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'Moral panic' over Danish language loss

As fears mount over the decline of the Danish language, UK professor gives an alternative explanation

Some say that the Danish language is losing ground in Danish universities, and that everyone will soon only be able to speak and write in English. But these concerns have the character of a ‘moral panic’, and may have more to do with spin politics than reality.

This is according to Deborah Cameron from the University of Oxford. She was in Copenhagen last week to address the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language (CIP) Symposium.

The sociological concept she uses is ‘moral panic’, a term invented in the 1970’s. It means a sudden emergence of a real or imagined threat to society, that demands an immediate political response.

Golden age

»It is typical of a moral panic that the threat is exaggerated and that someone is blamed for it. The scapegoats in the past have seemed to be the immigrants who have been blamed for things such as crime, terrorism, overpopulation, unemployment, and religion. Now they are sometimes also blamed for the state of the language.«

Popular fear factors include migrants swamping the indigenous populations, taking jobs from the natives, and failing to assimilate culturally, Deborah Cameron says. In the Danish context this can be seen in the toughening of the Danish immigration laws and recent amendments to the family reunification laws.

Danish, like many other languages, has been affected by globalization. But behind the fear lies nostalgia for a ‘golden age’ where people lived untainted by foreign influences, Cameron explains.

Fear of English

In the last decade many European countries have seen the rise of small nationalist parties, feeding conservative anxieties about the increasing number of migrants, in turn helping foster a moral panic, she says.

»Although educated Danes have always used other languages within and outside their country, the extent to which English is dominating many areas of work and life might be alarming for some people.«

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