languagevalues relationship – the most visible arenas of ideological language use, e.g. newspeak and manipulation in media-talk, etc. The less visible aspects of “language as a non-neutral medium of communication” have not been given the same kind of attention. Reductive paraphrase semantics seeks to represent word meanings, not only of highly visible and highly ideologized words in culture, but also of the more humble, yet often very culturally significant words, by denaturalizing the everyday grid of language and showing how linguistic concepts reflect and guide everyday cognition.


NSM and cultural values

We have now looked at different approaches to meaning in language and surveyed different assumptions, practices and priorities. I have tried to show why NSM’s conceptual approach, its reductive paraphrase technique and the representational perspective, offers the optimal framework for my purposes.


The NSM approach

Practically, the reductive paraphrase method is attractive because it applies to all meaning-related phenomena in language, and to all semantic domains. While metaphor-mapping and ideology-driven critical approaches relate to certain sections of language use, e.g. metaphorical and ideological language, and extensionalist methodology is inapplicable in nonconcrete domains, the reductive paraphrase method has dealt with semantic problems across a wide range of domains, including cognition, emotions, attitudes and cultural values. The other major advantage of the NSM approach is its linguistic groundedness. Everyday language, with its experience-near concepts, is the best way to investigate how speakers have “made sense” of their world. Rather than relying on pre-existing categories to which language is extended the reductive paraphrase works within a semantic-conceptual understanding of language. Sophisticated “external” terminologies cannot reflect insider-perspectives, because such experience-distant terminologies are alien to speakers. Wierzbicka says: “…an NSM explication is intended as a conceptual representation as well as a semantic one: what is of interest to NSM is not just formal elegance or ingenuity, but the psychological reality” (Wierzbicka 2007c: 20). With a semantic-conceptual representation, NSM semanticists seek to understand the insider-perspective by representing the meanings of words as faithfully as possible. The NSM framework gives priority to the experience-near concepts of language and the insider-perspective they encode. This, I believe, leads to hypothesis-making with a high degree of cognitive plausibility. We have now looked at the basic techniques employed in NSM analysis, and discussed and compared its analytical framework relative to alternative frameworks. In the following we will focus on its applications in the study of cultural linguistics. Introducing the two concepts “cultural keywords” and “cultural scripts”, I will exemplify how the NSM approach has dealt with the language-culture interface.

2.4.1. Cultural keywords The notion of cultural keywords suggests that a number of words in a language are “guiding words” to the culture; that is, they embody underlying shared assumptions which are at work in a speech community. Salient patterns of habitual thinking are linked to these culturally salient

NSM and cultural values


and frequent words. Wierzbicka (1997) notes that studying cultural keywords can “lead us to the center of a whole complex of cultural values and attitudes” (p. 17), and when properly understood, shed light on cultural priorities and axioms. Goddard (2005) defines cultural keywords as “highly salient and deeply culture-laden words which act as focal points around which whole cultural domains are organized” (p. 78). Research into cultural keywords gained prominence with Wierzbicka’s seminal work Understanding Cultures Through their Key Words (1997), but scholars of other research traditions have advanced similar ideas, cf. the French lexicographer Georges Matoré’s research into mots-clés (1953) (on other approaches to cultural keywords, see also Williams 1985 and Hughes 1988). The advent of corpus linguistics has led to many new insights about the distribution of words in texts. The British corpus linguist Michael Stubbs (2002) observes that “words in texts are distributed very unevenly: a few words are very frequent, some are fairly frequent, and most are very rare” (p. 39). It is reasonable to assume that the frequent words of a speech community are cognitively more revealing of speakers’ priorities than marginal words. The salient words can illuminate cultural concerns and cultural values of a speech community. At the same time, it is obvious that no culture can be captured in a single word, no matter how revealing that single concept might be (Goddard 2006a: 16). There is no fixed number of keywords in a language and no mechanistic way of establishing whether a given word is a cultural keyword. Ultimately, the question comes down to whether a concept can lay claim to a high degree of cognitive and discursive “salience”. This must be established via linguistic evidence. Frequency in language use is only one parameter. Phraseological elaboration, the extent to which a word is embedded in fixed phrases and constructions, is also a factor. Language “pays attention” to some words by including them abundantly in idiomatic phrases, formulaic sequences, speech routines, etc. To exemplify, the English parting phrase “have fun!” is revealing of the status of fun as a keyword in English and of “having fun” as a modern Anglo ideal. Another way of determing discursive salience is to study the extent to which a word has become part of society’s meta-discourses of values. The words of high-profiled book titles, song lyrics, narratives, proverbs and slogans can play an important role for the collective construal of ‘good and bad’.


The NSM approach

In the following, I will consider two cultural keywords in the ethnopsychological lexicons of English and Danish. First, I will consider the NSM literature on the English word mind, a focal point of English ethnopsychology but notoriously hard to render in translation, even into other European languages. Then I will continue by explicating its closest Danish counterpart sind. This is the Danish “dictionary equivalent” of mind, but as will be evident from the explication, it is far from equivalent. Following Wierzbicka (1992, 2005), Goddard (2008a: 79) explicates the English concept of mind (someone’s mind) as follows: [J] a. b. c. d. e.

Mind (someone’s mind) one of two parts of this someone (one part is the body, this is the other part) people cannot see this part because someone has this part, this someone can think about things because someone has this part, this someone can know things when someone thinks about something, something happens in this part

In cross-semantic comparison, the concept of mind, despite its relative simplicity, stands out as peculiar and untranslatable, in particular because of its intellectual character, that is its focus on thinking and knowing (Goddard 2008a: 79; Wierzbicka 1989: 49). (For NSM contrastive work cf. also studies of Russian duša (Wierzbicka 1992, 2005), Japanese kokoro (Hasada 2000), Malay hati (Goddard 2001a, 2008a) and Korean maum and kasum (Yoon 2006). The closest Danish counterpart of mind is sind; they are, however, quite different constructs. The Danish sind cannot, like the English mind, be described as inquiring (knowledge) or brilliant (thinking). Sind is linked with identity and mentality. To exemplify, one can be dansk et ‘of a Danish sind’, as opposed to tysksindet ‘of a German sind’. A sind can be described as lys ‘light, bright’ or mørk ‘dark’ (one’s mental disposition). Unlike mind, the Danish sind can “move” and “boil” suggesting a feeling aspect. Roughly, we can say that sind combines the ideas of a person’s mentality, core identity, and his or her deeper feelings. Compared with the “intellectual” and “flexible” English concept of mind, Danish sind can be said to present a more “identificational” and “deterministic” construal of personhood. I will now suggest an explication of sind based on collocational and phraseological evidence.

NSM and cultural values [K] a. b. c. d. e. f. g.


sind (someone’s sind) one part of this someone people cannot see this part because someone has this part, this someone wants to do some things, this someone doesn’t want to do some other things because someone has this part, this someone can feel many things, when this someone thinks about something, not like someone else can feel many things, when this someone else thinks about the same because someone has this part, this someone can think like this: “I know that there are many kinds of people, I am someone of one kind, I can say what kind” when something bad happens to this someone, because this someone has this part, this someone can think like this: “I want to think for some time, I don’t want to do many things” when someone thinks about something, something happens in this part other people can’t know what happens in this part of someone if this someone doesn’t want them to know

In components (a) and (b) it is conveyed that sind refers to ‘one part of someone’, which ‘people cannot see’. This is very similar to mind, except that sind conceptually is not in a dual relationship with body, (compare, ‘one of two parts of this someone’ for mind, and ‘one part of this someone’ for sind). Despite the fact that the words sind and krop ‘body’ quite naturally can occur in the same discourses of personhood, they to not pose a *sind-krop problem such as English body-mind.69 Components (c) models the “dispositional” aspect of sind. One’s motivations can be explained by the qualities of one’s sind, cf. the collocates lys ‘light’ (et lyst sind), roughly, an optimistic personality type, mørk ‘dark’ (et mørkt sind), referring to a pessimistic personality type or as skrøbelig ‘fragile, sensitive’ (et skrøbeligt sind), referring to an oversensitive personality type, etc. Such cognitive preferences are, according to the cultural logic underlying sind, imposed on a person by his or her sind. Component (d) develops of on the “emotion” and “personality” themes, linking sind with cognitively-based feelings, cf. collocates such as “boil”, “move”, “heavy” and “light”. Also, feelings and personality go hand in hand, and no sind is identical. Every person has a different sind, and a unique way of experiencing the world. Component (e) models another important aspect of personhood, namely the instinct for a “sense of belonging”, i.e. the awareness that ‘there are many kinds of people’, and the importance of being able to


The NSM approach

identify with one of these kinds cf. ‘I am someone of one kind, I can say what kind’. As evidence for this, consider again the concepts dansksindet ‘of a Danish sind’ and tysksindet ‘of a German sind’ which have played an enormous role in discursive construal of a Danish national identity as opposed to German identity (Adriansen 2003, see also section 1.3). Component (f) models the emotionally stabilizing aspect of sind. A well-functioning sind has certain stabilizing aspects which can prevent haste, rush and panic, when bad things happen. This aspect is attested e.g. in derived adjectives sindig, roughly ‘calm, sedate’ and besindig, roughly, ‘calm, cool-headed’, and the related verb at besinde sig ‘to regain selfcontrol, refrain from doing something, think for a while’. Also, sind frequently collocates with fred ‘peace’ (MI-score: 7.22) and ro ‘rest, calmness’ (MI-score: 8.57): (12) Han gør, hvad han vil. Hvilket også er, hvad han skal. Det giver et menneske en vis ro i sindet. ‘He does what he wants to do, which is also what he must do. That gives a person a certain calmness in the sind.’ [KorpusDK] (13) Vigtigst af alt er at være tro mod sig selv og bevare freden i sit sind – i alt hvad man gør. ‘The most important thing is to be faithful to yourself and keep the peace in your sind in everything you do.’ [KorpusDK] The stabilizing theme is also at play in sind phraseology. The saying tab og vind med samme sind ‘lose and win with the same sind’ relates to having control over one’s reaction, even when things do not turn out as desired. The saying functions as a moderator, and is typically used disapprovingly in situations when a person is visibly agitated over having lost at a game. This is a signal that the person is assigning too much value to the “competitive” rather than the “participatory” aspect of the game. The concept of sindsligevægt ‘balance of sind; equanimity’ suggests that sind encodes a mental equlibrium as a norm. Temporary loss of control and emotional unstability is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a marked thing, cf. the concept of sindsbevægelse (lit. movement of sind) ‘emotion, agitation, excitement’. The norm is the equilibrium, and only people with an “unharmed” sind can be expected to act in predictable ways. Finally, componant (g) conveys the idea that what happens in one’s

NSM and cultural values


sind is private. The salient Danish idiom at tænke i sit stille sind ‘to think inside one’s quiet sind’ reveals the lack of access for other people to a person’s sind. As two keywords for their respective ethnopsychologies, the English mind and the Danish sind reflect different models of personhood; roughly a rational, sensible orientation vs. a personal and identificational orienttation. Interestingly, the DDO dictionary defines sind as “menneskets inderste væsen” ‘man’s inner being’. It is clear, however, that it is spea-kers of Danish who have conceptualized personhood in this way. The claim that speakers of all languages have a sind, (with all its peculiar ethnopsychological implications) would obviously be blatantly Dano-centric, but so is Anglophone linguists’ and psychologists’ talk about “the human mind”, as if the English concept corresponds to objective reality whether or not speakers of other languages share the concept with speakers of English. The main point of this section has been to exemplify how untranslatable cultural keywords can provide a window on the cultural orienttations, ideas and values of a community of discourse. Also, this section has presented the first examples of an explication of a Danish word.

2.4.2. Cultural scripts There is more to meaning in language than the meaning of words. Any adequate account of meaning in language must combine lexical semantic analysis (the study of linguistically encoded meaning) with an analysis of language use in a broader cultural context. Every culture has unwritten norms for speaking, behaving and thinking and these are often deeply acculturated and completely taken for granted by native speakers. For example, the Swedish linguistic anthropologist Åke Daun (2005) has documented how outsiders of Swedish culture often unwittingly break some of the important unwritten rules of Swedish ethnopragmatics, including the unwritten rules of “steering clear of sensitive topics” and “not to talk about private matters in public places”. Ethnopragmatic analysis is about articulating the unwritten scripts of a given culture by capturing “background norms, templates, guidelines or models for ways of thinking, acting, and speaking in certain cultural contexts” (Goddard and Wierzbicka 2004b: 157).


The NSM approach

Wierzbicka (2006b) defines cultural scripts as follows: “Cultural scripts are shared understandings (of a given community of discourse), especially evaluative and prescriptive or proscriptive ones, articulated in universal human concepts” (p. 35). The cultural scripts method has been employed in numerous studies (see in particular the work of Anna Wierzbicka (1994a, 1994b, 1998a, 2002a, 2002b, 2004a, 2004b, 2006a), Cliff Goddard (2000b, 2006c, 2009d, 2009e), Bert Peeters (1999, 2000b), Felix Ameka 1994, 2004, 2006; Catherine Travis (2004, 2006a), Rie Hasada (2006), Zhengdao Ye (2004a, 2006 c) and Jock Wong (2004a, 2006). Cultural scripts aim at modelling insiders’ perspectives, that is, accounting for their values and their attitudes, without imposing any value judgments from above or from outside. Unlike semantic explications, which model the semantic content of linguistically encoded meanings (lexical, grammatical and phraseological semantics), cultural scripts model shared cultural understandings, attitudes and values of a speech community. Script [L] exemplifies the structure of an “evaluative” cultural script: [L]

Frame for an “evaluative” cultural script many people think like this: it is good/bad if …

As argued in section 1.5.2, no culture is homogenous or static. Individuals in any society might not agree with or conform to “mainstream” cultural rules and norms. Even so, such individuals are likely to recognize the “existence” of certain norms and rules in their speech community. [Cultural scripts]…constitute a certain naïve axiology, that is, a naïve set of assumptions about what it is good and bad to do or say, and even to think and feel. Any given speech community has such shared assumptions, and although not everyone necessarily agrees with them, everyone is familiar with them because they are reflected in the language. (p. 56)

Wierzbicka (2007b) explains: The goal of ethnopragmatic analysis is to uncover the “naïve axiologies” which are taken for granted by ordinary speakers. A successfully drafted cultural script will most likely be met with an “unimpressed attitude” when presented to cultural insiders. Shared cultural assumptions tend to be deeply naturalized and hidden. Cultural scripts therefore tap into what speakers consider obvious and

NSM and cultural values


trivial. What is obvious in one speech community, however, may be far from obvious in other speech communities where different scripts are at work.70 The objective of the cultural scripts approach is comparable to other “culturally aware” approaches to language use, e.g. ethnography of communication (Hymes 1968; Gumperz and Hymes 1986; Saville-Troike 1989, Cultural Discourse Analysis (CuDA) (Carbaugh 2002, 2005, 2007) and linguistic anthropology (e.g. Duranti 1992, 1997). Cultural scripts differ in their “level of generality” (Goddard and Wierzbicka 2004b: 157; Pedersen 2010). Some are very basic and general, whereas others can be very specific. The general scripts are referred to as high level scripts or master scripts (Goddard 2006a: 6), and the more specific scripts as low-level scripts. For the moment, I will proceed with two master scripts which have been devized for Anglo-American and Russian cultural contexts, respectively. The Anglo-American script presented in [M] is related to “positive thinking”: [M]

An Anglo-American master script related to “positive thinking” many people think like this: it is good if someone can often think that something good will happen it is good if someone can often feel something good because of it

While the proposed Anglo-American cultural script [M] has scope over diverse cultural activities, it can also be related to specific Anglo-American words such as the keyword happiness. (On happiness and “positive thinking”, see chapter 7). Arguably, script [M] is not a universally shared attitude. The Anglo-American attitude captured in [M] is a classic theme in migrant literature on cultural adaptation. The attitude is often not understood or appreciated by cultural newcomers who find it puzzling and perplexing (e.g. Hofmann 1989). Script [N] is a proposed Russian master script associated with the Russian cultural keyword iskrennost’ (roughly ‘sincerity’). Wierzbicka (2002c) relates it to a Russian code of “expressiveness”, a communicative code which can be quite perplexing to cultural outsiders. [N]

A Russian master script connected with “expressiveness” many people think like this: it is good if someone wants other people to know what this someone thinks it is good if someone wants other people to know what this someone feels


The NSM approach

In cultures where speakers are guided by cultural scripts which prescribe that people should keep their inner thoughts and feelings to themselves, understanding the Russian master script [N] and the positive values it endorses can be important for appreciating Russian communicative culture in its own right. Lower-level scripts aim at capturing more specific cognitive habits in culture and are typically more behaviour-oriented or situation-bound than the value-oriented master scripts. This is reflected in the phrasing of lower-level scripts, which often contain when-clauses (or if-clauses), and which tend to be longer, more detailed and more explanatory (Goddard 2006a: 6-7). Lower-level scripts are also more likely to incorporate semantic molecules, for instance, body parts, human social categories or cultural keywords. In a study on Chinese facial expressions and their related linguistic phraseology, Zhe ngdao Ye (2006a) provides script [O] for the Chinese attitude that people should attempt to conceal displays of ‘feeling very good’. This script makes use of the Chinese molecule lian [m] ‘face’, and prescribes a behavior which is linked to the value of “containing oneself” and to avoid being viewed as “self-indulgent” (Ye 2006c: 153). [O]

A Chinese cultural script for concealing displays of ‘feeling very good’ many people think like this: when someone feels something very good because something very good happened to this someone, it is not good if other people can know this when they see this someone’s lian ‘face’ [m]”

Ye (2006c: 153) says that script [O] “creates difficulty for cultural outsiders” who find the prescribed “concealed” behaviour difficult to decipher. Specific cultural scripts can include culture-specific social categories such as the Korean script presented in [P] Yoon (2006). This script prescribes ways for interacting with noin, roughly, ‘respected old people’ a salient Korean social category with which interaction follows certain culturally endorsed constraints. [P]

A Korean cultural script for interacting with noin many people think like this: when I am with some other people, if these people are noin [m], I have to think like this:

NSM and cultural values


“these people are not people like me, these people are people above me because I am with these people now I cannot do some things, I cannot say some things, I cannot say some words” if these people say to me: “I want you to do something”, I can’t say to them: “I don’t want to do it” if these people want me to do something, it will be good if I do it it will be very bad if these people feel something bad because of me

In the egalitarian Danish speech community, in which old people are not given any special reverence (special care, perhaps, if they are physically fragile), script [P] reflects truly “exotic” cognitive values without Danish cultural counterparts. Tacit cultural norms and values relate directly and indirectly to language and in particular cultural keywords. The relationship between cultural keywords and cultural scripts is therefore particularly rewarding for explorations in the language-culture interface. The two arenas, semantics and ethnopragmatics, are highly related, and all chapters in this work provide both semantic explications of Danish words and cultural scripts of associated Danish norms, attitudes and values. 2.5.

Concluding remarks

In this chapter, I have outlined the basic tenets of NSM theory and exemplified the techniques of semantic explications a nd cultural scripts. I have argued for a cognitive and conceptualist approach to linguistic analysis, which revolves around the semantics and pragmatics of everyday language and for a representational analytical perspective. I have also argued that the reductive paraphrase method provides a tool which facilitates a linguistically grounded analysis in a culturally unbiased metalanguage. This chapter has identified the main claims and findings of the NSM framework and tested its viability in Danish. It was argued that the NSM technique provides an optimal framework for our present purposes because it is highly useful for describing social, cognitive and emotional terms in culturally sensitive ways, and because it has been tested in a variety of different languages and cultures. Equipped with the NSM approach to linguistic and cultural analysis, we will now proceed to an analysis of the Danish social keywords hygge (chapter 3), tryghed (chapter 4), and janteloven (chapter 5), and to a semantic account of the Danish grid of cognitive verbs (chapter 6) and emotion adjectives (chapter 7).

Chapter 3 Roots of Danish sociality: Hygge as a cultural keyword and core cultural value

Når man er flere der har det rart / på samme tid det samme sted / i ro og fred / så mærker man en lille smule lykke / bar’ et lille stykke /åh, det er hygge ‘When people are with others, feeling good / at the same time in the same place / undisturbed and in peace / then they feel a tiny bit of happiness (lykke) / just a little piece / oh, that’s hygge’ Chorus lyrics from Martin Miehe-Renard’s Hygge (1994)




The Danish word hygge designates a pleasant, attentive and relaxed mode of “togetherness”. Judith F. Hansen (1980) describes a situation characterized by hygge in the following way: “To be in a situation characterized by hygge is to be in a state of pleasant well-being and security with a relaxed frame of mind and an open enjoyment of the immediate situation in all its small pleasures” (p. 58). Hygge is a keyword in Danish culture and a product of the distinctive Danish social ethos which developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century. To trace the historical semantics of hygge is beyond the scope of this analysis, but it is generally agreed that the form hygge is a late 19th Century loan, derived from a Norwegian verb meaning ‘to console, to encourage’ (Katlev 2000: 307) (see also section 3.7). The aim of this chapter is to provide a semantic and ethnopragmatic analysis of the concept hidden in this word, and the two main questions are: What does hygge mean, and which cultural values are co-construed with the word?



First, hygge is, as anthropologists have noticed, closely linked to Danish social and cultural values (Hansen 1976, 1980; Schwartz 1985a; Borish 1991; Schmidt-Lauber 2003; Linnet 2010). Stephen M. Borish (1991), argues that hygge encodes a Danish perspective on “positive sociality” (p. 278), and that hygge is “the name for a quintessential Danish social value, one that must be addressed in any account of Danish life and character” (p. 264). Jonathan M. Schwartz (1985a) identifies hygge as one of the “graces of Danish culture and socialization” (p. 123), and Judith F. Hansen (1980) calls it a “key cultural concept in that its realization involves many of the basic attitudes and values of Danish culture” (p. 62). Second, hygge seems to be a discursive centre of attention in a wide range of different Danish social domains from recreation and sport, to politics and national identity, architecture and interior design (cf. Bean 2008). It is even a concept which people sing songs about, cf. the excerpt above from Miehe-Renard’s Hygge (1994). Hygge, then, is a canonical Danish example of a cultural keyword (Wierzbicka 1992, 1997, 2006a), a deeply culture-specific word, “around which whole cultural domains are organized” (Goddard 2005: 78). For speakers of Danish, there is something highly self-evident and taken-for-granted about hygge as a value in Danish everyday discourse. Consider examples (1–4): (1)

Der skal være glæde og hygge ved tilværelsen – ellers er der ikke noget ved det. ‘Life must include happiness (glæde) and hygge, otherwise it’s no good.’ [KorpusDK]


(from a teenage pen pal site) Elsker:...dyr, musik, hygge, cola'er og meget andet. ‘I love: Animals, music, hygge, drinking coke and many other things.’ [KorpusDK]


Julen for os betyder hygge og afslapning. Der er drøn nok på til daglig. ‘For us, Christmas means hygge and relaxation. There’s enough of rush in our everyday lives.’ [KorpusDK]


En fisketur med bål og hygge er også meget hyggeligt. ‘To go fishing together, making a bonfire and having hygge is also very hyggelig.’ [KorpusDK]


Roots of Danish sociality

Without hygge, life is not worth living (1), it is on the list of important things in a teenagers’ life (2), it is the deeper meaning of Christmas (3), and deeply circular propositions that “hygge is hyggelig” (hyggelig is the adjectival form of hygge) in (4) seem to go unnoticed. Central to the life of the Danish community, and at the same time completely taken for granted by the Danes, hygge fits Wierzbicka’s description well. This chapter studies the hygge concept in detail: In sections 3.1 and 3.2, I will consider hygge from a translational and transcultural point of view, learning from the experiences of cultural learners and language migrants (on the notion of “language migrants”, see Besemeres 1998, 2002, 2006; Wierzbicka 2006a; Besemeres and Wierzbicka 2007). In section 3.3, I will investigate the linguistic and cultural ramifications of hygge in Danish language, identifying the main words, phrases and constructions related to hygge. Section 3.4 proposes semantic explications for the noun hygge, the two hygge-verbs hygger and hygger sig, and the hygge-related noun stemning, roughly ‘atmosphere’. Drawing on the semantic analyses, section 3.5 develops a hygge-based account of Danish social cognition, communicative style and non-verbal symbolic meanings. Finally, section 3.6 discusses hygge’s role for the discursive construction of Danish national identity. 3.2.

Rolling together hygge: The limitations of English

From a translational point of view hygge is notoriously problematic. Time and again Anglo commentators have struggled to explain hygge via English words. As a consequence, hygge has sometimes been portrayed as a compounded concept, “rolled together” by a number of English concepts. The number of concepts “rolled together” tends to amount to three, but there is no agreement about which concepts to include: [Hygge] is a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one (Dyrbye, Harris and Golzen 2005: 7) If you roll security-gaiety-salubrity into one warm ball you have hygge (Simpson 1966: 7)

Rolling together hygge


“Comradeship”? “Conviviality”? “Contentment”? “Security”? “Gaiety”? “Salubrity” – How many English concepts does it take to roll together hygge? Needless to say, in a cross-semantic perspective it is rather problematic to claim that a Danish-specific word is definable via highly Englishspecific concepts such as “conviviality”, “security”, and the like. Furthermore, the portrayal of hygge as a compounded concept might mislead readers into believing that speakers of Danish actually “roll together” concepts, when they talk about hygge, which is obviously not the case. My own English gloss ‘pleasant togetherness’ is a translational construct which can be useful in the initial phase of the semantic analysis, but ultimately, it cannot be relied upon as an adequate representation. In the literature, the translational gloss “conviviality” is sometimes presented without these precautions, as if it were an unproblematic descriptive category, cf. Borish’s (1991) account of hygge: “What lies behind the Danish code of hygge? Is it merely, as some have suggested, a cold-climate adaptation to long winter nights? The very least one can say of it is that it reflects a skill, talent, and concern for the values of conviviality and ‘positive sociality’” (p. 278). It is interesting to note that Borish, in this passage, places the construct “positive sociality” in inverted commas, but omits the inverted commas for the concept of “conviviality”. “Conviviality”, however, is not an innocent culture-neutral descriptor. In fact, it is a highly English-specific concept which does not translate readily into other languages, including Danish. By introducing this alien English concept into the Danish universe of meaning, the indigenous Danish viewpoint is missed (Goddard 2008c: 4). As an illuminating comparative example, consider the book The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia (Overing and Passes 2000a), a recent Anglo-international publication on Amazonian culture and social life. In the preface, the editors argue that “conviviality” is a major and defining theme in Amazonian social life. If taken at value, this implies that “conviviality” is the over-arching theme of both Danish and Amazonian socialities, and we are led to the unlikely conclusion that Danish and Amazonian social values are more or less identical. But what if neither speakers of Danish or Amazonian languages share with speakers of English the concept of “conviviality”? Judging from Overing and Passes’ theoretical discussion, “conviviality” does indeed seem to be the result of a rather arbitrary linguistic labeling process, rather than an indepth reflection on Amazonian semantics:


Roots of Danish sociality We will start by saying what, from our point of view and for our purposes, conviviality is not. Our use of the word, which broadly defines an Amazonian mode of sociality, eschews, yet also at another level transcends, the particular English sense of simply having a good (and, it is slightly inebriated) time in the company of others: i.e. a jovial, festive, companionable state, occasion or atmosphere. Even less does ‘our’ conviviality match the common and yet narrower French meaning attaching to the word convive, namely guest, (fellow diner), although convivialité signifying, as an extension of bonhomie and joviality, amicable social relations and interaction, does approach our own use…. The idea inherent in, and also literally conveying the original Latin root meaning of the Spanish words convivir ‘to live together/to share the same life’, and convivencia, is much more in the area of what we ourselves basically intend. But of what, though, does this Native American communal living, this conviviality, actually consist? In the end, of course, this can only be a matter of interpretation, our own and that of the people concerned. (Overing and Passes 2000b:xiii)

In this passage, conviviality is diluted in various European languages, but critically, no reference to indigenous Amazonian words or values are provided. It is obvious that the editors are at pains to make the English word conviviality fit the Amazonian situation. The introduction of French, Spanish and Latin linguistic concepts (and later in the passage even classical Greek (sic!)) is not helpful either. It remains to be shown how the English-specific conviviality or the French-specific convivialité help shed light on Amerindian languages in Brazil, Paraguay or Peru? What is the rationale behind ignoring the native Amazonian words, which could have provided us with insights into their linguistic worldviews and their construals of sociality?72 It should be evident that words with heavy cultural baggage are not suitable for cross-cultural comparison because they impose Anglocentric perspectives on speakers of other languages. The “conviviality”-based approach to social life across linguistic communities greatly underestimates the semantic-conceptual diversity in languages. If we are to model the insiders’ perspectives, we have to rely on indigenous semantics and learn from speakers’ own conceptualizations.

Hygge in cross-cultural encounters



Hygge in cross-cultural encounters

It is not only speakers of English who have difficulties in explaining the semantic content of hygge in their own language. The “problem of hygge” is commonly found in testimonies of cross-cultural encounters. Consider, for instance, the following accounts from personal weblogs where Spanish and French learners of Danish try to explain the concept of hygge to their home audiences: (5)

Y es hygge, que en danes quiere decir...., no sé, no creo que exista la palabra en nuestro idioma… Es algo como “estar a gusto, beber y pasarse 6 o 7 horas sentando en una mesa comiendo y bebiendo, con luces bajas y calorcito”. Y hace frio afuera, y hay que volver a casa en bicicleta. Una locura. ‘And that is hygge, which in Danish means...I don’t know, I don’t think there’s a word for it in our language. It is something like “feeling good, drinking and spending 6 or 7 hours sitting around a table eating and drinking, with subdued light in a nicely warm room. And it’s cold outside, and one has to return home by bike. It’s crazy.’ [Personal weblog, accessed Mar 2008,].


C’est le premier mot que j’ai appris en arrivant ici. Le “HYGGE” (le francophone prononcera hhhhugueux - avec 4 ‘h’ au debut pour la prononciation), c’est un mot pour definir le “bien etre” dans l’instant. Exemple: Vous passez un moment avec votre grand mere à boire du thé et manger des gateaux secs avec une bougie allumée sur la table du salon, c’est du hygge. ‘It is the first word I learned when I arrived here. “HYGGE” (the French-speaking person would pronounce it hhhhugueux – with 4 h’s at the beginning), is a word that defines well-being of the moment. Example: You spend some time with your grandmother drinking tea and eating cake with lit candles on the table in the living room, that’s hygge.’ [Personal weblog, accessed Mar 2008].

The Spanish learner makes the observation that she “doesn’t think the word exists” in Spanish, and the French learner states that hygge was the “first Danish word he learnt”. The value judgements that hygge is “diffe-


Roots of Danish sociality

rent”, but not terribly “exciting”, shine through both accounts, cf. the Spanish hyperbole “spending 6 or 7 hours around a table”, and the anticlimatical French exemplification “drinking tea with your grandmother”. Obviously, the accounts are not intended to portray hygge neutrally or accurately, but nevertheless, they demonstrate a high degree of metalexical awareness: Hygge is left untranslated in both the Spanish and French text indicating that this concept is unfamiliar to them; it is a concept which calls for further exemplification and explanation, cf. the phrasing (‘it is like…’). At times hygge has also been the centre of cross-cultural conflict. To exemplify, the German football coach Sepp Piontek, who worked most of his professional career in Denmark, felt that he actively had to suppress the Danish value of hygge in order to achieve success with his teams (Eichberg 1992). Piontek recently reflected on his first cross-cultural experiences as a coach for the Danish team: “In order to achieve any results in Denmark, the national team had to go through a minor cultural revolution…the general attitude was that it should be fun and hyggelig to be a part of the national team”73 (Christensen and Piontek 2008: 5, my translation). Piontek’s wording “a minor cultural revolution” is revealing. The German professional was dismayed by Danish lack of competitive mentality and serious commitment, and he identified the Danish attitude of hygge as one of the obstacles to success. The common phrase for hyggens skyld ‘for the sake of hygge’ reveals that, for Danes hygge is an achievement in itself and a motivating factor for doing things. The extended version of the Danish formula reads: om ikke andet så for hyggens skyld ‘if not for anything else, then for the sake of hygge’. This formula encodes the idea that hygge is a value in its own right, and that people can be talked into doing things if there is an element of hygge to it even if they do not particularly enjoy the thing itself. For example, otherwise reluctant churchgoers might go to church on Christmas eve for hyggens skyld ‘for the sake of hygge’ (Zuckerman 2008), and people without a competitive spirit or any “serious” aspirations might still be a part of a sports team for hyggens skyld ‘for the sake of hygge’. This “phraseology of motivation” places hygge at the centre of the Danish folk model of sociality and brings to light the inherent attractiveness of hygge to speakers (see also section 8.4). Another cultural outsider who has reflected on hygge is the British career diplomat, James Mellon, former ambassador to Denmark.74 At times Mellon’s description of Danish culture and society is slightly

Hygge in cross-cultural encounters


paternalistic and Anglocentric, but his tone is generally friendly. Some of Mellon’s ideas have even gained some currency in historical studies (see e.g. Jespersen 2004), especially his metaphor that the Danes are a tribe: “The Danes are not a nation…they are a tribe, this is the strength of their fellowship and the reason that they have unshakeable trust in each other” (Mellon 1992: 1). According to Mellon, the “tribal” aspect of Danish culture is manifest in a consensus-seeking, conflict-avoiding sociality, with a very high degree of trust and a distinct concern for society’s weaker members.75 He links these attitudes to the concept of hygge, and while generally sympathetic to the concept, he also makes critical remarks about “the hygge factor” in Danish society (Mellon 1992: 91). In Mellon’s view “the hygge factor” led, among other things, to unnecessary self-censorship and consensus in Danish media. Mellon found Danish interviews tame and debates stagnant. This judgment is based on British expectations, and unsurprisingly, British interviewers and political debates have been described by speakers of Danish as puzzlingly hostile and unpleasantly confrontational (Emmertsen 2007).76 The most important part of Mellon’s account lies in his observation that “the hygge factor” influences Danish social cognition and interaction in general, and that the linguistic concept of hygge is interconnected with pragmatic norms and cultural attitudes in Danish society at large, a point to which I will return in section 3.4. As we have seen, outsiders’ encounters with hygge do not only illuminate the Danish perspective, but also (and sometimes even more so) the cultural-attitudinal perspectives of the observer, e.g. a French, Spanish, German or British perspective. The fact that hygge is, in various ways, described and discussed by outsiders encountering Danish culture, is an indication that hygge is a concept of significance, a salient concept, with which an encounter seems unavoidable.


The elaborations of hygge in Danish language

This section establishes that hygge is a concept which is deeply entrenched in Danish: lexically, grammatically and phraseologically. It is indicative of hygge’s status as a cultural keyword that it has penetrated into some of the most basic linguistic routines of everyday life (cf. Wierzbicka 2010: 92). Not only have outsiders noticed the importance of hygge in Danish society; the Danish language has, so to speak, paid attention to


Roots of Danish sociality

the concept by incorporating it in speech routines, fixed compounding, naming of places etc. in elaborate ways. Also, as we will see, the hyggebased innovations are ongoing, and these ongoing elaborations indicate that hygge is expanding its semantic territory and its conceptual influence in the speech community. In the following analysis, I will provide a lexicographic overview of the most basic hygge-related words and phrases: verbs, speech formulae, adjectives, negated forms, fixed compounds, proper nouns and compound constructions. — Verbs. There are two hygge-related verbs: hygger and a light reflexive hygger sig. The verb hygger is a recent innovation, and the rise of this new category as a supplement to hygger sig is semantically revealing. The two verbal hygge-related categories will be explicated in 3.5. — Speech formulae. There is a rich hygge-based phraseology in Danish, most saliently in parting routines. Danish hygge-based parting routines include Hyg dig! and the variants Ka’ du hygge dig! and Du må hygge dig! These routines fill in conversational slots similar to that of English! and we can translate the Danish parting routines as “have hygge!” Despite the interactional similarities, the messages in “have hygge!” or have fun! differ substantially. — Adjectives. The related adjective hyggelig can be used predicatively, e.g. in Det var hyggeligt ‘That was hyggelig’. As an attributive adjective, hyggelig is typically used to describe certain events in time (e.g. en hyggelig aften ‘a hyggelig evening/night’), and certain places (e.g. en hyggelig by ‘a hyggelig city/town’). In both usages the adjective is semantically closely related to the noun hygge. — Negated forms. The Danish lexicon also includes the forms uhygge and uhyggelig, (the affix u- corresponding to English un-). Uhyggelig can be translated as, roughly ‘scary, grim’. Uhygge means, roughly ‘sinister atmosphere, eeriness’.77 — Fixed compounds. Danish has also paid attention to hygge through a number of fixed compounds, both compound nouns and compound verbs. The lists below are not extensive but include some of the most established (not ad-hoc and creative) hygge-based compounds. Due to ongoing semanticizations, the lists are expanding. All the compounds in (7) are elaborations of the hygge-universe: (7)


hyggespreder ‘someone who spreads hygge’; hyggeaften ‘hygge-evening’; julehygge ‘Christmas-hygge’; adventshygge ‘advent-hygge’; hyggebelysning ‘hygge-

The elaborations of hygge in Danish language



lighting; hyggemusik ‘hygge-music’; hyggeonkel ‘hyggeuncle’; hyggekrog ‘hygge-corner’; hyggepianist ‘hyggepianist’; hyggesnak ‘hygge-chat’; råhygge ‘strong, authentic hygge’ (lit. ‘raw-hygge)’; familiehygge ‘familyhygge’; hjemmehygge ‘home-hygge’. at julehygge ‘to Christmas-hygge’; at hyggesnakke ‘to hygge-chat’; at hyggenygge ‘to hyggenygge’ (nygge is a rhyming reduplication of hygge with a “cuteness”-effect); at råhygge (lit. ‘to raw-hygge’) ‘to have strong, authentic hygge’.

— Proper nouns. As noted by Borish (1991), even the practice of naming sommerhuse ‘summer houses (holiday homes)’ are subject to hygge considerations, cf. names like Hyggebo ‘Hygge-house/dwelling’ (p. 266). (8)

“Hyggebo” is a wonderful wooden cottage build in 2001 located high on a south-west faced site with a magnificent view towards both the Limfjord and a hilly landscape. [English-language ad for a holiday home named Hyggebo, accessed Mar 2010,]

— Compound templates. Hygge also combines with names for weekdays. The occurences of the “weekday+hygge” construction form a significant pattern, reflecting Danish social life. The numbers are based on two searches in February 2008 and September 2010: Table 3.1 The “weekday+hygge” construction weekday+hygge Feb 2008 fredagshygge ‘friday-hygge’ 3,090 (51%) søndagshygge ‘sunday-hygge’ 972 (16%) lørdagshygge ‘saturday-hygge’ 795 (13%) torsdagshygge ‘thursday-hygge’ 460 (8%) onsdagshygge‘wednesday-hygge’ 273 (5%) mandagshygge ‘monday-hygge’ 235 (4%) tirsdagshygge ‘tuesday-hygge’ 210 (3%)

Sep 2010 107,000 (71%) 18,700 (12%) 18,600 (12%) 4,200 (3%) 1,680 (1%) 887 (0.5%) 773 (0.5%)

Apart from the increase in occurrences, the table clearly shows that friday, the day when people get off work for the weekend, attracts hygge the


Roots of Danish sociality

most. This, apparently, is the favorite hygge time for being together with groups of friends and family. It also shows that the weekend in general (Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays), attracts more hygge than weekdays, and it seems reasonable to conclude that having time off from work leads to more hygge. At the same time, the table shows that hygge can occur at any day, and that hygge combines unproblematically with Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The “weekday+hygge construction” shows that social practices have linguistic footprints, and that hygge is a pervasive social concept, traceable even to individual days of the week.


The semantics of hygge

The collocational profile of hygge reveals only statistically frequent adjectival collocations: hjemlig ‘homely’ (MI-score: 14.62), and dansk ‘Danish’ (MI-score: 5.08). Hjemlig hygge describes one important “place” for hygge, namely hjemme ‘at home’. (9)

Jeg bor i hus, har en bil, fast arbejde. Jeg er udadvendt, åben, fingernem. Jeg sætter pris på renlighed. Interesser er dyr, naturen, musik, rejse, gode venner, hjemlig hygge og dig. ‘I’ve got a house, a car, a permanent job. I’m outgoing, open, deft. I appreciate cleanliness. My interests are animals, nature, music, travelling, good friends, homely hygge and you.’ [Contact ad, accessed Mar 2008,]

Example (9), extracted from a contact ad, exemplifies the collocation hjemlig ‘homely’ hygge as an important and sought-for social ideal. Hygge, however, is by no means exclusively linked to the homely social environment. If that were the case, there would be no need for specifying hygge as hjemlig. What the frequent collocation hjemlig hygge reveals is simply that hygge often takes place in people’s homes. Conceptually, hygge encodes “a way of being with other people” which can take place spontaneously and in a variety of places. First and foremost, hjemlig hygge emphasizes the conceptual link between hygge and “place”. The other frequent collocation, dansk hygge, also emphasizes “place” but less directly, and on a national level. Essentially, dansk hygge conveys the idea that hygge is something uniquely Danish. The combinations ? fransk hygge ‘French hygge’ or ?finsk hygge ‘Finnish hygge’ sound odd because hygge, in speakers’ minds is linked to dansk ‘Danish’ and ulti-

The semantics of hygge


mately to the place Danmark ‘Denmark’. The collocation dansk hygge exemplifies the use of a word as a national emblem and a badge of belonging. Speakers seem to insist on this linkage between sociality and nationality. Consider example (10), where a young Dane in America writes about her experiences overseas. Here, dansk hygge is listed on par with rye bread and licorice as “Danish things” she has to “live without” while abroad. (10) Selvfølgelig er der småting fra Danmark som jeg savner, såsom lakrids, rugbrød og dansk hygge og danskernes sorte humor, som jeg desværre må undvære. ‘Of course I miss a few things from Denmark, e.g. licorice, rye bread, Danish hygge and the Danes’ “black”78 sense of humour, which I unfortunately have to live without.’ [Magazine, accessed May 2009, via] To conclude, hygge is a concept of “people in places”. It is a mental ontology, a concept which is “real” to people. Explication [A] seeks to deal with the hygge concept in its entirety. It contains a number of components which will be briefly discussed in this section, and two particular aspects of the explication relating to “social cognition” and “sensation” will be further explored in more detail in the sections 3.5 and 3.6. The explication consists of the mental ontology frame for abstract nouns (for a discussion, see section 2.1.4) and a prototypical social scenario, i.e. the components (b)–(f). The mental ontology frame specifies the place-orientedness (cf. ‘thinking about a place’), and the introduction to the prototypical cognitive scenario models hygge as a potential (‘it can be like this’). [A]

A semantic explication for hygge something people can say what this something is with the word hygge someone can say something about something with this word when this someone thinks like this about a place:

a. b.

it can be like this: good things are happening in this place, because people are with other people now in this place for some time during this time people want to do some things with the other people in this place, they don’t want to do many things they want to say many things to the other people in this place



Roots of Danish sociality


people in this place think like this at this time: “people here are like part of one thing now people here want all people here to feel something good now bad things can not happen to people here now” when it is like this in a place, people in this place can feel something good, like people can feel something good when they are somewhere varm ‘warm, hot’ [m] because of this, these people want this place to be like this for some time it is good if it can be like this in a place for some time

e. f.

Component (b) models that ‘good things are happening in this place because people are with other people now in this place’; roughly, a “positive social event” of a “spontaneous” or “immediate” nature. This is followed by an “activity” component (c), conveying the meaning of some shared activities (‘they want to do some things with the other people in the place’), protypically, eating, drinking, playing board games, etc., but not anything excessively “active” (‘they don’t want to do many things’). People can have hygge, at many times and in many places. The hygge concept could even be applied to a work place situation, where people work nicely together as a team. However, if they are busy, if they have to ‘do many things’ the hygge will disappear. The socially attentive, but slightly inactive mode of hygge includes, at least prototypically, extensive verbal activities, (‘they want to say many things to the other people here’). This fits with the fact that hygge combines conventionally with snak ‘talk’ cf. hyggesnak ‘hygge talk’ and its verbal counterpart at hyggesnakke ‘to hygge talk’. Lasse Dencik, a Swedish social psychologist and critical observer of Danish society exemplifies derogatively this element of hygge as follows: “You sit at a pub, talk about nothing, and “pour water out of your ears”. You drink a beer or two, and then you get home and say that you’ve had hyggelig evening. Without remembering what was said”79 (Dencik, in Jespersen 2010). To “pour water out of your ears” is an idiom for ‘talking without real or concrete content’ cf. Andersen 2006: 229). Leaving aside the frame of critique, Dencik’s characterization suggests that ‘wanting to say many things’ is indeed an integral part of the hygge concept. Component (d) is a “social cognition” component, modelling the way people mentally construe the situation. In order to have hygge, one should forget about time and place and focus on nuet ‘the now; the present moment’. This aspect has led cultural commentators to describe hygge as “social nirvana in Denmark” (Dyrbye et al. 2005: 7). It is believed that ‘people here are like part of one thing now’, and that ‘people here want all

The semantics of hygge


people here to feel something good now’. Participants experience a “social intimacy” and a basic “trust” in the inclusiveness and good intentions of the other people present. Hygge cannot be achieved if there is disagreement and conflict in the group or if there is a sense of distrust between people. Furthermore, situations characterized by hygge eschew graveness and seriousness. Conversations about problems and dark days do not belong in the hygge sociality (Hansen 1980). This further suggests the sociocognitive element ‘bad things can not happen here now’. In section 3.5, I will further discuss this “social cognition” aspect of hygge. Component (e) is a “sensation” component modelling ‘people in this place can feel something good’ based on the prototype ‘like when they are somewhere varm [m]’. This aspect relates to Borish’ speculation that hygge is an “adaptation to long winter nights” (1991: 278) where a linkage between being together, being somewhere warm and feeling something good in the body is established. Key hygge symbols such as ‘candlelight’, ‘fire place’ and ‘hot chocolate’, are all based on the temperature word varm. In section 3.5, I will give further evidence for this component and justify further the use of the molecule varm ‘warm, hot’ [m]. Component (f) is a positive evaluation: ‘it is good if it can be like this in a place for some time’. This component places hygge in the group of Danish value words, and it also hints at the fragile nature of the concept. Hygge is desirable but not always possible. It comes with an effort and yet, cannot be fully controlled. The following section explores hygge’s ongoing penetration of Danish language, through an investigation into the rise of the new verb hygger.

3.5.1. Explaining the rise of the verb hygger In contemporary Danish, there are two hygge-verbs: hygger sig and hygger. Hygger is a new “non-reflexive” verb which has emerged as an alternative to the more established verb hygger sig. The light reflexive particle sig encodes a personalizing perspective, and this is reflected in the semantics of hygger sig.80 The personalizing sig “cancels”, so to speak, some of the social components in hygge. By contrast, the new verb hygger maintains the strong link to hygge. It can therefore be hypothesized that new verb hygger was formed to fill a gap; to model the full semantics of hygge in the form of a verb. In the following I will explicate both verbs: hygger which seems to invoke the whole hygge-package, and hygger sig,


Roots of Danish sociality

which encodes a personalized perspective on hygge and, therefore, leaves out a number of social components. The use of hygger sig suggests that the verb has a different semantic scope than the inherently social hygge. To exemplify the non-social usages, consider (11) where a person hygger sig with a cup of hot coffee, and (12) where a person hygger sig by being alone. Importantly, hygger sig can still be used in social situations, cf. (13). Hygger sig can be used in describing activities, which one does alone, as well as activities which one does with others. The emphasis seems to be on what one wants, thinks and feels, rather than what people here want, think and feel. (11)

Han hyggede sig med en varm kop kaffe. ‘He (PAST of hygger sig) with a hot cup of coffee.’ [KorpusDK]

(12) Hun havde hygget sig ved at være alene. ‘She (PPART of hygger sig) by being alone.’ [KorpusDK] (13) Line har allerede nu en del venner som hun hygger sig med. ‘Line now already has a number of friends with whom she hygger sig’. [KorpusDK] The explication of ‘someone X hygger sig’ must then account for the personalized perspective; a wider scope than hygge. [B] a. b. c. d. f.

A semantic explication for ‘someone X hygger sig’ someone X does some things for some time because of this, some things happen to this someone X during this time it is like this: during this time this someone wants to do some things, not many things during this time this someone doesn’t think like this: “bad things can happen to me” during this time this someone feels something good, like someone can feel when this someone is somewhere varm ‘warm, hot’ [m]” because of this, this someone wants it to be like this for some time

The semantics of hygge


Explication [B] models a meaningwhich is less complex than hygge and somewhat closer to the English phrase having a good time. The personalized focus is reflected in the explication, especially by the absence of defining social semantic components and by the addition of the personal experiential component, modelling ‘some things happen to this someone’. Despite the differences in social semantics, hygge and hygger sig overlap in meaning in a number of ways. The core elements of hygger sig include an activitity component causing some good events, but not many events, a cognitive component focused on the worry-free state of mind and a sensation component, based on the prototype of being somewhere warm. Hygger sig combines unproblematically with singular pronouns, e.g. han hygger sig ‘he hygger sig’. By contrast, singular pronouns do not combine well with the new verb hygger. The social semantics of hygge (a concept of ‘people being with other people’) seems to be responsible for these grammatical tendencies, and the new verb hygger transparently builds on the concept. Han hygger ‘he hygger’ sounds odd, whereas combinations with plural pronouns vi hygger ‘we hygger’ and de hygger ‘they hygger’ are grammatical. Consider some examples of the new verb hygger in the Danish corpus: (14) Danskere hygger meget. ‘Danes hygger a lot.’ [KorpusDK] (15) Gud hvor I altså bare hygger! ‘My God, you guys just really hygger!’ [KorpusDK] (16) Vi snakker, hygger, spiser sammen osv. ‘We talk, hygger, eat together, etc.’ [KorpusDK] Explication [C] models this close relationship by using hygge as a derivational base: [C]

A semantic explication for de hygger (‘they hygger’) at that time they are all doing some things for some time in that place because of this, they can all think like this about it at that time: “there is hygge [m] here now”


Roots of Danish sociality

To conclude, the two Danish hygge-related verbs differ semantically. Hygger reflects more straightforwardly the noun hygge, and hygger sig encodes personal feelings of well-being. Also, the rise of the new verbal category can be explained as an expansion of the hygge concept. Given the significance of hygge, it is not surprising that a new verb has been coined to closely model its semantics. This pattern is found in other “high impact” nouns in Danish, e.g. the noun jul ‘Christmas’ which recently has given rise of a new verbal category at jule ‘to do Christmas-related things’. 3.5.2. Stemning ‘atmosphere’, a hygge-related word At this point, I believe a short digression into a hygge-related word stemning, roughly ‘atmosphere’, will be helpful. Stemning sheds further light on Danish conceptualizations of “togetherness” and provides additional insights into the Danish construal of sociality. Alternative English translations of the word include ‘sentiment’, ‘mood’ and ‘frame of mind’ (ODC; GRO). Hygge is often described as a kind of stemning. DDO, for instance, defines hygge as ‘hyggelig stemning’. First, this definition is circular (hygge is partly explained by hyggelig) and second, it is problematic because it asserts that hygge is definable through stemning. It is more appropriate to view hygge and stemning as words which supplement each other in describing aspects of Danish togetherness. Stemning is polysemous. In the following, I will analyse two stemning concepts.81 Stemning1 is an “emotionally non-valenced” concept, which can be modified by a wide array of both positive and negative descriptors, whereas stemning2 is an inherently positive concept (Hansen 1980: 51). I will now provide explications for these two meanings, and support the explications with evidence from their respective collocational profiles. Stemning1 can be explicated as follows: [D]

A semantic explication for stemning1 something people can say what this something is with the word stemming someone can say something about something with this word when this someone thinks like this:

The semantics of hygge a. b.



it is like this: when people are with other people in a place, they can all feel something because of it if someone is in this place, this someone can’t not know how people in this place feel when something happens in this place, people here do some things because they think like this: “people here are like part of one thing now everyone can know what people in this place feel now”

Component (a) reflects that stemning1 is a “social fact”. Stemning1 seems to exist everywhere when ‘people are with other people’; hence, one can ask “how is the stemning1 (in this or that place)?” To compare, it would be odd to say, *how is the hygge in this place’, because hygge unlike stemning1 is an ideal of togetherness, not a social fact (‘it can be like this’ vs. ‘it is like this’). The response to the question “how is the stemning1?” would typically include evaluators, such as god/dårlig stemning ‘good/bad stemning1’, or positiv/negativ stemning ‘positive/negative stemning1’, etc. Component (b) reflects two ideas related to “social emotions”, first, that social gatherings create a certain social dynamics – a shared intuitable feeling (which goes beyond what the sum of individuals can generate), and second, that individuals present cannot help but take notice of it. The collocational profile shows that the socially generated feelings can be good, as e.g. afslappet stemning ‘relaxed stemning1’ (MI-score: 9.89), positiv stemning ‘positive stemning1’ (MI-score: 8.24) or bad, as in e.g. trykket stemning ‘tense stemning1’ (MI-score: 10.84) or negativ stemning ‘negative stemning1’ (MI-score: 8.42). Unlike hygge, which is inherently good, stemning1 does not seem to have any in-built valence. In fact, another evaluative collocate speciel stemning ‘unusual stemning1’ (MIscore: 8.66) is neither explicitly good or bad. The fact that stemning1 can be used with an array of evaluators is evidence for the general phrasing ‘feeling something’, rather than, say, ‘feeling something good’ or ‘feeling something bad’.


