Mother-tongue interference. How to avoid Danglishness
Danes are generally good at speaking English, but writing academic English is not easy. This text discusses some of the recurrent stumbling blocks to writing scientific texts that non-native English speakers in general and Danish writers in particular are facing; stumbling blocks that often make Danish writers’ papers appear somewhat un-English, or Danglish, in tone and style because what is good writing in Danish is copied unwittingly into English.
There are important differences between Danish and English
However, when communicating the results of your research, the comparatively solid background in everyday spoken English is rarely sufficient. Nor is the often used approach of using second-language vocabulary in sentences built accoring to the principles of one’s mother tongue necessarily productive. Although Danish and English are relatively close, there are important differences. These differences are seen both at the level of words and sentences.
In this text, which is inspired by Knud Sørensen: English and Danish Contrasted. A Guide for Translators, I will not focus on phonology, stress and intonation or other aspects of the production of oral English; nor will I address the issue of how we use language differently in English and Danish as a tool for social interaction; rather the focus will be on a few of the most recurrent stumbling blocks for Danish writers of medical research papers; stumbling blocks that often make Danish writers’ papers appear somewhat un-English, or Danglish, in tone and style because what is good writing in Danish is copied unwittingly into English.
Word level differences between English and Danish
Actual in English means real
Some English words, mainly those of Roman origin, have corresponding Danish words that resemble the English words but mean something different. These “false friends” are notoriously difficult. And there are many. A few relevant examples: The English word actual means real, whereas the Danish “aktuel” corresponds to English topical like in the expression a topical issue. Where Danish authors want to say “det aktuelle studie” in the sense “herværende”, they should use present, i.e. the present study.
Eventual in English means finally
The Danish word “eventuelt” does not correspond to eventual in English where it means at long last or finally. If we want to express possibility in English, we use the modal verb may or lexicalise the possibility using possibly, like in We may possibly use this approach. There are other stumbling blocks, for sure, some of which are rooted in German. The problem is the same: despite their formal similarity, they are semantically different from Danish. For example the adjective forbidding means “stern” or “repulsive” in English (e.g. He looked rather forbidding).