Roots of Danish sociality

Component (c) reflects the central idea in stemning1, i.e. that social cognition guides people’s actions when things happen. There is power in a stemning1. From the verbal collocate hersker ‘rule’ (MI-score: 8.29), as in the construction der hersker en god/dårlig stemning ‘a good/bad stemning1 is ruling (the place)’, it appears that a stemning1 can “rule” a place for better or for worse. Because people think of themselves as belonging together and being emotionally in tune, they are somehow bound to adapt to the stemning1. Stemning2 differs from stemning1 by being positively valenced. Recognizing the polysemous nature of the word, Hansen (1970, 1980) focused on the latter concept which she glossed in English as ‘good humor’. Later she added: “More than simply good humor, stemning is a mounting atmosphere of ebullient enjoyment. Warmth, harmony and gaiety merge in a mood of outgoing pleasure” (Hansen 1980: 51). This “mood of outgoing pleasure” implies a more intense form of “togetherness” than what is found in the more “relaxed” hygge mode. Stemning2 can be explicated as follows: [E]

A semantic explication for stemning2 something people can say what this something is with the word stemming2 someone can say something about something with this word when this someone thinks like this:

a. b.

it can be like this: sometimes when people are with many other people in a place, they can all feel something very good because of it if someone is in a place like this, this someone can’t not know that everyone in this place feels something very good all people in this place want good things to happen all people in this place can feel something very good because they think like this: “people here are like part of one thing now many good things are happening now to people here bad things can not happen now” because of this, people here can want to do things, not like they do things at many other times when it is not like this it is good when it is like this in a place

c. d.

e. f.

The first things to notice is that stemning2 like hygge, is a social potential, not a given, cf. component (a) ‘it can be like this’. Consequently, one can ask “was there stemning (in this or that place)?” a question which can be answered with a yes or a no.

The semantics of hygge


Component (b) states that stemning2 is about ‘people being with many other people’. The common stemning2 collocate fest ‘party, celebration’ (MI-score 7.39) seem to justify this difference. This component also accounts for the very positive and inclusive feelings which constitute the stemning2 concept (‘they can all feel something very good’). As in stemning1, the socially generated feel of the place cannot go unnoticed by the individual present. Component (c) spells out the “social emotion” component which partly overlaps with those of stemning1 (cf. ‘all people here are like part of one thing now’). Hansen (1980) comments further on the emergence of stemning2: “The emergence of stemning depends on the willingness of participants in an interaction to give themselves over to it with a minimum of self-conscious reserve” (p. 53). Stemning2 can happen when people are willing to give themselves over to a socially created feeling. It takes collaborative effort for stemning2 to appear, yet at the same time one has to passively surrender to it. The prototypical cognitive scenario triggering the surrender relies on the premise that ‘people here are like part of one thing now’, that ‘many good things are happening now to people here’ and that ‘bad things can not happen now’. Furthermore, component (d) models that one can be grebet af stemning ‘caught by the stemning’, i.e. people will do things differently than they would have otherwise done. Having loosened up themselves, and fully enjoying the moment, people are free to celebrate nuet ‘the now, the present’ in all its many pleasures. The positive semantics of this social dynamics is captured in the final component ‘it is good…’. To conclude, the twin concepts of stemning1 and stemning2 are hyggerelated, rather than hygge-defining. As it appears from the explications, hygge does not match either of the stemning concepts, but they reflect many similar concerns. Together, hygge and the concepts of stemning make up key Danish points of orientation in social life. They all emphasize the social theme of “belonging-togetherness” and the social emotions emerging from the dynamics at play where ‘people are with other people’.


The ethnopragmatics of hygge

In this section, the semantic analysis of hygge will be situated in a broader pragmatic and cultural context. As a cultural keyword, hygge relates to a


Roots of Danish sociality

number of Danish cultural scripts. Section 3.5.1 proposes cultural scripts related to Danish social cognition. These scripts are high-level scripts, informed by the semantics of hygge. Section 3.5.2 looks into the specifics of a hygge-based communicative style, and section 3.5.3 deals with a hyggebased interpretation of non-verbal meanings. The scripts suggested in these two sections are low-level scripts of a more narrow and specific character. They incorporate in their structure the keyword hygge [m] as a molecule, and will be termed “hygge scripts” because they aim at articulating assumptions directly associated with the hygge concept.

3.6.1. Social cognition Hygge has sometimes been referred to as “the art of creating intimacy” (Dyrbye et al. 2005: 7), and it has been associated with the values of enhancing and preserving social “balance” and “harmony” (Hansen 1980: 106). Wierzbicka (2003 and elsewhere), has problematized the reliance on vague labels such as “intimacy”, “balance”, and “harmony” which seem to be too slippery, or too Anglo, to be ultimately relied on in the descripttion of non-Anglo social cognition and interaction. In the domain of sociallity, I have added a critique of “conviviality” to this list of slippery terms (see section 3.2). In the following, I will identify cultural scripts associated with the keyword hygge in simple, cross-translatable terms. One way of approaching the ethnopragmatics of hygge is to take a learners’ perspective. What ethnopragmatic “rules” would a newcomer to the language and culture need to learn in order to become socially fluent participants in Danish everyday life? Borish talks about a number of “informal skills” which hinge on hygge, and which are acquired in language socialization: “Learning the informal skills that facilitate subsequent competence in hygge is an important part of the socialization process. Everywhere in Denmark one can see young children being taught these skills …” (Borish 1991: 277). Adult learners face similar tasks. It is important, however, to not only talk about “skills” but also about “cognition”. To become socially fluent, learners have to understand and internalize Danish cultural scripts for “social cognition”. This includes an understanding of the social cognition component in hygge which I have replicated here:

The ethnopragmatics of hygge [F]


The social cognition component of hygge people here are like part of one thing now people here want all people here to feel something good now bad things can not happen to people here now

In many accounts of Danish sociality, there is an apparent inconsistency, which I will tentatively refer to as “The Exclusion-Inclusion Paradox”. While crossers of cultural borders generally agree that Danish sociality is “groupy”, some commentators view this groupiness as very inclusive, others as very exclusive. The Chilean language migrant and social commentator Paula Larrain says: I don’t like the groupy society…Danes can’t help grouping themselves – ‘those of us who are living around this street corner’, we belong together – ‘Those of us who are in a mothers’ group’, it’s all about groups. If we are in one school class, then the parallel class is something completely different. It’s always about being in groups and finding your identity 82 through them. (Larrain, in Quraishy 2003: 35-36, own translation)

Larrain critically assesses “groupiness” as a phenomenon of “exclusion”, asserting that Danes are “extremely closed towards each other” (Larrain, in Quraishy 2003: 56). Hansen, by contrast, talks about “the inclusion principle” as a characteristic of Danish culture. She says: “The Danish concern for harmony and amicability is reflected in a pervading emphasis on the embracing integrity of the social milieu. On many levels, in many different contexts, Danes seek to include all individuals present in an overriding sense of relatedness” (Hansen 1980: 140). How are we to make sense of these contradictary accounts? Can hygge help us understand the ‘Exclusion-Inclusion Paradox’? Based on evidence from hygge, I propose the cultural script [G]. [G]

A Danish cultural script for, roughly, valuing a “strong group identity” many people think like this: when someone is at many times with some other people in a place, it is good if this someone can think like this: “people here are like part of one thing”

The cultural script [G] models a characteristically Danish way of thinking about “people in places” which encourages a person to value a groupy structure of social life. The premise for such thinking is: ‘when someone is at many times with some other people in a place’ i.e. the social spheres


Roots of Danish sociality

that a person is a part of on an everyday basis: a school class, a work team, one’s family, different groups of friends, etc. This refers to the various socialities which a person is a part of and emphasizes the importance of recognizing the mutual relatedness of people in these social units. The script is consistent with the observation that Danes tend to not mix groups of friends unnecessarily when they invite people to their homes (Hansen 1980). They prefer to maintain the groups, because each has its own social dynamics. In other words, work colleagues are work colleagues, neighbours are neighbours, family is family. If mixed, the benefits of the groupy social dynamics can easily be lost, and hygge would be harder to achieve. With such “groupy togetherness” comes a special responsibility for being constructive and inclusive within the different groups. This means a suppression of hostility, competition and aggression and a focus on “mutual enjoyment and relatedness” within the group (Hansen 1980: 151). [H]

A Danish cultural script for, roughly, “an inclusive concern for the well-being of people in the group” many people think like this: when someone is at many times with some other people in a place, it is good if this someone can think like this: “I want all these people here to feel something good”

Script [H] sheds further light on “The Exclusion-Inclusion Paradox”. The inclusive element ‘I want all these people here to feel something good’ is an attitude towards ‘all these people here’, that is, those people with whom one regularly shares social spheres. Crucially, the script does not say anything about attitudes towards people in general. The script is phrased positively ‘it is good if…’, reflecting the Danish insiderperspective. Outsiders who are not familiar with this particular way of organizing the social spheres, and who do not appreciate this form of groupy inclusivity, might easily resort to words like “excluding”. However, the relevant point is that if a group gets too big and includes everyone, it would be hard to create the intimate social framework which is needed for achieving hygge. To stay with Larrain’s example, “the parallel school class” with which one does not mix, are not at all regarded as bad people – they are just a different species. They are believed to create their own groupy structures, and create their own foundations for hygge.

The ethnopragmatics of hygge


3.6.2. Communicative style Having explored some general Danish scripts of social cognition, I will move on to some very hygge-specific scripts which have to do with the achievement and maintenance of hygge in a place. Hansen (1980) observes that the success of hygge is dependent on a “minimization of dampening topics or personalities” (p. 54). She further explains: Whereas it is not uncommon in American interactions for an individual to take control of an interaction by establishing himself as an authority or reference figure, this is less likely to occur in a Danish context. Both the reluctance to grant superiority to others and the tendency to choose topics of conversation which do not depend upon reference to authority diminish the likelihood of non-egalitarian structuring. Competitiveness too, inasmuch as it threatens the egalitarian balance, is likely to meet with strong negative sanctions in the form of humor. (p. 167)

The “being part of one thing” can be jeopardized if one person, through language, establishes himself or herself as being more important than others, e.g. by constantly speaking without listening to the others, or by asserting his or her own “greatness” in other ways. In contemporary Danish, a person can gå i selvsving ‘go into self-oscilation’, which essentially means that a person has stopped listening to other people, but carries on repeating his or her own ideas over and over again, immune to signs of disapproval. A person characterized by the mocking descriptor selvsving ‘self-oscilation’ annoys other people by having “one-way conversations” (I speak – you listen), which signifies a disinterest in “relatedness” and “togetherness”. By disregarding other people’s inputs and views, a person virtually disconnects himself or herself from the group. [I]

A Danish hygge script against, roughly, “being verbally dominant” many people think like this: when there is hygge [m] in a place, it is good if everyone in this place can say something it is bad if one someone in this place wants to say something all the time it is bad because if it is like this, other people can’t say what they want to say

On the other hand, participation is essential for enacting the sense of “belonging-togetherness”. People who are verbally too quiet or too dominant person typify the two unwanted extremes.


Roots of Danish sociality


A Danish hygge script against, roughly, being “verbally non-participatory” many people think like this: when there is hygge [m] in a place, it is good if everyone in this place can say something it is bad if someone in this place doesn’t want to say anything

Successful hygge conversations are characterized by an equal share of contributions and turns, not by silence from anyone, and not by monologues by one person. Both “verbal dominance” and “verbal non-participation” are barriers to ideal togetherness because they both signal indifference to the enactment of “belonging-togetherness”. Hygge is “fragile” because the process, in a sense, is the goal. It comes through a collaborative effort and can easily appear but also easily disappear. In terms of communicative style, some ways of speaking are clearly at odds with the values encoded in hygge. Hansen (1980) elaborates: In Denmark conversation as a source of pleasure is widely acknowledged and the art of conversation is highly valued by members of all classes. As a consequence, there is considerably more general awareness of the signs of successful communication, and the techniques necessary to achieve it, than appears to be the case in many sectors of American society. That the specific content of the conversation tends to be less important than the process of interaction it facilitates, encourages consensual support of the strategies used to shore up a weakening conversation or heighten the pleasure of a good one. Moreover, given the emphasis on maintaining a sense of mutual involvement on the part of the clustered group as a whole, conversation tends to be general and inclusive (Hansen 1980: 171)

The ideal of maintaining conversation for conversation’s own sake makes it important to steer clear of topics which can divide or exclude others. Hansen (1980) observes that group conversations tend to be “general” in order to be “inclusive” (p. 171). The Danish speech act term, which relates to “conversation” is samtale, literally ‘together talk’. The Danish anthropologist Inger Sjørslev (2004) has defined samtale as ‘conversing without conflict’ (p. 920). Topics which could lead to disagreements and arguments are not appropriate in hygge-based communication, and “confronting”, “accusing”, or “insensitive” verbal modes should be avoided.

The ethnopragmatics of hygge



A Danish hygge script against, roughly, “raising sensitive issues” many people think like this: when there is hygge [m] in a place, it is bad if someone says something, if this someone knows that some people in this place can feel something bad because of it


A Danish hygge script against, roughly, “raising serious issues” many people think like this: when there is hygge [m] in a place, it is bad if someone says something like this: “I want all people here to think about something now for some time if people don’t think about it now for some time, bad things can happen”

Following the hygge-model for interaction, people should avoid making other people feel bad, and should therefore not initiate conversational themes which are known to be “sensitive” [K]. Also, serious topics and hard questions, which require thought and consideration and deal with problematic issues, are not compatible with collaborative creation of hygge. People are not meant to bryde hovedet ‘rack their brain’ (lit. ‘break the head’) with existential questions or serious problems when they hygger, cf. script [L]. To achieve hygge, people must avoid talking about problems in general. As Hansen (1980) notes “no talk at all about sad things and dark days” is allowed for (p. 54). In particular, topics related to suffering and death are taboo. It is important to verbally maintain the scenario that ‘bad things can not happen to people here now’,83 cf. script [M]. Social pessimism is not accepted because it runs counter to the worry-free ideals upheld by the semantics of hygge. [M]

A Danish hygge script against, roughly, “making gloomy predictions” many people think like this: when there is hygge [m] in a place, it is bad if someone says something like this: “many bad things can happen to people here”

The unwritten rules for Danish-style groupy social cognition and for hygge-based interactive style presented in this section were all modelled on the social cognition components in hygge. In the following, the sensation components of the hygge explication will be explored further.


Roots of Danish sociality

3.6.3. Sensation and symbolism84 “Sensation” is an area in which there is radical conceptual diversity in languages and human experience (Wierzbicka 1988: 2). In this section, I will show that “sensation”, as captured semantically in hygge, can illuminate aspects of this diversity in the world’s languages. The sensation component of hygge is replicated below: [N]

The “sensation” conponent in hygge when it is like this in a place, people in this place can feel something good, like people can feel something good when they are somewhere varm ‘warm, hot’ [m] because of this, these people want this place to be like this for some time

Most noticeably, the semantic molecule varm ‘warm, hot’ [m] was proposed to be a part of the sociality scenario. In the following, I will focus on two things. First, I will justify varm [m] as a semantic molecule in hygge, and second, I will hypothesize how the word hygge relates to the Danish symbolic world; in particular, I will explore the meaning and message of “candlelight”, the par excellence Danish symbol of hygge. It is notable that all the major symbols of hygge: stearinlys ‘candlelight’, pejs ‘fireplace’, varm kakao ‘hot chocolate’, and nybagte boller ‘newly baked buns’, seem to incorporate the molecule varm ‘warm, hot’ [m] in their semantic structures. The link between good and varm ‘warm, hot’ is salient in Danish, a link reflected in the frequent collocation dejlig varm ‘pleasurably warm’ (MI-score: 6.57). For a coldclimate language like Danish, such collocates might not come as a surprise, but that the logic extends into hygge, a social concept of “togetherness”, appears to be typologically unusual. The molecule varm [m] does not precisely equal the English terms warm or hot, and the Danish concept therefore needs to be explicated.85 (For semantic explications of English warm and hot, see Goddard and Wierzbicka 2007a). I propose the following explication of varm ‘warm, hot’ [m] in the relevant frame ‘somewhere varm’: [O] a. b. c.

Explication for et varmt sted (‘somewhere varm’) this place is like this: when someone is in this place, this someone can feel something good in the body, like people can feel something good in the body when they are near ild ‘fire’ [m] when it is like this in a place, someone can want to be in this place for some time

The ethnopragmatics of hygge


In this explication of ‘somewhere varm ‘warm, hot’ [m]’, the conceptual structure includes a positive bodily sensation, based on ild ‘fire’, as the prototypical source of heat. Ild ‘fire’86 of course, is in itself neither good nor bad, and the link between ‘being near ild ‘fire’’ and ‘feeling something good’87 is therefore stated explicitly. It is further added that being in such a place is attractive, i.e. ‘people want to be in this place for some time’. Having accounted for the molecular structure of hygge’s sensation component, I will now turn to “candlelight”. There are, as mentioned, a number of symbols which relate to hygge, but “candlelight” can be considered the par excellence symbol of hygge. Consider example (17), a warning from a housing association about exaggerated use of candles in December. (17) Desværre er det ikke kun hygge, der udsendes fra de levende lys. Når lysene brænder dannes forskellige partikler, der kan forurene boligens indeklima. ‘Unfortunately, candles don’t just transmit hygge. When the candles are lit, various particles are formed, which can pollute the indoor environment.’ [Warning from housing association to tenants, May 2009, via] Rhetorically, the message of the warning is to watch out for “indoor air pollution”. The argumentation goes like this: As we all know, candles spread hygge, but be warned that they can also pollute the air. What is revealing in the message, is the taken-for-granted association between hygge and “candlelight” and the underlying assumption that candlelight, as a matter of fact, are transmitters of hygge. The same cultural logic can be observed when speakers of Danish are to explain the meaning of hygge to cultural outsiders. They will most likely point to “candlelight”, as if candles could somehow mysteriously illuminate the meaning of hygge. From an insiders’ perspective, the link between “candlelight" and hygge is seen as natural and self-evident, and the relationship might even be felt as iconic due to the molecule varm ‘varm, hot’ [m] which is found in both hygge and “candlelight”. In reality, however, this symbol is truly symbolic, that is, it is a conventionalized, cultural association. The person who is not already inducted into the Da-


Roots of Danish sociality

nish universe of meaning will learn nothing from the extensionalist explanation that hygge is transmitted by “candlelight” (e.g. the Indian anthropologist G. Prakash Reddy’s personal account 1998: 50). There can be hygge in places with or without candlelight, and there is nothing particularly hyggelig about, say, cooking plates or hot potatoes even though they are also considered varm. In other words, “candlelight” does not define hygge. In fact, it works the other way around: the true Danish message of “candlelight” can only be understood via the concept of hygge. Further evidence to the culture-specific message of “candlelight” can be found in Danish conceptualizations of lit candles, in particular, the expression levende lys ‘living light’. Unlike electric light, light from candles is conceptualized as “authentic”, “alive”, and linked to the spreading of hygge: (18) Mens vi venter på julen, er der intet så skønt som at sprede hygge og varme med masser af levende lys. ‘While we’re waiting for Christmas, nothing is as beautiful as spreading hygge and warmth with lots of living light.’ [KorpusDK] The cultural script [P] models that “living light” is a hygge-symbol, a conventional associative linkage between the visual stimuli of “living light” in a place and the interpretation that there is hygge in that place. “Living light”, then, can trigger the interpretation of hygge. This is a learnt association, a truly symbolic and conventional pattern of association. Similar scripts could be proposed for other symbols of hygge, such as varm kakao, ‘hot chocolate’, nybagte boller ‘newly baked buns’ or pejs ‘fire place’. [P]

A Danish cultural script associating “candlelight” with hygge many people think like this: when there is levende lys ‘living light’ in a place, people can think about it like this when they see the place: “there is hygge [m] here now”

The key theoretical insight emerging from this study is that the semantics of hygge has scope over the symbols of hygge, and that the symbolism of hygge cannot be interpreted accurately without a thorough understanding of the semantics of the linguistic concept. The common mistake of explaining hygge with reference to “candlelight” reflects the lack of semantic-conceptual awareness which is characteristic of speakers in any

The ethnopragmatics of hygge


culture, the taken-for-grantedness of linguistic construals and their relation with the world. Cross-linguistic semantic research has shown that value terminology (and emotion terminology) often can be paraphrased directly into semantic primes without the need to use any semantic molecules. In the case of the Danish sociality term hygge, semantic-conceptual analysis has established that the molecule varm ‘warm, hot’ [m] is needed. The semantic molecule enters the explication of hygge by the way of analogical thinking: ‘feeling something good like people can feel something good when they are somewhere varm ‘warm, hot’ [m]’. In turn, the molecule varm was found to rely on the molecule ild ‘fire’ [m], a semantic equivalent of English fire. The molecular structure of hygge, with its semantic nesting is portrayed in Figure 3.1. It is the result of semantic analysis, while not obvious from a first impressionistic view, there is, nonetheless, a “felt iconicity” between candlelight and hygge, which might be explainable through this semantic nesting. The idea that varm [m], and implicitly ild [m], are embedded in the concept of hygge makes good sense. As noted, speakers of Danish – to the frustration of cultural learners – tend to see the association between candlelight and hygge as natural and self-evident, not as cultural.

hygge varm ‘warm, hot’ [m] ild ‘fire’ [m]

Figure 3.1 Semantic nesting in hygge

To recap, the symbols of hygge do not define hygge, but they do tell a story of hygge’s ingrainedness in Danish culture. The message of “candlelight” is Danish-specific because it relies on the Danish concept of hygge. The symbolic salience of “candlelight” is to be found in its hyggeenhancing and hygge-augmenting functions. In cultural scripts for common Danish symbols, hygge [m] figures as a prominent molecule


Roots of Danish sociality

which further accentuates the importance of hygge as a truly guiding concept in Danish culture a concept which does not only have scope over the verbal meanings but also over non-verbal meanings.


How culture-specific is hygge?

This final section offers some cross-semantic reflections and provides suggestions for further comparative semantic analyses of hygge-related concepts. Along with Wierzbicka (2007d) I have argued that “untranslatability does not equal inexplainability”, and that despite its highly untranslatable nature hygge can be explicated in simple cross-translatable words. I have also argued that hygge is a Danish-specific semantic configuration, but this claim raises an additional research question: how culture-specific is hygge? As for the majority of languages, there are, it appears, no conceptual counterparts for the Danish hygge concept. None of the English words comfortableness or cosiness or conviviality qualify as counterparts. Neither does French intimité (or convivialité) or Spanish intimidad. Russian ujut appears to be more comparable, at least in some aspects (cf. Šmelev 2002), but the closest counterparts appear to be found in neighbouring Northern European speech communities, most notably in the German concept of Gemütlichkeit, and the Dutch concept of gezelligheid (Schmidt-Lauber 2003). The two Norwegian concepts kos and hygge are also of particular comparative interest (Gullestad 1992: 79). It is beyond the scope of the current work to undertake a detailed semantic explication of each of these concepts, but to answer the question satisfactorily, each of these words, and potentially others, must be studied in detail and paraphrased in the NSM metalanguage. I will now raise two important problems for doing cross-linguistic, comparative semantics. These two problems relate to the analytical pitfalls on basing one’s semantic equivalence analysis on the similarity of symbols, or on the similarity of discourse functions. Having discussed these pitfalls, I will extend my analysis to the perspective of semi-equivalent concepts such as Gemütlichkeit and gezelligheid. From a first look, the comparative researcher might be tempted to argue that hygge (Danish), Gemütlichkeit (German) and gezelligheid (Dutch) mean exactly the same for two reasons. First, they share the symbol of “candlelight”. In German, Kerzen ‘candles’ are commonly associated with Gemütlichkeit, and in Dutch Kaarsen ‘candles’ relate to

How culture-specific is hygge ?


gezelligheid (Schmidt-Lauber 2003: 67, 170). Second, these three concepts lay claim to national uniqueness, cf. the frequent collocations dansk hygge ‘Danish hygge’, deutsche Gemütlichkeit ‘German Gemütlichkeit’, nederlandse gezelligheid ‘Dutch gezelligheid’. All three speech communities use these sociality terms as a national badge of belonging.78 Offhand, such arguments might appear convincing, but the logic they are based on, is obviously flawed. As for candlelight, surely the kindling of candles in Jewish Hannukkah or in the African-American Kwanzaa celebration does not imply that Jews or African Americans are seeking or having hygge (Medearis 1994; Zion and Spectre 2000). To propose that lit candles, universally, invoke hygge would indeed be a Danocentric view. As for badges of belonging, there is, as we have seen, a Danish national discourse in which hygge is portrayed as something uniquely Danish, but it does not follow that “nationalized” words of other cultures are identical to hygge. I am not saying that symbols or discourse functions are completely irrelevant to an exploration of conceptual similarities and difference. My argument is rather that there are no short-cuts to semanticconceptual analysis, and that quick-and-easy extensionalist assessments of symbols and discourse functions cannot determine the semantic-conceptual similiarities and differences. In Gemütlichkeit – eine Kulturwissenschaftliche Annäherung, leading German Gemütlichkeit scholar Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber (2003) explores the German phenomenon in detail. She identifies Danish hygge and Dutch gezelligheid as two of its closest counterparts in other languages. However, her analysis also points to semantic differences between the three concepts, in particular, the “strongly dialogic character” of Dutch gezelligheid and the “spontaneously relaxed and communicative” nature of Danish hygge, which, in her view, make them different from the German concept (Schmidt-Lauber 2003: 171-172). Schmidt-Lauber further observes how Gemütlichkeit retains semantic bonds to the German personhood concept Gemüt ‘mind, inner nature’ cf. her section on Gemütlichkeit as “eine frage des Gemüts” (a question of Gemüt). Hygge on the other hand has its origin in in a social verb meaning ‘to console, to encourage’. (Unlike Gemütlichkeit, the etymology of hygge is opaque for Danish speakers). As a Gemütszustand ‘mental state’, Gemütlichkeit seems to focus more on the mental, whereas the Danish concept of hygge seems to focus more on the “social” aspects. While the German emphasis on experiencing Seelenruhe, roughly, ‘peace in the soul’ in one’s own private sphere (Schmidt-Lauber 2003: 12) has some relationship to what we also find in hygge, one gets the impression from


Roots of Danish sociality

Schmidt-Lauber’s account that the emphasis on mental well-being takes a more “introverted” perspective, than in hygge. To exemplify, in SchmidtLauber’s discussion of the message of Kerzen ‘candles’ as an expression of Gemütlichkeit, she says that they convey a message of Friedlichkeit ‘peacefulness’ and Andacht ‘quiet reflection’, and that they communicate a special “aura of contemplation” (p. 68). From a Danish perspective, this sounds somehow too serious and deep, and also too introverted. The Danish conceptualization of candles as levende lys ‘living light’, emphasizes “vibrance”, “authenticity” and “sociability”. It is also interesting to note the differences in cultural critiques of the two concepts. Danish cultural critiques of hygge are centred around “the exclusion of others”, and, on a national level, the exclusion of foreigners from Danish society who are left out from the fellowships of hygge (Dencik 2006). A critique of “forced social intimacy” is also sometimes raised. Danish novelist Tove Ditlevsen (1917–1976) was famous for disliking exactly that aspect of hygge. She writes: Often my mother said, “This evening don’t be running down to the street. Uncle Peter and Aunt Agnete are coming over, and we’re going to have a hyggelig time.” They came with my cousins close behind, and we sat all nine of us around the coffee table. No one could get up and breathe without everyone getting up to make room. I couldn’t breathe, my heart pounded, I felt queasy, and flushed and upset, along with an unbearable need to go to the bathroom smack in the middle of hygge. (Ditlevsen 1965, as quoted in Borish 1991: 274)

Being excluded from a social group on the one hard, or being trapped inside a social group on the other hand, are at the core of the cultural critiques of hygge. Critiques of German Gemütlichkeit have a very different flavour, centred around psychological and aesthetic aspects. Psychologically, Gemütlichkeit has been linked to a Realitätsflucht ‘flight from reality’. Very strong critiques of Gemütlichkeit as a “crypto-facist” concept have been put forward by some in the German scholarly community (for discussion, see Schmidt-Lauber 2003: 48), criticizing the separation between the private and the public spheres, in particular the phenomenon whereby people make themselves gemütlich in the private sphere while ignoring gross political injustices in society. From an aesthetic perspective, Gemütlichkeit is commonly criticized for and associated with the concept of Kitsch, thus indicating that a central aspect of Gemütlichkeit relates to “aesthetic style” (Schmidt-Lauber 2003: 67ff).

How culture-specific is hygge ?


Schmidt-Lauber documents how many people associate Gemütlichkeit with a “Bierstube-and-Wildschweinkopf aesthetics”, which many people (especially young people) find rather unattractive (p. 49). Gemütlichkeit appears to elaborate on the mental scenarios of “absence” – absence from work, worries, physical and mental duress of the everyday. The lack of aesthetic critiques of hygge, and the differences in the ways that social and political critiques are framed in the Danish and German communities of discourse with respect to hygge and Gemütlichkeit, seem to point to additional conceptual differences, which future comparative research might shed further light on. Historical semantic investigations may also provide important clues to how the concepts differ and how they overlap. With respect to crossScandinavian semantics, it is revealing that the lexical space of Danish hygge is divided between two Norwegian counterparts, kos and hygge. I therefore suggest that future studies in Norwegian semantics give priority to explicating these two concepts and their semantic relationship with Danish hygge. As mentioned, the word hygge was borrowed into Danish from Norwegian (Katlev 2000: 307), and its semantic-conceptual history is, as I see it, another priority for future research. As for Swedish, the lack of any apparent semantic counterparts of Danish hygge (the unrelated Swedish word hygge means ‘clearing of forest’), is in itself revealing. The absence of a Swedish hygge-equivalent calls for a new approach to Scandinavian semantics, in which Scandinavian diversity, and not only Scandinavian unity, is explored (see section 1.2.3). To conclude, the culture-specificity of hygge can be further clarified. Hygge is not unique on the level of individual semantic components; similar components can be found in “sociality words” in other languages, most notably in some neighbouring Northern European languages. What makes hygge a culture-specific semantic package is its semantic content taken as a whole. Taken in its entirety, the hygge construal is Danish-specific, it reflects Danish values and has scope over a wide range of social phenomena, including communicative style and interpretations of symbols. 3.8.

Concluding remarks

This chapter has analysed hygge, a cultural keyword and a core cultural value for the Danish speech community. It has been shown how the culture-specific semantic configuration in hygge provides a window on


Roots of Danish sociality

Danish sociality and social values and how hygge relates to Danish cultural scripts, in particular, scripts of social cognition, communicative style and sensation. It has also been argued that hygge is a guide to understanding certain Danish-specific symbols, in particular, the message of “candlelights”. This chapter has argued that the roots of Danish sociality are grounded in indigenous concepts such as hygge and stemning, and that detailed semantic-conceptual analysis is a prerequisite for understanding sociality from a culture-internal viewpoint.

Chapter 4 “It’s all about being tryg”: Danish society, socialization and ethnopsychology

Til barnet vil vi stige ind / og blive børn i sjæl og sind ‘To the child we will enter / and become children in soul (sjæl) and mind (sind)’ Hans Christan Andersen (1832)



The Danish adjective tryg, roughly ‘secure’, and its related noun tryghed, roughly ‘security’, are highly salient and culturally revealing words, which provide insights into the social psychology of everyday Danish life. Tryghed conceptualizes an ideal for social life based on the values of, roughly, “trust”, “familiarity” and “predictability”. A tryg universe idealizes well-structured, well-organized, and nurturing social environments. Like hygge ‘pleasant togetherness’, tryghed is a conceptual focal point for a whole complex of Danish values and assumptions (Schwartz 1985a), and a “guiding word” for understanding Danish culture and sociality (Wierzbicka 1997, 2006a: 103). The American anthropologist Jonathan M. Schwartz (1985b) does not hesitate to name tryghed as “the highest value in Danish socialization and culture”. He says: “To protect oneself, one’s security, is probably not unique to Denmark, but security – feeling secure – is a pervasive interest in Danish society. “Tryghed” (which can only be feebly rendered by English “security”) is the highest value in Danish socialization and culture” (Schwartz 1985b: 9). The “pervasive interest” in tryghed in Danish society has not emerged out of a cultural vacuum. It reflects the Danish refinement of a certain social order and portrays a pervasive mental ontology, which can perhaps be thought of as a cornerstone of “Danish civilization”. Wierzbicka says:


It all about being tryg

“[Cultural keywords] provide a condensed introduction to patterns of discourse and present the essence of some everyday practices in a crystalline form” (Wierzbicka 1997: 31). This chapter explores tryghed as a “crystalline form” of Danish discourse, and as an introduction to Danish everyday life. What are the (naïve) assumptions and ideals built into this salient word? What everyday values, assumptions and practices have been “condensed” in tryghed? How, more precisely, does it differ from security? What can it tell us about Danish cultural values? As Schwartz noted, tryghed plays a key role in Danish socialization, and tryg-driven discourses are salient in adults’ attempts to transmit values, beliefs and expectations to children. At the same time, barnet ‘the child’ figures prominently in Danish language, and Stephen M. Borish (1991) has aptly described Denmark as a “child-centered society” (p. 307). The emphasis on barnet ‘the child’ is one of the most distinctive themes in Danish literature, most outspokenly found in the work of Hans Christian Andersen who essentially wrote for children (fairy tales), about children, and with a strong idealization of children as capable and moral people, possessing a deep, pure, intuitive knowledge, which the world should learn from and listen to.90 In his discussion of children and childhood, Schwartz (1985b) relates the cultural values conveyed in tryghed to what he calls “a persuasive notion of childhood” in Danish culture (p. 10). He says: “Danish “culture”…would seem to have its geneology in childhood. To project “the child’s world” and needs as normative is a common strategy in Danish society” (Schwartz 1985b: 10). As we will see, Danish socialization discourses are tryg-driven and preoccupied with creating a tryg everyday life for children, and the same can be said about the Danish social order in general – the ultimate concern is the creation of a tryg society for people. In section 4.1, I will approach tryghed through its major discourses and explore its status in the Danish value system. Given the conceptual link between tryghed and children, section 4.2 will give voice to “the child’s view” by looking into language socialization in children’s literature. Based on the classic Scandinavian children’s narrative Folk og Røvere i Kardemommeby [People and Robbers in Cardamom Town] which explicitly targets children with “social norms”, I will suggest tryg-related cultural scripts for socialization. Section 4.3 studies in detail the semantics of tryg ‘secure’ and tryghed ‘security’. The frames ‘a tryg place’ and ‘feeling tryg’ will be explored, and the Danish keyword tryghed will be compared with the English keyword security. Section 4.4 explores tryg-related

Tryghed as a Danish cultural value


attitudes and Danish ethnopsychology. This includes an examination of the concept of rammer ‘frames’ which is used extensively with tryg (cf. the frequent collocate trygge rammer ‘tryg frames’), and the importance of “overviewability” and “pedagogy” in Danish society.


Tryghed as a Danish cultural value

One of the most successful commercial brands in Denmark, the insurance provider Tryg®, has a slogan that reads: Det handler om at være tryg ‘It’s all about being tryg’. Arguably, the success of the Tryg® brand lies partly in the fact that this slogan mimics a concern in the Danish community of discourse. As is often the case with heavily culture-laden words, tryg and tryghed do not seem to have readily identifiable equivalents in other languages, except in other Scandinavian languages: Swedish trygghet and Norwegian trygghet appear to be semantically equivalent, and being tryg (cf. Swedish trygg and Norwegian trygg) seems to be a shared Scandinavian value even though the inventories of tryg-based constructions and phrases differ slightly among the Scandinavian languages.91 Unlike hygge, which is a distinctively Danish conceptualization, the concept of tryghed/trygghet appears to be a genuine common-Scandinavian concept, richly alluded to in Scandinavian literature as well as everyday conversation. As Schwartz noted, the English “dictionary equivalents” of tryg and tryghed – secure and security, are only “feeble renderings” and do not convey the same semantic package as the Danish concept. The German “dictionary equivalent” Sicherheit, which combines aspects of English security and safety, does not match either. This word, in return, is semantically close to its Danish cognate sikkerhed ‘safety, security’ (On the semantics of English security and German Sicherheit, see also Wierzbicka 1999: 159ff; Goddard 2009c). Professional translators, well aware of the limitations of dictionary equivalents, are often forced to create solutions that “work”. One example is the insurance company Tryg®, who made a brand out of tryghed. They write on their Danish-language webpage:


It’s all about being tryg


Vi skaber tryghed, fordi vi møder mennesker med respekt, åbenhed og tillid. ‘We create tryghed because we meet people with respect, openness and trust.’ [The Tryg® homepage,]

On the company’s English webpage, the dictionary equivalent security does not make an appearance, and it is not hard to see why. It would sound odd in English to say “we create security because we meet people with respect, openness and trust”. The values of “respect”, “openness”, and “trust” are not normally virtues which relate to security, in fact, quite the opposite can be true. Airport security, for instance, can hardly be said to be based on “respect”, “openness” and “trust”. Recognizing the translational problem, Tryg®’s English version of the “same” value statement (2) adopts a different lexical strategy altogether, making use of a completely different English concept peace of mind: (2)

We supply peace of mind because we show people respect, openness and trust. [The Tryg ® homepage,]

The translation peace of mind appears to solve the immediate “perlocutionary” need (cf. Austin 1962) of the company, essentially to attract English-speaking customers to the company and to create the appropriate connotations, but at the same time it is clear that a certain Danish logic is at play in the original, which peace of mind does not capture. From a semantic point of view peace of mind creates new problems, in particular by introducing the English concept mind, which is not compatible with any indigenous Danish semantic category. (On the peculiar semantics of English mind, see also Wierzbicka 1989, 2006a: 73). Ultimately, neither “security” or “peace of mind” seem capable of capturing the semantics of tryghed with its built-in Danish logics. What then, does tryghed mean? The “cultural logic” at play in the concept of tryghed seems somewhat unexpected and mysterious from an English point of view. Clues to the “different” semantics of tryghed can be found in its collocational profile. Consider the palette of other value words with which tryghed frequently co-occurs. Table 4.1 presents tryghed’s main collocates, some of which are “left collocates” (LC), or “right collocates” (RC), and some of which are both. This palette of words share “semantic bonds” with tryghed and provides clues to its semantic content. In English, no single word is designed to cover lexically, aspects

Tryghed as a Danish cultural value


of “warmth”, “trust”, “everyday well-being”, “safety” and “freedom” at the same time. Table 4.1 Tryghed: Noun collocates (related value words) noun varme tillid trivsel sikkerhed frihed

rough translation ‘warmth’ ‘trust, reliance’ ‘everyday well-being’ ‘safety, security’ ‘freedom’

MI-score (LC) 8.54 7.69 – 7.90 7.61

MI-score (RC) 8.34 7.47 9.82 8.11 –

The verbal collocates of tryghed are equally revealing, cf. Table 4.2. Table 4.2 Tryghed: Verbal collocates verbal collocate skabe føle opnå sikre give

rough translation ‘create, foster’ ‘feel’ ‘achieve’ ‘ensure, secure’ ‘give, provide’

MI-score (LC) 7.25 7.15 7.05 6.62 6.55

Equipped with suitable semantic techniques, we can start solving the mystery, and model the meaning of tryghed in detail. First, as it appears from Table 4.2, tryghed is “created” or “fostered” on purpose. This implies that tryghed cannot be taken for granted, and also, that someone or some people serve as “agents” behind this creation of tryghed. Second, tryghed is “achieved” and “ensured”. This seems to suggest that the creation comes with some effort, and that tryghed is worth striving for. Third, things can “give” tryghed. There is a passive element to tryghed; the beneficiaries of tryghed somehow play a passive role as things are “given” to them. Finally, tryghed can be “felt”, and people are “experiencers” of the tryghed. In Table 4.3, the main collocates of the adjective tryg are summarized. The list includes social categories (barnet ‘the child’), stage-of-life terms (alderdom ‘old age’; barndom ‘childhood’), ethnopsychological and


It’s all about being tryg

ethnophilosophical concepts (rammer ‘frames, settings’, omgivelser ‘surroundings’, situationen ‘the situation’, forhold ‘conditions, relations’, liv ‘life’) a time concept (fremtid ‘future’) and a space concept (sted ‘place’). In 4.4.1, I will look into the ethnopsychological concept of rammer which tops the list of tryg-collocates. Table 4.3 Tryg: Noun collocates noun rammer alderdom barndom omgivelser situationen fremtid forhold barnet sted liv

rough translation ‘frames’, ‘settings’ ‘old age’ ‘childhood’ ‘surroundings’ ‘the situation’ ‘future’ ‘conditions’, ‘relations’ ‘the child’ ‘place’ ‘life’

MI-score (LC) – – – – – – – 6.75 – –

MI-score (RC) 11.46 11.22 9.38 9.13 7.83 7.59 6.85 – 6.43 5.62

Acknowledging Schwartz’ insight that the pervasive concept of tryghed is linked with a “persuasive notion of childhood” in Danish culture, I will now consider in some detail the conceptual link between tryg and the Danish ‘child(hood)’ theme. How do Danish children acquire tryghed as a cultural value? The linguistic anthropologist Paul B. Garrett (2006) sums up the insights from studies in language socialization (see also Schieffelin and Ochs 1986; Schieffelin 1990; Briggs 1999; Clancy 1999; Garrett and BaquedanoLópez 2002; Kulick and Schieffelin 2004; Javo, Rønning and Heyerdahl 2004), in the following way: As a young child is acquiring language, she or he is simultaneously developing a repertoire of social skills and a culturally specific world view. In learning how to use the language(s) of their community, children also learn to think, how to comport themselves, even how to feel in particular situations and how to express (or otherwise manage) those feelings. (Garrett 2006: 605)

Tryghed as a Danish cultural value


The transmission of tryghed as a “guiding word” to thinking, feeling and social behaviour is usually not an explicit process, i.e. children are not taught overtly about tryghed. Nor is tryghed normally a part of a child’s everyday vocabulary. A child, for instance, would hardly describe a place as et trygt sted ‘a tryg place’, or say Jeg føler mig tryg her ‘I feel tryg here’. Rather, the transmission of tryghed as a cultural value takes place indirectly through the discourses and concerns of the adult speech community; in other words, the concern that children should be tryg and feel tryg is an adult-driven discourse, through which parents, social educators and other caretakers construct and maintain the social ideals of everyday life. Højtlæsning ‘reading aloud’ of children’s literature is traditionally a highly valued parent-child activity in Scandinavia (Weinreich 2006a, 2006b, 2007, 2008), and many children’s stories are intimately linked with the acquisition of cultural values. Widely read children’s stories therefore provide clues to the core cultural values and assumptions of the everyday, and “literacy socialization” (Garrett and Baquedano-López 2002: 351) is a great source of explicit socialization, linguistically and conceptually. The following section explores “the Cardamom Law”, a narrative at the heart of Scandinavian children’s value acquisition.


The Cardamom Law

The post-World War II classic in Scandinavian children’s literature Folk og Røvere i Kardemomme By [People and Robbers in Cardamom Town] touches on major themes in Scandinavian cultures and serves as a good starting point for exploring the meaning of tryghed and its cultural underpinnings. The Cardamom narrative depicts what sociologists would call a “high-trust society” (cf. Fukuyama 1995) where the world is “benevolent” (cf. Hofstede 2001: 169). The relatively insignificant problems of Cardamom everyday life are dealt with effectively by a responsible and nurturing community. The story by Norwegian author Thorbjørn Egner (1955) visualizes an archetypical tryg place, the town of Cardamom, whose people live very uncomplicated, worry-free lives. Mr. Bastian, the town’s police officer investigates om alle har det godt ‘if everyone is having a good time’; ellers undersøger han ikke noget ‘that’s the only thing he investigates’ (1956[1955]: 5). Potential dangers seem to be actively downplayed as soon as they are mentioned. The main characters,


It’s all about being tryg

Kasper, Jesper and Jonatan, are presented as robbers, but ikke så slemme som mange andre røvere ‘not as bad as many other robbers’ (p. 13). They live outside of town with a flink ‘kind’ lion which gør ingen nævneværdig fortræd ‘isn’t harmful in any noticeable way’ (p. 14). When, one day, the lion ate Kasper’s big toe, the readers are assured that it did not really matter much because he was wearing boots so no one would notice. The responsible Cardamom town robbers steal only det vi må og det vi nu behøver ‘what we have to, and what we actually need’ (p. 95), and when, one day, they are caught stealing, they are put in prison where the police officer’s wife, Mrs. Bastian, makes sure they are having a better time than ever (p. 105-07). The major violator of cultural norms in Cardamom Town is the selfrighteous, aggressive Aunty Sofie, a middle aged lady who accuses police officer Bastian of being soft and incapable. In her view, “a policeman really ought to be a stern and angry man / who goes around arresting people as often as he can” (1993[1955]). One day, the robbers “steal” Aunty Sofie to make her their housekeeper, a decision they soon regret. The strict aunty sees it as her chance to make the robbers improve their hygiene and force them to do hard manual labour. As a result, the robbers, for whom the reader feels truly sorry, have to “steal back the Aunty” to reestablish their former quality of life. The Cardamom universe presents its child audience with cultural norms and expectations. It is important to be free to do what one wants, and at the same time, to believe in the goodness of society and its (normally) competent, constructive individuals. These norms and expectations are spelled out in actual law-making. This highly tryg society has one simple law, the Cardamom Law (4): (4)

Man skal ikke plage andre / eller sætte livet til / og for øvrigt kan man gøre som man vil / ‘One should not annoy other people / or put one’s life at risk / otherwise, one can do as one wants’ (Kardemommeloven ‘The Cardamom Law’,92 Egner 1956: 5).

Cardamom Town represents a model society with few, but well-clarified, social rules. The liberal message that one can do what one wants, generally fits in with the ethos of “personal autonomy” in modern Western cultures, and in particular modern Anglo-English cultures (Wierzbicka

The Cardamom Law


2006a; Wong 2006). What makes the Cardamom Law slightly different is that one’s “freedom” is highly dependent on “others”. A premise for the message of the Cardamom Law is the rule about “not annoying other people”. Second, the message of “doing what one wants to do” stands out as being a message deliberately aimed at children. Not only grown-up members of society, but children as well, should be able to do what they want to do.93 The benevolent Cardamom universe, and its articulation of laws for a “constructive sociality”, lead me to propose three socialization scripts. These scripts model Danish cultural concerns for what children preferably should think, cf. the phrasing ‘it is good if a child [m] can think like this’. (All three scripts make use of the semantic molecule børn ‘children’ [m] or barn ‘child’ [m]; for an explication, see 2.3.3). The first cultural theme of, roughly “the competent child” is modelled in script [A]. This script can be thought of as a master script of socialization, underlying other cultural scripts which are more explicitly enacted in the Cardamom universe. [A]

A Danish cultural script for, roughly, fostering “the competent child” many people think like this: it is good if a barn ‘child’ [m] can think like this: “I can do many things, I can do these many things well”

As evidence for this script, consider the differences in parental praise strategies in Danish and Anglo cultures. Where Anglo-American children typically are praised with a “good boy” or a “good girl!” (Wierzbicka 2004c), Danish parents conventionally praise their children with the enthusiastic cry dygtig! ‘clever! skilled! talented!’ without any reference to gender, and with a ‘can do’ and ‘can do well’ focus, rather than the Anglo ‘doing the right thing’ focus. The two next scripts model children in their everyday social environments ‘when a barn ‘child’ [m] is with other børn ‘children’ [m] in a place’. The Cardamom message “don’t annoy other people” suggests script [B] i.e. a script which idealizes a child who can think in constructive and considerate terms about his or her everyday social environment.


It’s all about being tryg


A Danish cultural script for, roughly, fostering “a child’s constructive social attitude” many people think like this: when a barn ‘child’ [m] is with other børn ‘children’ [m] in a place, it is good if the barn ‘child’ [m] can think like this: “I don’t want to do anything bad to these other børn ‘children’ [m] I don’t want any barn ‘child’ [m] here to feel something bad”

The confidence in the goodness of everyday social life that saturates the Cardamom universe, can be spelled out as follows: [C]

A Danish cultural script for, roughly, fostering “a child’s confidence in the goodness of everyday social life” many people think like this: when a barn ‘child’ [m] is at many times with some other people in a place, it is good if the barn ‘child’ [m] can think like this about these people: “people in this place want to do good things for me bad things can not happen to me here”

The Cardamom narrative provides an insight into Scandinavian literacy socialization and provides evidence for cultural scripts, communicated via narratives, and in the case of the Cardamom Law, via an explicit statement of “social rules”. The attitudes of the Cardamom universe, and the cultural scripts they project, are, I believe, intimately linked to the conceptual package of the word tryghed. Needless to say, the proposed Danish scripts for socialization modelled in canonical Scandinavian children’s literature are culture-specific. In many cultures, children are not encouraged to think about themselves as roughly “competent and socially constructive individuals in a benevolent universe”. For example, an empirical study of instructions in an Israeli kindergarten environment (Golden and Mayseless 2007) revealed a very different depiction than that which was portrayed in the Danish cultural script presented above. The study found that Israeli language socialization was centred around teaching children to constantly be “on the lookout” (Golden and Mayseless 2007: 164). If anything unusual was found in the playground, children were instructed to: “gently, carefully, pick it up, check it out” and “make sure that nothing is hiding there” (p. 163). The nature of these everyday instructions suggests that Israeli socialization practices encourage children to think that ‘very bad things can happen to people here’, and that one should therefore constantly be alert so that proper precautions can be taken.

The Cardamom Law


Anglo-American cultural scripts for child-raising appear to also construe a universe in which potential dangers are lurking (Lakoff 1996;94 Holck 1997). While the Anglo-American scripts without doubt differ from the Israeli ones, there appears to be an acceptance of the world as a battlefield between good vs. evil. This comes with an import ant ethical distinction between right vs. wrong (Wierzbicka 2006a). At the same time, AngloAmerican child-raising ideals prescribe a number of “post-Puritan” values such as “a happy childhood”, and a general emphasis on happiness and having fun (Wierzbicka 2004c; Ehrenreich 2009: 74ff). The culturespecificity of socialization practices is reflective of a society’s emerging values, and cross-linguistic semantics can illuminate the linguistic construal on which ideals for socialization are founded. To compare, Danish conceptual history has led to the ideal “a tryg childhood” (as opposed to an utryg ‘un-tryg’ one)” cf. (7) vs. (8). (7)

Jeg har altid været taknemmelig for min trygge barndom, som gav mig en uvurderlig ballast. ‘I’ve always been thankful for my tryg childhood, which gave me an invaluable foundation.’ [KorpusDK]


Jeg havde en utryg barndom. Min far var meget dominerende og uberegnelig. ‘I had an un-tryg childhood. My dad was very dominating and unpredictable.’ [KorpusDK]

While the ideals of a happy childhood (Anglo) and a tryg childhood (Danish) are comparable, they are clearly also different, in that they rely on two different cultural keywords happy and tryg which capture two different cognitive scenarios. (For a contrastive analysis of English happy and its closest Danish counterparts, see chapter 7).


The semantics of tryg and tryghed

Having explored the role of tryghed in Danish culture at large, and more specifically in Danish socialization, I will now turn to the second part of the chapter, in which semantic explications for tryg and tryghed will be


It’s all about being tryg

suggested. First, the simplest frames ‘a tryg place’ will be explicated, followed by an explication of the noun tryghed in comparison with the English noun security. These basic explications are followed by an explication which relates to the ethnopsychology of tryg, the frame ‘feeling tryg’.

4.4.1. A tryg place The conceptually simplest tryg-frame appears to be ‘a tryg place’, e.g. a tryg school (9), a tryg street (10), a tryg country, etc. (11). Teachers, parents and politicians, within their respective spheres of influence, are expected to achieve the tryg place, be they kindergartens or schools, homes, neighbourhoods, towns or Denmark as a whole country. (9)

Vi ønsker en tryg skole, som man kan overskue og føle sig hjemme på. ‘We want to have a tryg school, where one can have an overview of things and feel at home.’ [From school home page, accessed June 2009 via]

(10) En tryg vej er en vej hvor børnene er trygge, og forældrene er trygge ved at børnene færdes på vejen. ‘A tryg street is a street where children feel tryg, and where parents feel tryg about letting their children be.’ [From a local meeting on children and street safety, accessed June 2009 via] (11) Vold og kriminalitet kan aldrig undskyldes eller bortforklares. Derfor skal det selvfølgelig straffes hurtigt og effektivt. Men til alt held er Danmark et trygt land at leve i, og det er også glædeligt, at vi kan konstatere, at kriminaliteten er faldet. ‘Violence and crime can never be excused or explained away. Therefore, it must be punished immediately and effectively. But fortunately, Denmark is a tryg country (to live in), and it is encouraging to observe that the crime rates have dropped.’ [KorpusDK]

The semantics of tryg and tryghed


The fact that tryg can be spoken about in completely tautological language cf. ‘a tryg street is a street where children feel tryg, and where parents feel tryg…etc.’ bears witness to a word that has become conceptually selfevident and invisible to speakers. Unlike hygge, which is celebrated as Danish-specific (see section 3.7), the culture-specificity of tryg and tryghed tend to go completely unnoticed. As Wierzbicka (2006a) says: “sometimes…a guiding word is so ingrained in the thinking of a speech community that it is not perceived as distinctive but rather taken for granted like the air that people breathe” (p. 103). As a guiding word, tryg is clearly on the taken-for-granted side. In the frame ‘a tryg place’, tryg often combines with the word sikker (cf. the German word sicher, which combines aspects of English secure and safe; see also 4.2). Whereas the word sikker mainly conceptualizes “physical protection”, tryg appears to conceptualize, roughly, “well-being” and a “sense of trust” in the people of the place. (12) Man er tryg og sikker i Danmark. Ingen sulter, alle går i gode skoler og kan komme på gode hospitaler, hvis de bliver syge. ‘One is tryg and safe/secure in Denmark. No-one starves, everyone goes to good schools, and can go to good hospitals if they get sick.’ [KorpusDK] (13) Det er IKKE en tryg vej, da bilerne har mulighed for at banke farten op på 60-70-80kmt…De overholder heller ikke farten, fylder meget på vejen, og vil nemt kunne overse et cyklende barn. ‘This is NOT a tryg street. Cars can without difficulty accelerate to 60-70-80 km/h. They don’t observe the speed limit, they take up a lot of the space in the street and could easily overlook a child on a bicycle.’ [Letter from a citizen to local authorities, accessed Jan 2010, via] (14) Spurvelundsskolen lægger vægt på…at skolen er et trygt og harmonisk sted, at skolen støtter børnenes selvværd. ‘Spurvelund School is committed to making the school a tryg and harmonious place, where the children’s self-worth is supported.’ [KorpusDK]


It’s all about being tryg

(15) For at få en god og tryg skole vil jeg bl.a. arbejde for […] [a]t alle skoler får en konkret handleplan overfor truende, mobbende, støjende og voldelig adfærd. ‘In order to achieve a good and tryg school, I will work toward concrete action plans in all schools against threatening, bullying, boisterous and violent behaviour.’ [politician’s homepage, accessed Jan. 2010 via] ‘A tryg place’ conceptualizes a place where people live in “harmony”, a place where people are being nurtured, and where responsible people or authorities have organized everyday life in a meaningful and beneficial way. In (13), local authorities are chastised for failing to install speed bumps for cars in a street where children regularly ride their bicycles. As a consequence, the street is not considered tryg. In (14) and (15) a tryg school is depicted as a place where students are nurtured, a harmonious place where students’ sense of self-worth is supported, and anti-social behaviour like bullying or violence is not tolerated. The assumption is that a tryg place is deliberately created; it does not come into being by accident. (16) Vi laver struktur og rytme i hverdagen for at skabe en tryg og velkendt base for eleven. ‘We ensure a structure and a rhythm in daily life in order to create a tryg and well-known base for students.’ [school homepage, accessed Jan 2010 via] (17) Storkonflikten kan ødelægge Danmarks ry som et trygt og velorganiseret konference og ferieland. Et af argumenterne for at vælge Danmark til en konference eller kongres er netop, at alt her fungerer perfekt. Men nu får vi ridser i lakken. ‘This general strike has the potential of destroying Denmark’s reputation as a tryg and well-organized conference and holiday country. One reason for choosing Denmark for a conference or congress is that everything here works. Now, this will tarnish our reputation.’ [KorpusDK] To make a place tryg, it is important to have “structure”, “rhythm” and familiar, predictable routines (16). People must be able to rely on the stable, familiar and predictable structures of the places where they live, work and stay. It is a major problem if people cannot rely on such struc-

The semantics of tryg and tryghed


tures, cf. example (17) where a general strike is believed to lead to chaos, and consequently challenge the expectations of familiarity, predictability and stability in the place. From these observations, the semantic explication for the frame ‘a tryg place’, can be hypothesized as follows: [D] a. b. c. d.

e. f.

Semantic explication for ‘a tryg place’ when someone thinks about this place (this school, this street, this country, etc.) this someone thinks about it like this: it is like this: “people know this place well they know what kinds of things can happen in this place they know what other people in this place are like they know that no-one here wants anything bad to happen to anyone in this place if anything bad happens to anyone here, after this people can know that some people here will do something because of it when it is like this in a place, people don’t think like this at any time: “bad things can happen” because of this people in this place can do what they want to do at all times it is bad if a place is not like this

The explication for ‘a tryg place’ has two parts, a top component (a) and a prototypical cognitive scenario (b)-(f). The top component introduces the prototypcial cognitive scenario. Component (b) models the descriptive nature cf. ‘it is like this: …’ in describing a place with the adjective tryg. Component (c) models the aspects of “familiarity” and “predictability” as represented in the phrasing ‘people know this place well’. Another central idea is that the world is organized into ‘kinds of things’, and that people ‘can know what kinds of things happen in this place’. This aspect of an assumed “structure” or “order” will be further explored in section 4.6 where the salient phrase trygge rammer ‘tryg frames’ will be analysed. Component (d) deals with the people of the place and models the trusting, harmonious and nurturing atmosphere of a tryg place. Due to ‘knowing this place well’, people also know what ‘people in this place are like’. It is qualified that ill-intentioned people are not a part of the place, cf. ‘no-one here wants anything bad to happen to anyone in this place’, and further, that ‘if anything bad happens to anyone here’, ‘some people here’ will intervene and re-establish tryg conditions. ‘Some people’ could be teachers, parents or politicians, or just any responsible people wanting to maintain the tryg universe. The commitment of these people is tied to the


It’s all about being tryg

idea of ‘not wanting bad things to happen’ in this place. Component (e) describes the “end goal” of creating a tryg place, namely that people, when these ideals are achieved, can do what they want to do without having to think that bad things can happen. Being able to do what one wants is linked to a “structured sociality”, and the desirable “undisturbed mental state” under which people can freely live their lives is likewise the result of an organized, familiar and predictable environment. Component (f) models the expectation that places should live up to this ideal. The phrasing ‘it is bad if a place is not like this’ is therefore preferred to the less demanding phrasing ‘it is good if a place is like this’.

4.4.2. Tryghed vs. security When speakers of Danish talk about values, they rely on the palette of value words provided by the Danish language. As mentioned, tryghed is often invoked in combination with related words from this palette, such as frihed ‘freedom’, sikkerhed ‘safety/security’, varme ‘warmth’, tillid ‘reliance, trust’ and trivsel ‘everyday well-being’. Such concepts are important for understanding the Danish philosophy of everyday life upon which it depends. English-speaking communities of discourse rely on a different set of value words, representing different mental ontologies. One such key concept of Anglo culture is that of security (Goddard 2009c), the so-called “dictionary equivalent” of tryghed. Through NSM paraphrases of Danish tryghed and English security, we can compare the two concepts in detail and establish the differences between the two concepts. We can also substantiate on semantic grounds Schwartz’s (1985b: 9) intuition that tryghed can only “be feebly rendered” as security. The two concepts are comparable, but they differ in their prototypical cognitive scenarios. They convey two different naïve worldviews and crystalize two different discourse logics. The two explications [E] and [F] represent tryghed and security, respectively. The explication of security was crafted by Cliff Goddard (2009c), based on a detailed semantic analysis of the usage of security in linguistic corpora:

The semantics of tryg and tryghed



Semantic explication for tryghed something people can say what this something is with the word tryghed someone can say something about something with this word when this someone thinks like this about a place:

a. b.

it can be like this: “people know this place well they know what kinds of things can happen in this place, they know what people in this place are like they know that no-one here wants anything bad to happen to anyone here if anything bad happens to anyone here, people can know that some people here will do something because of it” when it is like this in a place, people don’t think like this at any time: “bad things can happen” because of this, people in this place can do what they want to do at all times it is bad if it is not like this in a place


d. e. [F]

Semantic explication for security something people can say what this something is with the word security someone can say something about something with this word when this someone thinks like this about a place:

a. b.

it can be like this: “people know that something bad can happen in this place because someone does some bad things in this place they know that if it happens, it can be very bad for many people they don’t know when something like this can happen in this place it can be not like this if some people do some things because of this, it is good for many people if these people do these things”

c. d. e.

These explications show that tryghed and security differ quite substantially. Both, however, concern ‘people in places’ with special reference to the scenario that ‘bad things can happen’. They also share the idea that ‘some people’ can do something that benefits other people. The differences, however, are revealing: Tryghed states an ideal and models the “upholding of the ideal” with the end goal that people won’t think in their everyday lives that bad things can happen to them, and that they can therefore continue to do what they want to do without disturbance. The prerequisites for this scenario are the ideals of ‘knowing the place well’, ‘knowing the kinds of things that can happen in the place’ and ‘knowing what people in this place are like’.95


It’s all about being tryg

Security, by contrast, states a potential problem and models a solution to the pot ential problem. The problem is that ‘people know that something bad can happen in this place because someone does some bad things in this place’. It is a problem with potentially serious consequences for many people, and the “threat” is construed as something which could potentially happen at any time. The solution is that ‘some people do some things’ which could, presumably, prevent these bad things from happening or at least reduce the danger. The naïve views of the world underlying the two concepts differ in revealing ways. For tryghed, the assumption seems to be that the world is basically good. ‘People in places’ can live in “harmony”, and if people (especially those with a special responsibility) keep doing what they are doing, the world will stay good. For security, the underlying assumption is that people can be evil or “dangerous”. They can cause things to happen which ‘can be very bad for people’. Therefore, certain things must be done to prevent these bad things from happening. The element of “preventing bad things from happening” is reflected in the negative phrasing of the solution-to-the-problem component for security, ‘it can be not like this’. At this point, it is helpful to look at the differences in critical commentaries related to the two concepts. A critique of excessive reliance on tryghed has been lexicalized in Danish under the banner of the word tryghedsnarkoman ‘tryghed junkie’96. This concept evaluates critically individuals who have become too attached to the fixed structures of the everyday, and who cannot cope with anything new or slightly unpredictable. See examples (18)–(19): (18) Han er tryghedsnarkoman, og han bliver meget nervøs og usikker, hvis han ikke føler, at han har kontrol over det, der sker omkring ham. ‘He is a tryghed junkie, and he becomes very nervous and insecure if he does not feel he is in control of things happening around him.’ [KorpusDK] (19) Jeg er nok det, man kalder en tryghedsnarkoman - jeg kan ikke undvære mit hjem ret længe ad gangen. ‘I’m probably what people call a tryghed junkie – I can’t be away from home for too long at a time.’ [KorpusDK]

The semantics of tryg and tryghed


Critiques of tryg-discourses also point towards xenophobic agendas which portray the unfamiliar and foreign as inherently dangerous to Danish society, a threat to social cohesion, and to the predictability of everyday life (Schwartz 1985b). Such discourses are criticized for raising – in the name of tryghed – fear of refugees, immigrants and other people who, so to speak, “disturb the ecology of the place”, by doing things in a different way. The critiques of security tend to have a different edge, such as the legitimization of using extraordinary means in battling threats (that is, socially constructed threats), including the suspension of civil liberties, and the violation of the rights and privacy of the individual in the name of security (Buzan, Wæver and de Wilde 1998; Buzan and Wæver 2003; Buzan and Hansen 2009). Both tryghed and security incorporate a positive reference to certain people who are expected to ‘do something when bad things happen’, but it is worth noting an important conceptual difference; in tryghed, the ‘some people here’ are, at least prototypically, nurturing people who will intervene to make sure that the tryg environment is maintained. In security, it is not specified who the ‘some people’ are, and how they are supposed to ‘do something’ in order to prevent or ameliorate the perceived threats. Security seems to emphasize action and “solving the problem”, and at the same time, it downplays the means.

4.4.3. Feeling tryg Having established the meanings of the basic frames ‘a tryg place’ and tryghed, I will now take a closer look at the ethnopsychological aspects of tryghed and tryg by looking at the construction ‘feeling tryg’ which requires a slightly different explication from that of ‘a tryg place’. People can ‘feel tryg about’ other people and situations, and they can also feel utryg ‘un-tryg’ about other people and situations. Feeling utryg is linked to situations which conflict with the tryg scenario, implying, for example, that one ‘cannot know things well’, that one ‘cannot know what kinds of things will happen here’, or if one thinks that ‘people want bad things to happen to me’.


It’s all about being tryg

(20) Vi fortæller ham hvad der skal ske i morgen, i overmorgen osv. så han kender fremtiden og kan føle sig tryg. ‘We tell him what is going to happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, etc. so that he knows what the future is going to bring and can feel tryg.’ [KorpusDK] (21) Det vigtigste er, at familien føler sig tryg, og synes de får den hjælp og vejledning de har brug for. ‘The most important thing is that the family feel tryg, and that they feel they are getting the help and guidance they need.’ [KorpusDK] (22) De havde en anden religion og nogle andre skikke … og det virkede truende og utrygt på nogle mennesker. ‘They had a different religion and other customs … and that felt threatening and utryg for some people.’ [personal weblog, accessed Sep 2008 via] (23) Mange mennesker føler sig utrygge, ved at det i dag er muligt at manipulere med folks arveanlæg. De forestiller sig sikkert hvad en diktator som Hitler kunne have fundet på, hvis han havde kunnet flytte rundt på folks gener, som det passede ham. ‘Many people feel utryg about the fact that it’s possible today to manipulate people’s genes. They might imagine what a dictator like Hitler could have done, had he played around with people’s genes as he pleased.’ [KorpusDK] There is a slightly “conservative” aspect to feeling tryg. When people start doing things differently, e.g. practising different religions and customs than those one is familiar with, some people may start to feel utryg (22). When people start manipulating genes and changing the things we know well, it leads to utryg feelings and new doubts about whether people can be trusted (23). By contrast, if people know what to expect (20), if they are “in good hands”, as e.g. in (21) where a family is “getting the help and guidance they need”, then they can feel tryg. What I have so far described as feeling frames, are more precisely ‘føler sig tryg frames’. One cannot say in Danish simply *jeg føler tryg ‘*I feel tryg’. The light reflexive particle (LRP) is obligatory. This “personalizing” particle signals a change in the prototypical cognitive scenario from ‘people’ to ‘I’, and from, roughly “social trust” to “interpersonal trust” (compare hygger sig, 3.4.2). In the following, I will focus on the

The semantics of tryg and tryghed


interpersonal construction X føler sig tryg ved Y ‘X feels (LRP) tryg about Y’. (24) …det har en positiv indydelse på de fleste børns oplevelse af et operativt indgreb, hvis én af forældrene følger med barnet til operationsafdelingen og bliver hos barnet, til det sover. Det kan også være en anden pårørende…hovedsagen er, at barnet føler sig tryg ved personen. ‘It has a positive effect on most children who are about to undergo surgery if one of the parents follows the child to the operating room and stays with the child until he or she falls asleep. It could also be another relative…the main things is that the child feels tryg about that person.’ [KorpusDK] (25) Pigen foreslog selv at gå i skole allerede næste dag, da hun skulle have sin klasselærer i samtlige skoletimer. Hun følte sig tryg ved klasselæreren ‘It was the girl’s own suggestion to go to school the next day, as her class teacher was teaching all the subjects that day. She felt tryg about the class teacher.’ [Emergency management manual, accessed Sep 2008 via] In (24), it is emphasized that a child who is about to undergo surgery should be with someone, so that the child feels tryg. In (25), a grieving girl decides to go to school in spite of very difficult circumstances. The reason given is that she feels tryg about the class teacher. She is confident that the class teacher knows about her situation and trusts that the teacher will do what she can to support and protect her in this difficult time. On the basis of these observations, the semantic structure of tryg, in the frame ‘someone X føler sig tryg ved someone else Y’, can be hypothesized as follows: [G] Semantic explication for ‘someone X føler sig tryg about someone else Y’ a. when someone X thinks about someone else Y, X thinks like this: b. “I know what this someone is like I know what kinds of things can happen when I am with this someone c. I know that this someone does not want anything bad to happen to me I know that if anything bad happens to me, after this, this someone will do something because of it


It’s all about being tryg


when I am with this someone, I don’t think like this at any time: “bad things can happen to me” because of this, I can do what I want to do at all times when this someone X thinks like this about this someone else Y, this someone X doesn’t feel something bad, like someone can feel something bad when this someone is not with someone like Y.


To recap, ‘feeling tryg about someone else’ differs from the explication of a tryg place, in its “personal” and “interpersonal” orientation. Rather than conceptualizing ‘people in a place’, this frame models a scenario of ‘thinking about someone else’ (a). Component (b) captures the basic “trust” in the other person and the “predictability” associated with the person. Component (c) models the expectation of “protection” and a belief that if anything bad should happen, the person will somehow intervene. Component (d) models the carefree mental state ‘I don’t think like this at any time: “bad things can happen to me” which characterizes the relationship. Component (e) models X’s feelings ‘X doesn’t feel anything bad’ on the background that someone can feel something bad when it is not like this.97 Examples (24) and (25) accentuate this component. In (24), the child would have had a difficult time without someone ‘to feel tryg about’, and in (25), the girl would not have been able to manage the situation emotionally without the help of the class teacher. Psychologically speaking, feeling tryg and its frames underline the importance of ‘not feeling something bad’ and ‘not thinking that bad things can happen to me’, based on ‘knowing what kinds of things can happen’. 4.5.

Towards a Danish ethnopsychology

The final part of the chapter takes a closer look at Danish ethnopsychology as it is expressed in tryghed and some related concepts. The combination of the psychological and the social in tryghed can be illuminated further by looking into perhaps the most salient tryg-based phraseme trygge rammer ‘tryg frames’, which I will now analyse and explicate. 4.5.1. The concept of rammer ‘frames’ When a person is familiar with a place, its people and routine procedures, the person also has a good sense of how reality is organized into well-

Towards a Danish ethnopsychology


known categories. With this follows a strong sense that the way things are organized is meaningful, not random or arbitrary. As we saw in Table 4.3 in section 4.1 the statistically most significant collocate of tryg is rammer (MI-score: 11.46). Rammer is a word which is extremely difficult to translate into English. The closest translational counterparts might be ‘frames’, ‘settings’, ‘boundaries’ or ‘structures’. Rammer signifies ways of “framing” sociality, of excluding unwanted things, and enhancing desired things “within the frame”. Rammer are a set of life-enhancing constraints on the everyday that excludes unwanted ‘kinds of things’ from happening in a place and at the same time enhances the ‘kinds of things’ which are meant to be happening in the place. Having trygge rammer around you is believed to be a prerequisite for leading a good and harmonious life. (26) Vores hovedopgave er at skabe gode og trygge rammer for børnene, så de får noget ud af undervisningen og har det godt i skolen. ‘Our main task is to create good and tryg rammer for the children, so that they’ll get something out of class and will have a good time at school.’ [KorpusDK] (27) Dette sted vil altid være det, Victoria vil tænke tilbage på som sit barndomshjem… Det er godt for et menneske at have trygge rammer at se tilbage på, og hvad føles mere trygt end et hus? ‘This will always be the place Victoria will think back on as her childhood home. It’s good for a person to have tryg rammer, and a house is about the most tryg place one can imagine.’ [KorpusDK] (28) Jeg kunne godt tænke mig at få en kanin, hviskede Nadia. Nej, helst to, fortsatte hun. For så kan de underholde hinanden, når jeg er i skole. Må jeg få to kaniner? Endelig turde pigen tro på, at hendes liv kunne fortsætte i faste, trygge rammer. ‘Can I have a rabbit, Nadia whispered. No two rabbits, she continued, because then they can have fun together, when I’m at school. Can I have two rabbits? Finally, the girl dared to believe that her life could continue in fixed, trygge rammer.’ [KorpusDK]


It’s all about being tryg

(29) Vi vil blive sammen, og der skal ikke være for meget flytteri. Vi tror det er vigtigt med trygge rammer. ‘We are going to stay together – and we won’t move around too much. We think it’s important with trygge rammer.’ [KorpusDK] It is not a coincidence that the plural form rammer is used as these positive constraints can refer holistically to physical, emotional, and social structures, all of which are linked to everyday well-being and life quality. Schools (26) and homes (27) are supposed to provide children with rammer with good conditions for the physical, the emotional and social aspect of life, but the rammer concept also implies identifying a desired structure of social life, and disqualifying unacceptable conditions, including unacceptable ways of being together, such as mobning ‘bullying’ (see section 5.2). In (28), a girl is portrayed as regaining trust in the goodness of everyday life after a period without trygge rammer in a dysfunctional family. In (29), “moving around too much”, and “being separated as a family” are portrayed as the opposite of having trygge rammer. This is because it takes time to establish a climate of trust, familiarity and predictability, and efforts to create trygge rammer can easily be undermined. To avoid repetition, I will not provide a full explication of trygge rammer, but focus on certain aspects conveyed in the phrase. Importantly, the partial explication in [H] below does not deal with tryg, but the meaning rammer ‘frames’ in the contextual sense provided by tryg (cf. also gode rammer ‘good frames’ or faste rammer ‘fixed frames’). To begin with, I will suggest the following three components: [H] partial semantic explication for trygge rammer ‘tryg frames, settings' a. it can be like this in this place: things of some kinds can happen to people in this place, things of some other kinds can’t happen to people here b. people can do things of some kinds here, they can’t do things of some other kinds c. this is good

The phrase trygge rammer develops further the “structural” theme. With rammer, social reality is designed into ‘kinds of things’, a “structured” frame with a clear demarcation. First, there is a clear distinction between things of the kind that are meant to happen vs. things of the kind that are not meant to happen. Second, it posits a duality of possible kinds of

Towards a Danish ethnopsychology


actions and activities between kinds of things which people are meant to do and kinds of things which they are not meant to do. This ordered, predictable universe is presented as good. Unlike the concept of “rules” which are often detailed prescriptions of behaviour, rammer are much less specific and more purposefully designed to enhance “people’s well-being”. Also, rammer are not written down like rules, they are “mental guidelines” designed to enhance and ensure the goodness of everyday life. We can add three more components to trygge rammer on the aspect of “design”: d. e. f.

it can be like this in a place if some people in this place think about it like this: “it is good for all people in this place if it is like this” these people can say why it is good for all people in this place these people do things, because they want this place to be like this

Component (d) develops on ‘some people in this place’, “the designers” of rammer who have thought about the scenarios in (a) and (b) as good for ‘all people in this place’. Component (e) models further the careful considerations of ‘these people’, the responsible people in charge, be they parents, teachers or politicians. Finally, component (f) models that these people act upon their desires to create a good environment.

4.5.2. The importance of “overviewability” and “pedagogy” In Anglo ethnopsychology, as reflected in the English verbal concepts dealing with, coping with, handling and managing, the individual is construed as actively engaged in changing unwanted circumstances. Also, in English, people are meant to “fight” their own diseases, cf. the conventional metaphor He lost his battle with cancer. The idea of an individual fighting the powers of chaos does not appeal to the Danish psyche, and tellingly the Danish lexicon does not comprise semantic equivalents for the English verbal concepts dealing with, coping with, etc. In his classic study, Suicide and Scandinavia: A psychoanalytical study of culture and character, the American psychiatrist Herbert Hendin identified what he called an attitude of “passivity”, which he said prevailed in Danish culture and manifested itself in the “defeatist” attitude: “everybody tells me I should change my job, but no one tells me how to do it” (Hendin 1964: 31). If we are to believe Hendin, the English


It’s all about being tryg

“dealing with issues script” would read something like ‘if something bad happens to me, it will be good if I do something because of it’, and the Danish counterpart would read: ‘if something bad happens to me, it will be good if someone does something because of it’ (or: ‘if some people here do something because of it’). To the Anglo observer, there is a cognitive dissonance between the Danish talk about the “capable individual” and what is perceived to be a prevailing attitude of “passivity”. I believe the conceptual semantics of tryg helps provide answers to this apparent dissonance, but before discussing this in more detail, I would like to consider the important Danish cognitive verb at overskue, lit. ‘to overview’ which “meshes” semantically with tryg and relates to the above-mentioned English verbs but construes the situation quite differently. The verb at overskue relates to the adjective overskuelig, lit. ‘overviewable’ and the noun overskuelighed, lit. ‘overviewability’. Here are some examples. (30) (on skills developments in the work place) Hvis ikke man kan overskue sin tilværelse, hvis ikke man kan indgå i et samspil med andre, så er det altså meget svært at få de faglige kompetencer opkvalificeret. ‘If one cannot overskue one’s life, if one cannot interact and work well with others, then it’s very hard to get one’s professional qualifications updated.’ [KorpusDK] (31) (on the lack of self-confidence in students) Men det sker også, når eleverne ikke kan overskue forsøgene, fx hvis problemstillingen er alt for abstrakt eller forsøget for kompliceret tilrettelagt. ‘It also happens when students can’t overskue the experiments, e.g. if a problem is too abstract or if the experiments were designed in a too complicated way.’ [KorpusDK] (32) Mange kommuner vil gerne bygge lavenergihuse, men kan ikke overskue det, fordi der er så mange parametre, der spiller ind. ‘Many local councils would like to build low energy houses, but they can’t overskue it, because so many parameters come into play.’ [commercial home page, accessed January 2010, via]

Towards a Danish ethnopsychology


Not being able to overskue ‘overview’ things seems to be a root problem in Danish ethnopsychology. In example (30), it is stated that the success of upgrading people’s work qualification is dependent on their ability to collaborate with others, which again is dependent on whether they can “overview” their lives. Seemingly, if “overviewability” has disappeared, people are no longer expected to be able to do what they want to do. In (31), the students’ lack of self-confidence is attributed to them not being able to “overview” the exercises because they are “too abstract and complicated”. This is not construed as the students’ fault; the designer of the exercise is to blame, because he or she has failed to create “overviewable” stuctures, and hence, not provided the necessary tryghed. In (32) an engineering company rhetorically construes local authorities as having good intentions when it comes to building climate-friendly houses. The problem is that they cannot “overview” it, because it is a very complex task. The company is willing to help out by creating the necessary “overviewability”. In [I] I have provided an explication of overskue in the frame ‘someone X can’t overskue something Z’. [I] Explication for ‘someone X can’t overskue something Z’ a. when this someone X thinks about this something Z at that time, this someone thinks like this: b. “I know that many things will happen after this I can’t know what kinds of things I can’t think like this: I will do something because of it now” c. when this someone X thinks like this, this someone feels something very bad, like someone can feel when this someone thinks like this

Component (a) conveys a reflective-evaluative frame ‘when this someone thinks about it at that time this someone thinks like this’ and introduces the prototypical cognitive scenario. Component (b) portrays a scenario of future events which the speaker is unable to categorize and is therefore unable to process and act upon. This scenario is linked to very bad feelings, cf. component (c). For example, a student who cannot overskue a physics experiment thinks like this ‘I know that many things will happen after this’ as the experiment unfolds, and ‘I can’t know what kinds of things’; he has no chance of understanding the complexity of process, because he has not been instructed well. He thinks ‘I can’t think like this: I will do something because of it now’ because he cannot think constructively or plan to do something. As a consequence, he ‘feels some-


It’s all about being tryg

thing very bad’. In order to be a thriving, constructive and co-operating person, one’s world needs to be structured and organized in certain ways. People need to be in places where they can thrive without being exposed to the chaotic, the unknown and the random. In Danish ethnopsychology, the greatest enemies seem to be lack of clarity and structure, as well as socially non-collaborative people. “Overviewability” is treasured, and people who can make life overviewable for other people, e.g. by creating trygge rammer, are equally appreciated. The quality of being pædagogisk ‘pedagogical’ seems to enjoy a special status in Danish society. Rather than being a school-related word in a professional register like its English counterpart, pædagogisk reflects a mindset which is generally appreciated and admired. There is a high demand for pædagogisk-minded people, that is, people who can make things “overviewable” and tryg for others by structuring things in a nurturing way. On Danish pædagogik and English pedagogy,98 Stephen M. Borish observes: Consider the English word “pedagogy”… Simple translation fails to communicate the subtle difference in cultural connotation between the Danish term and its American equivalent. The Danish term [pædagogik] has a more positive sound and is much more frequently used. It does not have the same stuffy connotations as its American equivalent “pedagogy”, a word that sounds like some rare and dangerous tropical disease. (Borish 1991)

Borish’ observation can be backed up with corpus evidence. The word pædagogisk occurs about 9:1 more often in KorpusDK, than does pedagogical in COCA (31.48 vs. 3.55 per million words), making pædagogisk a much more salient trait in Danish language use. Moreover, the Danish word upædagogisk ‘un-pedagogical’, which seems to lack an English counterpart, models a person who is on the side of “the forces of chaos”. An “unpedagogical” person typically has “authoritarian”, “anxiety-provoking” personality traits and/or is “confusing” and “unstructured”. Consequently, branding someone as upædagogisk is a moral judgment. The food inspector in (33) is pædagogisk ‘pedagogical’. He is working with people and is trying to help them. His aim is to help ensure a good food quality for everyone. By contrast, the driving instructor in (34) is upædagogisk ‘un-pedagogical’. He tells people to turn right when he means left, confuses people and treats them badly.

Towards a Danish ethnopsychology


(33) Jørgen Højmark er ingen rigid kontrollant…Han vil meget hellere være pædagogisk og lære levnedsmiddelfolket at behandle fødevarerne forsvarligt, så vi andre ikke bliver syge af at spise dem. ‘Jørgen Højmark is not a rigid (food) inspector…He prefers to be pædagogisk, teaching people in the food industry how to treat food responsibly so that the rest of us don’t get sick when we eat.’ [KorpusDK] (34) (said about a driving instructor) Han var totalt upædagogisk og behandlede en som en tosse. Han forvirrede mig ved at sige jeg skulle dreje til højre, når han mente til venstre, og så fortalte han først i sidste øjeblik, når jeg skulle dreje. Det var meget forvirrende at køre med ham, og det var til sidst så frustrerende at jeg bare havde lyst til at holde ind til fortovskanten og gå derfra. Jeg kan kun anbefale alle at holde sig langt væk fra ham. Han var forfærdelig. ‘He was completely upædagogisk and treated me like an idiot. He confused me by telling me to turn right when he meant left, and he only told me in the last minute when to turn. It was very confusing driving with him. In the end, I was so frustrated that I just wanted to pull over and walk away. I can only recommend everyone keep away from him. He was awful.’ [Internet feedback site, accessed Sep 2010,] In effect, only a pædagogisk person will build the necessary trygge rammer, and can be relied on as a socially constructive person. It is telling that the discourse on pædagogisk vs. upædagogisk was historically linked to children (as in the original Greek, cf. pais ‘child’), but that the child’s world has been projected on society in general (cf. Schwartz’ claim that Danish culture has its geneology in “childhood”). The value of “overviewability”, and the need for life-enhancing constraints designed by well-intentioned people, might well, as Schwarz suggests, have its prototype in “childhood”, but semantically, as we have seen, the projection of tryghed on society has been effective, and tryghed has become a keyword, not only of Danish socialization, but of Danish society at large.


It’s all about being tryg

To sum up, tryghed, and its related values of “overviewability” and “pedagogy” all form part of a general ethnopsychological account – a mental ontology, which claims that individuals can only be ultimately free to do what they want to do if they are part of a well-structured, wellorganized and socially constructive environment and have confidence in the goodness of everyday life.


Concluding remarks

Combining aspects of “familiarity”, “predictability”, “trust”, “everyday well-being” and “freedom” tryghed makes up a unique concept which explain social logics and everyday cognition in the Danish community of discourse. In this chapter, I have analysed the major frames for the Danish keyword tryg: ‘a tryg place’, ‘feeling tryg’ and the noun tryghed in contrast with the English concept of security. Tryghed and its related concepts rammer ‘frames’, overskue ‘overview’ and pædagogisk ‘pedagogical’ provide important clues to Danish ethnopsychology. Tryg-driven discourses are of vital importance for socialization, and adult members of the speech community are preoccupied with creating a tryg universe for children. The values encoded in tryghed are thematized in canonical Scandinavian children’s literature, most explicitly in the Cardamom Law which sets up rules for how socially constructive individuals live well together. As a cultural keyword and a core value in Danish society, socialization and ethnospsychology, the concept of tryghed is a powerful mental ontology in the Danish universe of meaning.

Chapter 5 The dark side of the Danes? A semantic and discursive analysis of janteloven ‘the Jante Law’

Lad os derfor vende Janteloven om og sige: “Du skal ikke tro, du er ingenting! Vi skal tro på vort eget værd, tro på, at vi betyder noget også som danskere. ‘Let us therefore turn the Jante Law upside down and say: “You must not believe that you are worth nothing”. We must believe in our own worth, believe that we are valuable, even as Danes.’ Queen Margrethe II, speech to the nation on New Year’s Eve, 1988 (Margrethe II, 2009)



Having explored a number of “positive” Danish concepts, I will now turn to the “negative” concept of janteloven ‘the Jante Law’. A Danish cultural keyword, it is perhaps the internationally most well-known of all Danish concepts due to its literary origins (see e.g. Nelson and Shavitt 2002). Janteloven has been referred to as the “dark side” of the Danes (Borish 1991: 316).100 It is commonly thought to convey the message: “don’t think that you are anybody special, don’t be different, don’t stick out socially” (Borish 1991: 316; Gopal 2000). In the English-speaking world, a comparable, but not identical, concept can be found in the Australian English concept of the Tall Poppy Syndrome. In the words of the Australian semanticist Bert Peeters (2004a), tall poppies refer to “individuals who, on the basis of unwarranted self-adulation, itself a consequence of success, amassed fortune or fame, have become targets for criticism” (p.1) (see also Peeters 2004a, 2004b, 2004c).101 This description is not unlike janteloven’s message, at least in part, and in addition to the semantic similiarites, the two concepts janteloven and tall poppies also share a status as


The dark side of the Danes?

cultural keywords for the Danish and Australian English communities of discourse, respectively (Borish 1991; Peeters 2004a: 3). Janteloven has attracted considerable attention from international scholars. Borish (1991) interprets janteloven as a “powerful social code ensuring conformity to the midrange of established custom” (p. 320). He describes it as a “clear prescription of mediocrity” (p. 317). In his introducetion to the collective volume in Denmark (1990), editor F. Richard Thomas sums up the American perception as follows: “[Janteloven is a] metaphor for a group mentality that discourages individualism and individual achievement, novelty of thought and action, spontaneity, variety, and competition, while encouraging sameness, insidious deceitfulness, jealousy, mediocrity, and complacency…” (Thomas 1990b: 10). The Indian anthropologist Kusum Gopal (2000) interprets janteloven as being essentially about “antipathy to difference”. She talks about “the levelling spirit of janteloven” (p. 64) with its “unspoken rules to conform, to look plain, to keep one’s head down and obey” (p. 65). She defines janteloven as a “philosophy of being” (p. 64) and concludes that “the philosophy of janteloven remains an authoritative expression of social control” (p. 66). She goes even further in her analysis, talking about “doxic knowledge” (p. 80) and “the Jante religion” (p. 65). These accounts, however, appear to capture only one part of the story of janteloven, and from an insider-perspective, the claim that “insidious deceitfulness”, “jealousy”, “conformity” and “antipathy to difference” are treasured Danish values come across as rather absurd. The story of the “dark side of the Danes” involves not only a crude cultural stereotyping, but also a profound misunderstanding of Danish cultural values. The American translation scholar Eugune Nida has famously called the Lord’s Prayer “the best known and the least understood portion of the Bible” (Nida 2003: 53), and the same, I believe, can be said about janteloven and Danish culture. The concept is often invoked as an explanation for all things Danish (at least, for all things rotten in the state of Denmark), but its fame far exceeds the understanding of what the concept actually means in Danish everyday language use. The question is not whether janteloven is a salient concept in the Danish speech culture; it is correct to portray janteloven as a canonically Danish concept, and also as an important semantic product of Danish modernity. However, the aim in this chapter is to review and revise the “best known”, but “least understood” story about Danish culture, asking two new questions, which, strangely enough, are rarely asked: What does janteloven mean as a word? And how is it used in

The literary origin of janteloven


contemporary Danish discourses? Through a new semantic exegesis of janteloven, it will be shown that the culturally endorsed message of janteloven is closely related to the value of selvværd ‘self-worth’, to a “positive sociality” and to a linguistically endorsed condemnation of dysfunctional socialities.


The literary origin of janteloven

First we need to call attention to a major analytical problem which hampers most accounts of janteloven: the failure to distinguish between “meaning” and “origin of meaning”. Most cultural commentators have failed to make the proper distinction between the “linguistic Jante Law” and “the literary Jante Law”, and this proves fatal for their overall interpretation. The former is a salient linguistic concept of the Danish language, and the latter is a nearly 80-year-old literary construct, with which contemporary speakers may or may not be familiar. Borish (1991: 136), for instance, seems to think that the meaning of janteloven equals the origin of the concept (p. 136), and hence that the literary original is identical with the lexicalized concept. Consequently, I will refer to the linguistic concept as janteloven (lower case j) and the literary concepts as Janteloven (capital J). A linguistic account must recognize that janteloven is an everyday Danish concept which has been lexicalized and become part of the Danish language. This is not to say that the origin of the expression is irrelevant for semantic analysis; on the contrary, it provides important clues to how janteloven historically became lexicalized in Danish. With these caveats in mind, let us now consider the novel which gave rise to the concept of janteloven. “The literary Jante Law” was invented by the Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose (1899–1965) in his book En flyktning krysser sit spor: Fortelling om en morders barndom (1933). Sandemose was a bilingual Danish-Norwegian author, and while the plot mainly takes place in Denmark (and later in North America), the novel was originally written in Norwegian. Jante is a fictitious town with extremely conformist social rules. Sandemose’s protagonist, the murderer Esben Arnakke, takes us back to Jante, the town of his childhood. Via childhood narratives and psychoanaytical self-reflections, the Jante community is presented as a socially abusive, intolerant and conformist community. Migrating to North America as an adult and leaving Jante for good does not relieve Esben Arnakke of his childhood memories. As a lifelong curse, the spirit of jante


The dark side of the Danes?

keeps haunting him. The description is commonly thought to mirror Sandemose’s own life story, growing up in the Danish island town of Nykøbing Mors (cf. Sandemose’s own preface to the novel (2000[1933]: 16). The novel begins by stating the law which governs social and interpersonal relations in Jante. It is a set of 10 mock-commandments, a perversion of the 10 Biblical commandments that prescribe the perfect “awful society”. The literary Jante Law is stated in Table 5.1 with an English translation in Table 5.2.102 Table 5.1 Janteloven, Sandemose’s Norwegian original (1933)

1. Du skal ikke tro at du er noe 2. Du skal ikke tro at du er like så meget som oss 3. Du skal ikke tro du er klokere enn oss 4. Du skal ikke innbille deg du er bedre enn oss 5. Du skal ikke tro du vet mere enn oss 6. Du skal ikke tro du er mere enn oss 7. Du skal ikke tro at du duger til noe 8. Du skal ikke le av oss 9. Du skal ikke tro at noen bryr seg om deg 10. Du skal ikke tro at du kan lære oss noe Table 5.2 Janteloven, English translation

1. Don’t let yourself think that you are anybody special (lit. ‘that you are something’) 2. Don’t let yourself think that you are worth as much as us (lit. ‘that you are just as much as us’) 3. Don’t let yourself think that you are smarter than us 4. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you are better than us 5. Don’t let yourself think that you know more than us 6. Don’t let yourself think that you are more important than us (lit. ‘that you are more than us’) 7. Don’t let yourself think that you are good at anything 8. Don’t laugh at us 9. Don’t let yourself think that anyone likes you 10. Don’t let yourself think that you can teach us anything

Anti-janteloven discourses


The social commandments of the Jante community depict an intolerant, mean-spirited society in which an anonymous collective “us” suppresses the individual, ruthlessly quenching any individual’s sense of self-worth. The linkage between social intolerance, malice and collectivist hypocrisy figures prominently in Sandemose’s literary universe, and the biting sarcasm is evident. His message seems to be that growing up in a socially dysfunctional environment will cripple a person emotionally for life. In the case of protagonist Esben Arnakke, his Jante childhood made him a murderer.103 While only a minority of Danes would be able to recite Jante-loven’s commandments or give an account of the literary Jante Law, the semanticized linguistic concept of janteloven reflects Sandemose’s mockuniverse and carries his rebellious spirit. In full accordance with Sandemose’s literary attack on mean-spirited social intolerance and social control, the linguistic Jante Law presents “abusive conformity” as an evil, a social force which must be identified, exposed and actively opposed by all socially-minded, responsible people. This is the true legacy of Sandemose’s authorship for Danish semantics, not the particular phrasing of his mock-commandments. As we will see, the linguistic concept of janteloven is essentially an “anti-antisocial” concept, a critical concept which seeks to expose and oppose dysfunctional socialities. 5.3.

Anti-janteloven discourses in contemporary Denmark Hvorfor er janteloven så udbredt når den er så upopulær? ‘Why is janteloven so widespread, when it is so unpopular?’ [Radiohost, P1, Apropos 20.08.2007]

Before passing on to the semantic explication of janteloven, it will be helpful to look at evidence from contemporary anti-janteloven discourses. In the following, I will focus on three examples: anti-janteloven coaching in the Danish women’s handball league, anti-janteloven pedagogy in Danish schools and conventional anti-janteloven debates in the Danish mainstream media. Danish handball trainer and former world champion, Anja Andersen, gained popularity for launching a simple and frank handball philosophy called Fuck janteloven! ‘Fuck the Jante Law’! It became the defining mantra for her professional career as a handball trainer. As a statement of


The dark side of the Danes?

her anti-janteloven commitment, Andersen attracted publicity by wearing a t-shirt with the print FUCK JANTELOVEN (in capital letters) at important handball events. This unusual outfit for a professional coach in one of the top European handball clubs stresses the significance of janteloven in contemporary Danish speech community, but Andersen’s anti-janteloven campaign also emphasized some aspects of the meaning of janteloven. First, janteloven appears to be a highly emotional discourse word. This mirrors the semantics of janteloven, which depicts, roughly “very negative social emotions”, “social malice” and “social intolerance”. Strong and dramatic words are needed for fighting back verbally against janteloven and everything it stands for. In other words, janteloven is so bad that it is very good to use very bad words against it. With her antijanteloven happenings, Andersen clearly intended to signal a message of “braveness”, not “rudeness”. This seems to suggest that the jantelovenscenario of “social control” is considered not only ‘bad’, but ‘very bad’. Third, Andersen’s anti-janteloven philosophy assumes that janteloven truly exists in people’s minds. It is really “out there” as a mental ontology which people (including handball players) must be delivered from, so they can start living out their full potentials as capable, self-confident handball players. With her Fuck Janteloven mantra, Anja Andersen projected to her players a powerful message of “capability” and “trust”: “Don’t let anyone hold you back, be yourself and believe in yourself, you can do it”. The second example is taken from anti-janteloven pedagogy in Danish schools (cf. Gopal 2000). As a typical exercise, Danish students, who presumably already know about the concept of janteloven, are confronted with Janteloven’s 10 commandments (the literary Jante Law) and are asked to rephrase the commandments into positive rules for social and interpersonal thinking.103 There are literally hundreds of versions of den omvendte jantelov ‘the reversed Jante law’, den positive jantelov ‘the positive Jante law” and den nye jantelov ‘the new Jante Law’ circulating on the internet. Even the Danish Queen Margareth II has publically taken part in the collaborative effort to reverse janteloven, with her memorable counter-commandment: “You must not believe that you are worth nothing!” (see opening quote). As a replacement for “don’t think that you are anybody special”, students are supposed to write a new commandment along the line: “never forget that you are someone special”. They are expected to reverse “don’t think you are better than us” into something like “I am just as good as anyone else here”, etc. The anti-janteloven pedagogy is utilized to promote selvværd ‘self-worth’ in children and to prevent mobning, roughly ‘bullying’, in Danish schools. The purpose of

Anti-janteloven discourses


anti-janteloven pedagogy is to empower students to identify janteloven and to oppose it actively. The concept of mobning ‘bullying’ seems to be informed by, and at least partly shaped by the concept of janteloven. Mobning typically implies a single victim who is being systematically humiliated and ostracized by a nasty, but slightly anonymous collective.104 To conclude, the effort to reverse janteloven makes up an important part of Danish pedagogical tradition. The third example considers contemporary media coverage of janteloven in Denmark. There seems to be three major types of jante-discourses at work in the speech community. One main type operates uncritically with the janteloven code as a social evil, which is “out there” and should be exposed. The second type of discourse fantasizes about places and lives without janteloven, and recognizes that janteloven is not necessarily a given. Some fantasies take a step further into a deliberative rhetoric. The third discourse type seeks to measure to which degree janteloven is still alive. One party asserts that janteloven is dying (or dead), and others reply that janteloven is alive and well. This third type of discourse emphasizes how janteloven continues to be a central discourse topic in the Danish speech community. I will now consider each of these three types of discourses. Table 5.3 A typology of anti-janteloven discourses discourse function the status of janteloven as a mental ontology Type 1 unmarked unquestioned Type 2 “fantasizing”/deliberative universality or necessity questioned Type 3 metasocietal rhetorically denied

Type 1 discourse is a “straight” anti-janteloven discourse in which janteloven is invoked as a factual social evil. Typically these discourses construe a victim of janteloven, who is being bullied by an “imaginary collective majority” into thinking that he or she cannot or should not do something because of who he or she is, or because of his or her special giftedness. Here are three examples: (1)

Janteloven råder. Lige til det sidste ønskede nogen, at det fejlede for mig. Sådan er det i Danmark. Men nu ser jeg fremad, siger kronprinsen.


The dark side of the Danes?

‘Janteloven rules. Up until the very last minute, some people wanted me not to succeed. That’s what it’s like in Denmark. But I will look to the future now, the Crown Prince says.’ [Pol 23.12.2010] (2)

Men jeg bor jo pænt og sætter pris på det. Jeg kan huske, at jeg fjernede en le Klint lampe fra stuen engang, da jeg skulle have et besøg, fordi jeg ikke gad at blive konfronteret med, at jeg havde råd til den slags. Der er utrolig meget jantelov. ‘I live well in a pretty place and appreciate it. I remember once removing a le Klint lamp from the living room, when someone was coming over, because I didn’t want to be confronted with being able to afford that sort of thing. There’s incredibly much of janteloven around.’ [Pol 10.03.2010]


Kunstige bryster udløser mest jantelov. ‘Fake breasts activates janteloven the most.’ [Pol 24.06.2008]

In example (1), Crown Prince Frederik construes himself as a victim of janteloven after he was turned down by public opinion as a potential Danish representative for the International Olympic committee, on account of his status as a royal person. Example (2) is about a disability pensioner, who sees herself as a victim of janteloven, and example (3) is a newspaper heading asserting that women who have their breasts enlarged are likely to be targets of janteloven. Type 2 discourses take a fantasizing/deliberative perspective on janteloven. This type is premised on the reality of janteloven but recognizes that the law is not a universal one, and hence, strictly speaking, it is a law people could get rid off. From a Danish perspective, it is difficult to fully comprehend how a society could possibly eliminate janteloven completely, but the Danish fantasy about the USA as a janteloven-free society is discursively salient as exemplified in (4)–(6). (4)

Et sted, hvor der er meget lidt jantelov, er USA. ‘One place with very little jantelov is the USA.’ [P1, Apropos 08.20.2007]


I USA gør folk en dyd ud af at sige til deres børn:”Du skal tro på dig selv!”. Min far holdt sig til janteloven. Mente ikke, min søster og jeg skulle bilde os ind, vi var noget.

Anti-janteloven discourses


‘In the USA, people make a virtue out of telling their children: “Believe in yourselves”. By contrast, my dad abided by janteloven. He didn’t want my sister or me to believe that we were anyone special.’ [KD, 05.02.2008] (6)

Hun drømmer om en skuespilkarriere i USA. For derovre har man ikke hørt om Janteloven. ‘She dreams of a career as an actress in the USA. Because over there, people haven’t heard of janteloven. [Tjeck 06.2009]

The insight that janteloven might not be a universal law seems to fuel both anti-janteloven fantasy and anti-janteloven deliberative rhetoric. Despite many US-critical attitudes105 in Denmark, the depiction of USA as the ultimate janteloven-free society prevails in Danish portraits of America and defines Danish-American cultural relations in ways that are often not adequately recognized. To exemplify, it is not a coincidence that Sandemose’s protagonist Esben Arnakke escapes to America from the constraining and dysfunctional Danish town of Jante. Conversely, Americans in Denmark are prone to “swallow” the self-stereotypical Danish story of janteloven and identify with the “victimization” scenario. One American interviewee, as quoted in Thomas (1990), says: In America a person works hard and is successful; other look at him or her and say, ‘If he can do it, so can I,’ and work hard at achieving that goal. If a Dane works hard and achieves success, other Danes look at him or her and say, ‘Look at that creep – it’s disgusting – let’s do what we can to tear him or her down to our lower level. (p.10)

Taken at value, the Danish fantasy of a janteloven-free America portrays a divide between Danish and American values: Danes are guided by janteloven, Americans are not. But as we will see, the semantics of janteloven conveys a sharp social critique, so the Danish fantasy must rather be viewed as an identification with “American” values. Type 3 discourses ask the question: Is janteloven alive and well, or is it dying? This discourse is prone to cliché, because advocates for the view that janteloven is dying or dead, are simply “trolling” for angry reponses from people who experience the curse of janteloven on an everyday basis. Stating that janteloven is dying (or dead) is a discursive cliché in the sense that it is meant to shock and take a novel perspective. However, an abundance of people have said it before, and there is nothing new in making


The dark side of the Danes?

such claims. Pronouncing the death of janteloven continues to be rhetorically effective only because it is an intentionally counter-semantic claim. Semantically, janteloven is ‘something’ which truly exists and which is ‘very bad’. Denying its existence is bound to trigger an argument which, in Denmark, often takes the form of biting sarcasm. (7)

Lever janteloven? ‘Is janteloven still alive?’ [Berl 03.12.2005]


Er vi sluppet af med janteloven? ‘Have we managed to get rid of janteloven?’ [Berl 03.12.2005]


Hvis alle er specielle – er Janteloven så ikke død? ‘If everyone is someone special, doesn’t that then imply that janteloven is dead?’ [Berl 25.11.2009]

(10) [Sarcastically] Længe leve janteloven! Den lever i bedste velgående. ‘Long live the Jante Law! It’s alive and well.’ [ExB 03.05.2010] (11) Folk har så meget mavegalde, at jeg nærmest kan lugte de sure opstød ud gennem skærmen - janteloven lever i bedste velgående. ‘Some people have so much gall in their bladder that I can almost smell the vent through my TV screen – surely, janteloven is alive and well.’ [Gaffa 21.09.2009] Examples (7)–(9) exemplify various forms of the cliché that janteloven is dead or dying. Examples (10)–(11) assert that the rumour of janteloven’s death is greatly exaggerated and establish via humor and sarcasm that janteloven is alive and well. The constant monitoring of janteloven’s state of health, is not to be taken at value. In order to create a good society, people should per definition want to get rid of janteloven. Therefore, the discourse of janteloven’s death or liveliness is nothing but a consolidation of janteloven’s status as a mental ontology in the Danish universe of meaning, in which social evils are meant to be exposed and eliminated.

The semantics of janteloven


If janteloven really were about “conformity” and “antipathy to difference”, why does it play such a central role in anti-conformist, self-deliberative discourses? If janteloven is really about “antipathy to difference”, why does it figure so prominently in discourses about selvværd ‘self-worth’? What does it mean for our interpretation that janteloven is a critical concept, condemning the very social behavior it describes? 5.4.

The semantics of janteloven

When the perplexing layers of packaging have been stripped away, it is clear that janteloven is not really about “the dark side of the Danes”, but rather, to stay with the metaphor, about “the Danish way of dealing with darkness”. Janteloven is a “super demon” in the Danish universe of meaning, which must therefore be actively opposed by all socially responsible people. As we have seen, the concept of janteloven had its origin in Sandemose’s novel, but the concept janteloven is not identical to the literary Jante Law. Our task, therefore, is not to provide a semantic explication of all 10 commandments of the literary Jante Law, but to account for the meaning of janteloven, as an ordinary word in contemporary Danish. On the basis of the previous discussion, I propose that the conceptual structure of janteloven consists of a mental ontology frame, followed by a prototypical cognitive scenario, and a negative evaluation of the scenario: [A]

Semantic explication for janteloven ‘the Jante law’ something people can say what this something is with the word janteloven someone can say something about something with this word when this someone thinks like this:

a. b.

at many times it is like this: some people in a place feel something very bad towards someone in this place, because they know that this someone thinks like this: “I am not like everyone else here I don’t want to do things like everyone else here does things” because of this, these people think like this about this someone: “this someone is someone bad”



The dark side of the Danes?


because of this, these people want this someone to feel something bad they want bad things to happen to this someone they want this someone to think like this: “I am like everyone else here I want to do things like everyone else here does things” because of this, these people do bad things to this someone at many times everyone can know that it is very bad when it is like this everyone can know that these people are very bad people everyone can feel something very bad when they think about it

e. f.

Janteloven is considered ‘something’; people can define what it is via the word janteloven, and the concept is a discourse tool, activated and utilized in important social discourses. These aspects of janteloven are conveyed in the three introductory lines of the explication. Component (a) initiates the prototypical scenario with the words ‘at many times it is like this’, a phrasing which seeks to account for the fact that the scenario represents a common experience. Component (b) models the negative feelings of the group directed at the individual, ‘some people in a place feel something bad towards someone in this place’. They have inferred a message of “difference” in this person. They “know” that the person thinks that he is different, ‘I am not like everyone else here’, and has purposefully rejected the standard norms ‘I don’t want to do things like everyone else here does things’. Component (c) models the conclusion drawn by the collective majority, namely that the person must be a bad person. Component (d) models the sanctions of the group. This includes the wish that the person will ‘feel something bad’, that ‘bad things happen’ to the person, and that the person, as a consequence, will fall into line, thinking as he or she should: that he or she is like everyone else and wants to behave like everyone else. Component (e) conveys further the idea of a mean-spirited crowd ‘doing bad things to this someone at many times’. The final component (f) is most crucial to the concept of janteloven, and observers who miss this aspect misinterpret janteloven altogether. The attitude described in the prototypical scenario is vehemently rejected via three ‘everyone can know’ sequences. First, ‘it is very bad when it is like this’ models a strong general refutation of the scenario. This is followed by two other aspects, moral condemnation of the bullying crowd as ‘very bad people’ and, finally, a strong “discomfort” which every reflective person must feel about such a scenario. In its entirety, component (f) turns an “anti-social” scenario into an “anti-antisocial” concept, making janteloven a battle cry for a “positive sociality” in which abusive social behaviour and thinking will not be tolerated.

The semantics of janteloven


Having explicated janteloven, we are in a position to assess whether or not the concept truly is about “conformity?” The English word conformity shares with the Danish word janteloven a negative valence, and in that sense, conformity is on the right track. However, the problem is that janteloven implies a stronger rejection than is conventionally conveyed in conformity (or “anti-conformity”). But these English words do not sufficiently account for the social emotions, or the emotionally charged aspect of janteloven – the idea that ill-intentioned people, who do not care about you as a person, are out there to make you give up your individuality in order to make sure everyone has an equally bad life. The Fuck Janteloven movement asscociated with Anja Andersen and others, may view itself as counter-cultural, fighting the “dark side of the Danes”. But in doing so, they have become nothing but extras in the play of janteloven. Due to the semantics of janteloven, with its built-in negative evaluation of the portrayed scenario, the fuck janteloven discourse fits into a mainstream discourse. The only truly innovative thing about the movement is stylistic: the combination of the older word janteloven with the recently imported English word fuck. Consider the following extract from one of many Danish Fuck Janteloven facebook groups: (12) Så HVOR VOVER JANTELOVEN at dømme …Lev efter DIN egen overbevisning. DINE egne mavefornemmelser. Og ikke efter andres. Har DU lyst til at være knaldhamrende rødhåret – SÅ BLIV DET. Har DU lyst til at synge højt i køen i supermarkedet – SÅ GØR DET. Har DU lyst til at danse på gaden med dine børn – SÅ GØR DET. Har DU lyst til at LEVE som DU ønsker at leve – SÅ GØR DET ! FUCK JANTELOVEN OG LEV !!!!! Til alle jer selvhøjtidlige mennesker som ved bedst – FÅ JER ET LIV og lad os andre leve vores! ‘HOW DARE JANTELOVEN judge us?…Live according to YOUR own convictions, YOUR own gut feelings, not those of other people. If YOU feel like coloring your hair shiny red, THEN DO IT – if YOU feel like singing loudly in the supermarket, THEN DO IT – if YOU feel like dancing in the streets with your kids, THEN DO IT – if YOU feel like LIVING as YOU want to, THEN DO IT! FUCK THE JANTE LAW and LIVE your life!!!!! And to all the self-righteous people who know better – GET A LIFE and let the rest of us get on with ours.’ [From the facebook group “Fuck Janteloven”, accessed 04.10.2010]


The dark side of the Danes?

This rhetoric follows the plot of janteloven perfectly, attacking “conformity” and the evils of mean-spirited social constraints, encouraging instead the values of self-expression and individuality. Unwittingly, what sees itself as innovative cultural critique models exactly what could be predicted from the explication of janteloven: “Don’t let the grey, humorless and self-righteous conformists decide for you – do things your way”. One final aspect in janteloven as a critical concept needs to be addressed. The grey conformists are considered to be “out there”, albeit that this situation is considered bad. In other words, there is a conflict between the perceived society and the ideal society, and janteloven is a driving force in diminishing this gap. When people occasionally declare the death of janteloven, they are in a sense stating that social ideals have been achieved which unsurprisingly leads to a dispute. This duality accounts for the dynamics of janteloven as a discourse tool for social change.


Janteloven’s hidden message of selvværd ‘self-worth’

Strangely, then, janteloven’s semantic structure makes the actual message very similar to the ones encoded in the straightforward and positive social concepts like hygge (chapter 3) and tryghed (chapter 4) which focus on creating “a good society” and a “positive sociality”. On the other hand, janteloven stands out in at least two ways. First, as a negative and critical semantic construal, janteloven encodes Danish positive social values indirectly. Second, it stands out in the Danish context as a highly charged, an almost aggressive concept in a universe of meaning which otherwise favours “docile” concepts, such as hygge and tryghed. This underlying “aggression” signifies that something very important is at stake: the fundamentals of Danish social ideals, namely “the good society” and “positive sociality” where people can thrive together as human beings. Janteloven’s hidden message, then, is essentially about hvordan vi behandler hinanden ‘how we treat each other’ and hvordan vi tænker om os selv ‘how we think about ourselves’. It is implied that people should treat each other with respect and work together toward the well-being of everyone. It also implies that people should allow themselves (and everybody else) to a have greater sense of selvværd ‘self-worth’. Hofstede (1998b) is one the few commentators who has seen through the facade

Janteloven’s hidden message


and associated janteloven with “tender values”. While I disagree with Hofstede’s parameter-based approach on terminological grounds and especially with his portrayal of Denmark as a “feminine society”, he is right, in my view, when he says that janteloven’s discourse function is to promote something like “tender values” (for a critical perspective on Hofstede’s theory, see 1.4.1). Borish (1991) also touches upon this theme, realizing that “the Jante Law…can come to act as a set of boundaries working against the attainment of an integrated sense of self, against the process of individuation and self-realization” (p. 320). Janteloven seems to encode two closely interrelated messages: one about “self-cognition” and another about “social cognition”. These messages can be thought of as related to the constructs “you” and “us” in Janteloven – a reversal of the abusive-collective “us” who bullies the individual (the “you” in Janteloven) into anonymity. Consider the reversal of janteloven in Table 5.4,106 which, next to Queen Margrethe II’s anti-janteloven commandments, is one of the more memorable. First, it should be noted that out of disdain for the original Jante Law, the positive version only present 9 commandments, not 10. Second, there is not a 1:1 correspondence between Sandemose’s commandments and the postive version, indicating that the author may have been more interested in reversing the linguistic concept than turning Sandemose’s original commandments upside down. Third, in the reversal version, the two interrelated themes that seem to stand out are a vision of the “us”, which is no longer bullying and excluding, but caring and including, and a vision of “you” who needs to be convinced that he or she is capable, loved and important. These attitudes are at the heart of the hidden message in janteloven. It is not a shift from “we” to “me”. The new “we” that is now no longer nasty and narrow-minded but good and well-intentioned, is still very much a “we”. From an Anglo point of view, the positive version is still remarkably “collectivist”.


The dark side of the Danes?

Table 5.4 A positive version of janteloven 1. Du skal vide, at vi andre regner med dig. 2. Du må indse, at mindst 4–5 mennesker – dine nærmeste – er helt afhængige af dig 3. Du skal vide, at vi ved, at der er noget godt og værdifuldt i dig, som vi har brug for 4. Du skal vide, at du har nogle menneskelige egenskaber, som vi holder af 5. Du skal vide, at vi andre også kender til at føle sig betydningsløs, værdiløs, ensom og mislykket 6. Du skal vide, at du hører sammen med os 7. Du skal vide, at vi vil gøre meget for dig 8. Du skal tro, at dit eget liv og vort samfunds beståen er meget afhængig af din indsats 9. Vi – du og jeg – kan løse problemerne i fællesskab Table 5.5 A positive version of janteloven, English translation 1. You must know that the rest of us believe in you. 2. You have to realise that at least 4–5 people – the ones close to you – are completely dependent on you. 3. You must know that we know that there is something good and valuable in you which we need. 4. You must know that you have human abilities, which we appreciate. 5. You must know that the rest of us, know what it’s like to feel insignificant, worthless, lonely and feel like a failure. 6. You must know that you belong with us. 7. You must know that there is a lot we want to do for you. 8. You must believe that your own life and the survival of our society is very dependent on your contribution. 9. We – you and I – can work things out together.

In the following I will provide cultural scripts for the attitudes which are truly endorsed via the janteloven concept, in particular, the attitude that selvværd, roughly ‘self-worth’, is important for the individual person. The culturally endorsed construction of the “I” can be phrased as in [B]:

Janteloven’s hidden message [B]


A Danish cultural script related to having selvværd ‘self-worth’ many people think like this: it is good for someone if this someone can think like this: “I know that I am someone good, I know that I can do many things, I know that I can do things well” some people don’t think like this, this is bad for thes e people

Queen Margrethe II’s anti-janteloven pronouncement: “you must not believe that you are worth nothing”, comes close to capturing the culturally endorsed attitude connected with janteloven. Unlike Margrethe’s negative phrasing (“you must not”), I have phrased the anti-janteloven related attitude positively ‘is it good for someone if this someone can think like this’. The subsequent element underlines the problematic aspect that ‘some people don’t think like this’, and states further that ‘this is bad for these people’. Script [B], then, models the common attitude of preferred Danish “self-cognition”. It is good if someone sees himself/herself as being, roughly, “a good, capable and competent person”. It also recognizes that this, unfortunately, is not a realized ideal. These two aspects are equally important for the Danish ethnotheory of “personhood” (on ethnotheories of “personhood” cf. also Carbaugh 1988, 2005, 2007; Wierzbicka 1992, Levisen forthcoming). Apart from the message of positive self-cognition, a message of positive social cognition also seems to be hidden in janteloven: a contrast to the “dark” and dysfunctional view of human beings depicted in the law. The message of self-worth portrayed in [C] can be extended to a general positive outlook on human beings, or at least a “humanism” with a local emphasis. [C]

A Danish cultural script for a “locally anchored humanism” many people think like this: when someone is at many times with some other people in a place, it is good for this someone if this someone can think like this about people in this place: “all people here are good people, all people here can do many things, all people here can do things well”


The dark side of the Danes?

The unpackaged message of janteloven emphasizes a belief in the goodness of ‘all people here’, and an optimistic view on peoples’ capabilities. In philosophical terms, the content may be labelled “locally anchored humanism”, which historically relates to Grundtvigianism and Danishstyle protestant humanism (see section 1.3.2). The preferred mode “social cognition” is grounded in a belief in the goodness, capability and competence of ‘all people here’.


Janteloven - a Danish super demon

Taken at value, the janteloven concept appears to be about “the Dark side of the Danes”, about advancing “conformity”, “sameness” and “social control”. Through a closer semantic and discursive scrutiny, this understanding must be written off as superficial. Rather, janteloven functions as a discursive superdemon, construed to maintain the vision of a “positive sociality”, a message of selvværd ‘self-worth’ and an optimistic view of other people. As a super demon, contradicting society’s real values, janteloven has become an important discouse tool for social change and for the advancement of human and social values. The apparent discrepancy between its immediate reading and the deep reading (how it functions discursively) can be explained in terms of janteloven’s semantic logic: by its angry caricature of social life, janteloven in effect epitomizes what society should be like. The mock-scenario portrays a morally indefensible position, and it follows naturally, that the conformist attitude must be strongly opposed. Gopal (2000) noted: Indeed any query about ‘janteloven’ brought rather passionate and spirited responses; while some of my informants were amused by it, and most others irritated or agitated by it, none feigned indifference. They did not like to think about it too much but they could not distance themselves from it, it was embedded in their lives. (Gopal 2000: 64)

It is hard to “feign indifference” to the scenario that an ill-intentioned conformist majority is out to manipulate people to give up their belief in themselves and their independence of will. Through the prism of janteloven, “sameness” is made suspect. When Borish says that janteloven “functions … as a power social code, ensuring conformity to the midrange of established custom” (1991: 320), he seems to have taken the mockscenario at face value. Later, though, he speaks about janteloven as “an

A Danish super demon


oppressive part of one’s own culture that must be fought and contested in the difficult struggle for self-realization” (Borish 1991: 320). When Gopal interprets janteloven as “antipathy to difference” in the forms of “doxic knowledge” and “realized morality”, she seems to have missed the point that janteloven provides speakers with a tool with which they can establish someone as a victim of oppressive “sameness”. Rather than opposing “difference”, discourses of janteloven advance “social uniqueness” as a culturally endorsed atittude. We can capture this attitude as follows: [D]

A Danish cultural script encouraging, roughly, “personal uniqueness” many people think like this: (at many times) it is good for someone if this someone can think like this: “I am not like everybody else, I don’t want to do things like everybody else does things” some people don’t think like this, this is bad for these people

Script [D] is highly compatible with a contemporary Danish cultural emphasis on “creativity” and “self-expression” (Thomas 1990b: 12, Gundelach et al. 2008). “Uniqueness”, rather than “sameness”, is on the attitudinal agenda in contemporary Danish culture, and janteloven is a major contributor to the realization of such attitudes. It should be clear that janteloven does not endorse “antipathy to difference”, but this of course does not necessarily mean that other Danish concepts could not encode a different perspective. Of special interest here is the (traditional) Danish concept sær ‘strange, weird, different’, as described by Peter Skautrup (1950: 27), which seems to encode a positive attitude towards social sameness, and a negative attitude towards social difference. An investigation of this traditional “peasant-farmer” concept in Danish107 might shed further light on the cultural climate which led Sandemose to propose his mock-commandments and the lexicalization of janteloven in the Danish language.


Concluding remarks

This chapter has presented a semantic exegesis of the Danish keyword janteloven, based on linguistic and discursive evidence. Janteloven has often been linked to a “conformity syndrome” and has played a part in portraying Danish culture as dominated by “insidious deceitfulness”, “jealousy”, “sameness” and “antipathy to difference”. Rather than pre-


The dark side of the Danes?

senting “a dark side of the Danes”, this chapter has argued that the meaning of janteloven, if properly interpreted, is consistent with “positive” Danish values. The semantics of janteloven presents a mock-scenario where a bullying, mean-spirited majority abuses the individual in order to make him/her conform. This scenario is strongly rejected, and the abusive conformists are condemned. Janteloven, therefore, does not endorse “conformity”, “sameness” and “social control”; by contrast, the concept works as a discourse tool for social change and for the advancement of “tender values”.

Chapter 6 Danish cognitive values in a cross-cultural perspective: Evidence from the cognitive verbs synes and mener

Be tolerant, utterly democratic practical advice on how to communicate with the Danes from When Cultures Collide (Lewis 2006: 355)



The literature on cross-cultural communication is full of real-life stories about “cross-talk” and “miscommunication” which are based on subtle clashes of underlying cognitive values and assumptions (Gumperz 1982; Sohn 1983; Tannen 1986b; Harkins 1994; Young 1994; Clyne 1996; Goddard and Wierzbicka 1997; Bailey 2000; Carbaugh 2005; Daun 2005; Lewis 2006; House 2007; Wong 2007). Consider the reflections of the Indian scholar, G. Prakash Reddy, as he studied and lectured in Denmark: The Danes’ not entering into arguments was made clear to me many times. Unless one provokes them again and again, they usually do not enter into argument with each other. Whether they like it or not, they agree with the speaker or simply keep quiet. Once or twice I succeeded in provoking a few Danes to argue with me. The first time I provoked my interpreter into an argument with me by making certain observations on the relationship between husband and wife in the Danish society. This was the only time he argued with me. He never again took the bait. (Reddy 1992: 135)

And further: As a response to my lectures at various institutions audiences never criticized me directly or entered into argument with me, their criticisms were always in the form of suggestions. If it became necessary, arguments were


Danish cognitive values

put forward with all facts and figures in a most pragmatic way without raising the voice. (Reddy 1992: 135)

We only have access to Reddy’s reflections and not the reflections of his Danish interlocuters, but the communicative events described show numerous signs of cross-talk and clashes in cognitive values. The Danes, disappointingly, did not even bother to “raise their voice” to persuade Reddy when he was wrong. Rather, unfamiliar with his persuasive and assertive style and attempts to start “engaging arguments”, they felt uncomfortable and backed out. What went wrong? What unwritten cultural and linguistic rules did Reddy unwittingly break? Much to his surprise, Danish media accused the Indian scholar of being arrogant and overconfident (Reddy 1992: 24); he was called “stubborn” and he was widely criticized for his unwillingness to look at things from different perspectives (e.g. Schwartz 1994: 744). There is something highly unresolved about the cross-cultural encounter described by Reddy. What stands out is the experience of “difference” – different tacit assumptions and different ways of thinking. Cultural insiders seem to take their own ways and values completely for granted, and cultural outsiders only learn about them “the hard way”, through puzzling experiences and sometimes painful cultural clashes. Benjamin L. Whorf emphasized thinking as “most mysterious” but added that “by far the greatest light upon it that we have is thrown by the study of language” (Whorf 1956: 252). Inspired by Whorf’s insights, the Korean scholar of intercultural communication, Ho-min Sohn talks about an “underlying cognitive culture” (1983: 93) reflected in language; at the same time he speaks of language as shaping the “culture of cognition” (2006: 1). The analytical challenge is to account for such encounters and clashes in “cultures of cognition” and to write down the unwritten rules which guide speakers from different cultural backgrounds. Taking his point of departure in the semantic prime THINK, Cliff Goddard (2003a) notes: [T]here is usually considerable language-internal coherence in the way in which THINK manifests itself across lexicon, grammar, and discourse. In any particular language, that is, one might expect to find recurring patterns or themes, comparable to Whorf’s (1956) notion of “fashions of speaking”. This raises the possibility that a more comprehensive and detailed analysis across a variety of diverse languages would enable one to develop a typology of “cognitive styles” or “ways of thinking”. (p.134)

Cognitive verbs and cognitive values


How can we identify the Danish “way of thinking”, and what languageinternal patterns and themes of “cognition” have been encoded in Danish language? How does THINK manifest itself conceptually in Danish words, and what can we learn from these manifestations? This chapter approaches “the Danish culture of cognition” from the point of view of two salient Danish verbs of “opinion”: synes and mener. These two verbs seem to be an optimal place to begin our search for Danish cognitive values, because they appear to be culture-specific configurations of THINK, and because they describe ways of expressing “opinion”, an area crossers of the Danish cultural border sometimes struggle to understand and appreciate (cf. Reddy’s experience). The chapter contains the following parts. Section 6.1 discusses crosslinguistic typological findings and their relevance for the study of cognitive values in language and provides further grounding for the approach. The next sections present and justify detailed explications for the verbs synes (6.2) and mener (6.3), using examples from naturally occurring texts. Based on the semantic explications, section 6.4 identifies Danish cognitive values. Section 6.5 offers cross-linguistic and crosscultural perspectives, and section 6.6 applies the findings to the field of cross-cultural communication.


Cognitive verbs and cognitive values

Cognitive verbs have fascinated linguistic typologists precisely for the reason that they differ across languages, both qualitatively and quantitatively. In one study, Michael Fortescue (2001) concludes that the lexical grids of some languages are particularly fine-grained when it comes to cognitive verbs, and that the meanings of English cognitive verbs tend only to partially overlap with, rather than match, the meaning of those in other languages: “Many have a wealth of them [cognitive verbs], overlapping in various ways with the meanings expressed in English… some languages divide this whole area more finely than others, even if one confines oneself to looking at the textually most frequent and stylistically most neutral ‘basic level’ words” (Fortescue 2001: 16). The Danish “opinion”-related verbs synes and mener seem to be “guilty” of both charges: First, they represent a degree of elaboration of the “opinion” area. Second, they do not match exactly any English


Danish cognitive values

categories, though they overlap in meaning with the English “think of opinion” (I think that…), and to some degree also with English find (I find that…) and believe (I believe that…). Cultural elaboration and the crosslinguistic variation also figure prominently in Goddard’s (2003a) typological account: Although THINK has a firm claim to the status of a basic and universal linguistic concept, it remains true that languages and cultures vary enormously in the way in which they elaborate this notion, in the significance it is accorded in daily life, in its grammaticalization, how it figures in discourse, and so on. Just as the existence of basic notions of time, for example, hardly overshadows the huge differences between linguistic and cultural elaborations of basic temporal concepts, so it is with notions of thinking. In both domains, the huge variability greatly overshadows the tiny core of universality. (p. 113).

Rather than using English as a common measure, Goddard’s study advances the theory of semantic primes, “the tiny core of universality”, which can be found in the enormous cross-cultural variation. The universal and simple semantic prime THINK (Danish TÆNKER) is the foundation for more elaborate and culture-specific meanings, such as Danishspecific verbs like synes, mener, etc, and English-specific verbs such as find, believe and “think of opinion”109 (Wierzbicka 2006a; Goddard and Karlsson 2008). In the language learning literature, synes and mener are treated as notorious “problem verbs”. Due to the lack of conceptual counterparts in English, synes and mener are hard for (Anglo) learners to naturalize (Allan, Holmes, and Lundskær-Nielsen 1995: 333), and without a semantic metalanguage to model such differences accurately, we are left with imprecise English words which impose Anglocentric perspectives on the Danish words. Consider, the translations of the synes-sentence (1) and the mener-sentence in (2) below: (1)

Jeg synes det er uacceptabelt. ‘I think (synes) that it’s unacceptable.’


Jeg mener det er uacceptabelt. ‘I think (mener) that it’s unacceptable.’

Cognitive verbs and cognitive values


The English “think of opinion” is a problematic translation for a number of reasons. First, the semantic difference between the two Danish verbs is glossed over, so that synes and mener come across in translation as synonyms. Second, both translations are too vague. The Danish verbs convey more specific meanings than the very general English “think of opinion”. The English grid of verbs includes some more specific verbs, e.g. believe and find, but they both appear to provide the “wrong” kind of specificity; e.g. the “experience” verb I find that…, partly resembles Danish synes, and the “conviction” verb I believe that…, partly resembles Danish mener, but they do not match the Danish categories. In fact, the English find and believe might have closer translational equivalents in Danish finder ‘think, find’ and tror ‘think, believe’, than in synes and mener. Third, it must be noted that “opinion”, the word used to designate the semantic area we are looking at, is not culturally safe ground either. Opinion is an English word and hence not a word to be ultimately reckoned with in our attempt to account for the Danish-internal perspective. My own analysis of synes and mener will be based on semantic primes which are cross-translatable and conceptually unimposing. Confronted with the cross-linguistic surprises (and frustrations) of the language learner trying to acquire the meaning of Danish synes and mener, and the insight from typological studies emphasizing the diversity of cognitive verbs across languages, we are left with the unavoidable question: Why has the Danish speech community lexicalized exactly these verbs, and nurtured an “opinion” grid with fine-grained distinctions? How do the cognitive verbs in a language relate to cognitive values of the related culture? It is unlikely that these lexical grids of thinking have developed in a completely arbitrary fashion, but we cannot draw any immediate conclusions. In order to hypothesize an answer to the question why these verbs have emerged, we need to first develop a satisfactory account of what these verbs mean. Speech communities appear to have developed different approaches to thinking and to have lexicalized these approaches, providing speakers with culturally relevant linguistic-conceptual tools. In the following, I will argue that Danish opinion verbs synes and mener are anything but arbitrary configurations. Rather they appear to be culturally shaped and motivated. They seem to exemplify how “the Danish culture of cognition” has penetrated into the cognitive verbs of Danish language.


Danish cognitive values


The semantics of synes The only thing I really hate, it’s when you try to force your own opinion onto somebody else Christian, 39-year old Dane, interviewed by Zuckerman (2008: 52)

Reddy’s compatriot, cultural researcher Triloki Nath Sharma writes in an insightful publication Danskerne: Portræt af et bemærkelsesværdigt folk [The Danes: Portrait of a remarkable people] (2008), that Danish children have been socialized from a young age to have subjective opinions about almost everything, and– in an open, nuanced and kind way – to relate these subjective opinions to the opinions of others: One of the most essential processes which Danish school children acquire is to comment on someone else’s propositions, to say what they think about various issues, to say what they think about anything. They are taught to be critical and find various nuances and aspects of the issue…At the same time, they learn how to show responsiveness (openness, kindness) to the person who said or wrote the proposition. (Sharma 2008: 100, my 110 translation)

Sharma further describes Denmark as “the land of meetings” (p. 101), where numerous groups, associations, committees, school classes and families, on a daily basis, discuss issues, listen to each others viewpoints and make decisions together in an “everyday democracy”. The emphasis on collaborative decision-making, and the idea that everybody can and should contribute with his or her own perspective is an important part of the Danish “everyday democratic ethos” (Lewis 2006: 355; Gundelach et al. 2008: 130). Slightly rephrased, we could describe Danish culture as a “democratic opinion culture”, in which everyone is expected not only to have an opinion about various topics, but also to develop it with others, and relate it to other people’s opinions in a “civilized” (that is, “nonaggressive”) way. The aspects mentioned by Sharma in the quote above, somehow seem to be present in the verb synes, an indispensible category for the Danish “democratic opinion culture”. As a verb synes111 encodes a subjective, “opinion”-based, impresssionistic mode of thinking, but it also displays an interpersonal awareness

The semantics of synes


of a social reality where opinions are expected to differ. The Danish linguists Carsten Elbro and Erik Hansen (1993) have convincingly argued that a proliferation of synes took place in the 1960s. They refer to synes as a hallmark of “anti-authoritarian sensitivity” (p. 7) and say that an “antiauthoritarian approach to reality” (p. 7) is reflected in words like synes. They develop their cultural and historical semantic analysis as follows: “One consequence of a radically anti-authoritarian attitude is that there are no generalizable norms, which one can take or want to take for granted. In that case, one must express oneself impressionistically; one must underline the personal aspect of one’s viewpoint”112 (Elbro and Hansen 1993: 10). The “impressionistic” and “personal” mode of thinking which underlines the idiosyncratic aspect of one’s viewpoint is richly attested in synesdiscourse. (3)

Jeg synes, det er noget svineri, at kommunen ikke giver os ældre en ordentlig behandling. Det kan ikke være meningen, at jeg skal sidde her i et nusset hjem. ‘I synes it’s disgusting (lit. ‘pig behaviour’) that the council doesn’t give us elderly people a decent treatment. It can’t be right that I have to sit here in a shabby home.’ [KorpusDK]


Jeg synes det er åndsvagt at folk skal dømmes på baggrund af deres accent, når de taler dansk. ‘I synes it’s idiotic that people are judged based on their accents, when they speak Danish.’ [Personal weblog, accessed March 2008,]


(from a discussion on the new design of football jerseys) Jeg sys113 fandme de er grimme. ‘I synes (swear-word) they are ugly.’ [Online discussion board, accessed Aug 2009]

In examples (3)–(5), synes is headed by the 1P pronoun jeg ‘I’ which is a statistically significant left context collocate of synes (MI-score: 5.41). Also, synes tends to co-occur with evaluators of all sorts, such as e.g. noget svineri ‘filthiness’, lit. ‘pig behaviour’ (3), åndssvag ‘idiotic, ridiculous’ (4), grim ‘ugly’ (5) and other words with a highly evaluative content.


Danish cognitive values


Jeg synes ikke gulvtæpper hører sig til i et soveværelse. ‘I don’t synes that it’s right to put carpets in bedrooms.’ [KorpusDK]


Jeg synes selv, at risotto Milanese smager godt til krebinetter. ‘Personally I synes risotto Milanese goes well with pork patties.’ [KorpusDK]

It also appears from synes-discourses that we are dealing with personal opinions, and that other people are therefore likely to think something else. In (6) and (7), a person is stating her view on the topics “carpets in bed rooms”, and “the combination of risotto and pork patties in a meal”. The “safeguarding” function played by synes here is to underline that the opinion expressed is personal, not universal. Synes conveys a subjective, impressionistic “opinion” in a world without absolutes, ultimate answers or authorities. (8)

En fuglemand vil måske synes skarven er en smuk fugl. Det sete afhænger af øjnene der ser. ‘A bird watcher may synes that the cormorant is a beautiful bird. What is seen depends on whose eyes are looking.’ [KorpusDK]

Such interpersonal awareness of “cognitive relativism” is exemplified well in (8). For a fisherman, the cormorant might be a pest, but in the eyes of a bird watcher, the cormorant is a beautiful bird, which is worth protecting. The contemporary Danish saying det sete afhænger af øjnene der ser ‘what is seen depends on whose eyes are looking’, which follows synes in (8), epitomizes this relativistic attitude: Nothing just “is”, it all depends on one’s perspective. A collocational profile for synes reinforces the impression that synes is a “subjective” and “relativistic” cognitive verb. Synes co-occurs frequently with a number of “perspective-changing adverbs”, in particular, “adversatives” (Table 6.1):

The semantics of synes


Table 6.1 “Perspective-changing adverbs” in the collocation profile for synes”114 Adverb personlig personligt ærligt talt umiddelbart tværtimod omvendt i det hele taget egentlig alligevel ellers til gengæld derimod på den anden side

MI 6.91 6.69 5.58 4.77 4.74 4.61 4.40 3.88 3.72 3.62 3.62 3.35 3.32

rough translation ‘personally’ ‘personally’ ‘honestly, frankly’ ‘offhand, immediately, first off’ ‘on the contrary, quite the reverse’ ‘on the other hand, turned upside-down’ ‘taken as a whole, actually’ ‘actually, really, at the core’ ‘still, nevertheless, nonetheless’ ‘apart from that, otherwise’ ‘on the other hand, in return’ ‘on the other hand, there-against’ ‘on the other hand’ (lit. on the other side)

These adverbial phrases seem designed, in combination with synes, to do the job of “commenting” personally on topics, e.g. by partly agreeing and partly disagreeing, and looking out for multiple perspectives and views. Judith F. Hansen describes the frequent use of adversatives in Danish interaction as clearly not a purely linguistic phenomenon, but as indicative of Danish cognitive values: “The assumption that there are multiple sides in any question is a typical pattern of Danish thinking. Adversatives like “on the other hand” på den anden side, are more frequent in Danish conversations than in American ones” (Hansen 1980: 128). The relativistic favouring of “perspectives” as opposed to ultimate truths or factual answers, seem to dominate Danish everyday cognition and everyday Danish speech practices. In their discussion of synes, Elbro and Hansen (1993) refer to an old joke in which one person asks “what time is it?” and the other person replies Hvad synes du selv? ‘What do you synes yourself?” Because the question is factual, the impressionistic, subjective meaning conveyed by synes is not fitting, and a sentence like *Jeg synes klokken er 9” ‘I synes it’s 9 O’clock’ is therefore ungrammatical (or, at least, comical). In fact, the phrase Hvad synes du selv? ‘What do you synes yourself?’ has become a mock-phrase opposing a pedagogy where facts, truths and authorities are disregarded, and things are up to the indi-


Danish cognitive values

vidual students to decide, via their momentary, personal preferences and feelings. (9)

Du kan følge retskrivningsordbogen, hvis du synes, lille Knud, men hvis du hellere vil stave og bøje ordene på din egen måde – og i øvrigt føler trang til at kalde mig for en luder – så gør endelig det. ‘You can follow the dictionary, if you synes so, little Knud (p.n.), but if you prefer to use your own spelling and grammar, and moreover feel the need to call me a slut – then be my guest.’ [Sarcastic contribution to a debate on pedagogy, newsletter, accessed June 2008,]

The mock-anti-authoritarian comment in (9) depicts a teacher who, out of excessive respect for the individual student’s idiosyncratic impressionistic feelings, ends up doing the student a disfavour. The deliberately derogatory use of synes in this passage (subheaded by the iconic mock-phrase hvad synes du selv?), is revealing, not because of the criticism in itself, but because of the attitude it criticizes. The attitudes associated with synes are clearly those of “idiosyncracy”, “subjectivity” and “cognitive relativism” – in other words the attitude that nothing is inherently right or wrong, and that without authorities, all that is left is “the personal perspective”. From these insights and examples, including the critical usages, the following explication can be suggested for synes in the frame jeg synes… ‘I synes…’: [A] a. b. c.

Semantic explication for jeg synes […] ‘I synes […]’ when I think about it now, I think like this: [… ] I think like this because I feel something now I know that someone else can think not like this

In explication [A], component (a) conveys the forming of an impressionistic opinion about a topic. Component (b) models that the opinion is based on subjective and momentary feeling, and component (c) models the “interpersonal awareness” that another person might think differently. In textual context the explication can unfold as exemplified in [B]. The topic of cognition in this example is “judging others on their accents”, a perspective which is being evaluated as “idiotic”.

The semantics of mener [B] a. b. c.


Jeg synes det er åndsvagt at folk skal dømmes på baggrund af deres accent (‘I synes it’s idiotic that people are judged based on their accents’) when I think about it now [it = that people are judged based on their accents], I think like this: [it is idiotic] … I think like this because I feel something now I know that someone else can think not like this

Synes is related to the value of having an opinion, freely stating this opinion and expecting that other people also have opinions which they would like to share. At the same time, synes is related to the value of “cognitive relativism” i.e. the recognition that people think in different ways. By using synes, a speaker can freely and strongly express what he or she thinks, without implying that other people should necessarily think the same. In section 6.4, this aspect will be discussed further, but, before then, the other salient Danish “opinion” verb mener will be explored.


The semantics of mener

The cognitive verb mener reflects another cognitive trend in the Danish speech community, related to “co-cognition”. Not only subjective thinking, but, it appears, also collaborative consideration is highly valued, and the verb mener captures the important cognitive skill of navigating through the landscape of opinions. Unlike synes, which conveys an “impressionistic, subjective” mode of cognition, mener designates a “carefully considered opinion, anchored in co-cognition”. Lexemically, mener is a highly polysemous verb. The “mener of opinion”, must be distinguished from the “mener of intention” and the “mener of uncertainty”. The “mener of intention” can, like its English cognate mean, be used in sentences like Det er ikke det jeg mener ‘That’s not what I mener (mean)’ and Hun mener det godt ‘She mener (means) well’. The “mener of uncertainty” as e.g. Jeg mener bussen går 10.31 ‘I mener the bus leaves at 10.31’ conveys an epistemic meaning. The speaker is trying to recall knowledge based on prior experience (“I once caught that bus before”) but signals that he or she can’t confirm with certainty (“if I remember correctly the bus leaves at 10.31, but I might be wrong”). These two meanings are different from the “mener of opinion” and will not be discussed further here.


Danish cognitive values

The “mener of opinion” can be used in all the same grammatical frames as synes, and mener also co-occurs frequently with the 1P pronoun jeg ‘I’ (the MI-score is 3.99, slightly lower than for synes, but still sta-tistically significant in terms of collocational attraction). Synes and mener share formal constructional properties, and occur in the same environ-ments. So in which ways exactly do the two “opinion” verbs differ? Let us consider some examples. [10] Jeg har svært ved at se det rimelige i, at man skal have lov til at holde hunde, der er yderst farlige, og som har påført andre alvorlige skader. Jeg mener, at vi skal indføre et totalforbud mod pitbullterriere i Danmark.” ‘It’s difficult for me to see any justification for allowing people to keep dogs which are extremely dangerous, and have caused serious injuries to people. I mener that we need a total ban on pit bull terriers in Denmark.’ [KorpusDK] Judging from examples of mener in use, the verb seems to imply two things that synes does not namely, that the opinion is based on “reflection” and a “positioning” in relation to the views of other people. In (10), the speaker has thought carefully about the topic “pit bull terriers” and has come to the conclusion that it is indefensible to let people keep these dogs because they pose a danger to people. By using mener, the speaker recognizes that some groups of people will think otherwise, e.g. pit bull-owners or people opposed to restrictive legislation. (11)

Det er dyreplageri, hvis man kommer salt på dræbersnegle. Det mener Dyrenes Beskyttelse. Men haveejerne, de er ligeglade. ‘It’s cruelty to animals to sprinkle salt on garden slugs (lit. ‘killer slugs’). So Dyrenes Beskyttelse (Protection of Animals) mener. But garden owners don’t care.’ [Internet discussion forum, accessed June 2008,]

(12) Efter det tredje angreb på Israel giver det mening, hvis Israel slår igen. Det mener de fleste i det jødiske samfund i Danmark. ‘After a third attack on Israel, it would make sense if Israel hits back. So mener most people from the Jewish community in Denmark.’ [KorpusDK]

The semantic of mener


(13) Den danske landstræner, Morten Olsen, mener ikke, det vil være en god ide at udvide EM Slutrunden fra 16 til 24 lande. ‘The Danish national coach Morten Olsen, mener that it’s not be a good idea to expand the EC tournament from 16 to 24 countries.’ [Internet discussion forum, accessed March 2008,] Mener reflects a social reality which operates with “groupy” structures, and in which groups of like-minded people are thought to share opinions. At the same time, one’s opinions are known to conflict with those of other groups. (For more on the “groupy” social thinking as a basis for Danish sociality, see also 1.3.2. and 3.5). To exemplify, some people are for the sprinkling of salt on garden slugs, while others are against, cf. (11) which refers to a dispute between animal protection people vs. middle class garden owners. In (12), the majority of Danish Jews are portrayed as holding the view that Israel should retaliate when attacked, but with mener, it is implied that other groups of Danish Jews are against retaliation. Example (13) discusses the possibility of expanding the number of teams who can qualify for the UEFA football tournament – some are for while some are against. In all cases, one understands that the proponents have thought about it and have chosen a side in the debate. Mener, therefore, is also rhetorically weighty because it has the power to “nicely distort” the viewpoints of other people. (14) Jeg mener ikke, at fædre skal omklamre deres sønner. ‘I don’t mener that fathers should be overprotective of their sons.’ [KorpusDK] (15) Jeg mener ikke, at TV-Avisen er nogen hellig ko, som ikke kan flyttes fra 19.30. ‘I don’t mener that TV-Avisen (TV News Programme) is a holy cow, which can’t be re-scheduled to a different time than 7.30 pm.’ [KorpusDK] In their own words, it is highly unlikely that anyone would speak in favour of the view that fathers should be overprotective (14), or that a particular news programme is as untouchable as a “holy cow” (15). As a rhetorical device, mener can create fictitious groups of people who have ridiculous viewpoints, against which one’s own opinion looks favourable. Further evidence for the reflective and groupy semantics of mener can be


Danish cognitive values

found in the question hvad skal vi mene om X? ‘what are we supposed to think (mener) about X’. The question is relevant when a new topic (X) is brought to the attention of a “community of opinion”. This community then, based on collaborative reflection and in interaction with the traditions of the group, seek to reach a position, typically, against other communities of opinion. Revealingly, one could hardly ask the question hvad skal vi synes? ‘what are we supposed to think (synes)’. The reason for this seems to be that synes-based cognition is neither based on group identity nor reflection. By contrast, mener-based cognition stands out as inherently groupy and reflective. As will be clear by now, it matters greatly whether a person’s statements are portrayed as synes-based or as mener-based. When a journalist, for instance, interprets a person’s comments as a synes-statement or a mener-statement, he or she also determines whether the person was giving a subjective, feeling-based, impressionistic opinion, or a well-reflected, positioned opinion. On the basis of these observations, we can explicate the mener of opinion as follows: [C] a. b. c. d.

jeg mener […] ‘I mener […]’ when I think about it, I think like this: [… ] I can say why I think like this because I have thought about it for some time I know that some other people think the same at the same time I know that some other people don’t think the same

Component (a) reflects that mener follows the opinion frame, but unlike synes, mener does not convey an impressionist “now”-feeling. Rather, component (b) specifies that the opinion is based on “reflection” (cf. ‘I have thought about it for some time’). In component (c), it is assumed that some like-minded people will think the same as the person, and in (d), it is assumed that some other people ‘out there’ will disagree. In a textual context, the explication reads as in [D]: [D] a. b. c. d.

Jeg mener, at vi skal indføre et total-forbud mod pitbullterriere i Danmark (‘I mener that we must enforce a total ban on pit bull terriers in Denmark’) when I think about it [pit bull terriers in Denmark], I think like this: [we must enforce a total ban] I can say why I think like this because I have thought about it for some time I know that some people think the same I know that some other people don’t think the same

The semantics of mener


In [D] the topic of cognition is “pit bull terriers”, which in the opinion of the speaker should be banned. The speaker’s view is construed as a careful reflection, and it is assumed that some people agree with this view, while others will disagree. Mener seems to reflect two related aspects of Danish social cognition. The first is that the landscape of opinions is quite predictable and “overviewable” (see also section 4.6). Second, it reveals a democratic disposition, a lexicalized awareness of what it takes to navigate among these predictable group-based viewpoints. Semantically, mener seems to have co-emerged with the creation of the early modern Danish nationstate, with its multi-party democracy and its social diversification (see section 1.3.1). Danes increasingly came to identify with particular groups, such as the core political115 groups of people: socialdemokrater ‘social democrats’, venstrefolk ‘left people’ (agrarian liberal people), konservative ‘conservatives’, radikale/kulturadikale ‘radicals/culture radicals’ (social liberals, progressive cosmopolitans), folkesocialister ‘people sociallists’ (socialists) (Christiansen et al. 2006: 364)116 and various religious groupings within the Danish Lutheran national church – grundtvigianere ‘Grundtvigianists (Lutheran Humanists), indremissionske ‘inner mission people’ (Lutheran pietists), and, again, socialdemokrater ‘social democrats’ (for church-members). Traditional Danish politics, with its rather fixed multiparty structure, and traditional Danish church life, with its similarly well-defined groups of like-minded people, typify the importance of being able to position one’s views within the predictable universe of opinions, and to express one’s group membership through one’s opinions. Historically, Danish identities were linked to political and religious group-membership, and opinions were rather predictable. If a person belonged to one political group or religious faction, his or her opinions on important issues in life could also be determined with great probability. In contemporary Denmark, these traditional political and religious identities have become less significant due to political diversification and secularization, but the multiparty democracy and the groupy structure of society is still significant. Navigating within very welldefined groups and very predictable viewpoints is still part and parcel of the distinctive Danish democratic ethos. Mener epitomizes a cognitive style which seems to assume that people think as they do because of their group identity. The awareness of the other groups, and the positioning of one’s viewpoint relative to that of other groups, reflect a Danish democratic ethos – a set of attitudes which recognizes other people’s views as valuable, while positioning one’s view in the landscape of opinions.117


Danish cognitive values


Danish cognitive values

In his typology of “intellectual styles”, the sociologist Johan Galtung (1981, 1985) has described Danish (with other Scandinavian cultures and Dutch) as historically moving from the periphery of the German sphere of influence to the periphery of the Anglo sphere, in Galtung’s terms, from Teutonic to Saxonic. (For a discussion of Galtung’s typology in linguistic and cross-cultural perspective, see Clyne 1996: 28; House 1997: 90). This description is probably correct, but it is critical to add that a Danish cognitive style is not only peripheral to culturally influential traditions (such as the German or the Anglo cultures of cognition). It is a culture of cognition in its own right, with its own distinctive values and its own semantically endorsed attitudes (see section 1.3.2). Having explored the semantics of the two salient Danish cognitive verbs synes and mener, we can now begin to model further the cognitive values they represent. On the basis of synes and mener, two models of social cognition can be suggested. In relation to synes, the embedded attitude is that expressing one’s own impressionistic opinion is valuable as such, and that individuals are expected to have different opinions because they have different personalities. Contemporary expressions conveying a similar “cognitive relativism” include forskelligt fra person til person ‘different from person to person’, alt er relativt ‘everything is relative’, det sete afhænger af øjenene der ser ‘what is seen depends on whose eyes are looking’, and others. We can model this attitude as follows: [E]

A Danish cultural script of “cognitive relativism” (or “the synes script”) many people think like this: “I am me, not someone else when I think about something, I can feel something not like someone else can feel something, when this someone else thinks about the same thing”

Script [E] models the relativistic and impressionistic attitude that characterizes Danish synes-based discourse. Based on perceived uniqueness (cf. ‘I am me, not someone else’), the script models further the uniqueness of cognitively based feelings of the individual. As argued by Elbro and Hansen (1993), synes is somehow related to the rise of “antiauthoritarian sensitivity” in Danish society. Also, the relativist and idiosyncratic synes has achieved a privileged position in contemporary “postmodern” Danish society. Script [E] does not state that people cannot agree

Danish cognitive values


on things; rather, the script states the fundamental assumption that people are “unique” because they have different personalities and feelings (For a similar theme, see the explication of sind in section 2.3.1). Consequently, people will experience the world differently and form opinions in “their own way”. The other important stream of thought is related to mener. The attitude here seems to be that it is important to find people, with whom one can roughly agree, and to be able to navigate in the landscape of opinions. For Danish cultural values, script [F] complements script [E], modelling a “groupy co-cognition”. [F]

A Danish cultural script for “groupy co-cognition” (or the “mener script”) many people think like this: “when some people think about something, they can think about it like me because they are part of one thing, like I am part of this thing when some other people think about the same thing, they do not think about it like me because they are not part of this thing, (they are part of something else)”

Script [F] models the attitude that ‘thinking about it like me’ is linked with being ‘part of one thing, like I am part of this thing’. Having the same opinion about things is about sharing identities and affiliations. Consequently, if people do not share an identity or affiliation, they are not expected to think the same. Script [E] and [F] capture two important attitudes, two key elements of Danish cognitive style. This model of cognition favours “subjective” and “intersubjective” understandings over “absolute” views. It reflects a “democracy of thinking” and, at the same time, a suspicion of external truths and indisputable facts. In a culture where peoples’ opinions are linked to their group identities (mener) and personalities (synes), it becomes rather meaningless to try to convince other people that they are “wrong”. In this kind of cultural climate, it is also highly problematic if someone wants to “tell someone else what to think”. I will now further explore these two related attitudes.

6.5.1. A cultural script against “telling others what to think” A sticker on public rubbish bins in Australia says: “Do the right thing!” and shows a person disposing of rubbish in the right way, that is: he puts


Danish cognitive values

it in the bin, not just anywhere. The sticker text relies on salient Anglo dichotomy between right and wrong, with its embedded “everyday philosophy of rationalist ethics” (Wierzbicka 2006a: 309). A reasonable person is expected to agree with and to follow the message. (For a study of the “moral lexicon” of English, see Wierzbicka 2006a: 64ff). In Danish culture, a similar directive would be seen as painfully moralizing and counter-productive. It is not hard to imagine the subversive Dane throwing his rubbish on the ground right next to the bin in defiance. It is a major “sin” to tell other people what to think and do, partly because it implies that they cannot think for themselves, and partly because it implies that there is an authorized way of doing things which everyone has to follow. Basically, no-one else could or should tell anyone else how to “do the right thing”, if, and this is highly debatable, “the right thing” exists at all, in the form of an external “truth” which can be extracted from the diversity of human experience. Telling people what to think, even in trivial matters, would be a breech of the Danish attitude that people should arrive at their own conclusions not be told what to think or do. We can represent this attitude as in [G]: [G]

A Danish cultural script against “telling others what to think” many people think like this: when someone thinks about something in one way it is bad if someone else says something like this to this someone: “it is bad if people think about it like this I want you to think not like this I want you to think about it like I think about it”

The cultural script in [G] states that it is bad to say that other people are “wrong”, or to try to convince them that they are “wrong”. It is especially bad to want to change other people’s opinions, wanting them to think like yourself. Sharma (2008) observes that Danes “perceive people with authoritarian traits or missionary zeal as unsympathetic” (p. 104). People claiming that their view is better than the views of others are seen as problematic. The conventional Danish oxymoron de rigtige meninger “the proper/correct opinions” accentuates this attitude well. The noun mening “opinion, point of view”, relates to the verb mener and is inherently “positional”. A mening, therefore, cannot be rigtig “correct, right”, in the sense that it is the ultimate answer to a question (e.g. according to the truth or the facts), hence the oxymoron. The expression ridicules the selfish and ignorant attitude of people who think they know better than

Danish cognitive values


others and who elevate their own subjective perspective as general truth for all mankind. It is interesting that Elbro and Hansen (1993), in their discussion of synes, turn to the attitudinal concept of skråsikker, literally ‘slanting sure’. They say that synes provides “a less skråsikker and more intuitive proposition about the world” (p. 7) than traditional, authoritarian discourse. The original imagery of a slanting wall coming out against you has been conventionalized as the name for a monologic, overly assured, self-centred personality. (16) Hvis du forsøgte at være lidt mindre skråsikker, ville mange finde dig knap så irriterende. ‘If you made an attempt to become a little less skråsikker, many people might find you less annoying.’ [KorpusDK] (17) Paneldiskussionerne har lært Søren Molin et og andet om “almindlige mennesker”. For eksempel at arrogante, afvisende svar ikke virker så godt. Jo mindre skråsikkert man udtaler sig, desto mere bliver man troet.” ‘The panel discussions taught Søren Molin something about how “the ordinary man thinks”. For example, that arrogant, dismissing answers don’t work very well. The less skråsikker in one’s opinions, the more people will trust you.’ [KorpusDK] A skråsikker person makes people feel bad, because he or she does not communicate any kind of self-criticism or openness to alternative interpretations. It is difficult to co-operate with such a person because the person is overly assertive and inflexible. The personality trait of skråsikker ‘slanting sure’ can be explicated as follows: [H] a. b. c.

Explication for ‘someone X is skråsikker (lit. ‘slanting sure’)’ when this someone X thinks about something, this someone thinks like this: “I know that it is like this, it can’t be not like this I don’t want to think about it in any other way, it is bad if anyone thinks about it in any other way” everyone knows that it is very bad if someone thinks like this people can feel something bad if they are with someone like this


Danish cognitive values

Can the explication of skråsikker and the cultural script [H] shed light on Reddy’s unresolved cross-cultural experiences (see introduction, this chapter)? It is highly likely that the Indian scholar was interpreted through the Danish cultural script [H], and it is also likely that his assertive, authoritative style triggered speakers of Danish to evaluate him through the semantic category of skråsikker. The prototypical cognitive scenario in [H] contains three components depicting someone with an assertive, categorical way of thinking, a lack of openness to other suggestions and a negative view of others who think differently. The evaluative component problematizes this scenario, stating that it is ‘very bad’ to think like this and further that ‘people can feel something bad if they are with someone like this’. Reddy’s compatriot, Triloki Nath Sharma (2008) describes Danes as emotionally sart ‘delicate, touchy’ (p. 181), as overly sensitive, and prone to feeling emotionally under attack even at the “microscopic level” (p. 181). With synes and mener, Danish speakers have at hand two verbs, which, by using, they can express their opinions freely, while at the same time expressing “safeguarding” semantic components. In this way they can avoid creating bad feelings in others and avoid coming across as skråsikker, assertive and aggressive. These three configurations of THINK – the verbs synes, mener and the adjective skråsikker – reflect, I believe, core aspects of the Danish cognitive style.

6.5.2. The value of selvstændig ‘independent’ thinking The ability to tænke selvstændigt ‘think independently, autonomously’ is valued and explicitly rewarded in Danish socialization, including in the education system (Gundelach et al. 2008: 60). To exemplify, in the Danish grading system (13-skalaen ‘the 13-scale’ which was in effect from 1963-2007), a key factor for achieving a high grade was selvstændighed ‘independence, autonomy’ ( Table 6.2 The three top grades of the 13-scale system explained 13 11 10

Given for the exceptionally independent and excellent work (very rare) Given for the independent and excellent performance 118 Given for excellent, but not particularly independent performance

Danish cognitive values


The three top grades 13, 11 and 10 (12 did not exist in the scale), all evaluated the student’s work as “excellent”, the difference being the degree of selvstændighed ‘independence, autonomy’. In Triandis’ theorizing (see section 1.4,1), “horizontal individualists” like the Danes, want to be “unique”, not in terms of “status” but in terms of “personality”. It is not encouraged to copy the views of other people, or to uncritically take over opinions held by others. Rather, it is emphasized that one should “form one’s own opinion”. In the Danish idiom, it is important at stå på egne ben ‘to stand on one’s own legs’, an image based on childrens’ acquisition of basic skills. Cultural script [I] states that opinions should not be formed or arrived at via copying from others, e.g. authorities or other influential people. Opinions should be formed independently. [I]

Danish cultural script encouraging “autonomous” thinking many people think like this: when someone thinks about something, it is good if this someone can think about it not like someone else thinks about it

An American cultural observer critically reflects on her experience as a teacher in Denmark: As a teacher I feel I am only there to encourage my students to speak and write. They are not terribly interested in my viewpoints, so I rarely express them…Very rarely do I give a lecture, and if I do, no one dreams of taking notes. It is their own opinions that count…Danish students have been taught to think independently, which is certainly very important … but they are not very well trained in assimilating knowledge and ideas that others have worked out before them…In a sense, the attitude of “I’ll do it my way” pervades Danish society. Time and again I have seen Danes working out a “new” way to do something that has been used for numerous years. (Brændgaard, in Thomas 1990a: 60)

The critique seems to affirm the salience of script [I] in Danish society by questioning its validity and practicability. Danish cognitive values, as captured in key Danish cognitive verbs synes and mener combine autonomous, subjective and impressionistic thinking with an interpersonal awareness and an intersubjective “cocognitive” outlook. In the following I will explore these values further in a contrastive perspective.

186 Danish cognitive values 6.6.

Danish cognitive style in cross-cultural comparison

As noted by scholars of cross-cultural communication, the globalizing world has greatly increased the demand both for cross-cultural awareness and practical cross-cultural competence (Agar 1994; Guirdham 1999; Kecskes 2004). Understanding the unwritten “rules” of culture and the development of a cultural empathy have become important for “…peaceful co-existence, mutual tolerance and necessary understanding in the work-place and in other walks of life in the increasingly ‘global’ and yet in many places increasingly diversified world” (Wierzbicka 2003:viii). I will now engage with the following questions, which have become increasingly important: How do people with a certain nativized cognitive style come across in other cultures where different norms and cognitive values are dominant? How, for instance, do Danish cognitive values translate across cultural boundaries? In this section, the interrelationship between cognitive verbs and cognitive values will be explored further, drawing on detailed semantic and cultural work on Russian and English cognitive verbs. Cross-semantic evidence can shed further light on the culture-specificity of Danish cognitive values.

6.6.1. Danish and Russian verbs and values The Russian linguistic worldview is well studied in the NSM framework (Wierzbicka 1992, 1997; Gladkova 2007a, 2007b, 2010c) and other cultural-semantic approaches (e.g. Apresjan 2000; Šmelev 2002). The following comparative analysis will therefore be based on the semantics of Russian cognitive verbs, that is, on “native” categories, rather than, say, parameter-based value surveys with highly technicalized categories. The Russian cognitive verb sčitat’ provides a revealing counterpart to synes and mener. Sčitat’ resembles synes and mener in a number of ways, but semantically, the verb is profoundly different; in fact, it is contradictory to the semantics of the Danish verbs. The RussianAustralian semanticist Anna Gladkova (2007a, 2007b), who has studied sčitat’ in detail, has described the verbs as revealing of the Russian linguistic worldview and cultural attitudes (Gladkova 2007b: 78). Most

Danish cognitive style


characteristically, sčitat’ relates to an “absolute” mode of cognition, in which “forceful” and “categorical” evaluations are made. Gladkova (2007b: 75) provides the following explication of sčitat’. I cite here the slightly modified version in Goddard (2010a: 82): [J] a. b. c. d. e. f. g.

ja scitaju, cto […] when I think about it I think that […] I have thought about it for some time I have thought about things like this before I want to think about it like this I know why I want to think about it like this I don’t want to think about it in any other way it is good to think about it like this

Sčitat’ shares with synes and mener the “opinion” frame ‘when I think about it, I think that […]’, and the subjective focus of cognition (the components are almost all “I-centred” elements). Gladkova (2007a) comments: “Thus, sčitat’ embeds in its meaning a ‘direct’ and forceful way of expressing what a person thinks. This way of expression can be related to a general tendency of being direct in speaking one’s mind, which is characteristic of the Russian language” (p. 132). It is interesting to note that “expressing oneself” seem important in both Russian and Danish speech norms. There are, however, insuperable differences, in particular with respect to the “forcefulness” with which opinions are expressed. Unlike the Danish “relativistic” verbs, the Russian verb takes an “absolutist”, “truth-oriented” stance. Russian sčitat’ has a “strong degree of assurance” which is not found in either synes or mener. The definitiveness reflected in sčitat’, most adamantly revealed in component (g), stands in stark contrast to the other-oriented relativity of synes and mener. Notably, the explication of sčitat’ does not make any use of the primes YOU, SOMEONE or PEOPLE. Gladkova (2007b) says that sčitat’ “presents a single way of interpreting the matter”, and that it “does not ask for or make reference to other options or opinions” (p. 75). The Danish verbs, by contrast, are centred around “relational” cognition. Unlike the Danish avoidance of “absolutes”, the Russian assumptions captured in sčitat’, revolves around “external truths” and absolutes. Anna Wierzbicka has described the Russian linguistic worldview as bifurcated and categorical: speakers tend to construe things via the categories “true” vs. “not true”. In the Russian culture of cognition, the salient phraseme govorit’ pravdu ‘speak the truth’ is indicative of this orientation (Wierzbicka


Danish cognitive values

2002c; Gladkova 2007a).119 The indigenous Russian concepts of pravda ‘truth’ and istina ‘higher, absolute truth, hidden truth’ are important Russian cultural themes, deeply rooted in Russian language and everyday cognition (Wierzbicka 2002c: 407; Gladkova 2007b: 80). Wierzbicka (2002c) suggests the following script for this bifurcated, “truth”-oriented attitude (p. 408): [K]

The Russian pravda script many people think like this: people can say two kinds of things to other people things of one kind are true it is good if someone wants to say things of this kind to other people things of the other kind are not true it is not good if someone wants to say things of this other kind to other people it is bad if someone wants other people to think that these things are true

Even though the Russian script represented in [K] mainly relates to ‘saying’, not only ‘thinking’, such “truth”-orientedness of the Russian script is quite remarkable from a Danish perspective. Wierzbicka (2002c) comments: From a Russian cultural point of view, this script may seem quite natural, and it might be assumed that it would be shared in all cultures. But this is not the case. In fact, there are many societies in which this script would seem far too extreme, far too polarized, and in which people would not wish to identify with it at all (p. 408).

Needless to say, the bifurcated emphasis on true vs. not true, and the “absoluteness” and “categoricalness” that follows are not observed by speakers of Danish. It is evident that the Danish synes script [E] of “cognitive relativism” and the Russian pravda script [K] are almost bound to result in crosstalk, or even communication breakdowns, if speakers are not aware of these different value orientations. It can be predicted that a speaker of Russian, living by the pravda script, would problems in a Danish context where no similar scripts exist. Unfamiliar with Russian “categorical thinking” and the Russian preference for dividing things into two categories “true vs. not true”, a speaker of Russian might very well, in a Danish context be interpreted as skråsikker ‘slanting sure’ (see section 6.4.1), a label which could be a serious impediment for successful participation in Danish communicative events (Sharma 2008: ch 4).

Danish cognitive style



Danish and Anglo English120 verbs and values

The importance of studying English semantics from a cultural and historical point of view has been brought to light in a number of recent NSM studies (see in particular Wierzbicka 2006a, 2010; Bromhead 2009). Anglo English speech communities are, like the Danish speech communitity conventionally described as “pragmatic” and “other-oriented” (Galtung 1981; Reddy 1992; Triandis 1994: 154; Sharma 2008). However, large-scale parameter-based studies tend to gloss over important differences between Danish vs. Anglo styles, attitudes and values. Anthropologist Judith F. Hansen (1980) concludes: “Sharing a common Northern European cultural heritage, closely related languages, and highly industrialized economies, many features of Anglo-American and Danish society are similar. Yet there are some basic differences, some gross, and many subtle” (p. 207). Comparative semantic analysis can help us understand these basic differences. As we saw in section 6.1, the most common English translation for both synes and mener is the English “think of opinion”. Sometimes synes is also translated as find, and mener as believe, in the frame ‘X believes that …’221 “Think of opinon” is semantically much less specific than the two Danish verbs. In accordance with Goddard and Karlsson (2008: 235), the meaning of this verb can be explicated simply as ‘when this someone thinks about it, this someone thinks like this’. From the Danish point of view, “think of opinion” is identical to the (a) component of both synes and mener. The shared component explains the translational practice; however, the “extra” components in synes and mener accentuate the translational problem. English “think of opinion” does not consist of “relativizing” components such as (‘I know that someone else can think not like this’ (synes) or ‘I know that some other people think not like this’ (mener). In synes-discourse, a speaker of Danish can use quite “strong” evaluators like fuldstændigt åndsvagt ‘totally idiotic’, without implying that everyone else should feel the same way. Due to the “relativizing” design of the Danish cognitive verbs, using strongly evaluative language is less “face-threatening” (cf. Brown and Levinson 1987). In DanishAnglo communication, Danish-style evaluative language can be problematic if transferred uncritically into English via the “think of opinion”. Without the safeguarding relativization built into synes (cf. ‘I know that someone else can think not like this’) and mener (cf. ‘I know that some other people think not like this’), speakers of Danish may come across as


Danish cognitive values

“unreasonable”, and “opinionated” or, potentially, even rude in Anglo English (On the semantics rude and its Anglo cultural underpinnings, see Waters 2010, in preparation). Consider now the English cognitive verb find, a verb which Wierzbicka (2006a) has called a “quintessentially Anglo cultural construct”, in its combination of in my opinion, in my experience and to my knowledge (p. 226). She relates the verb to the tradition of British empiricism with its “emphasis on personal experience, on the limitations of one’s knowledge, and on tolerance for diverse points of view and respect for everyone’s “personal opinion” (p. 226). Wierzbicka 2006a: 222, 224 explicates find as follows (in the opinion frame ‘I find that…’ [L] a. b. c. d.

I find that […] when I think about it, I think that […] I know that other people can think not like this I think like this because I know what happens to me, [when …] I can’t say I know what happens to other people, [when ...]

I find that shares with jeg synes an emphasis on “personal opinion”, and the two constructs are, unlike sčitat’, pragmatic, tolerant and “otheroriented”. They differ, however, in some other aspects. The personal discovery precedure of “trial-and-error experimentation” reflected in find, knowing ‘what happens to me when […]’, is alien to the impressionistic Danish synes (cf. ‘feeling something now’). Consequently, the safeguarding semantic elements also work in different ways in the two different verbs. In find it is about the “limitation of one’s knowledge” – in synes, it is more about refraining from making general assertions about the world and registering one’s awareness of interpersonal difference. Let us also consider English believe, in the frame I believe that… which sometimes serves as a translation for mener (occasionally also for synes). I believe that […] is a commitment and conviction construction which, like mener, has a “serious” ring to it. Wierzbicka (2006a: 218) explicates the opinion frame of believe as follows: [M] a. b. c. d.

I believe that […] (e.g. I believe that there is a real need) when I think about it, I think that [there is a real need] I know that someone else can think not like this I can say why I think like this I think that it is good if someone thinks like this

Danish cognitive style


From a Danish perspective, I believe that… seems to hybridize parts of synes (component (b) with parts of mener (component (c), but the fourth component ‘I think that it is good if someone thinks like this’ is not found in either synes or mener. A similar component, however, is found in the confident-sounding Russian cognition verb sčitat’ (cf. component (g) in explication [J]). Despite believe’s emphasis on “personal judgement and conviction” (for a discussion, see Wierzbicka 2006a: 217), I believe that… in its entirety is a somewhat more assertive verb than synes and mener, partly because of its insistence that ‘it is good if someone thinks like this’. In fact, this “conviction” component seems dangerously close to the Danish taboo against ‘wanting others to think like yourself’. In a sense, I believe that… provides an “assertive” middle ground between the “categorical” Russian and the “relativizing” Danish verbs. Finally, in the search for language-internal coherence in the way THINK has manifested in English (Goddard 2003a: 134), Wierzbicka points to the evaluator reasonable, as a key concept in the English linguistic worldview. (For an explication and in-depth discussion of reasonable, see Wierzbicka 2006a: ch 4). She says: “The modern use of the word reasonable and the phrases based on it suggests that Anglo strategies in this regard include limiting one’s claims on others and at the same time appealing to reason. These two strategies can be implemented jointly by means of the word reasonable” (Wierzbicka 2006a: 136). This core Anglo theme, combining “appeals to reason” with “limiting of one’s claims on others” does not appear to be salient in Danish. The Danish culture of cognition seems focused on different cognitive priorities, revolving around the “appeal to democracy (that everyone’s opinions count) and the “perspectivist” ideology that no-one can lay claim to know how things “really” are. To summarize, the “Danish mentality of democracy” is characterized by (a) an emphasis on independent, subjective thinking based on one’s own (valuable) personal feelings, (b) alignment with certain groups of people who are thought be like-minded in terms of thinking and identity and (c) an ideology of communication which prefers “surveying the perspectives”. Interlocuters are not expected to fully agree or disagree strongly, but preferably, disagree slightly. The preference for “partial disagreement” and the fine-tuning of “agreeing” (Sharma 2008: 100) is important because it gives room for independence and uniqueness of opinion, at the same time facilitating a broader understanding of the issue under discussion. The Danish idiom of “groupy tolerance” højt til loftet (lit. ‘high-ceilinged’) depicts a “spacious” evaluative environment, in which one is free to be slightly unorthodox and follow one’s own


Danish cognitive values

agenda to some degree, but still co-existing peacefully “under the same roof”.


Pedagogical scripts

So far, the cultural scripts method has been used as a research tool for capturing the insider-perspective, and for contrasting different cultures of cognition. In this final section, I will change the perspective to “applied ethnopragmatics” and present a number of pedagogical scripts (Goddard and Wierzbicka 2007c; Goddard 2010b) designed to help speakers accommodate to different cultural contexts. Practically, how can people become better cross-cultural communicators through language awareness? Danish, English and Russian words represent different attitudes. In the following, I will model potential problem spots based on the semantics and pragmatics of these languages. This, I believe, can be done by comparing cultural scripts and identifying attitudes and values that clash. In practical terms, Danish-Russian communication is likely to take place in ELF (English as a Lingua Franca). (For more on ELF in general, see Seidlhofer 2001, 2005, 2007). This is a complicating factor for a crosscultural analysis,122 but whether or not English is involved, native semantic and conceptual features are likely to shine through and affect conversation to various degrees. The medium of Danish-English communication is likely to be ELF and English, but a considerable number of Anglos in Denmark are also learners of Danish (Thomas 1990a). Pedagogical scripts differ from cultural scripts, in that they explain, rather than merely represent, a cultural “rule” (Goddard in press). They are phrased from the “external” perspective of a cross-cultural educator. This means that we are free to take a more selective approach. Pedagogical scripts can include certain background information, or if need be, rephrase certain less idiomatic aspects of the metalanguage. The pedagogical script [N] is an applied ethnopragmatic guide for speakers of Russian who, in a Danish context, would benefit from adding “relativizing” statements, such as ‘I don’t want people here to think about it like I think about it’ or ‘people can think about it many ways’ when they evaluate things or state opinions. For simplicity, I have inserted Denmark in the pedagogical script. I have also changed the perspective from ‘someone’ to ‘you’ in accordance with the pedagogical purpose.

Pedagogical scripts [N]


A pedagogical script for speakers of Russian who want to avoid coming across as skråskikker (lit. ‘slanting sure’) in a Danish context in Denmark it is like this: when you say something because you think about something in one way, it is good if you can say something like this at the same time: “I don’t want people here to think about it like I think about it, people can think about it in many ways”

Likewise, a “de-learning” of Danish cultural scripts can be a prerequisite for successful cross-cultural communcation with speakers guided by Russian cultural scripts. The lack of categoricalness in Danish cognitive style can be interpreted as carelessness and a failure to govorit pravdu ‘speak the truth’. Script [O] is a pedagogical script for Danish speakers, warning against using unnecessarily relativizing language which, in the Russian context, could be understood as being careless with the truth. [O]

A pedagogical script for speakers of Danish who want to avoid coming across as “careless” in a Russian context in Russia it is like this: when you say something because you think about something in one way, it is good if you can say something like this at the same time: “I know why I want to think about it like this I don’t want to think about it in any other way”

As noted in 1.4.1, Hofstede’s (2001) “uncertainty avoidance index” has posited Russian and Danish value orientations to be maximally different, with Russian values favouring “absolutes” (high degree of uncertainty avoidance) and Danish as favoring extreme “relativization” (low degree of uncertainty avoidance). Such views are compatible with the results of semantic analysis, but semantic comparison allows us to go deeper than vague descriptors, and to model the key semantic-conceptual tools and cultural scripts, toward which people orientate in everyday cognition. Let us now move to Anglo-Danish cross-cultural encounters. From a global perspective Danes and Anglos can easily look rather in tune with each other, but difference is lurking just beneath the surface. The Anglo emphasis on “common ground”, and “reaching an agreement” on the basis of “being reasonable” is richly attested in the Anglo English speech culture. According to Wierzbicka’s (2006a) analysis, reasonable is a keyword of English.123 It conveys the idea of ‘knowing what is a good thing to do’ and the idea that ‘people can think the same’ if they ‘think about things well’.


Danish cognitive values

The Danish communicative ideology of “surveying the perspectives” and the Anglo communicative ideology of “reaching an agreement” can create unintentional cross-cultural clashes and lead to cross-talk. In a Danish context, the English logic could be interpreted as an attempt to close down the discussion before it has even started, or as a manipulative attempt to objectivize one’s own subjective opinion. While Anglos, in a decisionmaking process, may think of the Danish preference for ex-plaining one’s personal views in detail as “irrelevant” (if qualifying an agreement) or “obstructing” (if qualifying a slight disagreement), it is thought desirable in the Danish context to let everyone fine-tune the differences of viewpoints. In that way, multiple perspectives will be “put on the table”,124 and at the same time, the Danish need for communicating selvstændighed “independence, autonomy” and construing personal uniqueness within the group can be met. Given that most things are forskellig fra person til person ‘different from person to person’, it should be expected that people will disagree slightly, because they experience the world differently. In a Danish context, the Anglo preference for reaching agreement can come across as a surrender to uselvstændighed ‘un-independence’. In the pedagogical script [P], it is suggested that the Anglo interlocuter in a Danish context could benefit from communicating something like: ‘in some ways, I don’t think about it like anyone else here thinks about it’, instead of trying to “reach agreement”, and to spend time fine-tuning his or her subjective and idiosyncratic views against those of others. If a person has views that differ slightly, but not entirely, from other people, new perspectives will open up, and people will have a chance to view things from different perspectives and angles. [P]

A pedagogical script for Anglos who want to avoid coming across as uselvstændig ‘un-independent’ in a Danish context in Denmark it is like this: when you say something because you think about something in one way, it is good if you can say something like this at the same time: “in some ways, I don’t think about it like anybody else here thinks about it”

From an Anglo perspective, the Danish “democracy of thinking” often leads to quite lengthy and time-consuming discussions. Looking at things from multiple angles, communicating and qualifying partial disagreements and partial agreements and the fine-tuning of argument can seem “irrelevant” and “obstructive” to the Anglo speaker who prefers to “get on

Pedagogical scripts


with it” and reach agreement (or, at least, agree to disagree). Additionally, the Danish tendency to use fairly strong evaluative language (without necessarily claiming that everyone else would or could think the same) can also be misinterpreted as “unreasonable” or even “obstructive”. By insisting on sharing one’s opinions and views in detail, and by considering one’s contribution as intrinsically valuable, a person might appear from an Anglo standpoint as “opinionated” and uninterested in finding common ground. The pedagogical script [Q] suggests that a Danish person communicating in the Anglo world can benefit from not communicating “a slightly different” view. In an Anglo cultural context, it can be questioned if a person, who continuously “slightly disagrees” is “well-intentioned”. [Q]

A pedagogical script for speakers of Danish who want to avoid coming across as “unreasonable” in an Anglo English context in Australia/Britain/USA etc. it is like this: when you say something because you think about something in one way, it can be bad if you say something like this at the same time: “in some ways, I don’t think about it like anybody else here thinks about it”

The pedagogical script [Q] suggests that a Danish person communicating in the Anglo world can benefit from not communicating “a slightly different” view. To this we can add the positively framed pedagogical script [R] which states that speakers of Danish in an Anglo context can benefit from accommodating to a more “assertive” style. Script [R] unashamedly links ‘what I think’ with ‘what it is good if people think’. [R]

A pedagogical script for speakers of Danish who want to accommodate to the more “assertive” style of Anglo English in Australia/Britain/USA etc. it is like this: when you say something, because you think about something in one way, it can be good if you say something like this at the same time: “it is good if people can think about it like this if people think well about it, they can think the same”

Hinging on the cognitive verb believe and the evaluative adjective reasonable, script [R] disregards the Danish hubris of saying what everyone should think and asserts that ‘if people think well about it, they can think the same’. Pedagogical scripts with a directive phrasing ‘it is bad/good if you…’ can work as practical tools for easing communication in cross-cultural


Danish cognitive values

encounters. First and foremost, they can help build a cross-cultural awareness and point towards differences in norms across speech cultures. 6.8.

Concluding remarks

This chapter has explored in detail two hard-to-translate Danish cognitive verbs synes and mener. Synes designates, roughly, an “opinion arrived at impressionistically through subjective feelings” and on mener, roughly, a “carefully considered opinion, anchored in co-cognition”. It was argued that synes and mener, as semantic configurations, are quintessentially Danish cultural constructs and thus a window on the Danish “mentality of democracy”. The Danish verbs stand out in cross-cultural comparison as highly “relational” and “relativistic”. They present “interpersonally aware” modes of thinking, anchored in “personality” and “group identity”. Together the two verbs reflect a distrust in external truths in the form of facts, absolutes and authorities. Identifying language-specific configurations of THINK, as they have been encoded in different languages, we can come to better understand the variety of ways through which speakers make sense of their worlds. “Innocent” and “humble” looking words can serve as windows on how speakers’ cognitive values are construed. After having articulated cultural scripts for thinking, pedagogical scripts for cross-cultural communication were suggested.

Chapter 7 Are Danes truly the happiest people on earth? Semantics meets “happiness research”

Og hvis jeg skal sige hvad / man i landsby som i stad / er enig’ om så er det / man har lov at være glad And if I were to say / what people in towns and cities / agree on, then it’s that / one is allowed to be happy (glad) radio host Jørn Hjorting (1931-) (Hjorting and Behrendt 1994)



In recent years, Anglo-International “happiness research” has placed its spotlight on Denmark and the Danes. Measuring “average subjective happiness” across countries, several comparative studies and surveys have concluded that the Danes are the happiest people on earth, notably Gallup World Poll, Cambridge Happiness Survey, Marks et al. 2006 (see also Diener, Diener and Diener 1995; Frey and Stutzer 2002: 34; Veenhoven and Hagerty 2003; Blanchflower 2009: 171). Since the mid-70s, Denmark has topped the list of “self-reported life satisfaction” in the surveys of the European Commission (Inglehart and Klingemann 2000; Gundelach 2004: 27). (For more on happiness research126 in general, see also Veenhoven 1984, 1997, 2010; Diener and Suh 2000; Inglehart and Klingemann 2000; Lane 2000; Seligman 2002, 2004; Carr 2004; Gundelach and Kreiner 2004a; White 2007; Diener and as-Diener 2008). Contemporary happiness research is focused on “perceived happiness” or “verbal happiness” (Veenhoven 2010), that is, the degree to which individuals talk about of themselves as being “happy”. When asked Danish respondents consistently claim that they are very “happy.”


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

Biswas-Diener et al. (2010) systematically addresses Danish “happi-ness”, looking for a formula for “the Danish effect”: “Denmark is a particularly interesting case study in happiness. Denmark consistently ranks in the top three happiest nations in international surveys of well-being… What could account for the chronically high happiness in Denmark?” (¶ 1.1). Cultural psychologists have even produced a colour-coded world map based on average verbal “happiness” in nations. Denmark is deep red as the “happiest” country,127 Burundi is sickly yellow as the “unhappiest” place on earth, and the rest of the world’s countries are found somewhere in between these two extreme types of societies (White 2007). Happiness researchers have concluded that socioeconic status is not the key to “happiness”. To exemplify, countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Bahamas tend to score higher than many more affluent countries. Such findings have led happiness researchers to look for alternative explanations for “happiness”, rather than purely socioeconomic. As one would imagine, the results of “happiness surveys” vary considerably, but there are some clear tendencies: The Danes seem to always come out “happier” than the Germans; Americans are almost always “happier” than the French; and the Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainians are commonly found in the so-called “unhappy” layer of nations. One consequence of the results pointing towards Denmark as “the world’s happiest country” is a new discourse, “the Danish happiness discourse” in which Danish happiness is portrayed as a fact, just like any other trivia knowledge. Nation-branders in the Danish corporate world have embraced “the new Danish happiness discourse” and used it to promote sales and tourism. In the 1960s, Denmark attracted the attention of Anglo-international researchers for a much different reason, namely, the high Danish suicide rate (Hendin 1960, 1964), and perceptions and stereo-types of Danes as “dour, depressed and suicidal” prevailed (Zuckerman 2008: 7). Compared with this earlier negative international discourse, the “new Danish happiness discourse” is highly profitable for Denmark as a country. The extent to which happiness research has transformed into a “Danish happiness discourse” in tourism and popular culture is re-markable. The latest edition of the Lonely Planet tourist guide book Scandinavian Europe starts off its Denmark section with “Welcome to the happiest nation on earth” (Harding, Elliott and Kokker 2007: 34), as if it were a fact of life. Celebrity talk show host Oprah Winfrey has also paid attention to the “Danish happiness” story (Windrey 2009). Travelling to



Copenhagen in order to find out “why people in Denmark are so happy”, Oprah, uncritically, consolidated the new Danish happiness discourse by spreading the gospel about “Danish happiness” further in the Englishspeaking world. The attraction of being the “happiest” nation in the world seems obvious from the Anglo point of view. The cultural significance of the word happy in the Anglosphere is well-attested (cf. Wierzbicka 1999: 249), but how accurately does the “happiness discourse” model the Danish perspective? Are Danes truly the happiest people on earth? Happiness research has increasingly come under critique from linguists who have called into question the validity of “happy” as a meaningful category for cross-cultural and cross-linguistic comparison. The new emphasis on “subjective”, “self-reported” or even “verbal happiness” has not led happiness researchers to reflect further on cross-semantic problems. Despite the “verbal turn”, the importance of linguistic meaning has not been fully recognized, and as a result, much “happiness research” suffers from an Anglocentric bias. Semanticists have established that happy is essentially an English-specific conceptualization, and that the emphasis on being happy reflects an important Anglo cultural concern which is not shared by, let alone fully understood by, speakers of many other languages (Wierzbicka 2004a, 2009a, 2010). This chapter aims to show that Danish does not have an equivalent for the English concept happy. Happy is commonly translated into three different Danish adjectives lykkelig, glad or tilfreds, none of which map onto the semantics of happy. The Danish words lykkelig, glad and tilfreds differ in meaning. The most evident semantic difference relates to “intensity”. Consider the following sentences, where students make use of lykkelig (1), glad (2) and tilfreds (3) to describe their feelings towards an exam result (oral examinations). (1)

Jeg er lykkelig over mit 4-tal i fysik!!! så dejligt at det er overstået nu! og så gik det endda bedre end jeg havde regnet med! ‘I’m happy (lykkelig) with my grade (4) in physics!!! It’s wonderful that it (the exam) is over now. And it even went better than I expected.’ [Social networking website, accessed via, Oct. 2009]


Are Danes truly the happiest people?


Jeg fik 7 efter den nye skala, på trods af at min lærer stod lige så meget oppe ved tavlen som jeg gjorde. Så jeg er glad for min karakter, men har nok ikke helt fortjent den. ‘I got a 7 on the new scale, even though my teacher was just as active (at the blackboard) as I was. So I’m happy (glad) about my grade, even though I probably didn’t really deserve it.’ [Personal weblog, accessed via, Oct. 2009]


Desværre er jeg ikke fantastisk, når det gælder eksamener og mundtligt i det hele taget, men alt i alt er jeg tilfreds med mit 4-tal ‘Unfortunately I’m not a fantastic person when it comes to exams and oral presentations in general, but all things considered, I’m happy (tilfreds) with my 4 (grade).’ [Personal weblog, accessed via, Oct. 2009]

As the contexts indicate, lykkelig describes a very intense positive feeling. The student is, to use an English idiom, “over the moon”. Graphically, this intensity is marked with exclamation marks, and the evaluator dejlig ‘lovely, wonderful’ adds to the impression. In the example with glad, the student feels that his teacher gave him excessive help at an oral exam. There is no sign of “enthusiasm” about the mark but still good feelings towards it. While glad seems “weaker” than lykkelig, tilfreds seems even weaker than glad. In the example with tilfreds, the student takes an almost apologetic stance, trying to verbally “adjust to realities” by suppressing bad feelings about the exam result and at the same time creating positive feelings towards it. As a simplified first approximation, it could be suggested that lykkelig conveys “feeling something very good”, glad “feeling something good”, and tilfreds “feeling something good, not feeling something bad”. However, the difference is not purely a quantitative one. There are other differences which can be uncovered through semantic analysis. Given the cultural hegemony of the Anglosphere, it is not surprising to find that happy seems to be spreading globally. In Danish, the happybased Anglo compounds happy end (from happy ending), happy hour, and happy slapping, have been adopted and are now considered to be Danish words (see e.g. DDO). While the borrowings into Danish seem limited to compounds, these direct borrowings are evidence for a problematic Anglo-Danish “cross-conceptual encounter”. The Anglo packages of meaning are not readily translatable via the existing Danish grid of concepts. Other happy-based concepts have been borrowed in a more indirect way, namely through calquing and “conceptual adaptation”. A recent concept,

“Happiness”, meaning and culture


the happy pill, has been calqued into Danish as a lykkepille, linking the product to the concepts of lykke a nd lykkelig, rather than e.g. glad or tilfreds. The smiley face symbol, commonly associated with “happy” in the Anglosphere is associated with glad in Danish, not with lykkelig or tilfreds. Hence, the smiley face symbol has been coined as en glad smiley “a glad face-icon”.128 I am not aware of any happy-based calquing where tilfreds has been used in new conceptual coinages. Tilfreds is related to the English “happy with” construction, e.g. I’m happy with the outcome which could be roughly translated into Danish as ‘Jeg er tilfreds med udfaldet’. Before moving on to analysing lykkelig, glad and tilfreds, it is worth looking deeper into some of the methodological problems in cross-cultural and cross-linguistic studies of “happiness”.


“Happiness”, meaning and culture Man does not strive after happiness, only the Englishman does that (Friedrich Nietzsche, as quoted in Wierzbicka forthcoming)

Happiness surveys are based on question templates centred around the English word happy. A number of different templates are used, such as e.g. “taking all things together, would you say that you are: “a) very happy, b) quite happy, c) not very happy, d) not at all happy” (from World Values Survey), or “a) I do not feel happy, b) I feel fairly happy, c) I am very happy, d) I am incredibly happy” (from The Revised Oxford Happiness Scale quoted in Carr 2004: 10). “Happiness questionnaries” tend to take for granted that such templates are readily translatable without distortions in the world’s languages. The underlying assumption of mainstream happiness research is a belief in the language-neutrality and cultural universality of the concept “happy”. This assumption has been increasingly criticized by linguists and anthropologists. (For more on culture- and language-specificity in ethnopsychological concepts, see also Lutz 1985; Harkins and Wierzbicka 1997, 2001; Wierzbicka 1999, 2004a, 2009a; Amberber 2001; Durst 2001; Junker and Blacksmith 2006; Ye 2006b; Gladkova 2007a; Levisen 2007a, 2007b; Goddard 2008a, 2010a; Hasada 2008). The idea that happy can be straightforwardly “located” outside of English, is an Anglocentric view which leads to conceptual imposition. The conceptual semantics of

202 Are Danes truly the happiest people? emotion concepts has been shown to vary extensively in the world’s languages, and English-specific emotion words therefore cannot be relied on as “natural” concepts in cross-cultural comparison (Wierzbicka 1999: 72; Gladkova 2010a). In particular, the assumption that happy is a universal linguistic con-ce pt and that being happy is a concern shared by all humanity, has be-come untenable as studies in non-Western semantics have advanced in recent years. For example, Zhengdao Ye has shown how none of the closest Chinese counterparts of “happiness” xi, roughly ‘festive joy’ and le, roughly ‘attainable enjoyment/contentment’ (Ye 2006b) match the semantics of happiness. But we do not need to consult non-Western semantics to dispel the illusion of happy’s universality. In fact, it has long been known that happy does not translate even into closely related European languages (cf. Wierzbicka 1999, 2004a: 35-36, Goddard 2012). Semanticists have concluded that happy is an English-specific concept without equivalents in the world’s languages, and that the happiness agenda in contemporary research ultimately reflects a cultural concern of Anglo culture rather than a global concern (cf. Wierzbicka 2004a). In happiness research, there has been an unfortunate tendency to either dismiss a priori or trivialize semantic-conceptual diversity (cf. Inglehart and Klingemann 2000: 167, Gundelach and Kreiner 2004a: 378). For example, Gundelach and Kreiner say: It is sometimes argued that the translation of the term happiness may cause differences in responses to the question. In principle, the Danish lykkelig and Dutch gelycklich [sic!] may be linguistically different from the Finnish onnellinen or the German glücklich. Of course, such explanations can never be totally dismissed, but there does not seem to be any reason to expect that different translations play a role in the answers to the happiness question. In Austria, the language spoken is German, and Austria has much higher levels of perceived happiness than Germany. (Gundelach and Kreiner 2004a: 378)

In this passage, Gundelach and Kreiner compare the English noun happiness to the Danish adjective lykkelig (for some reason not the noun lykke which would be the more natural counterpart). They seem to assume that lykkelig is the translation in Danish without considering alternative options and without reflecting on the problematic aspects of this translation. Translators of “happiness surveys” seem to favour lykkelig, even though glad is the most frequent of the Danish happy-related

“Happiness”, meaning and culture


adjectives and probably also the most culturally salient word expressing good feelings (see section 6.2). Then they introduce the non-word gelycklich, a word claimed to be Dutch, but to my knowledge, no such word exists in any language. It is fu rther postulated that Danish lykkelig is an exact equivalent of Finnish onnellinen or German glücklich, but these assertions are not backed up by any empirical studies or any reference to cross-semantic studies. Furthermore, the argument that nationality is the relevant unit of comparison misrepresents the insight from linguistic semantics. It is argued that two German-speaking nations Austria and Germany have different levels of “happiness”, and that linguistic cate-gories can therefore not be of great importance; i.e. if language were important, then Austrians and Germans should feel the same because they share the German language. This argument completely misses the point. No linguist would claim that all speakers of German must at all times feel glücklich just because they speak German. If more people would say of themselves that they often feel glücklich in certain German-speaking na-tions and regions of Europe than others, then this is indeed a significant finding.129 The linguistic problem arises when comparisons are made be-tween dissimilar concepts, such as glücklich and happy, or lykkelig and happy. Comparing pseudo-equivalent concepts across languages is like comparing apples with oranges. It is misleading to claim that the Danes are the “happiest” people on earth, when they were asked whether or not they were lykkelig, not whether or not they were happy. Interestingly, while Gundelach and Kreiner (2004b) seem dismissive of cross-linguistic differences, they do not dismiss linguistic differences in general. They are greatly sensitive to Danish-internal semantic differences and cri tical of scholars who do not distinguish carefully between different linguistic concepts. They state rhetorically:130 “Is the experience of lykke and tilfredshed with life generally the same? Seemingly, many researchers take the two concepts to be synonyms... while others claim that the concepts are different, yet they treat them as if they were identical” (p. 28, my translation).131 I agree with Gundelach and Kreiner that words do matter, especially when dealing with “verbal happiness”. However, if we want to take semantic differences seriously, both language-internal and cross-linguistic differences must be differentiated, analysed and accounted for. Some happiness scholars with good multilingual understanding have criticized the general lack of linguistic and cultural awareness in their discipline. Decades ago, leader of The World Database of Happiness,


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

Ruut Veenhoven, identified meaning and culture, as two “white spots” in happiness research: “Several relevant variables are absent probably because of methodological problems. One such white spot is the “cultural cl imate” in society: The ‘meaning’ that the prevailing belief systems provides; the ‘expression’ it allows” (Veenhoven 1991: 7). Veenhoven’s call for a suitable methodology to study “meaning” and “cultural climate” systematically is an open invitation to NSM semantics. In this chapter, I will take up Veenhoven’s challenge and apply the NSM methods which have successfully dealt with the problems of diversity in languages and their associated value systems. By providing semantic explications for Danish words and comparing these with English happy, I will make use of the NSM metalanguage as a tertium comparationis, as a way of accounting for the similarities and differences. Studies in conceptual semantics have established that English happy is an unusual concept in a European linguistic and cultural context. The contemporary English meaning happy has been explicated as follows (Wierzbicka forthcoming), in the frame “X is happy” (e.g. he is happy):132 [A] a. b. c. d. e.

he is happy he thinks like this for some time at that time: “many good things are happening to me now I can do many things now as I want this is good” because of this he feels something good at that time like people can feel at many times when they think like this for some time

This explication for happy consists of a frame (a) indicating a prototypical cognitive scenario. The scenario comprises the components of good things happening to a person (b) and the possibility to do as one wants (c). This is positively evaluated (d), and resulting good feelings are linked to this whole scenario (e). In the following, the Danish counterparts will be explicated in order to demonstrate how they differ in meaning, and how they partially overlap semantically with happy. In order to better understand the conceptual makeup of happy in contemporary English, it is helpful to take a historical semantic perspective. Most notably, the modern English concept of happy is quantifiable. Happiness questionnaires tend to follow this feature by providing options like ‘I’m fairly happy’, ‘I’m reasonably happy’, ‘I’m somewhat happy’ and so on, which make good sense in English where happy is readily quantifiable. Diener and Biswar-Diener (2008) conclude in a

“Happiness”, meaning and culture


recent study that “most people are mildly happy most of the time” (p. 128). Unfortunately, this statement is unrenderable in other languages where nothing corresponds to the phrase “mildly happy”. Continental European concepts like German glücklich, French heureux, Italian felice or Polish szczęśliwy (Wierzbicka 1999: 53; Goddard 2012) are not compatible with quantification, and at the same time, these concepts are more “intense” than the comparatively “weak” English happy. Studies in historical semantics (in particular Wierzbicka forthcoming) have established that English happy used to be conceptually similar to the continental European counterparts but underwent semantic change linked with changing values and ideals in the English-speaking world in 18th Century English. Prominent ideas in the modern Anglo world, such as “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” associated with utilitarianism and the writings of the highly influential legal philsopher Jeremy Bentham (McMahon 2006: 212), and “the pursuit of happiness” associated with the American Declaration of Independence (McMahon 2006: 314), are thought to have triggered these semantic changes. Wierzbicka says: The shift from happy as a rare and intense state to happy as a common and moderate one was a phenomenon of great cultural and historical significance…happy was in fact a linguistic embodiment of the eighteenth-century idea that what mattered in life most was not some elusive and perhaps unattainable bliss but rather attainable pleasures and comforts (Wierzbicka forthcoming: 20).

As the new quantifiable concept of happy became a keyword of modern Anglo culture, and as being happy became viewed by many as the very aim of life, happy, at the same time, lost its intensity. That is, as being happy became attainable for everyone, it also became a matter of degree.


Explicating lykkelig, glad and tilfreds

In translation, the closest Danish counterparts of happy are lykkelig, glad and tilfreds. Table 7.1 shows the distribution of these words in KorpusDK.


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

Table 7.1 Lykkelig, glad, tilfreds: Frequency table

glad tilfreds lykkelig

occurrences 11275/56 mil 4979/56 mil 3531/56mil

occurrences (pmw) 201 pmw 89 pmw 63 pmw

The occurence per million words indicates that glad is the most salient in Danish and the best candidate for a Danish cultural keyword in this domain. Tilfreds and lykkelig are frequent but are not of the same “frequency calibre” as glad. To compare, happy occurs approximately 119 133 times per million words in the COCA corpus of American English. To further complicate the comparison, lykkelig has a two-way polysemy. Formal word counts like the one presented in Table 7.1 do not distinguish between the two different meanings, but in order to understand the semantics of lykkelig, the two concepts in the word lykkelig must be distinguished. For mnemonic reasons, I will refer them as “the lykkelig of intense emotion” and “the lykkelig of life quality”. Both meanings are commonly expressed in the frame ‘X is lykkelig’, where no formal difference is apparent. The polysemy can be posited with evidence from frame specification, prepositional constructions and gradability. DDO does not formally recognize the polysemous nature of lykkelig, but nevertheless, the lexicographers seem to have had some kind of intuitive awareness of the polysemy, defining lykkelig as dyb glæde og stor tilfredshed, roughly ‘deep joy and great satisfaction’. The first part ‘deep joy’ seems to represent the “lykkelig of intense emotion”, whereas the second part ‘great satisfaction’ seeks to capture the “lykkelig of life quality”. The first lykkelig can be roughly compared to the English concept of bliss, whereas the second lykkelig concept roughly relates to the English phrase to have a good life. The two meanings each have certain distinctive grammatical frames, even though they overlap in others. The “lykkelig of intense emotion” is associated with the “feeling lykkelig” frame (at føle sig lykkelig), whereas the “lykkelig of life quality” is associated with the “living lykkelig” frame (at leve lykkeligt). The difference between ‘feeling good’ and ‘living well’ is a key to distinguishing the two lykkelig concepts. The two meanings combine with different prepositions. The “lykkelig of intense emotion” combines with the preposition over, making up an

Explicating lykkelig, glad and tilfreds


“experiencer construction” where something very good is happening to a person over which the person is not in control. The “lykkelig of life quality”, on the other hand, combines with the preposition for, making up an “assessment construction” where the focus is on the individual’s thoughts about certain events or conditions. Finally, the two concepts differ in gradability. The “lykkelig of intense emotion” is not gradable. It can be intensified further by the use of intensifiers, e.g. ovenud lykkelig “extremely lykkelig”, but does not combine felicitously with downgrading modifiers. As a comparision, consider modifying the dictionary definition “deep joy”. It would be odd to talk about a “?fairly deep joy” and a “?somewhat deep joy”. The “lykkelig of life quality”, on the other hand, seems almost designed for gradability, and combines well with modifiers like ret ‘quite’ and rimelig ‘fairly’. The feature of gradability which “the lykkelig of life quality” shares with modern English happy, provides clues to its meaning. In the following sections, the two meanings of lykkelig will be explored in further detail.

7.3.1. The lykkelig of intense emotion Livet er langt, lykken er kort ‘Life is long, lykke is short’ Kim Larsen, Chorus from Papirsklip

Conceptually, the “lykkelig of intense emotion” is closely related to the pre-18th Century English meaning of happy (Wierzbicka 1999, forthcoming; Goddard 2012). This lykkelig also bears a strong resemblance to similar continental European concepts (see sections 7.1 and 7.3). It conceptualizes a somewhat introverted, intense, positive feeling triggered by a special, unusual event. (4)

Eva Fjellerup var lykkelig. Ingen tårer. Kun enormt lykkelig. ‘Eva Fjellerup was lykkelig. No tears. Just extremely lykkelig.’ [KorpusDK]


Dorthe var et ønskebarn, og det vil hun altid være. Jette og Ole var ovenud lykkelige, da Jette blev gravid. ‘Dorthe was a wished-for child, and she will always be. Jette and Ole were immensely lykkelig when Jette became pregnant.’ [KorpusDK]


Are Danes truly the happiest people?


Fagastronomer var lykkelige. De foretog en hel serie tyngdekraftmålinger, som kun kan foretages, når Solen, Månen og Jorden står på linje. ‘Professional astronomers were lykkelig. They did a whole series of gravity measurements which can only be done when the Sun, the Moon and the Earth are aligned.’ [KorpusDK]

Lykkelig encodes a mental state, in which very good feelings are linked to a very good and special event over which a person is not fully in control. Example (4) describes the mental state of an athlete whom TV-viewers elected as “athlete of the year”. This once-in-a-life-time experience is described via the concept lykkelig. In example (5), lykkelig is designated as the mental state of a couple who had been trying to get pregnant for a long time and finally succeeded. In (6), astronomers are construed as lykkelig because of a unique and rare opportunity to study celestial bodies. Being lykkelig, in this sense, is not thought to be something a person can or should strive for, unlike the pursuit of “happiness”. Rather, it is a mental state of extreme emotion caused by events over which one is not in control. ODS defines the noun lykke as “something enjoyable, joyous, desirable, which does not happen as a result of the power or influence of a human individual (or human beings in general)”.134 Now consider examples (7)–(8), in which people go through intense positive emotion because very bad things which could have happened, fortunately did not. In (7), a person could have been killed in a road accident, and in (8) a person could have been shot. They could have died, but luckily they survived. From childbirth to surviving a car crash or barely escaping the attack of a madman, the “lykkelig of intense emotion” seems an almost solemn word, conveying the meaning of being in a fortunate position. (7)

En 20 cm lang stålplade blev indopereret i hendes rygsøjle, og hun fik at vide, at hun skulle være lykkelig over at være i live. ‘A 20 cm steel plate was implanted in her spine, and she was told to be lykkelig to be alive.’ [KorpusDK]


Han ramte Aksel, men jeg forsøgte at komme væk. “Det lykkedes heldigvis", siger Claus Ellehøj Jensen, der er lykkelig over at have reddet livet, men stadig er rystet over den frygtelige oplevelse. ‘He hit Aksel, but I tried to escape. “Fortunately I managed to do so”, says Claus Ellehøj Jensen, who is lykkelig that he survived, but still shocked by this terrifying experience.’ [KorpusDK]

Explicating lykkelig, glad and tilfreds


A now obsolete meaning, the “lykkelig of good fortune” sheds light on the conceptual make-up of the lykkelig of intense emotion. The “lykkelig of good fortune” is widely attested in 18th and 19th Century Danish (9)–(10): (9)

Jeg lever af Spil, og…jeg er sær lykkelig. ‘I gamble for a living, and I’m exceptionally lykkelig’ [ODS]

(10) (Ørsted var) ikke altid lykkelig i sine Forsøg paa at eksperimentere med sine kemiske og fysiske Stoffer. ‘Ørsted wasn’t always lykkelig in his attempts to experiment with chemical and physical substances.’ [ODS] In present day Danish, these examples sound odd. In example (9), lykkelig means ‘lucky, fortunate’, and in example (10), lykkelig can be rendered as ‘felicitous, fortunate’.11 The “lykkelig of intense emotion” has developed from the “lykkelig of good fortune”, and the two meanings appear to have co-existed for years before the latter went out of fashion. When lykkelig changed into an emotion word, the focus shifted from the description of “fortunate” events to the person’s feelings resulting from the “fortunate” events, but the idea of “uncontrollability” and the construal of the person as a “fortunate experiencer” were maintained. In the chorus of Papirsklip [Paper Cuttings], the celebrated Danish singer-songwriter Kim Larsen sings that “life is long, and lykke is short”. Larsen gives voice to a key aspect of the “lykkelig of intense emotion”, namely, that being lykkelig is highly transient and short-lived compared to the length of a lifetime. One cannot expect to be lykkelig often, and it is out of the individual person’s control. Also, lykkelig is linked to unique and special events causing very good feelings for a person. On the basis of these observations, the following explication can be hypothesized: [B] a. b. c. d. e.

han er lykkelig1 (‘he is lykkelig’) he thinks like this at that time: “something very good is happening to me I can’t not think about it now something very good like this doesn’t happen (to someone) at many times” because of this he feels something very good at that time like people can feel when they think like this


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

The prototypical frame is of a cognitive nature: ‘he thinks like this’. When someone is lykkelig, he is in a particular mental state. There is not necessarily any outward “display” of this mental state. Unlike English happy or Danish glad which are both commonly associated with “a smile”, no particular conventional facial gesture is associated with the concept lykkelig. The prototypical cognitive scenario describes something very good happening to a person (b). The person is “absorbed by the situation” (c) and is aware that this event is rare and special (d). Finally, this intense cognitive scenario is linked to intense feelings (e), and the element ‘at that time’ signals the transitory nature of the concept. Compare the more “durable” phrasing of happy ‘at that time for some time’. Generally, lykkelig shares with happy the basic template and parts of the cognitive scenario, especially the personal focus i.e. the ‘happened to me’ element. On the other hand, lykkelig is more “intense” than happy, compare: ‘something very good happened to me (lykkelig)’ vs. ‘many good things happened to me’ (happy), and ‘he feels something very good’ (lykkelig), vs. ‘he feels something good’ (happy). Lykkelig is also more “focused” compared to happy, compare: ‘something very good happened (lykkelig)’ vs. ‘many good things happened’ (happy). Apart from these differences, lykkelig and happy also have specific elements which are not directly comparable. Happy does not have the elements of being “absorbed in the event” (component c) or the awareness of “being fortunate” (component d)” which constitute parts of lykkelig. On the other hand, the rather “passive” lykkelig does not share the “active” and “evaluative” components which are central to happy (components c and d).

7.3.2. The lykkelig of life quality Livet er ikke det værste man har / og om lidt er kaffen klar ‘Life is not the worst thing we’ve got / the coffee’ll soon be ready’ Lykken er ikke det værste man har / og om lidt er kaffen klar ‘Lykke is not the worst thing we’ve got/ the coffee’ll soon be ready’ Choruses from Benny Andersen’s poem Svantes Lykkelige Dag136

In stark contrast to Kim Larsen’s divide between lykke and life, Danish poet Benny Andersen uses lykke almost synonymously with life. In his highly esteemed song Svantes Lykkelige Dag [Svante’s Lykkelig Day], the

Explicating lykkelig, glad and tilfreds


chorus literally switches back and forth between “life is not the worst thing we’ve got” and “lykke is not the worst thing we’ve got”. Lykke is in a harmonious relationship with life, indicating a different conceptualization of lykkelig at play. Svante’s Lykkelige Dag is an ode to the small joys of life, such as coffee, green grass, blue sky, naked skin, the smell of bindweed, eating ryebread with cheese and listening to one’s loved one singing in the shower. The difference in conceptualizations in Larsen’s lyrics and Andersen’s lyrics could of course be due to artistic expression and creative extensions of word meanings; there is evidence, however, that the differences in conceptualizations of lykke expressed in these two songs actually tap into a well-established polysemy of the Danish language. In other words, the two artists seem guided by two different visions of being lykkelig which are already encoded in the language. The “lykkelig of life quality” differs substantially from the “lykkelig of intense emotion”. First, like contemporary English happy, it is quantifiable. Someone can be more or less lykkelig. From a historical perspective, the “lykkelig of life quality” seems to be more recent and also more Danish-specific than the lykkelig of “intense emotion” which has equivalents (or at least near-equivalents) in many continental European languages. The “lykkelig of life quality”, in the frame ‘X is lykkelig’, can almost be rendered in English as X has a good life. There are no elements of “special events” or “emotional intensity” in this lykkelig. On the contrary, the “new” Danish lykkelig can be thought of as a “downplayed”, “downtoned” and radically redefined version of lykkelig. The “lykkelig of life quality” is a much more ordinary version of lykkelig. It it essentially concerned with the importance of living well on an everyday basis. It is about taking joy in the small things, and in one’s social relations. It is also about having a positive attitude to life in general. It is about “thinking small”, and being mindful of the “goodness” of everyday life. (11) Hun er lykkelig for sit job som brevkasseredaktør, for sin hund og sin kat og for sin regnvandsbeholder ude i haven. ‘She is lykkelig for her job as a newspaper column editor, for her dog and her cat and for her rainwater tank in the garden.’ [Online magazine, accessed via, Nov 2009]


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

(12) Jeg er lykkelig for min mand og vore to ønskebørn. Vi har en dejlig tilværelse. ‘I’m lykkelig for my husband and our two wished-for children. We have a beautiful life.’ [KorpusDK] The “lykkelig of life quality” is not to be measured on any absolute scales. What makes an individual lykkelig is essentially highly subjective. There is also an anti-materialistic edge in lykkelig which example (13) illustrates. A drug addict who has found his own place to live is depicted as lykkelig despite the shabbiness of his furniture. (13) Den unge narkoman var lykkelig. Han havde eget hjem bestående af et enkelt værelse i usle omgivelser. Møblerne havde han hentet hos Kirkens Korshær. ‘The young drug addict was lykkelig. He had his own home consisting of a single room in shabby surroundings. He got the furniture from Kirkens Korshær (a church-based second hand store).’ [newspaper article, accessed via, Nov 2009] The reinterpretation of lykke and lykkelig seems to have taken place in the national Danish values formation period in the late 19th and early 20th Century. The salient expression Lykken er ikke gods eller guld ‘Lykke is neither goods nor gold’ stems from important historical Danish discourses which sought to redefine lykke from “grand” emotions and material bliss to a small-scale social vision of ‘living well’ (see section 7.3). Being lykkelig is constituted by the creation of positive socialities and good living conditions. This is a much more “controllable” concept which can be achieved jointly with others. Hence, lykkelig can be used with moderators, such as rimelig ‘fairly’, ret ‘quite’ and nogenlunde ‘somewhat’ (14)–(16): (14) Jeg synes selv at jeg er rimelig lykkelig, men jeg hader sex. ‘Personally I think I’m fairly lykkelig, but I hate sex.’ [Internet discussion forum, accessed via, Nov. 2009]

Explicating lykkelig, glad and tilfreds


(15) Jeg er igang med en HF, sandsynligvis tager jeg på Uni bagefter, og selv hvis jeg ikke gør... har jeg en uddannelse og jeg er nogenlunde lykkelig... ‘I’m in high school now, and I’ll probably go to Uni afterwards, and even if I don’t then I’ve got a degree and I’m fairly lykkelig.’ [Social networking site, accessed via, Nov 2009] (16) Selv om jeg egentlig er ret lykkelig, har bare verdens dejligste mand, synes jeg selv, men alligevel, vælter de tunge og triste tanker og følelser ind over mig. ‘Even though I’m actually quite lykkelig, and personally I think I’ve got the best husband in the world, but still, heavy and sad thoughts and feelings are knocking me over.’ [Comment in a problem page, accessed via, Nov 2009] To exemplify, problems in one’s sexual life (14), insecurities related in one’s educational future (15) or imbalances in one’s emotional life (16) can lead to moderations in levels of lykke. Such things can be strains on one’s “life quality”. It is, however, remarkable that the person in (16) claims to be quite lykkelig despite the serious emotional problems she is facing. Seemingly, it is possible to be lykkelig (in the life quality sense) without being lykkelig (in the emotional sense). From these observations, the lykkelig of “life quality” can be explicated as follows: [C] a. b. c. d. e.

han er lykkelig2 (‘he is lykkelig’) he thinks like this: it is like this: “I have lived for some time, during this time, I felt something good at many times when I think about it now I can say: many good things happened to me during this time I can’t say: many bad things happened to me during this time it is good when it is like this, I know that it can be not like this”

Explication [C] differs significantly from [B] in terms of structure and specific components, mainly because [B] is an “emotion” term, whereas [C] is more like an “assessment” term. The cognitive scenario (c-e) is initiated with ‘it is like this’ and describes the lykkelig scenario in quite factual terms. Component (c) initiates the “life quality” theme, describing the good life in terms of having ‘felt something good at many times’. Component (d) conveys two reflective verbal assessments. It would be


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

unrealistic to think that bad things would not happen, but the scenario establishes a desirable “preferred balance” where one can say that ‘many good things have happened to me’ and at the same time not say that ‘many bad things have happened to me’. Component (e) further reflects on the scenario, evaluating it positively and expressing an awareness that ‘I know that it can be not like this’ (a “thankfulness” component, which is a continuation from the “lykkelig of intense emotion”). While the “lykkelig of intense emotion” describes extreme feelings from the view of a “fortunate experiencer”, the “lykkelig of life quality” evaluates the experienced “goodness of life” in the frame of everyday life. Being lykkelig in the “emotional” sense is thought to be a highly elusive, transient and rare state, but being lykkelig in the “life quality” sense is thought of as achievable, at least to some degree. Unlike the lykkelig of “intense emotion”, the lykkelig of ‘life quality’ is designed for quantifycation (cf. component (d) ‘good things’ vs. ‘bad things’). When people are asked how lykkelig they are on a scale from one to ten, as in “happiness questionnaires”, it is therefore reasonable to suggest that people will interpret the question in terms of “lykkelig of life quality”, rather than “lykkelig of intense emotion”. The “lykkelig of life quality” is essentially about ‘living well’ rather than ‘feeling good’. Nevertheless, it is the “lykkelig of life quality”, which conceptually is even further away from happy which is considered the happy-equivalent in happiness research. Before we move on to further comparisons, let us explore the semantics of glad and tilfreds in order to get a better understanding of other key concepts in Danish ethnopsychology.

7.3.3. The semantics of glad As we saw earlier, the most frequent word in the Danish grid of good feelings is glad. There is an “extrovertedness” and “simplicity” in glad, which is absent from the “heavier” and “introverted” “lykkelig of intense emotion”. If the “lykkelig of life quality” is close to English having a good life, then glad is closer to English having a good time. The English homograph glad (as in e.g. ‘I’m glad you like it’) is a cognate of Danish glad and both words are thought to have a distant etymology in sunshine and brightness (Györi 1998; Katlev 2000: 265). Aspects of the metaphorical transfer (to look on ‘the bright side’) seems to have survived semantically in Danish glad but less so in the semantically

Explicating lykkelig, glad and tilfreds


weaker and syntactically more constrained English glad, which has become an expression of approval, rather than an emotion term as such. Not surprisingly, Danish-English dictionaries such as GRO and ODC suggest that English happy is the primary counterpart of Danish glad. In many ways, Danish glad comes close to being a counterpart to happy, but glad is somehow more “immediate” than happy and seems to also encode something like “freedom from worry”. Consider the following examples: (15) En times middag, hvor de voksne drikker vin, nyder maden og snakker sammen i ro og mag, mens børnene råhygger foran fjernsynet en hel time. Alle er glade. ‘A one-hour dinner where the adults drink wine, enjoy the food and talk comfortably together, while the kids have heaps of hygge in front of the TV for an hour. Everyone is glad.’ [KorpusDK] (16) Solen strålede, bølgerne blinkede, den grønne skov spejlede sig i søen, og alle var glade, da Danmarks Radio i går drog til Bagsværd sø på optagelse. ‘The sun was shining, the waves were twinkling, and the green forest was reflected in the lake. Everyone was glad when DR (TVstation) went to Lake Bagsværd to shoot footage yesterday.’ [KorpusDK] In examples (15)–(16), alle var glade “everyone was glad”. The next examples have singular subjects. In all these examples, the link between good feelings and good events seems fairly straightforward. (17) Jan er glad. Han kommer til at tjene fire millioner om året. ‘Jan is glad. He’s going to earn four million annually.’ [KorpusDK] (18) Det var en super hyggelig dag, vi havde med familien – Pernille var glad, hun fik en masse gode gaver. ‘We had a really nice (hyggelig) day with the family – Pernille was glad, she got a lot of nice presents.’ [comment on personal weblog, accessed Nov 2009, via]


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

(19) (about a person recovering from major surgery) Det er så livsbekræftende, at han trives, blomstrer og er glad igen. ‘It’s so life-affirming that he is doing well, is blossoming and is glad again.’ [KorpusDK] (20) Min datter på fem år fik mig en dag til at lave ris á l'amande helt uden for julesæsonen, dog uden nogen mandel…hvilket hun var meget sur over. Hun blev dog glad igen, da hun selv fik lov til at blande alle ingredienserne. ‘My five-year old daughter got me to make Christmas rice pudding the other day, even though it’s not Christmas. There was no almond, which made her very grumpy (sur). However, she became glad again, when she was allowed to mix all the ingredients herself.’ [KorpusDK] The adjectival phrase glad igen ‘glad again’ found in (19) and (20) is revealing. Being glad igen seemingly implies going back to the “normal” mental state after an “intermission” of a negative mental state such as sur ‘grumpy’ and ked af det ‘sad’. Being sur, or being ked af det, on the other hand, are thought to be temporary mental states. Consequently sur igen ‘sur again’ or ked af det igen ‘ked af det again’ does not entail going back to “normal”, rather it describes another episode of grumpiness or sadness. To exemplify, in (19) a person is described as being glad igen ‘glad again’, after a difficult time in life where he went through a major operation. In (20), a child is described as being glad igen, after a brief intermission of grumpiness. From these observations, the meaning of glad can be hypothesized as follows: [D] a. b. c.

han er glad (‘he is glad’) he thinks like this at that time: “good things are happening to me now” he doesn’t think like this at that time: “bad things can happen to me” because of this he feels something good at that time like people feel when they think like this

Glad represents a double cognitive scenario consisting of the thought that ‘good things are happening to me now’ (a) and at the same time the absence of the thought that ‘bad things can happen to me’ (b). Components (a) and (b) model the now-orientation and account for the immediacy of glad. Component (c) links the double cognitive scenario to good

Explicating lykkelig, glad and tilfreds


feelings. Notice that glad is simpler in conceptual structure than both lykkelig concepts. It does not felicitously lend itself out to quantification, which probably relates to its emphasis on “immediacy”. The element of immediateness and the focus on the now relates glad to the value of leve i nuet ‘living in the now’, and in this “now” people can feel something good, because good things are happening and because they do not have to think about bad things. Like the “lykkelig of life quality”, glad also reflects a preoccupation with a “right balance” between ‘good things’ and ‘bad things’. In lykkelig, this ideal was that “many good things, not many bad things have happened”, but in glad, this preference towards “good things” has taken a step further, representing a care-free mental state where a person does not have to think that ‘bad things can happen’. In this respect, glad also resembles the other Danish keywords hygge and tryg in a number of ways, which will be explored further in section 7.3.

7.3.4. The semantics of tilfreds Tilfreds relates to a number of English lexical categories. From an English point of view, one could say that tilfreds is a hybrid between happy (with), content, satisfied, pleased, and contented, all of which are used in translation. Essentially, tilfreds is about experiencing “harmony” between one’s expectations and the actual outcome. In (21) a person is baking banana muffins, and she is tilfreds because her baking works out according to plan: the muffins taste as expected. In (22), a composer is not tilfreds with the way the symphony orchestra played his piece; it did not live up to his expectations. Tilfreds shares with happy the idea that ‘things are happening as one wants’. In (23), there is an expected match between personal wants and outcome. (21) Jeg har prøvesmagt. De smager herligt og er lige tilpas luftige […], så jeg er tilfreds med resultatet. ‘I’ve had a taste. They taste great and are nice and light so I’m tilfreds with the result.’ [Personal weblog, acceesed via, Nov 2010]


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

(22) Men uropførelsen af symfonien blev en fiasko. Heller ikke komponisten selv var tilfreds. ‘But the first performance of the symphony was a flop. The composer wasn’t tilfreds either.’ [KorpusDK] (23) Jeg er tilfreds. Jeg får mine ideer igennem og det bliver lige præcis som jeg vil have det. ‘I’m tilfreds. My ideas are going through and it’s turning out precisely as I want.’ [KorpusDK] Tilfreds is a more “focused” and “particular” concept than glad. Prototypically, there is a very specific reason for being tilfreds, for example, in (24). Therefore, in NSM, tilfreds encodes ‘something happened’ rather than ‘some things happened’. (24) Brygmesteren havde eksperimenteret i 7 år, inden han var tilfreds med resultatet. ‘The head brewer had experimented for 7 years before he was tilfreds with the result.’ [commercial web page, accessed via] The “focused” aspect is backed up further by the collocational profile for tilfreds which is dominated by nouns with definite determiners, tilfreds med resultatet ‘tilfreds with the result’ (MI-score: 8.26), tilfreds med afgørelsen ‘tilfreds with the decision’ (MI-score: 8.06), tilfreds med udviklingen, ‘tilfreds with the development’ (MI-score: 5.51). Like the “lykkelig of life quality”, the element of “assessment” is central in tilfreds. However, tilfreds is more “subject-oriented” and “active” than any of the previous Danish terms. In (25), Tour de France cyclist Bjarne Riis evaluates his own effort saying that he is tilfreds with his performance, and the journalist construes Riis’ utterance via the cognitive verb vurderer ‘assess, evaluate’. (25) “Jeg er tilfreds. Jeg synes, jeg kører en enorm god etape,” vurderede Bjarne Riis. ‘I’m tilfreds. I think I did a very good stage, assessed Bjarne Riis.’ [KorpusDK]

Explicating lykkelig, glad and tilfreds


When people’s expectations are met, they are in a state of “emotional balance”; they are “at peace”137 because things are happening as they should. If things are not happening as they should, then people are no longer tilfreds. Characteristically, Danish customers are likely to complain if they are not tilfreds (26). (26) Når folk er tilfredse, hører man som regel ikke fra dem, hvorimod man nok skal høre fra dem, hvis de er utilfredse! ‘When people are tilfreds, they don’t contact you, however, rest assured that they’ll contact you if they are utilfreds (un-tilfreds)!’ [KorpusDK] Finally, being tilfreds is often a matter of degree, and hence, tilfreds combines well with modifiers. In (27) truck drivers on strike are described as rimelig tilfreds ‘fairly tilfreds’ with the result of the strike even though not all of their demands were met, and in (28) the Consumer’s Council approves of certain changes in train security but are still described as ikke helt tilfreds ‘not completely tilfreds’. They would have liked to see more changes. (27) Vi er rimeligt tilfredse. 256 kroner pr. døgn er ikke nok, men i det mindste er det ens for alle, og det er det vigtigste. ‘We are fairly tilfreds. 256 kroner per day is not enough, but at least everyone gets the same, and that’s the most important thing.’ [KorpusDK] (28) Forbrugerrådet kalder forbedringerne af sikkerheden tiltrængt, men er ikke helt tilfreds. ‘According to the Consumer’s Council the improvements in security were much needed, but they are still not completely tilfreds.’ [KorpusDK] These observations take us to the following explication of tilfreds. [E] a. b. c. d.

Han er tilfreds (‘He is tilfreds’) when he thinks about it at that time, he thinks like this: “I wanted something to happen before I know now that it happened as I wanted this is good”


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

e. f.

because of this he doesn’t feel something bad at that time because of this he feels something good at that time like people can feel at many times when they think like this

Like the “lykkelig of life quality”, tilfreds follows a “reflective” template (a). The cognitive scenario consists of an expectation (a) and the fulfilment of this expectation (b). Rather than a benefactive ‘something good happened to me’, tilfreds simply encodes an observation that ‘it happened as I wanted’ (c). This is evaluated positively (d). Therefore, the person ‘doesn’t feel something bad’ (e) as he would have felt, had the expectation not been met. Rather, he feels something good (f). This double structure of ‘feeling something good’ and ‘not feeling something bad’ is closely linked to the experienced harmony between expectation and actual outcome. Furthermore, the idea that people can feel like this ‘at many times’ specifies that the feeling is common and at the same time linked to particular events.


Comparative, historical and cultural perspectives

Lykkelig, glad and tilfreds are all commonly used as translational equivalents of happy. However, as we have seen, none of these words match the semantics of English happy exactly. While tilfreds encodes the idea that ‘something happened as I wanted’, happy encodes the idea that ‘I can do many things now as I want’. That is, while both concepts revolve around the theme ‘as I want’, tilfreds is prototypically about a fullfillment of a specific, well-defined expectation, whereas the semantics of happy reflects a general utilitarian ideal. Conceptually, tilfreds is not preoccupied with whether or not ‘good things have happened’. The issue is rather whether things have happened ‘as I want’. Finally, tilfreds reflects a balanced assessment of feelings, ‘he doesn’t feel something bad’ and ‘he feels something good’, whereas happy conceptualizes the idea that ‘he feels something good’. Glad may be the closest counterpart of happy, sharing the central linkage between ‘I feel something good’ and ‘good things happened’. Glad, however, differs from happy in its “worry-free”orientation – the person doesn’t think ‘bad things can happen to me’, and the “utilitarian” part of the happy scenario (‘I can do many things now as I want’) does not seem to be a part of Danish glad.

Comparative, historical and cultural


Lykkelig is often favoured in dictionaries and formal translations and often assumed to be “the” Danish translation of happy. It should now be clear that the widespread translational practice of equating happy with lykkelig, while firmly grounded in tradition, is highly questionable. In its emotion sense, the intensity of lykkelig represented in the components ‘something very good happened’, ‘this somone feels something very good’ and ‘something very good like this doesn’t happen at many times’ makes lykkelig a problematic translation. Further the translational imba-lance comes from the “awareness” components of lykkelig ‘I can’t not think about it now’, and ‘I know that it can be not like this’. The “lykkelig of life quality”, which is actually not an “emotion concept”, must be seen as a very rough translation for happy, if a translation at all. It seems closer to the assessment I have a good life, than to I’m happy.138 Also, the polysemous nature of lykkelig poses a problem for questionnaires, which must be worded with care to ensure unambiguous readings. As we have seen, a good way to distinguish the two lykkelig concepts is to use gradability. When questions are framed in terms of gradability (how lykkelig are you on a scale from 1–10), the “lykkelig of life quality” is invoked. Effectively, then, the concepts which are compared in such questionnaires are happy vs. the “lykkelig of life quality”. Presumably, this is far from desirable because a comparison of happy and lykkelig is, so to speak, a comparison of oranges and apples. A historical semantic perspective can help us understand better the differences in conceptualizations. As language communities develop, linguistic concepts are shaped through the changing values and ideals and discourses of the language society. Semantic change is often discourseinduced. As discussed in 6.2, English happy underwent substantial changes in the 18th Century where new meanings arose and old meanings gradually became obsolete (Wierzbicka, forthcoming). As a consequence, contemporary English happy is “weaker” than continental European counterparts such as German glücklich and French hereux. The Anglo/Continental European divide has been discussed by Wierzbicka in a number of publications (see e.g. Wierzbicka 1999). Where does Danish fit into the conceptual geography of “happiness”?


Are Danes truly the happiest people?


heureux szczęśliwy felice lykkelig1



Figure 7.1 Happy, lykkelig and related European concepts

The English departure from the continental European mainstream, and the Danish two-way polysemy consisting of both divergence as well as continuity, is depicted in Figure 7.2. The first things to note is that contemporary English happy and the Danish “lykkelig of life quality” share at least one feature which sets them apart from the continental European mainstream, to which English once belonged, and to which Danish still partly belongs. English happy and Danish lykkelig have both been “weakened” but in different ways. In English, the “strong” version disappeared in the 18th Century, when the new meaning of happy took over (Wierzbicka forthcoming), whereas the strong Danish version, “the lykkelig of intense emotion” still co-exists with the “weakened” meaning. The new gradable Danish meaning, the “lykkelig of life quality”, seems to be a 20th Century innovation, shaped by new visions of sociality which emerged in the Danish language community, spearheaded by the influential Danish Folk High School movement and its cultural agenda of “folk enlightenment” (Borish 1991). The phrase Lykken er ikke gods eller

Comparative, historical and cultural


guld ‘(the) lykke is neither goods nor gold’, which has idiomatic status in contemporary Danish (OFV) is the title of a song written by Charles Emil Gandrup in 1907. It was widely sung in Danish homes and schools, cf. Songbooks such as Arvesølv [Family Silver] (Christensen 1964) and Den danske Sang [The Danish Song] (Hegelund et al. 1943). The song argues for an anti-materialistic and people-centred re-interpretation of lykke. The new ideology of lykke, as reflected in this song and similar discourses emerging at the dawn of the century, can be roughly sketched as follows: — Being lykkelig is about embracing everyday life in its “normality” – to be satisfied and thankful with what you have, to live a balanced life in peaceful relations with others. Being lykkelig is not dependent on material wealth, social status or belongings. — Being lykkelig is socially realisable. It takes the deliberate effort of constructive individuals working together to form social environments where individuals can thrive. Being lykkelig is neither dependent on uncontrollable fate or fortune, nor on extreme feelings and short-lived bliss. The new discourses heralded a new understanding of lykke which was not dependent on external events, but on building well-functioning socialities. The new ideals diverged from the earlier folk models, by asserting that lykke is achievable independently of uncontrollable forces like fate or fortune. Rather, being lykkelig is about focusing on the small joys of life, good interpersonal relations and an appreciation of life in general. While Danes have been extensively queried about the degrees to which they are lykkelig and tilfreds (cf. Gundelach and Kreiner 2004b: 28), the question of whether or not they are glad has not been addressed. This is ironic, because from the point of view of Danish ethnopsychology, glad is the most salient, most frequent and perhaps also the most culturally revealing of the three words. Arguably a cultural keyword, glad is conceptually linked to both hygge and tryg and reflects key Danish themes, e.g. the importance of ‘feeling something good now’, as well as ‘not thinking that bad things can happen’, which is a connection point to both tryg and hygge. These three cultural keywords, hygge, tryg and glad, make up a strong Danish conceptual theme related to the value of leve i nuet ‘living in the now/the moment’. While temporary swings towards other emotions (e.g. sur ‘grumpy’ or ked af det ‘sad’) are expected and allowed, a person is, as a general rule, “supposed” to be glad. Phraseological evidence suggests that glad is the expected mental state (as mentioned glad igen


Are Danes truly the happist people?

implies “back to normal”) In [F], a Danish emotion script is presented, to capture the ideal of a worry-free, now-oriented mental state. [F]

A Danish cultural script related to ‘living in the moment’ many people think like this: it is good for someone, if this someone can think like this at many times: “good things are happening now I don’t want to think about anything bad now”

The cultural script [F] captures the attitude of ‘living in the moment’ of thinking of good things, not bad things. A number of Danish social categories encode a “negative attitude” towards “pessimistic people” of all sorts: mørkemænd ‘darkness men’, sortseere ‘black viewers’, lyseslukkere ‘light extinguishers’, dommedagsprofeter ‘doomsday prophets’, grædekoner ‘weeping ladies’ and festdræbere ‘party killers’. Conventional figurative language contrasts darkness, doomsday and death with light, celebration and life. [G]

A Danish cultural script against having an “apprehensive attitude” many people think like this: it is bad for someone if this someone thinks like this at many times: “bad things can happen”

The cultural script [G] captures in simple language the idea that it is bad for a person to have an “apprehensive attitude”. It is not considered healthy to often be concerned with the thought that ‘bad things can happen’. (For a radically different approach to life, cf. studies in “Jewish psychosemantics” (Matisoff 2000) and traditional Jewish cultural scripts (Wierzbicka 2001, 2004b) where “prophetic drohrede”, curses and other highly un-Danish speech genres are/were both common and valued). The “anti-apprehension orientation” of Danish culture is paired with the cultural values of “moderation”, “realism” and “scepticism” (Hansen 1980; Reddy 1992; Sharma 2008). In order for glad to work as the “normal” emotional state, effective “expectation management” is important. The sensitivity towards the discrepancy between expectation and reality leads to an elaborate culture for “expectation management”. The “living in the moment” script and the “anti-apprehension script” work closely together with allied scripts for balancing one’s expectations with experienced reality. These “balance in life” values are closely interconnected with the meanings of both tilfreds and the “lykkelig of life

Comparative, historical and cultural


quality”. Above all, it is important not to “have too high expectations”, because this will lead one to be constantly utilfreds “un-tilfreds” and in the end also ulykkelig “un-lykkelig”. It is therefore important to control for mismatches between expectation and experience, and to ground one’s expectations in “realistic” scenarios. Unrealistically high expectations can lead to disappointments and expectation pressure. It is crucial to know what to expect, so that one can mentally adjust and avoid thinking that bad things have happened. This dynamic is confirmed by the frequent collocates of forventninger “expectations” which include nedjustere ‘scale down’ (MI-score: 14.39), urealistiske ‘unrealistic’ (MI-score: 12.37), skuffede ‘disappointed’ (MI-score: 12.06), bristede ‘burst’ (MI-score: 11.94) and overdrevne ‘exaggerated’ (MI-score: 10.81). Arguably, the Anglo-American cultural scripts of “positive psychology” and “positive thinking” (see section 4.1.4) conflict with the proposed Danish script [G]. American English phrases like reaching for the stars do not have equivalents in Danish. Rather, sceptical, earthbound ones like Højt at flyve, dybt at falde ‘the higher (you) fly, the deeper (you’ll) fall’139 dominate the inventory of figurative speech. The rationale seems to be that if you have very high expectations and ambitions, you will often become very disappointed and hence end up neither tilfreds nor glad. The story about “Danish happiness” has been critically reviewed by some commentators who have noted that “the Danes are only so happy because they have such low expectations”: “Danes have consistently low (and indubitably realistic) expectations for the year to come. Year after year they are pleasantly surprized to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark” (Christensen, Herskind and Vaupel 2006: 1291). From a Danish point of view, it is not about having “low expectations” as such, but rather about having “realistic expectations” and to avoid having unrealistically high expectations. [H]

A Danish cultural script against having “unrealistically high expectations” many people think like this: it is bad for someone, if this someone thinks like this: “many good things will happen to me after this” it is bad for this someone, because if many good things don’t happen to this someone after this, this someone will feel something very bad because of it


Are Danes truly the happiest people?

In [H] the Danish cultural attitude against having unrealistically high expectations is captured in semantic primes. The script also specifies why it is bad to think that ‘many good things will happen to me’. If these good things do not happen as expected, the person will feel something very bad which clashes with the goal of being glad. In order to be glad, it is important to minimize situations where you think of bad things, and in order to be tilfreds it is important to experience a harmonious relationship between reality and expectation.


Cultural semantics vs. “happiness research”

Having analysed in detail the lexical-conceptual grid of Danish in contrast with English happy, we are now in a position to evaluate unrecognized linguistic assumptions in underlying happiness research. The results confirm that the concept of “happiness” is not a wellchosen category for cross-cultural comparison, mainly because it is a quintessentially Anglo concept without equivalents outside the English language. While some languages do not seem to have any counterparts of happiness at all (Wierzbicka 1999), European languages all seem to have semi-equivalents (or as it turns out, “pseudo-equivalents”). The “happiness agenda” in Anglophone sociology and psychology must be seen as part of a more general Anglo cultural movement that takes happiness to be a fundamental human value. Arguably, happiness is a fundamental Anglo value, but from a comparative perspective it is fatal to confuse “Anglo” with “human”. As a sort of thought experiment, we might imagine what the international research climate would look like, had it been dominated by scholars from the Danosphere, not the Anglosphere. Since there are no conceptual equivalents of happiness or happy in Danish, there would be no studies of happiness across cultures, and no survey designs trying to capture how happy individuals are on a scale from 1–10. What would have been imposed on the world, had the Danosphere been world dominant? Given that the discourse of lykke is not particularly prominent, it is unlikely that Danish researchers would have initiated an international lykke research trend. Much more likely, Dano-International researchers would undertake surveys measuring hygge across cultures, producing maps on the levels of hygge in the nations of the world (that is, in nations populated by speakers of languages without the concept of hygge). The

Cultural semantics


scenario is absurd, of course, given the geopolitical reality of the global age, but the analogy is helpful as we expose the cultural bias and the conceptual imposition of current happiness research. While the international research community would surely question the validity of looking for Danish-specific social values in Bangladesh, Burundi and the Bahamas, it does not seem to bother Anglophone researchers that they search for English-specific concepts such as happiness across the globe. From a cultural and semantic-conceptual viewpoint, looking for hygge or happiness across cultures are equally imposing. “Back-translation” techniques used to secure equivalence between languages are illusory because speakers, when forced to produce a conceptual counterpart, will most likely choose the closest counterpart, if no exact equivalents exist. In the case of hygge, the English concept of cosiness would most likely be “cleared” as valid through back-translation techniques, but this simply reflects a Danish traditional “translational folk knowledge” and says nothing about the major conceptual differences between the two concepts. Researchers of hygge across cultures could then argue that hygge and cosiness were satisfactory equivalents based on the assumption that a natural counterpart of hygge must be locatable in all languages because it exists in Danish. Coming back to reality, I have presented several possible translations of English happy, the adjectives lykkelig1 (of “intense emotion”), lykkelig2 (of “life quality”), glad and tilfreds. Lykkelig may be the most problematic of the three because of its polysemy. Glad is very frequent in Danish, as is happy in English, but frequency alone does not tell us anything about semantic equivalence. Tilfreds covers the least “excited” scenario in the Danish grid but introduces new aspects that are not part of happy. Consequently, when we compare the Danish questions “are you lykkelig?”, “are you glad?”, and “are you tilfreds?”, we are clearly asking different questions. There are, as I see it, no shortcuts to the comparative, conceptual analysis of words. While some researchers will claim that, for their own purposes, they make use of a “technical” concept of happiness, which they define in their own terms, they cannot use such technical concepts to formulate survey questions for ordinary speakers. In surveys, words will be interpreted in their everyday, non-technical meanings. Cross-cultural studies are intimately linked with cross-linguistic studies, and in order to present valid comparative analysis, we need to rely on concepts which are truly shared by speakers, not culture-specific concepts such as happiness.


Are Danes truly the happiest people?


Concluding remarks

The Danes are commonly referred to as the “happiest” people on earth based on “self-reported happiness” or “verbal happiness”. However, the allegedly happiest people on earth, were never asked how happy they were, but rather about how lykkelig they were, which, as we have seen, is a different story altogether. The claim that “Danes are the happiest people on earth” cannot even be readily rendered into Danish. Any translation will depend on a choice between the Danish words lykkelig, glad and tilfreds which all lead to different propositions, none of which are identical to the English proposition. The allegedly “happiest” people on earth do not have word for happy, and they do not rely on this Anglospecific concept in their everyday lives. As demonstrated in this chapter, the happy-lykkelig translation tradition is semantically misguided. Despite its verbal turn, mainstream “happiness research” has failed to recognize semantic-conceptual diversity which is attested even in related languages and speech cultures like Anglo English and Danish. As Wierzbicka (forthcoming) comments, the problem of using “quantifying self-reports formulated in untranslatable English phrases” is the single most challenging and urgent problem for further studies in “verbal happiness” and “subjective well-being”. Veenhoven’s call for a suitable methodology for the study of “cultural climate and the expression it allows” seems an open invitation to semanticists. If we are to make headway in understanding value terms and ethnopsychological constructs in their own contexts, a renewed focus on linguistic-conceptual diversity is necessary. Language and cultural values, the two “white spots” of modern happiness research, are keys to interpreting results and understanding the construction of meanings as they have evolved in language communities. The Danish lykkelig concepts and the concepts of glad and tilfreds are important for understanding Danish ethnopsychology and Danish cultural values.

Chapter 8 Conclusion

Selv det nemmeste kan siges svært – og det er nemt. Selv det sværeste kan siges nemt – men det er svært. ‘Even the simplest of things can be said in a complicated way – and that’s simple. Even the most complicated things can be said in a simple way – but that’s complicated’ Carl Erik Soya (1956: 274)



The Danish author Carl Erik Soya memorably remarked that even the simplest of things can be said in a complex way and commented – og det er nemt ‘and that’s simple’. He went on to say that even the most complicated things can be said in a simple way, and commented – men det er svært ‘but that’s complicated’. This work mirrors Soya’s insights. Saying things in simple terms is a laborious, creative process. It is difficult, but possible. All reductive paraphrases in this book are born out of trial-and-error experimentation based on evidence from linguistic corpora, and tested against semantic intuition, in dialogues with Danish audiences as well as consultations with individual speakers (see acknowledgments). It would have been much less costly, in terms of “analytical energy”, to stick with complex, technical descriptors such as “collectively oriented individualism” or “low degree of uncertainty avoidance” (for the full list of descriptors often used to capture “Danishness”, see 1.4.3), but as argued throughout this book, words like the sociality term hygge or the cognitive verb synes are both conceptually simpler and incomparably more revealing than such terms. Soya’s humorous maxim that “the simplest of things can be said in a complicated way” highlights the cost of



obscurity and the potential for clarity, that “the most difficult things can be said in a simple way”. The reductive paraphrase technique of NSM recognizes that to achieve such clarity, semantic analysis must rely on simpler words, rather than more complex ones. In semantic theory, this implies that we should aim at decomposing complex meanings into intuitively simple indefinables, i.e. into semantic primes. In the quest for understanding Danish sociality, cognition and emotion, such explications revolve around the primes PEOPLE, THINK and FEEL, (in Danish NSM MENNESKER, TÆNKER and FØLER) words which cannot be decomposed further, and which according to empirical research, appear to be lexicalized universally. 8.2.

Living with Danish concepts

This book has analysed selected Danish cultural keywords and lexical grids and demonstrated how these words are reflective of a Danish ethos and mindset. The use of dansk ‘Danish’ as a metacategory of analysis was justified by the story of the emergent Danish speech community for whom the sprog ‘national language’ called dansk ‘Danish’ is an important mental ontology. The frequent use of words like “constructed”, “construed” and “imagined” in my descriptions of the Danish universe of meaning is not to be taken as an implicit critique. I have not tried to separate “what people think” from “how things really are”. Quite the contrary, my point has been to positively show how the Danish universe of meaning is psychologically real to speakers, and that the ways in which people make sense of their everyday lives are intimately linked with the language-specific concepts they live by. With terms like “constructed” and “construed” etc., my explicit goal has been to denaturalize Danish to illuminate the taken-forgrantedness and culture-specificity of Danish concepts and to exemplify how language, culture and cognition are intertwined in complex, but mentally powerful, semantic configurations. All reductive paraphrases presented in this book are of a cognitive nature. They have been crafted with the explicit goal of mimicking speakers’ own conceptualizations. In this light, the traditional dichotomy of “what people think” vs. “how things really are” is somewhat misleading because the Danish universe of meaning is clearly constructed and created, and, at the same time, very “real” to speakers. So far, I have refrained from linking the meaning of concepts with “real world phenomena” as such. I do, however, believe that there is such a link, not in the

Living with Danish concepts


sense of behavioural absolutes, but in the sense of cultural orientations which cannot but affect “reality”. Obviously, we cannot measure the effect easily or expect a 1:1 correlation between Danish words and Danish “reality”. However, even when critical speakers of Danish talk about the loss or weakening of hygge and tryghed in society and the terrible rule of janteloven, they are still using these culture-specific concepts as their axiological yardsticks. Had they been speakers of a different language, their concerns and argumentation would have been different because they would have used other words, embedding different concepts and different cultural values. Concepts matter greatly for our interpretation and understanding of the world, as well as our social practices, motivations and priorities. We can ask, then, what difference it makes for a person to “live with Danish concepts” (cf. Diamond 1998; Wierzbicka 2006a). In which ways does it make a difference to live with, say, the concepts of hygge, tryghed and janteloven? Consider now three examples from this work in which “living with Danish concepts” is defining in terms of “social reality”. The first example is taken from chapter 1 where I described the rise of the ethnonational concept of sprog, roughly ‘national languages’ and the fall of the local vernacular concept of mål, roughly ‘(local) ways of speaking’. This conceptual landslide appears to have had a rather dramatic effect in “real life” terms. What was conceptually “imagined” as the Danish sprog later came to be rather “actual” – as the concept of mål disappeared from speakers’ mental maps, these ways of speaking also disappeared from “actual” dialect maps of Danish. The second example is about the power of hygge. The Danish anthropologist Jeppe Trolle Linnet (2010) has studied chat-room discussions on family life and the option of divorce, observing how chat participants agreed that it was important to try to stay together as a family. Even if romantic love had gone, it was agreed that if at least hygge could be maintained, it was worth staying together. However, had the hygge also completely gone, then chat participants tended to agree there was no longer any reason for staying together as a family. The phraseology of motivation for hyggens skyld ‘for the sake of hygge’ as discussed in chapter 3, confirms Linnet’s observations that the keyword hygge and its associated scripts, play an important role in decision making and in “actual” deliberative situations. The third example is about the power of tryghed. As argued and demonstrated in Chapter 4, the keyword tryghed plays an enormous role



in Danish language socialization, and the discourse semantics linking children and tryghed suggests that “living with the concept of tryghed” does indeed make a difference, especially for the beneficiaries of the intense concerns. Even if its effects cannot be measured, it would be foolish not to attribute tryghed and the tryg-driven discourses to any “actual” outputs, in terms how social structures and Danish society at large have developed and how they are maintained. The link between linguistic concepts and experienced “real-world” phenomena is not a study for linguists alone, but a priority for philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists, cognitive scientists and historians alike. At the same time, studies in cross-cultural semantics have made it clearer than ever before that such interdisciplinary efforts cannot afford to ignore language and linguistic differences. Given the central role of words in indigenous value terminologies, studies in cultural semantics and ethnopragmatics hold the key to modelling speakers’ worlds in experience-near and cognitively plausible terms.


Achievements and implications

In this section, I will sum up the major achievements and implications of the book. I will focus on findings which are of theoretical importance but also on the potential for cross-cultural communication and cross-cultural education. First, key Danish concepts and their related cultural values are now available to speakers of English, not as distorted Anglo approximations of Danish meanings, but as Danish meanings modelled culture-neutrally in English NSM. The attraction of presenting insider’s concepts (Danish) in outsiders’ language (English), yet without Anglifying them is that it allows us to come closer and go deeper in our study of language and cultural values. Rather than simply drawing conclusions based on relative similiarities between the Danish-speaking and the English-speaking worlds via value-based super-terminologies such as “Western” and “democratic”, we can go beyond the superficial macro-societal similarities and detect the semantic differences. The diversity within the “Western World” is often overlooked, and while the cross-cultural element in Anglo-Chinese and Anglo-Arab relations, for example, are considered obvious, communication clashes between “Westerners” are often understood in personal, rather than in cultural terms. Part of the reason is the lack of cross-cultural knowledge and

Achievements and applications


education. Anglophone works on Danish language and cultural values are conspicuous by their absence (with a few exceptions, most notably Hansen 1980; Borish 1991), and to my knowledge, the present work is the first to systematically explore the link between Danish words, concepts and values. Second, this work has proposed Danish semantic primes and worked through grammatical problems of Danish NSM in order to “carve out” a Danish minilanguage of shared human concepts. Throughout the book, the Danish metalanguage was tested on Danish keywords and attitudes. While many speakers of Danish would be able to work from English explications, it is important to establish a Danish NSM – first, in order to demonstrate that it is possible, and second, because it is valuable to have multiple NSM’s to work from. It is a resource for the NSM practitioner to be able to explicate bilingually and to test the viability of syntactic options. Also, for future cross-semantic analysis of, say, Danish-German, Danish-Swedish, or Danish-Arabic words and values, explicating in English NSM would be a detour (unless the specific aim were to publish the results in an Anglophone journal). From a practical point of view, Danish NSM, Swedish NSM, German NSM and Arabic NSM would be preferable metalanguage “media” to work in. Third, this book has advanced ideas about the relationship between semantic molecules and cultural scripts (Goddard 2006a: 9-10). One particular point, exemplified with the case of hygge, is that a number of cultural scripts revolve around this Danish keyword. The fact that a highly culture-specific word like hygge relates directly to cultural scripts of various kinds, both scripts of “communicative behaviour” and “interprettation of symbols”, constitutes further evidence for the salience of the concept. Danish ethnopragmatics relies conceptually on hygge [m]. Arguably a concept’s molecular status in cultural scripts is an indication of keyword status, along with other parameters such as high frequency, non-translatability, and phraseological eleboration. For example, the “hygge script against raising serious issues” is specifically articulated to capture aspects of the communicative style in situations of hygge. It does not necessarily translate into a general script against “raising serious issues”, because the latter would not be an accurate model of the Danish speech community, which can be rather serious-minded at other times (when there is not hygge in a place). What is modelled is therefore not a general prescription of communicative behaviour, but a communicative behaviour particularly linked with situations of hygge.



A fourth and related issue is the integration of semantic molecules of human social categories (such as ‘children’, ‘women’ and ‘men’) in cultural scripts. In chapter 4, I advanced the idea of “socialization scripts”, and while, admittedly, the Danish cultural focus on “what children think” may be u nusual from a cross-cultural perspective,140 the systematic exploration of human social categories, as well as the contexts of cultural attitudes and assumptions they are shrouded in can be illuminated through systematic ethnopragmatic studies. It is revealing that Danish appears to have relatively few ‘men’ vs. ‘women’ scripts, but numerous scripts related to barnet ‘the child’ (see ch. 4). The cultural significance of mapping the scripts related to human social categories is a priority for the new paradigm of Ethnopragmatics. While the concept of ‘children’ appears to be lexified cross-linguistically, there are significant ethnopragmatic differences in the way children are viewed and view themselves. The Danish study of the ethnopragmatics of language socialization (including literacy socialization and children’s narratives) sets out new agendas for an integrated sociocognitive approach to language and value acquisition. Finally, I will mention the issue of lexical grids (such as the lexical grids of cognitive verbs or the lexical grid of emotion adjectives, see chapter 6 and 7). Words of one grid typically share a semantic template but differ (slightly or considerably) in their prototypical cognitive scenarios. This book has argued that the semantics of these lexical grids of “innocent” and “humble” verbs and adjectives can provide us with a unique window on the cultural themes of the everyday, and that the cross-cultural semantic variation found in these grids provides important clues to the conceptualization of “cognition” and “emotion” in cultures. Some scholars in heavily word-dependent survey-based disciplines, such as AngloInternational “happiness research”, appear to take for granted that their own nativized grids exist universally. Demonstrating that words do matter, I have criticized this working procedure and called for a linguistically sensitive approach to comparative research. 8.4.

Suggestions for future research

This book has explored a number of Danish words and laid the foundation for further exploration of Danish cultural semantics and ethnopragmatics. Given the pioneering nature of the work, it is not an exaggeration to say that whatever has not been explored in this book, has yet to be uncovered. A number of words and phrases have been mentioned in this study, but

Suggestions for future research


not explicated. There can be little doubt that explications of more words related to sociality, cognition and emotion will add new perspectives and improve our understanding of Danish cultural semantics. The overwhelmming task ahead requires a focused approach, and I will briefly outline some directions for future studies: — Discourse and semantic change. The cultural semantics of words is intrinsically linked with the cultural history of communities of discourse. The synchronic scope of this book only occasionally gave voice to diachronic considerations, but tracing the phases of hygge, lykke, sprog and other significant Danish words, with their distinctive historical polysemy, establishing patterns of continuity and discontinuity, etc., could add considerably to our understanding of the emerging nature of the Danish speech community. — Speaking, speech acts, discourse particles. The “loquacious” Dane (at least, in a Scandinavian context) lives in a speech culture which attaches great importance to defining and “fine-tuning” through discussion. This is paired with a history of finding identity through language, with a Grundtvigian legacy of orality, and with a Danish thinking about democracy which seems to rest on a number of linguistic assumptions. The study of speech act verbs and discourse particles would be a fruitful place to continue the study of the Danish mentality of democracy, which was outlined in chapter 6. — More work on Danish ethnopsychology. This book focused mainly on “good feelings”, explicating the Danish counterparts of happy (chapter 7). While “negative emotions” were briefly mentioned, they were not explicated. For a better understanding of the Danish grid of emotion, the frequently used Danish emotion terms should be explicated, following the model of Wierzbicka’s (1999) comprehensive work. Also, chapter 2 presented the first step in mapping Danish “personhood” with an explication of sind ‘mind, disposition’. For a full account, we need to consider, so to speak “all parts of a Dane”, and work out in detail the Danish remaining construals of “personhood”. — The semantics and ethnopragmatics of Danish “humour”. As noted in chapter 1 and chapter 3, humour ranks highly in self-evaluations of what makes Danish culture distinctive. With a detailed analysis of the Danish keyword sjov ‘fun’ and the kinds of “humour” recognized lexically in Da-



nish, headway could be made into understanding and explaining ‘Danish ways of laughing’. As a model, and cross-cultural source of comparison, Goddard’s (2006c, 2009e) work on “deadpan jocular irony” and “sarcasm” in the context of Australian English is highly relevant. — Comparative Scandinavian semantics and ethnopragmatics. In terms of semantics and pragmatics, relatively little comparative work has been undertaken in a cross-Scandinavian perspective. As noted in chapter 1, this is partly due to the ideology of “Scandinavian unity”, but partly also because of a lack of adequate semantic methodology. More than 40 years after Herbert Hendin’s far-reaching claims on the diversity in Scandiavian lexicons of emotions and values (see chapter 1), linguists still have not, to my knowledge, engaged with his proposition and tested the validity of his claims. — A whole Danish metalanguage study. Finally, in order to further test and improve the Danish version of NSM, the project which was launched in chapter 2 and developed thoughout the book (see appendix) needs to be taken one step further with a whole Danish metalanguage study. It is important to explicate meanings from a variety of semantic domains, such as words related to “time”, “space”, “physical activities”, “environmental concepts” and “concrete artefacts”, to mention just a few of the semantic domains which have not been investigated in this book. As different kinds of word are explicated, the precise rules for metalanguage combinatorics and allolexy can be fully accounted for. 8.5.

Closing remarks

The story about the Danish universe of meaning comprises both highprofile social keywords, such as hygge and janteloven and more anonymous ones such as cognitive verbs and emotion adjectives. This book has begun the cultural semantic and ethnopragmatic exploration of Danish, and has taken the first steps into the uncharted territory of reductive paraphrase of Danish concepts. Needless to say, there is still a long way to go before we can say that Danish semantics has been mapped out, and in this final chapter, I have outlined some priorities for future research. Throughout this book I have also outlined the potential for cultural semantics and ethnopragmatics in the fields of cross-cultural communication and cross-cultural education, arguing that semantic-conceptual

Closing remarks


awareness, and awareness of the linguistic diversity in terms of sociality, emotion and cognition, can help facilitate the empathetic understanding and appreciation of variety in the speech cultures of the world. Studying everyday words allows us to move closer to speakers’ life worlds, telling the stories about speakers’ everyday lives, their cognitive styles and cultural values.

Appendix Explications and Cultural Scripts in Danish NSM Kapitel 2 [K]

Semantisk eksplikation af sind (en persons sind)

a. b. c.

én del af vedkommende folk kan ikke se den her del fordi en person har den her del, vil vedkommende gøre nogle ting, vedkommende vil ikke gøre andre ting fordi en person har den her del, kan vedkommende føle mange ting når vedkommende tænker på noget, ikke som en anden person kan føle mange ting når den anden person tænker på det samme fordi en person har den her del kan vedkommende tænke sådan: “jeg ved at der er mennesker af mange slags, jeg er en person af én slags, jeg kan sige hvilken slags” når der sker noget dårligt for en person kan vedkommende tænke sådan, fordi personen har den her del: “jeg vil tænke et stykke tid, jeg vil ikke gøre mange ting nu” når en person tænker over noget sker der noget i den her del andre mennesker kan ikke vide hvad der sker i den her del af en person hvis vedkommende ikke vil at de ved det

d. e. f. g.

Kapitel 3 [A]

Semantisk eksplikation af hygge noget folk kan sige hvad det er for noget med ordet hygge en person kan sige noget om noget med det her ord når vedkommende tænker sådan om et sted:

a. b. c.

det kan være sådan: der sker gode ting på det her sted fordi mennesker er sammen med andre mennesker nu på det her sted et stykke tid i det her stykke tid vil folk gøre nogle ting sammen med de andre mennesker på det her sted, de vil ikke gøre mange ting de vil sige mange ting til de andre mennesker på det her sted

Appendix d.



folk på det her sted tænker sådan på det her tidspunkt: “folk her er som en del af én ting nu folk her vil at alle her føler noget godt nu der kan ikke ske dårlige ting for folk her nu” når det er sådan et sted, kan folk på det her sted føle noget godt sådan som folk kan føle noget godt når de er på et varmt [m] sted derfor vil de her mennesker at det her sted er sådan et stykke tid det er godt hvis det kan være sådan et sted et stykke tid


Semantisk eksplikation af ‘person X hygger sig’


person X gør nogle ting et stykke tid der sker derfor nogle ting for vedkommende i det her stykke tid det er sådan: i det her stykke tid tænker vedkommede ikke sådan: “der kan ske dårlige ting for mig” i det her stykke tid føler vedkommende noget godt, sådan som en person kan føle noget godt når vedkommende er på et varmt [m] sted derfor vil vedkommende at det er sådan et stykke tid


b. c. d.


Semantisk eksplikation af de hygger

a. b. c.

på det her tidspunkt gør de alle noget et stykke tid på det her sted de kan derfor alle tænke sådan om det på det her tidspunkt: “der er hygge [m] her nu”


Semantisk eksplikation af stemning 1 noget folk kan sige hvad det er for noget med ordet stemning en person kan sige noget om noget med det her ord når vedkommende tænker sådan:

a. b. c.

det er sådan: når folk er sammen med andre et sted, kan de alle føle noget på grund af det hvis en person er på det her sted, kan vedkommende ikke ikke-vide hvordan folk her på det her sted føler når der sker noget på det her sted, gør folk her nogle ting fordi de tænker sådan: “folk her er som en del af én ting nu alle kan vide hvad folk på det her sted føler nu”




Semantisk eksplikation af stemning 2 noget folk kan sige hvad det er for noget med ordet hygge en person kan sige noget om noget med det her ord når vedkommende tænker sådan:

a. b.


det kan være sådan: nogle gange når folk er sammen med mange andre et sted, kan de alle føle noget meget godt på grund af det hvis en person er et sådant sted, kan vedkommende ikke ikke-vide at alle på det her sted føler noget meget godt alle mennesker her vil at der sker gode ting alle mennesker på det her sted kan føle noget meget godt fordi de tænker sådan: “folk her er som en del af én ting nu der sker mange gode ting nu for folk her, der kan ikke ske dårlige ting nu” folk her kan derfor ville gøre ting, ikke som de gør ting på mange andre tider når det ikke er sådan det er godt når det er sådan et sted


Et dansk kulturelt script for, omtrent, “værdien af en stærk gruppefølelse”

c. d. e.

mange mennesker tænker sådan: når en person ofte er sammen med andre et sted er det godt hvis vedkommende kan tænke sådan: “folk her er som en del af én ting” [H]

Et dansk kulturelt script for, omtrent, “ansvar for hele gruppens velvære” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når en person ofte er sammen med andre et sted er det godt hvis vedkommende kan tænke sådan: “jeg vil at alle her føler noget godt”


Et dansk hygge-script imod, omtrent, at være “verbalt dominerende” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når der er hygge [m] et sted, er det godt hvis alle på det her sted kan sige noget det er dårligt hvis én person på det her sted vil sige noget hele tiden det er dårligt, fordi hvis det er sådan, kan andre ikke sige hvad de vil sige

Appendix [J]


Et dansk hygge-script imod, omtrent, at være “verbalt ikke-deltagende” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når der er hygge [m] et sted, er det godt hvis alle på det her sted kan sige noget det er dårligt hvis en person på det her sted ikke vil sige noget


En dansk hygge-forskift imod, omtrent, at “at bringe følsomme emner på banen” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når der er hygge [m] et sted, er det dårligt hvis en person siger noget hvis vedkommende ved at nogle mennesker her kan føle noget dårligt på grund af det


En dansk hygge-script imod, omtrent, “at bringe alvorlige emner på banen” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når der er hygge [m] et sted, er det dårligt hvis en person siger sådan noget som det her: “jeg vil have alle her til at tænke over noget nu et stykke tid hvis folk her ikke tænker over det nu et stykke tid, kan der ske noget meget dårligt”


En dansk hygge-script imod, omtrent, “at komme med dystre forudsigelser” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når der er hygge [m] et sted, er det dårligt hvis en person siger sådan noget som det her: “der kan ske mange dårlige ting for folk her”


Semantisk eksplikation af et varmt sted

a. b.

det her sted er sådan: når en person er på det her sted kan vedkommende føle noget godt i kroppen, sådan som folk kan føle noget godt i kroppen når de er tæt på ild [m] når det er sådan et sted, kan en person ville være på det her sted et stykke tid





Et dansk kulturelt script for associationen mellem levende lys (stearinlys) og hygge mange mennesker tænker sådan: når der er levende lys (stearinlys) [m] et sted kan mennesker tænke sådan om det her sted, når de ser stedet: “der er hygge [m] her nu”

Kapitel 4 [A]

Et dansk kulturelt script for, omtrent, “det kompetente barn” mange mennesker tænker sådan: det er godt hvis et barn [m] kan tænke sådan: “jeg kan gøre mange ting jeg kan gøre de her mange ting godt”


Et dansk kulturelt script for, omtrent, “barnets konstruktive samvær med andre børn” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når et barn [m] er sammen med andre børn [m] et sted, er det godt hvis barnet kan tænke sådan: “jeg vil ikke gøre noget dårligt mod de her andre børn [m] jeg vil ikke at nogen børn [m] her føler noget dårligt”


Et dansk kulturelt script for, omtrent, “vigtigheden af barnets grundlæggende tiltro til hverdagen” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når et barn [m] ofte er sammen med andre et sted, er det godt hvis barnet [m] kan tænke sådan om de andre mennesker: “folk på det her sted vil gøre gode ting for mig der kan ikke ske dårlige ting for mig på det her sted”


Semantisk eksplikation af ‘et trygt sted’


når en person tænker på det her sted (den her skole, den her vej, det her land osv.) tænker vedkommede sådan om det: det er sådan:


References c. d.

e. f. [E]


“folk kender det her sted godt de ved hvilke slags tings der kan ske på det her sted de ved hvordan andre på det her sted er de ved at ingen her vil gøre noget dårligt mod nogen her hvis der sker noget dårlig for nogen her, kan folk vide at nogle her derefter vil gøre noget på grund af det, fordi de ikke vil at der sker dårlige ting for nogen på det her sted når det er sådan et sted tænker folk ikke sådan på noget tidspunkt: “der kan ske dårlige ting” derfor kan folk på det her sted hele tiden gøre hvad de vil det er dårligt hvis det ikke er sådan et sted Semantisk eksplikation af tryghed noget folk kan sige hvad det er for noget med ordet tryghed en person kan sige noget om noget med det her ord når vedkommende tænker sådan om et sted:

a. b.


det kan være sådan: “folk kender det her sted godt de ved hvilke slags tings der kan ske på det her sted de ved hvordan andre på det her sted er de ved at ingen her vil gøre noget dårligt mod nogen her hvis der sker noget dårlig for nogen her, kan folk vide at nogle her derefter vil gøre noget på grund af det, fordi de ikke vil at der sker dårlige ting for nogen på det her sted” når det er sådan et sted tænker folk ikke sådan på noget tidspunkt: “der kan ske dårlige ting” derfor kan folk på det her sted hele tiden gøre hvad de vil det er dårligt hvis det ikke er sådan et sted


Semantisk eksplikation af ‘person X føler sig tryg ved en anden person Y’

a. b.

når person X tænker på person Y, tænker X sådan: “jeg ved hvordan vedkommende er jeg ved hvilke slags ting der kan ske, når jeg er sammen med vedkommende jeg ved at vedkommende ikke vil at der noget dårligt for mig jeg ved at hvis der skete noget dårligt for mig, ville vedkommende gøre noget derefter, på grund af det







når jeg er sammen med vedkommende, tænker jeg ikke sådan på noget tidspunkt sådan: “der kan ske dårlige ting for mig”” derfor kan jeg hele tiden gøre hvad jeg vil når vedkommende X tænker sådan om vedkommende Y, føler vedkommende X ikke noget dårligt, sådan som en person kan føle noget dårligt, når vedkommende X ikke er sammen med en person som Y



Delvis semantisk eksplikation af rammer (trygge rammer, gode rammer)


e. f.

det kan være sådan på det her sted: “der kan ske nogle slags ting på det her sted andre slags ting kan ikke ske på det her sted folk kan gøre nogle slags ting sammen med andre her de kan ikke gøre andre slags ting sammen med andre her det er godt” det kan være sådan et sted hvis nogle mennesker på det her sted tænker sådan om det: det er godt for alle på det her sted hvis det er sådan de her mennesker kan sige hvorfor det er godt for alle på det her sted de her mennesker gør ting fordi de vil at det her sted er sådan


Semantisk eksplication af ‘person X kan ikke overskue noget Z’

a. b.

når person X tænker over noget Z på det tidspunkt, tænker personen sådan: “jeg ved at der vil ske mange ting efter det her jeg kan ikke vide hvilke slags ting jeg kan ikke tænke sådan: jeg vil gøre noget på grund af det” når vedkommende X tænker sådan, føler vedkommende noget meget dårligt, sådan som en person kan føle når vedkommende tænker sådan

b. c. d.


Kapitel 5 [A]

Semantisk eksplikation af janteloven noget folk kan sige hvad for noget med ordet janteloven folk kan sige noget om noget med det her ord når de tænker sådan:

Appendix a. b.

c. d.

e. f



det er ofte sådan: nogle mennesker et sted føler noget meget dårligt over for én person på det her sted, fordi de ved at vedkommende tænker sådan: “jeg er ikke som alle andre mennesker her jeg vil ikke gøre ting som alle andre mennesker her gør ting” derfor tænker de her mennesker sådan om vedkommende: “vedkommende er en dårlig person” derfor vil de her mennesker have at vedkommende føler noget dårligt de vil at der sker dårlige ting for vedkommende de vil have vedkommende til at tænke sådan: “jeg er som alle andre mennesker her jeg vil gøre ting som alle andre mennesker her gør ting” derfor gør de her mennesker ofte dårlige ting mod vedkommende alle kan vide at det er meget dårligt når det er sådan alle kan vide at de her mennesker er meget dårlige mennesker alle kan føle noget meget dårligt, når de tænker over det Et dansk kulturelt script relateret til, omtrent, “godt selvværd” mange mennesker tænker sådan: det er godt for en person, hvis vedkommende kan tænke sådan: “jeg ved jeg er en god person, jeg ved jeg kan gøre mange ting, jeg ved at jeg kan gøre ting godt” nogle mennesker tænker ikke sådan, det er dårligt for de mennesker


Et dansk kulturelt script relateret til, omtrent, “lokaltforankret humanisme” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når en person ofte er sammen med andre mennesker et sted, er det godt for vedkommende hvis vedkommende kan tænke sådan om mennesker på det her sted: “alle mennesker her er gode mennesker, alle mennesker her kan gøre mange ting alle mennesker her kan gøre ting godt”


Et dansk kulturelt script for, omtrent, “værdien i personers forskellighed” mange mennesker tænker sådan: ofte er det godt for en person, hvis vedkommende kan tænke sådan: “jeg er ikke som alle andre, jeg vil ikke gøre ting som alle andre gør ting” nogle mennesker tænker ikke sådan, det er dårligt for de mennesker



Kapitel 6 [A]

Semantisk eksplikation af jeg synes […]

a. b. c.

når jeg tænker over det nu, tænker jeg sådan: [… ] jeg tænker sådan fordi jeg føler noget nu jeg ved at en anden person kan tænke på en anden måde


Semantisk eksplikation af jeg mener […]

a. b. c. d.

når jeg tænker over det, tænker jeg sådan: [… ] jeg kan sige hvorfor jeg tænker sådan fordi jeg har tænkt over det et stykke tid jeg ved at nogle mennesker kan tænke det samme jeg ved at nogle andre mennesker ikke tænker det samme


Et dansk kulturelt script for, omtrent, “kognitiv relativisme” (Synes-scriptet) mange mennesker tænker sådan: “jeg er mig, ikke en anden når jeg tænker over noget kan jeg føle noget, ikke som en anden person kan føle noget, når vedkommende tænker over det samme”


Et dansk kulturelt script for “gruppekognition” (Mener-scriptet) mange mennesker tænker sådan: når nogle mennesker tænker over noget, kan de tænke om det som mig fordi de er en del af én ting, sådan som jeg er en del af den ting når andre tænker over den samme ting, tænker de ikke om det som mig fordi de ikke er en del af den her ting, (de er en del af noget andet)


Et dansk kulturelt script imod, omtrent “at fortælle andre hvad de skal mene” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når en person tænker på én måde om noget, er det dårligt hvis en anden person siger noget som det her til vedkommende: “det er dårligt, hvis folk tænker sådan om det jeg vil have dig til at tænke på en anden måde jeg vil have dig til at tænke om det som jeg tænker om det”

Appendix [H]

Semantisk eksplikation for ‘person X er skråsikker’

a. b.

når vedkommende X tænker over noget, tænker vedkommende sådan: “jeg ved det er sådan, det kan ikke være ikke sådan jeg vil ikke tænke om det på nogen andre måder det er dårligt hvis nogen tænker om det på nogen andre måder” alle ved at det er meget dårligt hvis en person tænker sådan mennesker kan føle noget dårligt hvis de er sammen med sådan en person




Et dansk kulturelt script relateret til, omtrent, “selvstændig tænkning” mange mennesker tænker sådan: når en person tænker over noget, er det godt hvis vedkommende kan tænke om det, ikke som en anden person tænker om det


Et kulturpædagogisk script for russisktalende som gerne vil undgå at virke “skråsikre” i en dansk kontekst I Danmark er det sådan: når man siger noget, fordi man tænker noget om noget på én måde, er det godt hvis man samtidigt kan sige sådan noget som det her: “jeg vil ikke have mennesker her til at tænke om det som jeg tænker om det, mennesker kan tænke om det på mange måder”


Et kulturpædagogisk script for dansktalende som vil undgå at virke “utroværdig” i en russisk kontekst I Rusland er det sådan: når man siger noget, fordi man tænker om noget på én måde, er det godt hvis man samtidigt siger sådan noget som det her: “jeg ved hvorfor jeg vil tænke sådan om det jeg vil ikke tænke om det på andre måder”




Et kulturpædagogisk script for anglofone som vil undgå at virke “uselvstændige” i en dansk kontekst I Danmark er det sådan: når man siger noget, fordi man tænker om noget på én måde, er det godt hvis man samtidigt siger sådan noget som det her: “på nogle måder tænker jeg ikke om det som alle andre mennesker her tænker om det”


Et kulturpædagogisk script for dansktalende som vil undgå at virke “obstruerende” i en angloengelsk kontekst i Australien/England/USA er det sådan: når man siger noget, fordi man tænker på én måde om noget, kan det være dårligt hvis man samtidigt siger sådan noget som det her: “på nogle måder, tænker jeg ikke om det som alle andre mennesker her tænker om det”


Et kulturpædagogisk script for dansktalende som gerne vil passe ind i en mere “assertiv” angloengelsk stil i Australien/England/USA er det sådan: når man siger noget, fordi man tænker på én måde om noget, kan det være godt hvis man samtidigt siger sådan noget som det her: “det er godt hvis folk tænker sådan om det hvis folk tænker godt over det kan de tænke det samme”

Kapitel 7 [B]

Semantisk eksplikation af ‘han er lykkelig1‘

a. b. c. d. e.

han tænker sådan på det tidspunkt: “der skete noget meget godt for mig jeg kan ikke ikke-tænke over det nu noget meget godt som det her sker ikke ofte for en person” derfor føler han noget meget godt på det her tidspunkt sådan som folk kan føle når de tænker sådan




Semantisk eksplikation af ‘han er lykkelig2’

a. b. c.


han tænker sådan: det er sådan: “jeg har levet noget tid i den tid har jeg ofte følt noget godt når jeg tænker over det nu kan jeg sige: der er sket mange gode ting for mig i den her tid jeg kan ikke sige: der er sket mange dårlige ting for mig i den tid det er godt når det er sådan, jeg ved at det kan være ikke sådan“


Semantisk eksplikation af han er glad

a. b. c.

han tænker sådan på det tidspunkt: “der sker gode ting for mig nu” han tænker ikke sådan på det tidspunkt: “der kan ske dårlige ting for mig” derfor føler han noget godt på det tidspunkt som mennesker kan føle når de tænker sådan


Semantisk eksplikation af han er tilfreds

a. b. c. d. e.

når han tænker over det på det her tidspunkt, tænker han sådan: “jeg ville have noget til at ske før jeg ved nu at det skete sådan som jeg ville det er godt” derfor føler han ikke noget dårligt på det tidspunkt derfor føler han noget godt på det tidspunkt som mennesker ofte kan føle når de tænker sådan


Et dansk kulturelt script for, omtrent, “at leve i nuet”


mange mennesker tænker sådan: det er godt for en person, hvis vedkommende ofte kan tænke sådan: “der sker gode ting nu jeg vil ikke tænke på dårlige ting nu” [G]

Et dansk kulturelt script imod, omtrent, en “ængstelig attitude” mange mennesker tænker sådan: det er dårligt for en person, hvis vedkommende ofte tænker sådan: “der kan ske dårlige ting”




Et dansk kulturelt script imod, omtrent, “at have urealistisk høje forventninger” mange mennesker tænker sådan: det er dårligt for en person, hvis vedkommende tænker sådan: “der vil ske mange gode ting for mig herefter” det er dårligt for vedkommende, fordi hvis der ikke sker mange gode for vedkommende herefter vil vedkommende føle noget meget dårligt på grund af det

Notes 1.

2. 3.




7. 8.

Earlier versions of this chapter were presented in the lecture “The Danish Universe of Meaning”, Australian Linguistic Institute (ALI), (Language and Cultural Values), Sydney University, July 2008, and the paper “Folk sociolinguistics and the semantics of identity: An exploration of language concepts in everyday Danish” Australian Linguistics Society, (annual ALS conference), July 2010. A handful of Danish words have been anysed in earlier NSM comparative work (cf. Dineen 1990; Wierzbicka 2003: 307). The “pop ethnography” of tourist literature often focuses on Danes as beer-drinking, fun-loving Vikings. Its pop semantics focuses on the words hygge (see chapter 3) and janteloven (see chapter 5). Contrary to popular beliefs, the origin of Danish semantics is not to be found in the ancient tongues of Vikings. Semantically speaking, most linguistic concepts, which are now thought of as dansk are of a rather recent origin. This has to do with the fact that dansk itself is a recent concept, resulting from the synthesis of “identity nationalism” and “popular enlightenment” which took place in 19th century Denmark (cf. Østergård 2006: 93). The history of Danish linguistics was significantly shaped by the work of the Copenhagen structuralist Louis Hjelmslev 1899–1965, (see Hjelmslev 1961) and his students (cf. Gregersen 2006). The cultural linguistics envisioned in this work is rather far from Hjelmslev’s abstract theorizing, and if this book relates to any Danish linguistic paradigms, it would be that of the great Scandinavianist Peter Skautrup (1896–1982) (1950, 1968, 1976) (cf. Rischel 2002) and his inspiring work on words as reflections of speakers’ “life worlds”. For an influential, contemporary advocate for a radically anti-Whorfian view of language, see Pinker (1994). Pinker, maintaining the previously dominant view in American linguistics and psychology, argues that language is wholly grounded in neurophysiological reality, and that culture, at best, is peripheral to the study of language. In a less relativistic fashion, Slobin 1996 argues like Whorf that languages are ”not neutral coding systems of an objective reality”, but cautiously asserts that languages only shape thought ”while we are speaking” (p.91). Hence, Slobin’s paradigm is called ”thinking for speaking”. On the attitudes towards English in Denmark, see Preisler (1999, 2003). The Danish Empire was a minor colonial power. Besides Greenland in the North Atlantic, the Danish empire ruled over “Danish West India” (U.S. Virgin Islands), “Danish Gold Coast” (Accra, Ghana) and “Danish India” (Serampore).




A few relatively vital “dialects of Danish” are still found on Bornholm (Eastern Danish dialects). Also, some Jutlandic dialects are still fairly vital, particularly in the rural southern and western parts of Jutland (Vikør 2002: 5; Pedersen 2003). Distinctive differences in prosody patterns have been maintained in “regional Danishes”. Ordinary speakers now often think about these minor and almost exclusively prosody-based differences as dialekter ‘local dialects’. Hvad udad tabes, skal indad vindes. The conceptual semantics of the pre-national Danish concept of mål ‘local vernacular’ (old spelling: Maal) conceptualized a much less contrastive way of thinking about “speech” in different places. The Northern European history of contact was characterized by extensive semi-communication (Braunmüller 2002, 2005; Braunmüller and Ferraresi 2003). There seems to have been no assumption that speakers of different mål could not communicate. With the introduction of the national concept of sprog these understandings changed. Til et folk de alle høre / som sig regne selv dertil / har for modersmålet øre / og for fædrelandet ild / Resten selv som dragedukker / sig fra folket udelukker / lyse selv sig ud af æt / nægte selv sig indfødsret. The indigenous term for this new national psyche was dansksindet, ‘of a Danish sind’ (see section 2.3.1). The endonym of Denmark is Danmark, and the demonym is dansker ‘Dane’. Unlike in English, where Dane can also mean ‘old Norse speaking Vikings’, dansker ‘(modern-day) Danes’ is a recent concept, which is lexically differentiated from the historical demonym daner which signifies an ancient people (in English, roughly ‘Viking Danes’). To illustrate the difference between language and sprog, and the difference in Anglo and Danish sociolinguistic attitude consider the sociopolitical attitudes to Inuit groups in the Arctic. Baffin Island Inuits are thought of as “Canadian Inuits”, whereas the phrase “Danish Inuits” does not make sense. In Danish folk sociolinguistics, which is informed by the semantics of sprog, a person cannot simultaneously be Danish and Inuit (see Levisen 2010). Through German and French, a fairly large number of words with a Latin or Greek base were also integrated into rigsdansk. The intense contact between Hanseatic and Hafnic (Copenhagen) ways of speaking is commonly believed to have resulted in linguistic contactfeatures, especially in a simplification of grammar. Haugen (1976: 314) talks about “mild creolization”, and Widmark et al. (2005: 1339) about “koineization”. Wührer (1954: 458) estimates that dansk is 50-75% lexified by German words. The massive influence from various German varieties on dansk is comparable to the Norman French influence on English (Haugen 1976: 65).

10. 11.

12. 13. 14.


16. 17.


Notes 19.

20. 21. 22. 23.


25. 26. 27.




Next to Grundtvig, the individual who is thought to have shaped emerging Danish culture the most might be the Copenhagen-Jewish intellectual Georg Brandes (Østergård 2006: 86). Unlike Grundtvig, Brandes was a realist-naturalist and a much more “straight” enlightenment advocate than Grundtvig. Sometimes Grundtvig included Britain in his concept of Norden ‘the North’ (Allchin and Lossky 1997: 7). Often, the highly imaginative and narration-loving Grundtvig is therefore portrayed as a counter-Enligthenment figure (cf. Borish 1991: 158ff; Buckser 1996: 57f). In Danish discourses, the collections of songs from the nation-building days are affectively referred to as den danske sangskat ‘the Danish treasure of songs’. This is a major point of difference between Danish vs. Swedish historical discourses. A strong rationalist trend in Swedish (middle class) discourse greatly emphasized “being modern” and “rational living” (see Löfgren 1987: 78f). These values do not seem to have become the main cultural priority for the Danish-style “enlightened” peasant-farmer culture. (On Danish-Swedish historical and cultural differences, see also Sanders 1995, 2008). This Grundtvigian-Danish emphasis on “orality” and “verbality” also stands out as quite different from Swedish enlightenment tradition and cultural values (Daun 1998: 5). Compared with other Scandinavians, Danes have been described as “loquacious” (cf. Lewis 2006: 352). In Weinreich’s (1945) Yiddish: “a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un a flot”. Nynorsk Norwegian will not be discussed here (see Vikør 2000: 113). In this book, unless otherwise specified, the term “Norwegian” will refer to Bokmål Norwegian. If we cleaned the data for the American pastry concept of a Danish, the difference would be even smaller. (Semantically, the American English pastry concept of a Danish no longer carries any semantic link with Denmark). It is important to distinguish the Copenhagen-based linguistic and cultural standardization in Denmark in the 20th century from the Hafnification of Scandinavia in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Times. While both cases bear witness to the cultural hegemony of the same geographical place (the city of Copenhagen/Hafnia), the waves of dominance were different in nature. Copenhagen-based standardization was based on the popular ideology of “identity nationalism”, whereas Hafnification was a top-down phenomenon which mainly took place in urban centres. “Hafnificiation” was a matter of degree. It is often said that the first Swedish Bible translation sought to establish a “distance to Danish” (Santesson 2002: 416). Nevertheless, this style was still “Hafnified” and






34. 35.

36. 37. 38. 39. 40.

Notes had the translation sought to model rural Swedish dialects which did not undergo Hafnification, the emerging Swedish written standard would have become much more different from the emerging Danish standard. Nynorsk Norwegian, the alternative Norwegian literary language was engineered on the basis of rural, conservative Scandinavian varieties in Norway and deliberately attempted to remove the many German and Copenhagen influences in the Hafno-Norwegian literary language called Bokmål (see Malmgren 2005: 1444). Remote areas on the Scandinavian Peninsula were only scarcely affected by hafnification and Low German influences. Elfdalian (Swedish: Älvdalska) (Dahl 2004; Sapir 2004) exemplifies a non-Hafnified Scandinavian language/variety. Urban Norwegian (Bergen and Oslo speech) is commonly described as closer to the geographically distant Danish than to geographically close rural Norwegian dialects (Eriksen 2002). Haugen relied on members of the pan-Scandinavianist organization Norden ‘the North’ in his investigation into “mutual intelligibility” among Scandinavians (cf. Gregersen 2003: 143). It is, of course, rather unsurprising that members of this organization, which advocates pan-Scandinavianism, believed in “mutual intelligibility” between Scandinavian languages. “Anglo values” refer to mainstream cultural orientations in core Englishspeaking societies such as United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, cf. the English of the “inner circle” (Kachru 1985). For a discussion of the unity and diversity within “Anglo Englishes”, see also Wierzbicka 2006a; Goddard to appear). All glosses for Danish words in this section are mine. They are all rough translations. Hansen (1980) also identified evaluators such as dejlig ‘pleasurable, enjoyable’, and sød ‘sweet, nice’, and noted the frequent use of adversatives in Danish conversations, captured in the phraseme på den anden side ‘on the other hand’ (lit. ‘from the other side’). For further discussion, see chapter 6. Also, Hansen gives prominence to other Danish concepts tusmørke ‘twilight’ and skumring ‘dusk’ which at least in today’s speech community, must be considered peripheral. Reddy (1992), copying Borish, makes a similar mistake. Other Indian scholars, who have studied Danish culture, include Gopal (2000) and Sharma (2008). Speakers’ linguistic intuitions can be severely flawed, see e.g. studies by Buchstaller and Corrigan (2009); Gross and Culbertson (2011). Zuckerman draws on other explanations for irreligion, i.e. a North American secularization theory, called “lazy monopoly”, which is based on the assumption that a strong religious hegemony in a country leads to a “relaxed” form of religion and eventually secularization because of the



42. 43. 44. 45.

46. 47. 48. 49.


lack of competition and exposure to other religious views (cf. Stark and Finke 2000). This theory is relevant in a Danish context where the hegemony of state-subsidized Lutheranism was until recently unchallenged, and where a majority of Danes are still members of the Lutheran church (Danish Folkekirken lit. ‘the people’s church’). Iversen (2006a) calls the Danish national church “the world’s weakest monopoly church”. Due to recent influence from English, Anglo swearwords like fuck and shit have entered the vocabulary of young speakers of Danish (Rathje 2011). Rather than a new bodily taboo, this new set of swearwords might perhaps, in line with existing Danish cultural ideals, be interpreted as an aggression taboo. Further studies in the contrastive semantics of Danish fuck and English fuck are needed to determine whether they, due to a different semantic integration in Danish, in actual fact have become false friends (cf. Wierzbicka 1999: 310). KorpusDK is issued by DSL, the Danish Society for Language and Literature ( To avoid bias towards infrequent words, KorpusDK has established a threshold of 5 co-occurences. Unless a word collocates with another word more than 5 times, the collocation will not show up on the generated list. For a critique of the failure in modern linguistics to recognize and study the spoken language, see Steensig (2001); Linell (2005). Earlier versions of this chapter were presented at the seminar Current Issues in NSM Semantics with Cliff Goddard, Bert Peeters and Zhengdao Ye, at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, September 2008, and in an invited guest lecture, Praktisk semantisk analyse: Med hverdagens semantik som guide til kulturforståelse [Practical semantic analysis: Understanding culture through the semantics of everyday life], at the Dept. of Linguistics, Aarhus University, Denmark, February 2009. These 14 original primes were: want, don’t want, feel, think of, imagine, say, become, be a part of, something, someone, i, you, world, this (cf. Wierzbicka 1972). In Leibniz’s Latin phrase: Alphabetum Cogitationum Humanarum (cf. Wierzbicka 1972). LITTLE~FEW has a provisional status as a semantic prime. It was proposed only recently and is still being tested. Whorf’s (1956) concept “Standard Average European” seems partly justified. Arguably, European languages show areal convergence, both structurally and semantically due to shared cultural heritage and extensive contact (cf. Dahl 1990; Haspelmath 2001; Heine and Kuteva 2006). However, cross-semantic studies have also identified considerable semantic-conceptual diversity among European languages (cf. Wierzbicka 1997).




An overview of NSM studies can be found the NSM homepage, University of New England, Australia. linguistics/nsm/ This number includes the most recent proposal little~few (Goddard forthcoming) As in German, where both of the words Menschen and Leute can be exponents of PEOPLE (Goddard, Wong and Wierzbicka forthcoming), there is, in Danish, another word folk, which, (in the relevant sense), can be an alternative exponent of people. The Danish word sand could be considered an adjectival exponent, but the stylistically marked sand appears to carry a different “gravitas” than the everyday verb passer. Historically, masculine and feminine genders collapsed into a common gender in the Copenhagen variety which forms the basis of modern Danish (see section 1.3.1). I will not discuss further here the prime tænker. Goddard and Karlsson (2008) discuss Swedish tänker (INF tänka) at length, in the light of the well-known elaboration of thinking-verbs in Scandinavian languages. Their argumentation can be extended to Danish. There is one further complication, namely, the frame ‘someone knows something’. Both verbs can be used in this frame, but there is a rather clear semantic difference. The ved-sentence appears to be semantically simple, while the kender-sentence implies a knowing based on, roughly, “prior personal experience”. This sense of kender does not appear to be primitive. The Moscow School of Semantics has a similar notion “intermediate-level concepts” (cf. Apresjan 1992, 2000). Some semantic molecules are conceptually dependent on other molecules. In such cases, the pattern of “semantic nesting” must be established (see section 3.4). For example, Goddard (in press a) shows how dog conceptually relies on the concept of animal [m], which again relies on the molecule creature [m]. The molecule creature [m], however, can be explicated directly into semantic primes. A circular definition, which does not eventually lead out of molecular semantic structures, is disallowed in the NSM framework of analysis. In a time of “methodological pluralism” in linguistic semantics and pragmatics, it is not feasible to undertake a comparative analysis of all influential contemporary frameworks. In particular, I acknowledge the relevance and importance of Charles J. Fillmore’s Frame Semantics (FrameNet) (Fillmore 1976, 1985; Fillmore and Atkins 1992; Fillmore and Baker 2010), the generative (and partly post-generative) semantics of Ray Jackendoff (1990, 2002, 2007, 2010), the ethnomethodological method of Conversation Analysis (Schegloff 1968; Sacks 1992; Heritage 1984; Ten Have 2007; Hutchby and Wooffitt 2008), Danish Functional Linguistics

51. 52.

53. 54. 55.


57. 58.




61. 62. 63.

64. 65.



(Engberg-Pedersen et al. 1996, Engberg-Pedersen et al. 2005) and recent language-culture studies in experimental psycholinguistics (Boroditsky 2001, 2003, 2009; Casasanto and Boroditsky 2008). For reasons of space, I will not further deal with these paradigms here. The Munsell colour-chip experiments (in the tradition of Brown and Lenneberg 1954) with its ready-made stimuli are the classic example of an extensionalist methodology. The Berlin and Kay colour paradigm (Berlin and Kay 1969) took for granted that the concept of ‘colour’ existed in all languages, and that there were clearcut physically conditioned categories for ‘colours’ like ‘red’, ‘green’, ‘blue’, ‘yellow’, etc, to which linguistic labels simply are then extended. By contrast, Wierzbicka has convincingly argued that ‘colour’ is not a universal concept, and that the idea that all languages “have colours” is conceptually flawed (Wierzbicka 2006c, 2006d, 2007a, 2008). For other neo-Gricean or Grice-inspired schools, see Sperber and Wilson 1986; Horn 1989; Huang 2003. Athanasiadou and Tabakowska (1998) distinguish three major schools in cognitive linguistics: Reductive paraphrase (NSM), metaphor-metonomy (CMT), and the Semasiology/Onomasiology approach. While Lakoff and Johnson’s initial proposals of conceptual metaphors such as LIFE IS A JOURNEY and ARGUMENT IS WAR were debatable, they were clear and intelligible. Recent CMT work has seen a tendency toward more obscure proposals, especially in the work of Zoltán Kövecses, cf. his rather unintelligible “conceptual metaphors” EXISTENCE OF EMOTION IS BEING IN A BOUNDED SPACE (Kövecses 2000: 41), SIMILAR ACTION IS SYNCHRONIZED MOTION (Kövecses 2002: 136), FREE ACTION IS UNINHIBITED SELF-PROPELLED MOVEMENT (Kövecses 2002: 283) and ABSTRACT STABILITY IS PHYSICAL STRENGTH (Kövecses 2002: 111-112). Such cryptic formulae are difficult to decode and evaluate, and besides, it is surely implausible that speakers operate conceptually in such experience-distant, obscure equations. Kövecses (2005) includes examples of “metaphors” from Wolof, Zulu and Tahitian. Due to lack of in-depth semantic and contextual, cultural analysis, it is hard to draw any solid conclusions from these examples. There is, to be sure, a distinct critical stream in NSM literature which seeks to expose “Anglocentrism” (cf. Wierzbicka 2006a, 2010), ethnocentrism and descriptive bias in general, see also Bromhead (2009) on “chronocentrism”. This criticism is mainly directed at the scholarly community and expert theories which make claims based on monolingual assumptions. Some CDA practitioners have criticized the emphasis on “conflict”. As a balance to this “negative” focus, the Sydney linguist Jim Martin (2004)








73. 74.

Notes has suggested a Positive Discourse Analysis which looks at and learns from successful and exemplary discourses. The importance of distinguishing “culture” from “ideology” is recognized by some CDA scholars, cf. van Dijk (2009): “It is important not to confuse (cultural) communities and (ideological) groups. The same community may have different ideological groups, which may be ideologically different, but share many of the cultural dimensions (language, norms, values, etc.) of their communities, but ideological groups within cultural communities – so that Japanese feminists may be quite different feminists from those in the USA…” (p. 158). Goddard (p.c.) does not personally disagree with the CDA view. In his opinion, the Malay term does perpetuate a ‘hegemonic power’. Rather than a difference in viewpoint, the different approaches reflect different analytical priorities. Another Danish concept sjæl (comparable, but not identical to English soul) has such clearly dualistic qualities, cf. the older Christian dualism of legeme vs. sjæl (body vs. soul). Sjæl, unlike sind, has transcendental collocates like udødelighed ‘immortality’ and frelse ‘salvation’ (see Levisen, forthcoming). From the point of view of historical semantics, cultural scripts are of great importance. Today’s semantics reflects the prominent concerns, themes and taboos of the past (cf. Wierzbicka 2010). New words and lexical change seem to be interacting closely with the cultural scripts of a speech community (see also section 1.5.2) Earlier versions of this chapter were presented at the research seminar on cultural keywords, University of New England (UNE), December 2007; the Easter Semantics Workshop, Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, April 2008; the lecture “The Semantics of Hygge: Identifying a cultural keyword in Danish” at the Australian Linguistic Institute (ALI), (Language and Cultural Values), Sydney University, July 2008; and the guest lecture Hygge, tryg, lige: Sprog, kultur og værdier i det danske betydningsunivers [Hygge, tryg, lige: Language, culture, and values in the Danish universe of meaning], at the Dept. of Linguistics, Aarhus University, Denmark. February 2009. Despite the Anglocentric “conviviality”-oriented preface and introduction, some contributors in fact do take their point of departure in Amazonian concepts, e.g. Rosengren’s (2000) study of the Matsigenka concept of kisaganti, and Jamieson’s (2000) study of Miskitu emotion concepts such as e.g. latwan ‘pain, love, compassion’. Men for at opnå resultater i Danmark var det nødvendigt med en mindre kulturrevolution på landsholdet …indstillingen var, at det skulle være sjovt og hyggeligt at spille på landsholdet. (Sir) James Mellon lived 7 years in Denmark, working as ambassador 1983–1986 (Mellon 1992).

Notes 75. 76. 77.


79. 80. 81. 82.


84. 85. 86.


Mellon’s “tribe metaphor” was partly modelled on a comparison with the Ashanti people in Ghana (West Africa). Assessing what interactive style is better or worse, is in my view, a profoundly trivial question: Probably, most Danes would prefer the Danish style, and most Britons the British style. Uhygge and uhyggelig are not exact literal negations of hygge and hyggelig. This morphological phenomenon is quite commmon, cf. e.g. unhappy vs. not happy. Consequently, uhyggelig differs from ikke hyggelig ’not hyggelig’. Note that the English concept of “black humour’ and Danish concept of sort humor (lit. ‘black humour’) are false friends. While the English concept roughly describes a morbid or mean kind of humour, the Danish concept describes a “murky” sense of humour where people deliberately attempt to “not make sense” (“jocular incomprehensibility”). Man sidder på et værtshus, taler om ingenting, hælder vand ud af ørerne. Drikker en bajer eller to, og så går man hjem og siger, at man har haft en ’hyggelig aften’. Uden at kunne huske, hvad der blev sagt. Danish is rich on light reflexive verbs (Brandt 2007). On “reciprocity” and “reflexivity” in European languages, see also Wierzbicka (in press a). A third stemning concept, the stemning of “groupy desideration” as in e.g. hvad er der stemning for? roughly, ‘what do people here generally agree that we should do?’, will not be discussed further here. Jeg kan ikke lide gruppesamfundet…danskerne har det med at gruppere sig. “Vi, der bor omkring det her gadehjørne, vi hører sammen” – “Os, der er I mødregruppe…” – det hele handler om grupper. Vi går i én klasse – og parallelklassen er helt anderledes. Altid at være i grupper og finde sin identitet gennem dem. From a Danish perspective, some Anglo TV ads, including scare campaigns against smoking or advertisements for funeral services come across as shockingly insensitive. Confronting viewers with different coffin designs and the question “what would happen if you passed away today?” or interviews with a dying smoker worrying about what will happen to her children when she passes away, clearly cross the line for what is considered constructive communication in a Danish context. Such phenolmena are likely to be described derogatively as følelsesporno, lit. ‘emotion pornography’. I am thankful to Bill McGregor and Joshua Nash, for directing me towards “cultural semiotics” and the symbolic relativism of the messages conveyed by “candles” in different cultures. On the semantics of ‘temperature’ see also Koptjevskaja-Tamm and Rakhilina 2006; Goddard and Wierzbicka (2007a, to appear). The molecule ild [m] is semantically equivalent of English fire [m]. For a semantic explication of fire [m], see Goddard (in press a).

260 87.

88. 89.


91. 92.



Notes As central heating has taken over all Danish households, my claim is not that ild ‘fire’ is the most common experiential phenomena related to varm, but that it is a cognitive prototype. Symbols like “candlelights”, and “fireplace” seem to substantiate this claim. Surely, some of these discourses qualifies as instances of “banal nationalism” in the sense of Michael Billig (1995), see also Piller (2011, 5965). Earlier versions of this chapter were presented in the form of a paper “‘It’s all about being tryg’: Language socialization in the Danish community of discourse” at the 11th lnternational Pragmatics Conference, Melbourne University, 13–17 July 2009, and a guest lecture “Hygge, tryg, lige: Sprog, kultur og værdier i det danske betydningsunivers” [Hygge, tryg, lige: Language, culture, and values in the Danish universe of meaning] at the Dept. of Linguistics, Aarhus University, Denmark, February 2009. The childhood themes are particularly salient in fairy tales such as The Ugly Duckling and The Emperor’s New Clothes, but they are also salient in Andersen’s lyrics, such as the widely sung Danish Christimas charol Barn Jesus ‘Child Jesus’, which concludes with the invocation that we all should blive børn i sjæl og sind ‘become children in soul (sjæl) and mind (sind)’ (see introduction, chapter 4). For example, the Norwegian construction det kan du være trygg på ‘you can be trygg about that’ is ungrammatical in Danish, *det kan du være tryg på. The second line in the Norwegian original (Egner 1955) reads: man skal være grei og snill, roughly, ‘one should be friendly and nice’. This line has been replaced in the Danish translation (Egner 1956[1955]) with eller sætte livet til lit. ‘or put one’s life at risk’, an invention by the Danish translator Halfdan Rasmussen. The reason for this change arguably relates to the problem of rendering the Norwegian cultural keywords grei and snill, which do not readily translate into Danish words. Due to these substantial changes, it is, from a literacy socialization perspective, necessary to distinguish the “Norwegian Cardamom Law” from the “Danish Cardamom Law”, because they differ in message. In the first English translation (Egner 1959[1955]), the Cardamom Law seems to have been deliberately misrepresented, perhaps because it was not thought to be appropriate for British children at the time. In its rather unrecognisable British version the Cardamom Law reads: “Never hurry folk nor flurry folk, and never be unkind. Please remember that and act upon it too.” This British translation has transformed the Cardamom Law into a message about “manners”. Lakoff’s (1996) linguistic and conceptual analysis of child-rearing and politics in America operates with a distinction between a “Democratic worldview” vs. a “Republican worldview”. While the claim that there are two different American worldviews (related to the two American political


95. 96. 97.

98. 99.


101. 102.




ways of thinking) undoubtedly has some truth to it, the more general “Anglo-American” cultural perspective (which unites both Democratic and Republican worldviews) is not developed in Lakoff’s analysis. On explication [E], tryghed is arguably closer to peace of mind, than the main “dictionary equivalent” security (see section 4.1). Originally coined by the Danish author Vita Andersen in a 1977 collection of poems, the word tryghedsnarkoman ’tryghed junkie’ is now a part of everyday language. It has been pointed out to me that tryg in its feeling construction resembles the Japanese concept of amae, especially the combination of the components ‘being with someone’ and ‘bad things can not happen to me’. Despite these similarities, ‘X feels amae’ differs from ‘X feels (LRP) tryg about someone’ in a number of ways (for an explication of amae, see Wierzbicka 1996: 239). In tryg, the emphasis is on “familiarity” and “predictability” (on ‘knowing well what it is like’ and ‘knowing what kinds of things can happen’), which is different from “the special relationship” and “taking another person’s love for granted”, which are characteristic of Japanese amae (Wierzbicka 1996: 238). There are subtle semantic differences between pædagogik and pedagogy, but I will not explore these differences here; rather I will focus on the quantitative and distributional difference between the two concepts. An earlier verision of this chapter was presented as “Understanding Janteloven ‘the Jante Law’: A Danish keyword and a discourse tool for social change”, Linguistics Colloquium, Dept. of Linguistics, University of New England, May 2010. Grammatically, jante-lov-en is a compound noun (consisting of the proper noun Jante + the noun lov ‘law’ and a suffixed definite article -en (CG)). The standard English translation is ‘the Jante Law’ (Borish 1991; Buckser 1996). Alternative English translations include ‘the Law of Jante’ (Hofstede 1998b), and ‘Jante’s Law’ (Thomas 1990). The Tall Poppy Syndrome is not exclusively found in Australian English, but the term has been described as having “a distinctive Australian ring” (Peeters 2004b: 4). The translation is mine. Any translation will have to balance overall stylistic concerns with semantic concerns. I interpret the Norwegian du skal ikke tro as an actively “corrective construction”, hence the phrasing ‘don’t let yourself think’. As literature, Sandemose’s Freud-inspired psychoanalysis is not very børnevenlig ‘child-friendly’, so Janteloven is typically taken out of its literary context and presented to children as an example of social rules gone wrong, without further immersion into Sandemose’s literary world. It differs then, from bullying, which is more about “power” and “interpersonal domination” and an almost evolutionary scenario of “big animal harms small animal” Wierzbicka (2009d).




Danish US-critical attitudes are lexicalized in words like amerikanisering ‘Americanization’, or amerikanske tilstande ‘American state of affairs’ which are negatively valenced words, implying ‘superficiality’, ‘excessive materialism’ and a lack of ‘social cohesion’. On the internet, this version is sometimes accredited to Danish author Herdis Møllehave, a claim I have not been able to verify. Gopal (2000) simply refers to this version it as the positive version. Regardless of authorship, this particular version now has a reception history in its own right as a corrective to janteloven. Skautrup’s work on sær ‘strange, weird, different’ focused on Jutlandic dialects in peasant-farmer contexts. Also, besides sær, it is a priority for future studies to explicate the meanings of anderledes ‘different, odd’ and speciel ‘special, odd, peculiar’ in contemporary and historical discourses. Earlier versions of this chapter were presented in the form of a paper “Thinking in Danish: Cognitive style and the semantics of mental verbs”, Australian Linguistics Society (annual ALS conference), Sydney University, July 2008, and as a lecture “Language and Cognitive Style” at the Australian Linguistic Institute (ALI), (Language and Cultural Values), Sydney University, July 2008. The English “think of opinion” must be analysed as a “language-specific peculiarity of English” (Goddard and Karlsson 2008) In NSM, this specific meaning has been paraphrased as “when X thinks about it, X thinks like this” (Goddard and Karlsson 2008: 233). En af de væsentligste processer, som danske børn lærer i deres skoletid, er, at de lærer at kommentere et udsagn eller give deres kommentarer til forskellige problemstillinger, ja til hvad som helst. Man lærer at være kritisk og at finde forskellige nuancer og aspekter ved en sag…Man lærer også at vise imødekommenhed over for den, der har skrevet eller sagt det, man selv skal kommentere. Grammatically, synes is an unusual verb. It is a “deponent verb” (Allan, Holmes, and Lundskær-Nielsen 1995: 311) showing formal signs of being a passive, yet it functions as an active verb. Historically, the construction jeg synes (at)…, roughly ‘I think (that)’, developed from the construction mig synes at, roughly ‘it appears to me that’ (Katlev 2000: 613), but exactly when synes was semanticized in its current form is yet to be investigated. En konsekvens af en gennemført antiautoritær indstilling er at der ikke findes almene normer, man kan eller vil tage for givet. I så fald må man udtrykke sig impressionistisk; man må understrege det personlige i synspunktet. The spelling sys in not officially authorized, but it is proliferating on the internet. This spelling reflects the common pronunciation. Note that most of these adverbs do not have exact equivalents in English.








113. 114.

Notes 115. 116.


118. 119.

120. 121.



The “geography” of Danish politics is peculiar, and names of groups and political parties can be quite confusing for the uninitiated observer: As a rule of thumb, ‘radical’ means ‘progressive’, and ‘left’ means ‘right’. Traditionally, Danish journalism operated within a system called firebladssystemet ’the four paper system’ All major towns had four newspapers, representing the four well-known positions in the landscape of opinions: the social democratic, the progressive liberal, the agrarian liberal and the conservative positions (Hjarvard 2007). In a very literal sense, subscription to a certain newspaper, was an act of identity and a subscription to one of the four recognized sociopolitical views. In Danish ethnogrammar, demokratiet lit. ‘the democracy’ is like other unquestioned, institutionalized pillars of society, reified with an “endearing” definite article -en/-et. e.g. folkestyret ‘the people-rule’, samfundet “the society (at large)”, foreningslivet ‘the society-life’, folkeskolen, ‘the people-school’; folkekirken ‘the people-church’, etc. 13 – For den usædvanlig selvstændige og udmærkede præstation. 11 – For den udmærkede og selvstændige præstation. 10 – For den udmærkede, men noget rutineprægede præstation. Based on grammatical evidence, the Danish typologist Per Durst-Andersen (2011) has classified Russian and Danish as belonging to two linguistic ”supertypes”, Russian as a ”reality-oriented language” and Danish as a ”hearer-oriented language”. On the notion of “Anglo English”, see section 1.4.1. This review focuses on the translational equivalents of synes and mener and the theme of “opinion”. In this chapter, I have not accounted for the related Danish verb tror, which includes an epistemic disclaimer ‘I don’t say I know’. This verb is equivalent of Swedish tror (see section 2.1.5) and comparable to the English conversational formula I think, which includes a similar disclaimer (on parenthetical I think in English, see Wierzbicka 2006a; Goddard and Karlsson 2008; Bromhead 2009). The conceptual semantics of ELF communication is a disputed area (see e.g. MacKenzie forthcoming). It is, however, safe to say that two major principles are at work. The first principle is a genuine adoption of or at least approximation towards English semantics, e.g. reliance on English keywords such as communication, dialogue, fair, reasonable, security, happiness and other key Anglo concepts exercising considerable semanticconceptual power in the globalizing world (Wierzbicka 2006a, 2006e, forthcoming; Goddard 2009, forthcoming). The second principle is semantic and pragmatic transfer from various native languages into ELF. ELF users are likely to, unknowingly, transfer their own nativized semantic-conceptual categories into their ELF Englishes and thereby retain some non-English semantic and pragmatic patterns. House (1999) has demonstrated that “mutual intelligibility” in ELF is a myth, partly because semantic and pragmatic norms from native languages and cultures are



124. 125.





130. 131.

Notes transferred. (For a discussion of transfer, see also Clyne 1995: 212; 2003: 76). Danish does not have a word that matches the semantics of reasonable. There are two main “dictionary equivalents”: fornuftig ‘reasonable, sound, sensible, rational’ and rimelig ‘reasonable, fair, satisfactory, equitable’ (ODC; GRO). The idiomatic phrase det må vi lige ha’ op at vende ‘we must take it up and turn it around’ describes this preference for “surveying the perspectives” and letting everyone contribute with his or her perspective. Earlier versions of this chapter were presented as papers: “Are Danes truly the happiest people on earth? Semantics meets ‘happiness research’”, the Easter Semantics Workshop, Australian National University, Canberra, April 2009; “Good Fortune, Happiness, or Life Quality? Changes and continuities in the Danish value word lykkelig”, linguistics seminar, University of New England, December 2009, and the invited talk “Danish is Different: A linguistic perspective on ‘happiness’”, the symposium “What’s in a feeling? Multidisciplinary and multilingual perspectives”, LCRC, University of New England, February 2010. In this chapter, I use “Happiness research” as an umbrella term for various research trends, e.g. studies in “subjective well-being”, “eudaimonic wellbeing”, “satisfaction with life indices”, “emotional wealth”, “positive psychology” and “the science of happiness”, all of which rely on the concepts of happy and happiness. The world map is based on a survey by Marks et al. (2006). In this particular survey, Denmark shares the top position with Switzerland. Besides Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands are also commonly found in the very top range of happy nations. The recently imported English word smiley has been adopted as the generic term for a face icon in Danish, that is, not only the positive one e.g. glad smiley ‘happy (glad) face-icon’, but also sur smiley ‘grumpy face-icon’. This conclusion is based on the hypothesis that the Austrian German conceptualization does not differ from that of standard German. German varieties, however, are known to vary considerably (cf. Ammon 1995; Clyne 1995), and semantic-conceptual convergence therefore cannot be taken for granted but must be established through empirical research into German varieties. In the translation of the passage, I have kept the original concepts lykke and tilfredshed, as in the Danish original. Er oplevelsen af lykke og tilfredshed med livet i almindelighed det samme? Mange forskere synes at gøre de to begreber til synonymer, … mens andre siger at begreberne er forskellige, men alligevel behandler dem som om de var identiske.

Notes 132. 133.

134. 135.







The explication for ‘X feels happy’ is slightly different. The explication for ‘X is happy with Z’ differs considerably (Goddard forthcoming). With the caveat that the COCA corpus is more than eight times bigger than KorpusDK and therefore has a stronger statistical base, it appears that glad is more frequent in Danish than happy is in English, and that happy is more frequent in English than tilfreds and lykkelig in Danish. Noget behageligt, glædeligt, attraaværdigt, som er unddraget det enkelte menneskes (og i alm. overhovedet menneskers) magt ell. indflydelse. A number of contemporary lykke phrasemes model the fossilized historical “good fortune” meaning of lykke – e.g. tredje gang er lykkens gang ‘third time lucky’, held og lykke, ‘good luck’ (lit. ‘luck and lykke’), til lykke! ‘congratulations!’ (lit. ‘for luck’), at prøve lykken (lit. ‘to try one’s luck’). According to Elsnab and Knudsen (2006) this song is “a Danish classic” and the chorus line “a line that every Dane knows” (¶76). In 2006, Svantes Viser [Svante’s Songs] were selected for the Danish Canon for Culture. The Committee commented that Svantes lykkelige dag (Svante’s lykkelig day) had become indbegrebet af danskhed ‘the epitome of Danishness’. Etymologically, tilfreds consists of the preposition til + the genitive form of the noun fred ‘peace’. The word has Low German origins, cf. towvrede (Standard German zufrieden) (Katlev 2000: 628). Part of this original meaning has survived in the feeling element of contemporary tilfreds. The Danish translation of Dalai Lama’s influential book on “happiness” (Dalai Lama and Cutler 1998) makes extensively use of lykkelig2 cf. the title Kunsten at leve lykkeligt (The Art of Living Lykkelig) (Dalai Lama and Cutler 1999). Wierzbicka (forthcoming) argues convincingly that the Tibetan concept bdewa (and its associated Buddhist values) underlies the Dalai Lama’s use of happiness in English, and that this Tibetan concept partly contradicts the indigenous Anglo semantics of happiness and its discourses (cf “the pursuit of happiness”). Not surprisingly, the Danish “lykkelig of life quality” does not match bdewa either. Lykkelig, then, is mainly a conceptual “vessel”, an imprecise, but indigenized Danish place to anchor the Tibetan Buddhist message. Conventional figurative language is remarkably earthbound in Danish. In Conceptual Metaphor Theory, it has been suggested that the conceptual metaphors UP IS GOOD and DOWN IS BAD are hard-wired and universal. Danish has a substantial number of metaphors which work the other way around e.g. it is good at have begge ben på jorden ‘to have both feet on ground’, and at være nede på jorden ‘to be down on the earth’. It is bad at skrue forventningerne i vejret ‘to turn the expectations in the air’ and at sætte næsen op efter noget ‘to put the nose up for something’, etc. Other cultures may focus more on ‘what children do’ and ‘what children say’ (and particularly what they shouldn’t do or say) rather than ‘what children think’, compare e.g. Wong’s (2006) case study of Singapore English discourse adjective guai ‘obedient, well-behaved’).

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Author index Abdallah, Samaah, 295 Achard, Michel, 8, 266 Adorno, Theodor, 28, 266 Adriansen, Inge, 14, 15, 73, 266 Agar, Michael, 7, 9, 186, 266 Allan, Keith, 40, 238 Allan, Robin, 52, 168, 262, 266 Allchin, Arthur M., 18, 19, 20, 253, 266 Álvarez, Elsa Gonzáles, 284 Åmark, Klas, 21, 273 Amberber, Mengistu, 8, 46, 201, 266 Ameka, Felix, 46, 54, 55, 75, 266, 267 Ammon, Ulrich, 21, 264, 267 Andersen, Benny, 210, 267 Andersen, Hans Christian, 115, 304 Andersen, Stig Toftgaard, 92, 267 Andersen, Vita, 261, 267 Anderson, Benedict, 15, 267 Apresjan, Jurij D., 186, 256, 267 Asano-Cavanagh, Yuko, 46, 55, 267, 268 Athanasiadou, Angeliki, 257, 268 Atkins, Beryl T., 256, 278 Austin, John L., 118, 268 Baquedano-López, Patricia, 120, 121, 278 Bailey, Benjamin, 165, 268 Baker, Collin, 256, 277 Bakker, Peter, 12, 268 Barbour, Stephen, 13, 268 Barcelona, Antonio, 64, 268 Barzini, Luigi, 28, 268 Bateson, Gregory, 28, 268 Bean, Jonathan, 81, 268 Behrendt, Poul, 197, 288 Benedict, Ruth F., 28, 268 Berlin, Brent, 257, 268

Berthele, Raphael, 15, 268 Besemeres, Mary, 82, 269 Bhawuk; Dharm P. S., 302 Biber, Douglas, 36, 269 Billig, Michael 260, 269 Biswas-Diener, Robert, 3, 197, 269, 274 Blacksmith, Louise, 54, 201, 291 Blanchflower, David G., 197, 269 Boas, Franz, 10, 269 Bontempelli, Pier Carlo, 66, 269 Börestam, Ulla, 22, 269 Borish, Steven M., 2–3, 12, 17–18, 20, 25, 30–31, 81, 83, 89, 93, 100, 112, 116, 142, 145–147, 159, 162–163, 223, 233, 253, 254, 261, 270 Boroditsky, Lera, 6, 257, 270, 272 Bowerman, Melissa, 62, 270 Brandt, Søren, 259, 270 Braunmüller, Kurt, 252, 296 Breedveld, Anneke, 54, 267 Briggs, Jean, 120, 269 Brinton, Laurel J., 38, 270 Bromhead, Helen, 38, 55, 189, 257, 263, 270, 271 Brotherson, Anna, 55, 271 Brown, Penelope, 62, 189, 271 Brown, Roger W., 257, 271 Bruvold, Norman T., 24, 303 Buchstaller, Isabelle, 254, 271 Buckser, Andrew, 253, 261, 271 Bugenhagen, Robert D., 47, 271 Burridge, Kate, 40, 266, 271 Buzan, Barry, 133, 271 Campbell, John L., 2, 12, 18, 272 Carbaugh, Donal, 76, 161, 165, 272 Carmichael, Cathie, 13, 268 Carr, Alan, 197, 201, 268

Author index Casasanto, Daniel, 257, 268 Chappell, Hilary, 46, 272 Christensen, Frits, 86, 272 Christensen, Kaare, 225, 272 Christensen, Math, 223, 273 Christiansen, Niels Finn, 2, 20, 179, 273 Clancy, Patricia, 120, 273 Clarke, David D., 9, 296 Clyne, Michael, 165, 180, 264, 273 Corrigan, Karen P., 254, 271 Croft, William, 61, 273 Cruse, D. Alan, 49, 61, 273 Crystal, David, 21, 37, 273 Conrad, Susan, 36, 269 Culbertson, Jennifer, 254, 285 Cutler, Howard C., 265, 274 Cuyckens, Hubert, 8, 273 Dahl, Östen, 20, 21, 22, 254, 255, 273, 274 Dalai Lama XIV, 265, 274 Darnell, Regna, 9, 274 Dasher, Richard B., 38, 274 Daun, Åke, 3, 7, 75, 165, 253, 274 de Cillia, Rudolf, 312 de Wilde, Jaap, 133, 271 Deignan, Alice, 65, 274 Dencik, Lars, 68, 92, 112, 274 Diamond, Cora, 231, 274 Diener, Carol, 197, 274 Diener, Ed, 3, 197, 204, 269, 274, 275 Diener, Marissa, 197, 274 Dineen, Anne, 246, 295 Dirven, René, 6, 8, 273, 275, 392, 397, 302 Ditlevsen, Tove, 112, 275 Dittmar, Norbert, 267 Dobrovol’skij, Dmitrij, 65, 275 Duranti, Alessandro, 76, 275 Durst, Uwe, 201, 275 Durst-Andersen, Per, 263, 275


Dyrbye, Helen 82, 92, 100, 275 Edling, Nils, 273 Egner, Thorbjørn, 121, 122, 260, 275 Ehrenreich, Barbara, 125, 276 Eichberg, Henning, 86, 276 Elbro, Carsten, 171, 173, 180, 183, 275 Elliott, Mark, 198, 276 Elsnab, Peter, 265, 276 Emmertsen, Sofie, 87, 276 Enfield, N. J., 8, 46, 55, 62, 276 Engberg-Pedersen, Elisabeth, 257, 276 Eriksen, Thomas Hylland, 2, 12, 254, 277 Evans, Nicholas, 6, 38, 62, 277 Fairclough, Norman, 67, 277 Feldbæk, Ole, 13, 277 Ferraresi, Gisella, 252, 270 Fillmore, Charles R., 256, 277 Finke, Roger, 255, 303 Fishman, Joshua A., 21, 278 Fortescue, Michael, 167, 276, 278 Frandsen, Steen Bo, 12, 278 Frenkel-Brunswik, Else, 266 Frey, Bruno S., 197, 278 Fukuyama, Francis, 121, 278 Furseth, Inger, 25, 278 Galtung, Johan, 180, 189, 278 Garrett, Paul B., 120, 121, 278 Geertz, Clifford, 7, 34, 278 Gelfand, Michele J., 24, 302, 305 Gladkova, Anna, 51, 54, 55, 66, 186, 187, 188, 201, 202, 279 Goddard, Cliff, 1, 6, 8–9, 14–15, 26, 43–77, 81, 83, 106, 117, 130, 165, 166, 168, 187, 191–193, 201–202, 205, 207, 233, 236, 254, 255, 256, 259, 262, 265, 267, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 301 Goffman, Erving, 29, 284


Author index

Golden, Deborah, 124, 284 Golzen, Thomas, 82, 275 Gómez-Gonzáles, María de los Ángeles, 8, 284 Gopal, Kusum, 145, 146, 150, 162, 163, 254, 262, 284 Gorer, Geoffrey, 28, 284 Gregersen, Frans, 13, 14, 251, 254, 284 Grice, H. P., 62, 284 Gross, Steven, 254, 285 Grundtvig, N. F. S., 14, 17, 20 Guirdham, Maureen, 186, 285 Gullestad, Marianne, 110, 285 Gumperz, John L., 6, 76, 165, 285 Gundelach, Peter, 2, 25, 31, 32, 163, 170, 184, 197, 202, 203, 223, 285 Györi, Gábor, 214, 285 Haave, Per, 273 Habib, Sandy, 47, 55, 286 Hagerty, Michael, 197, 306 Hall, John A., 2, 12, 18, 286 Hansen, Erik, 171, 173, 181, 183, 286 Hansen, Judith Friedman, 3, 6, 19, 24, 28–29, 80–81, 93, 96–98, 100– 105, 173, 189, 224, 233, 254, 286 Hansen, Lene, 133, 286 Harding, Paul, 198, 286 Haring, Douglas G., 28, 256 Harkins, Jean, 54, 165, 201, 286 Harris, Steven, 82, 286 Hasada, Rie, 46, 72, 75, 201, 286 Haspelmath, Martin, 255, 287 Haugen, Einar, 16, 20, 22, 252, 254, 287 Heine, Bernd, 255, 287 Heltoft, Lars, 4, 276, 287 Hendin, Herbert, 3, 24, 27, 28, 35, 139, 140, 198, 236, 287 Heritage, John, 256, 287 Herskind, Anne Maria, 225, 272 Heyerdahl, Sonja, 120, 290

Hill, Richard, 40, 287 Himmelfarb, Gertrude, 16, 287 Hjarvard, Stig, 263, 287 Hjelmslev, Louis, 251, 288 Hjorting, Jørn, 197, 288 Hockett, Charles F., 7, 33, 34, 288 Hodge, Robert, 67, 288 Hofmann, Eva, 77, 288 Hofstede, Geert, 3, 24, 25, 26, 27, 31, 35, 121, 159, 193, 288 Hofstede, Gert-Jan, 24, 288 Holck, Merete, 125, 288 Holland, Dorothy, 10, 288 Holmes, Philip, 52, 168, 262, 266 Horn, Laurence R., 257, 288 Horn, Ulrik, 3, 288 House, Juliane, 165, 180, 263, 288, 289 Huang, Yan, 257, 289 Hudson, Richard A., 20, 289 Hughes, Geoffrey, 71, 289 Humboldt, Wilhelm von, 9, 307 Hutchby, Ian, 256, 289 Hymes, Dell, 76, 285, 289 Inglehart, Ronald, 33, 197, 202, 289, 297 Iversen, Hans Raun, 24, 33, 255, 289, 290 Jackendoff, Ray, 256, 290 Jacobsen, Birgitte, 12, 290 Jacobsen, Ejnar, 287 Jamieson, Mark, 258, 290 Javo, Cecilie, 120, 290 Jespersen, Knud J. V., 87, 290 Jespersen, Per Michael, 92, 290 Johnson, Mark, 61, 64, 65, 257, 290, 293 Junker, Marie-Odile, 47, 54, 201, 290, 291 Jørgensen, Jens Normann, 3, 12, 13, 22, 292 Kachru, Braj, 254, 291

Author index Karlsson, Susanna, 55, 57, 58, 168, 189, 256, 262, 263, 283 Katlev, Jan, 80, 113, 214, 262, 265, 291 Kay, Paul, 257, 269 Kecskes, Istvan, 186, 291 Khlentzos, Drew, 8, 301 Kloss, Heinz, 20, 291 Knight, Emily, 47, 291 Knudsen, Jesper Nykjær, 265, 276 Kokker, Steve, 198, 286 Koptjevskaja-Tamm, Maria, 49, 260, 291 Korsgaard, Ove, 12, 261 Kövecses, Zoltán, 64, 65, 66, 257, 291, 292 Kreiner, Svend, 197, 202, 203, 223, 285 Kress, Gunter, 68, 288 Kristensen, Kjeld, 12, 292 Kristiansen, Gitte, 8, 292 Kristiansen, Tore, 3, 12, 21, 292 Kulick, Don, 120, 292 Kuteva, Tania, 256, 287 Lakoff, George, 6, 61, 64, 65, 125, 257, 260, 261, 262, 292, 293 Lane, R. E., 197, 293 Langacker, Ronald W., 61, 293 Lazar, Michelle M., 67, 293 Le Bossé, Mathias, 2, 293 Lee, Penny, 6, 9, 293 Leezenberg, Michiel, 65, 293 Lenneberg, Eric H., 257, 271 Levinsen, Klaus, 3, 293 Levinson, Daniel, 266 Levinson, Stephen C., 6, 61, 62, 63, 189, 270, 271, 276, 277, 285, 293, 294 Levisen, Carsten, 161, 201, 252, 258, 294 Lewis, Richard D., 6, 165, 170, 253, 294


Liebhart, Karin, 312 Linell, Per, 255, 294 Linnet, Jeppe Trolle, 81, 231, 294 Löfgren, Orvar, 253, 295 Lossky, Nicholas, 18, 19, 20, 238, 295 Luchjenbroers, June, 8, 295 Lucy, John A., 6, 295 Lundgreen-Nielsen, Flemming, 17, 295 Lundskær-Nielsen, Tom, 52, 168, 262, 266 Lutz, Catherine, 201, 295 Lyons, John, 43, 295 MacKenzie, Ian, 263, 295 Mackenzie, Lachlan, 284 Maher, Brigid, 55, 295 Malmgren, Sven-Göran, 254, 295 Malt, Barbara, 8, 10, 295 Margrethe II, 145, 295 Marks, Nic, 197, 264, 295 Martin, Jim, 257, 295 Marx, Karl, 66 Matisoff, James A., 224, 296 Matoré, Georges, 70, 296 Mattheier, Klaus J., 267 Mayseless, Ofra, 124, 284 McGregor, William B., 62, 259, 296 McMahon, Darrin, 205, 296 Mead, Margaret, 28, 240, 296 Medearis, Angela S., 111, 296 Mel’čuk, Igor A., 49, 296 Mellon, James, 3, 86, 87, 258, 259, 296 Meyer, Michael, 67, 312 Miehe-Renard, Martin, 80, 81, 296 Monsson, Odd, 12, 296 Mühlhäusler, Peter, 65, 296 Nelson, Michelle R., 24, 25, 145, 296, 303 Nerlich, Brigitte, 9, 296


Author index

Nesse, Agnete, 22, 296 Nicholls, Sophie, 54, 55, 297 Nida, Eugene A., 146, 297 Niemeier, Susanne, 6, 8, 266, 297, 302 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 201 Nilsen, Hermod T. H., 23, 297 Norris, Pippa, 33, 297 Ochs, Elinor, 120, 301 Østergård, Uffe, 2, 3, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, 22, 251, 253, 297 Overing, Joanna, 83, 84, 297 Palmer, Gary B., 8, 302 Passes, Alan, 83, 84, 297 Pedersen, Inge Lise, 12, 252, 297, 308 Pedersen, Jan, 76, 298 Pedersen, Ove K., 2, 272 Pedersen, Viggo Hjørnager, 17, 298 Peeters, Bert, 1, 43, 46, 48, 51, 54, 65, 75, 145, 146, 255, 261, 298 Pennycook, Alastair, 68, 298 Petersen, Klaus, 273 Piirainen, Elisabeth, 65, 275 Piller, Ingrid 260, 299 Pinker, Steven, 251, 299 Piontek, Sepp, 86, 272 Pishwa, Hanna, 8, 299 Preisler, Bent, 251, 299 Priestly, Carol, 255, 299 Pütz, Martin, 6, 299 Quinn, Naomi, 10, 288 Quraishy, Bashy, 101, 299 Rakhilina, Ekaterina V., 259, 291 Rask, Kirsten, 17, 299 Rathje, Marianne, 255, 299 Reddy, G Prakash, Reisigl, Martin, 67, 312 Reppen, Randi, 36, 269

Rickman, John, 28, 284 Risager, Karen, 9, 299 Rischel, Jørgen, 251, 299 Roberts, Michael, 54, 300 Rønning, John A., 120, 290 Rosen, Ina, 33, 300 Rosengren, Dan, 258, 300 Sacks, Harvey, 256, 300 Sandemose, Aksel, 147, 261, 300 Sanders, Hanne, 253, 300 Sandøy, Helge, 308 Sanford, Nevitt, 266 Santesson, Lillemor, 253, 300 Sapir, Edward, 9, 10, 300 Sapir, Yair, 254, 300 Saville-Troike, Muriel, 76, 300 Schalley, Andrea C., 8, 301 Schegloff, Emanuel, 67, 256, 301 Schieffelin, Bambi B., 120, 292 Schmidt-Lauber, Brigitta, 68, 81, 110, 111, 112, 113, 301 Schwartz, Jonathan M., 1, 7, 81, 115, 116, 130 133, 166, 301 Seidlhofer, Barbara, 192, 301 Seligman, Martin E. P., 197, 301 Senft, Gunter, 8, 302 Sharifian, Farzad, 8, 302 Sharma, Triloki Nath, 170, 182, 184, 188, 189, 191, 224, 254, 302 Shavitt, Sharon, 25, 145, 296 Shweder, Richard A., 7, 302 Sibly, Anne, 55, 302 Simms, Andrew, 295 Simon-Vandenbergen, Anne-Marie, 284 Simpson, Colin, 82, 302 Sinclair, John M., 36, 302, 304 Singelis, Theodore, 24, 302 Sivadas, Eugene, 24, 25, 303 Sjørslev, Inger, 104, 303 Skautrup, Peter, 7, 163, 303 Šmelev, Aleksej D., 110, 186, 303

Author index Sohn, Ho-min, 165, 166, 303 Soya, Carl Erik, 229, 303 Spectre, Barbara, 111, 315 Sperber, Dan, 257, 303 Stanwood, Ryo, 47, 303 Stark, Rodney, 255, 303 Steensig, Jakob, 255, 303 Stollznow, Karen, 54, 303 Stubbs, Michael, 36, 67, 71, 304 Stutzer, Alois, 197, 278 Suh, Eunkook M., 197, 275 Sullivan, Maria A., 7, 302 Sweetser, Eve, 38, 304 Syréhn, Gunnar, 40, 304 Tabakowska, Elzbieta, 257, 268 Tannen, Deborah, 40, 165, 304 Taylor, John R., 8, 273 Ten Have, Paul, 256, 304 Thielst, Peter, 17, 304 Thomas, F. Richard, 146, 153, 163, 185, 192, 261, 304 Thompson, Sam, 295 Tognini-Bonelli, Elena, 36, 304 Tomasello, Michael, 8, 304 Trabant, Jürgen, 9, 305 Traugott, Elisabeth Closs, 38, 270, 305 Travis, Catherine, 27, 55, 75, 305 Triandis, Harry C., 24–25, 189, 302, 305 Trudgill, Peter, 267 van der Voort, Hein, 12, 168 van Dijk, Teun A., 67, 258, 305, 312 Vanhove, Martine, 38, 49, 306 Vaupel James W., 225, 272 Veenhoven, Ruut, 197, 204, 306 Vermeulen, Jeroen, 9, 306 Verspoor, Marjolijn H., 6, 8, 275, Verweij, Johan, 26, 307 Vikør, Lars S., 12, 22, 252, 253, 307 Vittersø, Joar, 3, 269


Wæver, Ole, 133, 171 Warburg, Margit, 25, 285 Wardhaugh, Ronald, 21, 307 Waters, Sophia, 54, 190, 307 Weinreich, Max, 20, 253, 307 Weinreich, Torben, 121, 307, 308 Weiss, Gilbert, 67, 312 White, Adrian, 197, 198, 308 Whorf, Benjamin L., 166, 255, 308 Widmark, Gun, 252, 308 Wierzbicka, Anna, 1–2, 6–8, 10, 27, 34–48, 53–62, 65, 68, 70–76, 81–82, 87, 100, 106, 110, 115–118, 122– 123, 125, 127, 161, 165, 168, 182, 186–193, 199, 201–202, 205–207, 221–222, 224, 226, 228, 231, 235, 251, 254–257, 259, 261, 263, 265, 269, 283, 284, 286, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312 Wilkins, David, 38, 62, 277, 294, 312 Williams, Raymond, 71, 312 Winfrey, Oprah, 198, 312 Wilson, Deidre, 257, 303 Wodak, Ruth, 67, 312 Wolff, Philip, 8, 10, 296 Wong, Jock Onn, 53, 55, 75, 123, 165, 256, 265, 284, 312, 313 Wooffitt, Robin, 256, 289 Wührer, Karl, 252, 313 Ye, Zhengdao, 46, 54, 55, 75, 78, 202, 255, 313, 314 Yoon, Kyung-Joo, 46, 54–55, 72, 78, 314 Young, Linda Wai Ling, 165, 314 Yu, Ning, 64, 65, 302, 314, 315 Zion, Noam, 111, 315 Zuckerman, Phil, 2, 3, 25, 32, 33, 86, 170, 198, 254, 315

General index Note: In addition to subjects, this index lists (in italics) word from several languages that are discussed in this book. The words are followed by a rough gloss for ease of reference, but this must not be taken as equivalent in meaning to the word discussed in the text. Abbreviations used include Ch(inese), Da(nish), Du(tch), En(glish), Fi(nnish), Fr(ench), Ge(rman), Gr(eek), It(alian), Ja(panese), Ko(rean), Ma(lay), Mat(sigenka), Mi(skito), No(rwegian), Po(lish), Ru(ssian), Sp(anish), Sw(edish), Ti(betan). Abbreviations for varieties include: American English (Am-En), Australian English (Au-En), Jutlandic Danish (J-Da), Low German (L-Ge), Singapore English (S-En), Viennese German (V-Ge). abstand languages, 21 abstract nouns, 56, 58, 91 accommodation, 34 adjectives 6, 30, 50–51, 56–58, 73, 82, 88, 90, 115, 140, 184, 195, 202– 203, 216, 227, 254, 256, 265 adverbs, 50 perspective-changing, 172, 173, 262 adversatives, 172, 173, 254 African-American, 111 aggression, 28, 102, 158, 255 agreement, 93, 104, 191, 193–195 alderdom ‘old age’ (Da), 119–120 alligevel ‘still, nevertheless’ (Da), 173 allolexy, 49, 51–53, 236 amae ‘dependency’ (Ja), 261 Amazonian, 83-84, 258 Amharic, 46 America, 33, 147, 153 Declaration of Independence, 205 American English, 21, 206, 225, 253 Amerindian languages, 84 Andacht ‘quiet reflection’ (Ge), 112 anderledes ‘different’ (Da), 262 åndssvag ‘idiotic, ridiculous’ (Da), 171 Anglocentrism, 44, 257

Anglosphere, 2, 17, 199, 200–201, 226 animal (En), 256, 261 anthropocentrism, 8 anti-authoritarian, 34, 171, 174, 180 anti-elitism, 17, 34 anti-materialistic, 212–223 Arabic, 26, 233 ærligt talt ‘honestly, frankly’ (Da), 173 artig ‘well-behaved’ (Da), 23 artig ‘polite’ (Sw), 23 ‘Arvesølv’, 223 Ashanti, 259 assertive, 26, 166, 183–184, 191, 195 ausbau language, 21 Australia, 27, 47, 181, 195, 254 Australian English, 68, 145–146, 236, 261 Austria, 12, 202–203 Austrian German, 264 back-translation, 227 balance, 3, 29, 34, 100, 214, 217, 223 egalitarian, 103 emotional, 219 barn ‘child’ (Da), 115–116, 119– 120, 123–124, 234

General index ‘Barn Jesus’, 115, 260 barndom ‘childhood’ (Da), 119–120, 125, 147 bdewa ‘happiness’ (Ti), 265 believe (En), 10, 57–58, 168–169, 184, 189–191, 195 Bergen, 254 besinde sig ‘regain composure’ (Da), 73 besindig ‘calm, cool-headed’ (Da), 73 Bible, 22, 253 bilingual authors, 147 body (the human body), 55, 65, 73, 78, 258 Bokmål Norwegian, 22, 253, 254 Bornholm, 11, 252 borrowing, 113, 200 Brazil, 84 bridging contexts, 38–39, 50 Britain, 17–18, 195, 253, 254 Buddhism, 265 Bunuba, 47 calques, 200–201 Cambridge Happiness Survey, 197 Canada, 47, 254 candlelight, 107–111, 114, 260 canonical contexts, 47 Cardamom Law, 121–125, 144 Danish, 260 Norwegian, 260 child (En), 60 childhood, 28, 116, 120, 125, 143, 260 memories, 147 narratives, 147 child-raising, 125 China, 27 Chinese, 46, 78, 202 Christmas, 82, 88–89, 96, 108 cognitive relativism, 172, 174, 180 cognitive scenarios, 56–59


cognitive strategies, 65 cognitive style, 2, 5, 7, 55, 166, 179, 181, 184, 186–192, 237 cognitive values, 165–169, 173, 180, 185–186 Cognitive Linguistics, 8–10, 257 collectivism, 24–26, 149, 159 collocational profiles, 36, 90, 96–97, 118, 172, 217 colour, 55, 257 common ground (En), 193 communicative codes, 77 communicative events, 166, 188 communicative ideologies, 194 communicative styles, 82, 100, 103– 104, 114, 233 compounding, 30, 88–89, 200, 261 conceptual imposition, 36, 39, 41, 62, 201, 227 conceptual semantics, 24, 43, 63, 66, 140, 201, 204, 252, 263 Conceptual Metaphor Theory, 61, 64–66, 257 conformity (En), 157 Conversation Analysis, 256 conversational maxims, 62 conviviality (En), 82–84, 100, 110, 157 convivialité ’sociability’ (Fr), 84, 110 convivir ’live together’ (Sp), 84 convivencia ‘together-living’ (Sp), 84 cooperation, 25, 63 Copenhagen, 11–13, 16–17, 22, 23, 199, 252, 253, 256 coping with (En), 139 Corpus Linguistics, 36–37, 41, 71 cosiness (En), 110, 227 creature (En), 256 Critical Discourse Analysis, 61, 67– 68, 257, 258 cross-cultural awareness, 186, 196


General index

cross-cultural communication, 40, 165, 167, 186, 192–193, 196, 232, 236 cross-cultural education 192, 236 cross-Scandinavian communication, 22 cross-Scandinavian semantics, 113 cross-species evidence, 63 cross-talk, 165–166, 194 cultural change, 39 Cultural Dimensions, 24, 27 Cultural Discourse Analysis, 76 cultural diversity, 10 cultural elaboration, 168 cultural history, 8, 10, 34, 235 cultural keywords, 2, 6, 54, 66, 70– 75, 81, 116 Danish, 1, 4–5, 7, 59, 63, 80– 81, 87, 99–100, 113, 116, 125, 143–146, 163, 206, 217, 223, 230–236 Dutch, 111 English, 62, 71, 77, 116, 125, 146, 193, 205, 263 Finnish, 7 German, 7, 111 Norwegian, 260 Korean, 72 Malay, 72 Russian, 72, 77 Swedish, 7 cultural learners, 82, 109 cultural scripts, 9, 39, 75–79, 192, 233, 258 Anglo-American, 77, 225 Chinese, 78 Danish 100–102, 108, 123– 124, 161, 180–182, 224 Jewish, 224 Korean, 78 Russian, 77 cultural psychology, 24 cultural semantics, 4, 29, 42, 60, 232,

234–236 cultural semiotics, 259 cultural stereotypes, 36 Danish-Anglo communication, 189 Danish-Russian communication, 192 Danish language, 12, 40, 233 as a foreign language, 12 Danishes, 14, 252 NSM, 47–48, 51, 53, 230, 238– 250 semantics, 6, 24–25, 36, 42, 236, 251 stages of Danish, 14 daner ‘Viking Danes’ (Da), 252 Danmark ‘Denmark’ (Da), 14, 91, 252 Danocentrism, 111 Danosphere 42, 226 dansk ‘Danish’ (Da), 11, 13–16, 21, 24, 41, 72, 90–91, 111, 171, 230, 251, 252 dansker ‘Dane’ (Da), 13, 252 danskhed ‘Danishness’ (Da), 265 dansksindet ‘of a Danish sind’ (Da), 73, 252 dårlig ‘bad, poor’ (Da), 49–50, 67, 98 dealing with (En), 139–140 death, 104, 224 decision-making, 170, 194 deilig ‘beautiful, delicious’ (No), 23 dejlig ‘lovely’ (Da) 23, 106, 200, 254 democracy, 2, 20, 31, 170, 179, 191, 196, 235 democratic attitudes, 18, 35 democratic ethos, 6, 170, 179 demokratiet ‘democracy’ (Da), 263 Denmark, 2–4, 11–21, 26–28 18th Century, 13–14 19th Century, 11, 24, 80, 212, 251

General index 20th Century, 12, 80, 212, 222, 253 derimod ’on the other hand’ (Da), 173 dialects, 12, 20, 22, 24, 231, 252, 254, 262 dialect shift, 12 dialekter ‘local dialects’ (Da), 252 dialogue (En), 263 dictionaries, 23, 49, 71, 117–118, 130, 215, 221, 261, 264 discrimination, 67 discourse anti-janteloven discourse, 149– 155 Danish happiness discourse, 198199 dominant cultural discourse, 5 discourse functions 110, 111, 151, 159 discourse particle, 50, 65, 235 dog (En) 59–60, 256 duša ‘soul’ (Ru), 72 downtoning, 50 Dutch, 110–111, 180, 202–203 dygtig! ‘clever’ (Da), 123 dyr ‘animals’ (Da), 50 dysfunctional, 138, 149, 153, 161 earthbound, 225, 265 education in Denmark, 2, 17, 19, 189 egalitarianism, 3, 7, 26, 31, 34, 79, 103 egentlig ‘at the core’ (Da), 173 Elfdalian, 254 ellers ‘apart from that’ (Da), 173 embarrassed (En), 56–57 emotion display of, 3, 78 research, 54 scripts, 78, 224 social emotions, 97, 99, 150, 157


words, 29, 56–58, 64, 202, 234– 236 ‘En flyktning krysser sit spor’, 147 English language, 7, 10, 12, 115, 27, 29, 33, 36, 44–44, 47, 51, 53, 57, 59–60, 62–65, 71–74, 82–85, 106, 110, 118, 130, 139–142, 157, 167– 169, 182, 189–195, 199, 201–205, 214, 217, 220, 222, 225–228, 232, 251 as a Lingua Franca, 22, 192 18th Century, 205, 207, 221–222 Englishes Anglo, 254 ELF, 263 Enlightenment, 17–20, 251, 253 epistemic, 54, 57, 176, 263 ethics, 30, 125, 182 ethnobiology, 55 ethnocentrism, 39–41, 54, 63 ethnogeography, 55 ethnogeometry, 55 Ethnography of Communication, 76 ethnopragmatics, 1, 4, 6, 75–76, 99– 109, 192, 233–236 ethnopsychology, 43, 54, 71, 115– 120, 126, 133, 137–144, 214, 223, 235–236 ethnosyntax, 43, 55 ethnozoology, 55 etymology, 16, 111, 214, 265 Europe, European, 12, 14–17, 20, 30, 46, 69, 71, 84, 110 113, 189, 204– 205, 207, 211, 221–222 evaluation, evaluative, 75–76, 189, 191, 195 evaluators, 52, 97, 171, 189, 191, 200, 254 evil (En), 125 Exclusion-Inclusion Paradox, 101 extensional, extensionalism, 61–64, 108, 111, 257 face-threatening, 189


General index

fair (En), 263, 264 fairy tales, 116, 260 fællessang ‘community singing’ (Da), 18 false friends, 23–24, 255, 259 Faroe Islands, 12 felice ‘happy’ (It), 205, 222 fejre ‘celebrate’ (Da), 30 femininity, feminine, 26, 159 fest ‘party, celebration’ (Da), 30, 99 festive orientation, 29–30, 35 festlighed ‘festivity’ (Da), 29–30 figurative language, 222, 264 find (En), 168–169, 189–190 finder ‘find’ (Da), 169 Finnish, 7, 90, 202–203 fire (En), 107, 109, 259 firebladssystemet ‘the four paper system’ (Da), 263 følelsesporno ‘emotion porn’ (Da), 259 folkekirken ‘the people’s church’ (Da), 255, 263 folkelig ‘popular’ (Da), 30 folkelighed ‘democratic inclusivity’ (Da), 30 folkeskolen ‘the people’s school’ (Da), 263 folkestyret ‘popular rule, democracy’ (Da), 263 folk ideology, 24 folk knowledge, 26, 227 folk models, 2, 233 ‘Folk og røvere i Kardemommeby’, 116, 121 folk theory, 32 football, 86 for fanden ‘by the devil’ (Da), 33 for helvede ‘by hell’ (Da), 33 for satan ‘by satan’ (Da), 33 foreigners in Denmark, 2, 31, 68, 112 foreningslivet ‘society life’ (Da),

263 forhold ‘conditions’ (Da), 120 fornuftig ‘sensible, rational’ (Da), 264 fornøjet ‘cheerful’ (Da), 23 fornøyd ‘content’ (No), 23 forurettet ‘wronged’ (Da), 29 forventninger ‘expectations’ (Da), 225, 265 Frame Semantics, 256 fred ‘peace’ (Da), 73, 265 fremtid ‘future’ (Da), 120 French, 84, 110, 205, 221 influence in Danish, 13, 16, 252 Norman, 252 revolutionary, 18 Friedlichkeit ‘peacefullness’ (Ge), 112 frihed ‘freedom’ (Da), 18, 32, 119, 130 fuck ‘fuck’ (Da), 149–151, 157, 255 fuck (En), 157, 255 fun (En), 71, 88, 125 Funen, 11 Gallup World Poll, 197 gastronomical terms, 10 Gemüt ‘mind, inner nature’ (Ge), 111 gemütlich ‘comfortable’ (Ge), 112 Gemütlichkeit, ‘comfortable ambience’ (Ge), 68, 110–113 Gemütszustand ‘mental state’ (Ge), 111 gender, grammatical, 52, 256 gender, social and cultural, 2, 27, 123 German language, 15, 53, 68, 72, 110–113, 117, 202–203, 205, 221– 222, 254, 256 Austrian German, 7, 202, 264 High German, 16 influence in Danish, 13, 16, 180,

General index Low German, 16, 254, 265 Germany, 11–12, 17, 202–203 gezelligheid ‘sociability’ (Du), 11 Ghana, 251, 259 glad ‘happy’ (Da) 6, 19, 197, 199– 202, 205–220, 223–228, 264, 265 glad (En), 214–215 globalisation, 186, 227 glücklich ‘happy’ (Ge), 202–203, 205, 221–222 glæde ‘pleasure, joy, happiness’ (Da), 32, 306 gløgg ‘mulled wine’ (Da), 10 Google, 37–38 govorit’ pravdu ‘speak the truth’ (Ru), 187, 193 grading in Danish schools, 184 grammatical categories, 55 grammatical frames, 43, 46–48, 52– 53, 176, 206 grammatical simplification, 252 grammatical strata, 16 Greenland, 12, 251 grei ‘friendly’ (No), 260 grim ‘ugly’ (Da), 271 grine ‘laugh’ (Da), 23 grine ‘weep, cry’ (No), 23 group identity, 101, 178–179, 196 Grundtvigianism, Grundtvigian, 15, 17, 19–20, 30, 162, 179, 253 guai ‘obedient’ (S-En), 265 Hafnic, 252 Hafnification, 22, 253, 254 Hafniosphere, 22 handball, 149–150 Hanseatic, 252 happiness (En), 40, 58–59, 77, 125, 197–228 happiness questionaires, 201, 204 happiness research, 3, 6, 31, 197– 204, 214, 226–228, 234, 264


happy (En), 6, 10, 57, 125, 197–228 hati ‘heart’ (Ma), 72 having a good life (En), 214 having a good time (En), 95, 204 held og lykke! ’good luck’ (Da), 265 Herder, Johann Gottfried von, 13– 15, 41 heureux ‘happy’ (Fr) high-trust society, 121 historical semantics, 38, 80, 258 hjemlig ’homely’ (Da), 90 hjemme ’at home’ (Da), 90 horizontal individualism, 25–26, 35, 185 hormat ‘respect’ (Ma), 69 hot (En), 106 human social categories, 54, 78, 234 humanism, 19, 35, 161–162 humour in Danish, 28, 40, 235, 259 in English, 235, 259 hygge ‘pleasant togetherness’ (Da), 1–2, 5, 7, 29–30, 37, 68, 80–114, 115, 117, 127, 158, 217, 223, 226– 227, 229, 231, 233, 235–236 as a semantic molecule, 93, 100, 103–105, 108–109, 233 scripts, 100, 103–105, 233 symbols, 93, 106–107 hygge ‘comfort, contentment’ (No), 101, 113 hygge ‘clearing of forest’ (Sw), 37– 38, 113 hyggelig ‘cosy, nice’ (Da) hygger ‘to have hygge’ (Da), 82, 88, 93–96, 105 hygger sig ‘have a good time’ (Da) , 82, 88, 93–96, 134 højt til loftet ‘high to the ceiling’ (Da) 191 højtlæsning ‘reading aloud’ (Da), 121


General index

i det hele taget ‘taken as a whole’ (Da), 173 Iceland, 12 iconicity, 109 identity, 11–24, 101, 179–181, 196, 235 identity nationalism, 12–13, 15–16, 41, 251, 253 ideology, 12–13, 24, 67, 69, 191, 194, 223, 236, 253, 258 idioms, 29, 71, 74, 92, 185, 191, 200, 264 ild ‘fire’, 106–107, 109, 259, 260 in my experience (En), 190 in my opinion (En), 190 inclusion, 15, 18, 29, 101–102 India, 31, 251 individualism, 25–27, 34–35, 146, 229 intercultural communication, 5, 166 interjections, 37, 43, 55, 63 interpersonal awareness, 170, 172, 174, 185 interpersonal relations, 223 inter-Scandinavian communication, 22, 24 interviews, 31–35, 87 intimidad ‘intimacy’ (Sp), 110 intimité ‘intimacy’ (Fr), 110 intellectual styles, 180 intolerance, 149–150 intonation, 37 Inuits, 252 iskrennost’ ‘sincerity’ (Ru), 77 Israeli (Modern Hebrew), 46, 124– 125 istina ‘higher, absolute truth’ (Ru), 188 janteloven ‘the Jante law’ (Da), 30, 145–164, 231, 236, 251, 261, 262 literary origins, 147–150, 155 Japanese, 46, 72, 261

Jewish, 224 jocular incomprehensibility, 259 jocular irony, 236 journalism, 178, 263 jul ‘Christmas’ (Da), 96 Jutland, Jutlandic, 7, 11, 13, 252, 262 kaarsen ‘candles’ (Du), 111 kasum ‘heart, chest’ (Ko), 72 ked af det ‘sad’ (Da), 216, 223 Kerzen ‘candles’ (Ge), 110, 112 Kindergarten, 126 kisagantsi ‘anger’ (Mat), 258 Kitsch ‘kitsch’ (Ge), 112 kokoro ‘heart, feeling’ (Ja), 72 konstig ‘strange’ (Sw), 23 Korean, 46, 72, cultural scripts, 78 social categories, 78 kos ‘cosiness’ (No), 110, 113 kunstig ‘artifical’ (Da), 23 købstad ‘market town’ (Da), 13 lagom ‘not too much, not too little’ (Sw), 7 landscape terms, 55 ‘Langt Højere Bjerge’, 19–20 language awareness, 192 language concepts 12, 14–15, 251 language learners, 169 language migrants, 82, 101 language socialization, 100, 116, 120, 124, 232, 234, 260 language (En), 15 Latin, 22, 84, 252 latwan ‘pain, love, compassion’ (Mi), 258 le ‘attainable enjoyment’ (Ch), 202 levende lys ’living lights’, 108, 112 lexemes, 49 lexical grids, 4–6, 167, 169, 230, 234 lexical units, 49–50 lian ‘face’ (Ch), 78

General index life quality, 39, 138, 206–207, 211– 214, 217–218, 221–222, 225, 227, 265 ligestilling ‘gender equality’ (Da), 2 lighed ‘equality’ (Da), 30, 32 light reflexive verbs, 88, 93, 134, 259 linguistic anthropology, 8, 73, 76, 120 literacy socialization, 121, 124, 234, 260 long-term orientation, 36 love (En), 58–59 lugn ‘calm’ (Sw), 23 lun ‘snug, warm’ (Da), 23 Lutheran, 17, 20, 179, 255 lykke ‘happiness’ (Da), 32, 80, 201– 203, 207–213, 223, 226, 235, 264, 265 lykkelig ‘happy’ (Da), 6, 39, 197– 228, 264, 265 ‘Lykken er ikke gods eller guld’, 212, 223 lys ‘light, bright’ (Da), 72–73 mål ‘local ways of speaking’ (Da), 13–14, 231, 252 Malay, 46, 65, 69, 72, 252 masculinity, 26-28, 35 mate (Au-En), 68 Matsigenka, 258 maum ‘heart, mind’ (Ko), 72 Mbula, 47 mean (En) mener ‘mean, think’ (Da), 37, 175 menneskerettigheder ‘human rights’ (Da), 2 mentality, 18, 72, 86, 146, 191, 196, 235 metalanguage, 43–61, 79, 110, 168, 192, 204, 233, 236 metalexical awareness, 58, 86 metaphors, 2, 23, 61, 64–66, 69, 87,


139, 146, 155, 214, 257, 259, 265 mind (En), 40, 62, 65, 71–74, 118 miscommunication, 165 Miskitu, 258 mobning ‘bullying’ (Da), 151 moderation, 29, 35, 224 moral, morality, 29, 33, 63, 66, 116, 142, 156, 162–163, 182, mørk ‘dark’ (Da), 72–73, 224, 254 Moscow School of Semantics, 256 motivation, 86, 231 multiethnic, 12 mutual information scores, 36 mutual intelligibility, 254,263 naming, 88–89 narratives, 19, 71, 121 children’s, 116, 234 childhood, 147 grand narrative of Danish identity, 12 national language, 14–15, 230–231 nationalism, 11–12, 15–16, 20, 41 nation-states, 12, 20, 30, 179 neo-Gricean Pragmatics, 62, 257 New Zealand, 254 new words, 258 newspapers, 263 nogenlunde ‘somewhat’ (Da), 212 noin ‘respected elderly people’ (Ko), 78 non-verbal meaning, 82, 100, 110 Norden ‘the North’ (Da), 16–17, 20, 253, 254 Nordic, 16, 18, 21 Norse mythology 17–18 Northern Europe, Northern European, 13, 110, 113, 189, 252 Norway, 3, 12, 28–29, 264 Norwegian, 20–24, 28–29, 80, 110, 113, 117, 121, 147, –148, 253, 254 nuet ‘the now’ (Da), 22, 29, 217, 223,


General index

nybagte boller ‘newly baked buns’ (Da), 107–108 øllebrød ‘rye bread porridge’ (Da), 10 omgivelser ‘surroundings’ (Da), 120 omsorg ‘care, solicitude’ (Da), 29 omvendt ‘turned upside-down (Da), 150, 173 onnellinen ‘happy’ (Fi), 202–203 overdreven ‘exaggerated’ (Da), 225 overskuelig ‘overviewable’ (Da), 140 overskuelighed ‘overviewability’ (Da), 140 på den anden side ‘on the other hand’ (Da), 173, 254 på min egen måde ‘in my own way’ (Da), 33 pædagogisk ‘pedagogical’ (Da), 142–144 pais ‘child’ (Gr), 143 pan-Scandinavianism, 20–23, 254 ‘Papirsklip’, 207, 209 parting routines, 71, 88 peace of mind (En), 118, 261 pedagogical scripts, 192–196 pedagogy (En), 142 pejs ‘fire place’ (Da), 106, 108 personal autonomy, 122 personal values, 38 personality types, 73 personhood, 72–74, 111, 161, 235 personlig ‘personal’ (Da), 173 pessimism, pessimistic phraseology, 32, 37, 74, 78, 86, 88, 231 physical activity verbs, 55 poetry, 19 Polish, 53, 205 polite (En), 10, 23 politeness (En), 40, 62, 64 Politeness Theory 62–64

political debates, 87 political parties, 179, 263 politics, 5, 64–65, 68, 179, 260, 263 polysemy, 37–38, 49–51, 206, 211, 222, 227 positive psychology, 225, 264 post-materialism, 2, 7, 35 post-modernism, 2, 35, 180 post-Puritan, 125 power, 27–28, 67–69, 258, 261 power distance, 26–27 power struggle, 67–69 pragmatic transfer, 263 pravda ‘truth’ (Ru), 51, 188 progressive, 3, 31, 179, 263 proper nouns, 88–89 prophetic drohrede, 224 proverbs, 71 psychoanalysis, 261 psycholinguistics, 257 Puritan, 29, 33, 125 quantification, 50, 207, 217 racism, 67–68 rammer ‘frames’ (Da), 117, 120, 129, 136, 137–139, 142–144 rar ‘kind, pleasant’ (Da), 23 rar ‘strange’ (No), 23 rational, rationalism, 19, 74, 182, 253 reaching for the stars (Am-En), 225 realism, 224 Realitätsflucht ‘flight from reality’ (Ge), 112 reasonable (En), 182, 190–195, 263, 264 reciprocity, 18, 259 reductive paraphrase, 47, 54, 61, 64– 66–70, 79, 229–230, 257 reflexivity, 259 relational individualism, 25, 35 relativism, 172, 175, 180, 188, 259

General index religion, 3, 32–33, 35, 134, 146, 179, 254, 255 rhetorical, 67, 141, 151, 177, 203 right (En) 123, 125, 181– 182 rigsdansk ‘kingdom Danish’ (Da), 12, 16, 252 rigtig ‘correct, right’ (Da), 182 rimelig ‘fair, reasonable’ (Da), 207, 212, 219, 264 ro ’rest, calmness’ (Da), 73–74, 80 rolig ‘calm, quiet’ (Da), 23 rolig ‘fun, amusing’ (Sw), 23 rude (En), 190 Russia, 27, 193 Russian, 51, 72, 74, 76–77, 110, 186–188, 191–193, 263 sad (En), 56 safety (En), 117, 119, 130 samfundet ‘society at large’ (Da), 29, 263 samtale ‘conversation’ (Da), 104 sær ‘strange, weird’ (Da), 163, 262 sarcasm, 154 satisfaction with life index, 264 Scandinavia, Scandinavian, 16, 20– 25, 28–29, 113, 116–117, 121, 124, 139, 180, 235, 251, 253, 254, 256, Scandinavian (En), 121 Schleswig-Holstein, 12 Schmäh ‘ironic, misanthropic wit’ (V-Ge), 7 sčitat ‘think’ (Ru), 186–187, 190– 191 secularity, 32, 33, 35 secularization, 33, 179, 254 secure (En), 117, 127 security (En), 58, 59, 83, 115–118, 126, 130–133, 144, 161, 163 Seelenruhe ‘peace in the soul’ (Ge), 111 self-categorization, 33


self-censorship, 87 self-cognition, 159, 161 self-expression, 25, 158, 163 self-reliance, 25 self-stereotype, 30 selvstændighed ‘independence’ (Da), 184–185, 194 selvsving ‘self-oscilation’ (Da), 103 selvværd ‘self-worth’ (Da), 147, 150, 158, 160–162 semantic change, 38, 205, 235 semantic domains, 10, 54, 69, 236 semantic equivalents, 24, 109–110, 139, 227 semantic integration of loanwords, 255 semantic molecules, 42, 59–61, 78, 106, 109, 123, 234, 256 semantic nesting, 109, 259 semantic primes, 42–50, 54, 59–60, 168–169, 226, 230, 233, 256 semantic transfer, 263 semantic template, 42, 55–58, 234 semantic-conceptual awareness, 108, 236–237 semantic-conceptual diversity, 83– 84, 202, 228, 255 semi-communication, 252 sensation, 53, 91, 93, 106–107 sexism, 67–68 shit (En), 255 short-term orientation, 26 Sicherheit ‘safety’ (Ge), 117 sikkerhed ‘safety’ (Da), 117, 119, 130 sind ‘mind, disposition’ (Da), 71–74, 115, 181, 235, 258 sindig ‘calm, sedate’ (Da), 73 sindsbevægelse ‘movement of sind’ (Da), 74 sindsligevægt ‘balance of sind’ (Da), 74 sisu ‘inner strength’ (Fi), 7


General index

sjov ‘fun’ (Da), 235 sjæl ‘soul’ (Da), 115, 258, 260 skandinavisk ‘Scandinavian’ (Da), 21 skråsikker ‘slanting sure’ (Da), 183– 184, 188 skuffet ‘disappointed’ (Da), 225 slogans, 117 smiley ‘face-icon’ (Da), 201, 264 smiley face symbol, 201 snill ’nice’ (No), 260 social change, 67, 158, 162, 164, 261 social dependency, 28, 35 social ethos, 80 social responsibility, 35 socialization, 1, 5, 28, 81, 100, 105– 145, 170, 184, 232, 234 sociolects, 39 sociopolitical, 68, 252, 263 sød ‘sweet, nice’ (Da), 254 sogn ‘parish’ (Da), 13 sommerhuse ‘summer houses’ (Da), 89 songs, 18–20, 81, 211, 253 sort humor ‘black humour’ (Da), 259 sortseere ‘black viewers’ (Da), 224 soul (En), 258 Spanish, 84–86, 110 speciel ‘special, odd’ (Da), 97, 262 speech act verbs, 235 speech genres, 224 speech routines, 32, 37, 71, 88 sprog ‘national language’ (Da), 13– 16, 24, 230–231, 235, 252, stage-of-life terms, 119 stand ‘class’ (Danish), 13 Standard Average European, 255 standardization, 12, 15, 22, 253 stearinlys ‘candles’ (Da), 106 stemning ‘atmosphere’ (Da), 29, 82, 96–99, 114, 259 stereotypes, 5, 36, 39–40

structuralism, structuralist, 4, 38, 251 subcultures, 39 subjective well-being, 33, 228, 264 suicide, 28–29, 198 suppose (En), 57 sur ‘grumpy’ (Da), 216, 223, 264 swearwords, 33, 255 Sweden, 3, 11–12, 28, 32 Swedish, 7, 17, 20–24, 38, 57, 75, 113, 117, 233, 253, 254, 263 Switzerland, 264 ‘Svantes Lykkelige Dag’, 210, 265 ‘Svantes Viser’, 265 svineri ‘filthiness’ (Da), 171 symbols, symbolism, 43, 93, 106– 111, 114, 233 synes ‘think’ (Da), 5, 165–196, 229, 262, 263 szczęśliwy ‘happy’ (Po), 205, 222 taboo, 33, 105, 191, 255, 258 Tahitian, 257 tall poppies (Au-En), 145 temperature, 259 temporal concepts, 168 Ten Commandments, the, 148 Theology, 19–20 ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, 260 ‘The Ugly Duckling’, 260 Tibetan, 265 til gengæld ‘in return’ (Da), 173 til lykke ‘good luck’ (Da), 265 tilfreds ‘satisfied, happy’ (Da), 6, 199, 201, 205–207, 217–220, 223, 225–228, 265 tilfredshed ‘satisfaction’ (Da), 203, 206 tillid ‘trust’ (Da), 32, 119, 130 to my knowledge (En), 190 towvrede ‘satisfied’ (L-Ge), 265 tourism, tourists, 2, 198, 251 træls ‘annoying’ (J-Da), 7

General index uhygge ‘sinister atmosphere’ (Da), 88 uhyggelig ‘scary, grim’ (Da), 88, 259 ulykkelig ‘unhappy’ (Da), 225 umiddelbart ’offhand’ (Da), 173 uncertainty avoidance, 26–27, 193, 229 unhappy (En), 259 United States, 254 universals, 10, 62–63, universal molecules, 60 urealistisk ‘unrealistic’ (Da), 225 uselvstændighed ‘un-independence’ (Da), 194 utilitarianism, 205, 220 utilfreds ‘dissatisfied’ (Da), 219, 225 utryg ‘insecure’ (Da), 125, 133–134 values, 1–2, 4, 6–11, 24–35, 39– 40, 64, 68, 71, 116, 121, 161, 181, 188, 193, 224, 228, 232–234 varm ‘warm, hot’ (Da), 92–94, 106– 109, 260 varm kakao ‘hot chocolate’ (Da), 106, 108 varme ‘warmth’ (Da), 119, 130 vertical individualism, 25–26

vibrance, 112 Vikings, 251, 252 visuality, 55, 61, 108, 121 violence, 3, 30, 128 warm (En), 106 warmth (En), 98, 106 Western, the West, 2, 17, 25, 49, 125, 202, 232 Whorfian, 6, 166 willingness to communicate, 22–23 Wolof, 257 word frequency, 71, 206, 227, 233 World Database of Happiness, 203 World Wide Web, 37 writing practices, 22 xenophobia, 67, 133 xi ’festive joy’ (Ch), 202 Yankunytjatjara, 46, 65 Yiddish, 253 young speakers, 22, 255 ytringsfrihed ‘freedom of speech’ (Da), 2 Zealand, 11, 16 zufrieden ‘satisfied’ (Ge), 265 Zulu, 257