The first page of the Jutlandic Law originally from 1241 in Codex Holmiensis, copied in 1350. The first sentence is: "Mædh logh skal land byggas" Modern orthography: "Med lov skal land bygges" English translation: "With law shall a country be built"
Along with the other North Germanic languages, Danish is a descendant of Old Norse, the common language of the Germanic peoples who lived in Scandinavia during the Viking Era. Danish, together with Swedish, derives from the East Norse dialect group, while the Middle Norwegian language before the influence of Danish and Norwegian Bokmål are classified as West Norse along with Faroese and Icelandic. A more recent classification based on mutual intelligibility separates modern spoken Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish as "mainland Scandinavian", while Icelandic and Faroese are classified as "insular Scandinavian".
Until the 16th century, Danish was a continuum of dialects spoken from Schleswig to Scania with no standard variety or spelling conventions. With the Protestant Reformation and the introduction of printing, a standard language was developed which was based on the educated Copenhagen dialect. It spread through use in the education system and administration, though German and Latin continued to be the most important written languages well into the 17th century. Following the loss of territory to Germany and Sweden, a nationalist movement adopted the language as a token of Danish identity, and the language experienced a strong surge in use and popularity, with major works of literature produced in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, traditional Danish dialects have all but disappeared, though regional variants of the standard language exist. The main differences in language are between generations, with youth language being particularly innovative.
Danish has a very large vowel inventory comprising 27 phonemically distinctivevowels, and its prosody is characterized by the distinctive phenomenon stød, a kind of laryngeal phonation type. Due to the many pronunciation differences that set apart Danish from its neighboring languages, particularly the vowels, difficult prosody and "weakly" pronounced consonants, it is sometimes considered to be a difficult language to learn and understand, and some evidence shows that small children are slower to acquire the phonological distinctions of Danish. The grammar is moderately inflective with strong (irregular) and weak (regular) conjugations and inflections. Nouns and demonstrative pronouns distinguish common and neutral gender. Like English, Danish only has remnants of a former case system, particularly in the pronouns. Unlike English, it has lost all person marking on verbs. Its syntax is V2 word order, with the finite verb always occupying the second slot in the sentence.
Scandinavian languages are often considered a dialect continuum, where no sharp dividing lines are seen between the different vernacular languages.
Like Norwegian and Swedish, Danish was significantly influenced by Low German in the Middle Ages, and has been influenced by English since the turn of the 20th century.
Danish itself can be divided into three main dialect areas: West Danish (Jutlandic), Insular Danish (including the Standard variety), and East Danish (including Bornholmian and Scanian). Under the view that Scandinavian is a dialect continuum, East Danish can be considered intermediary between Danish and Swedish, while Scanian can be considered a Swedified East Danish dialect, and Bornholmsk is its closest relative.
Danish is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Swedish. Proficient speakers of any of the three languages can often understand the others fairly well, though studies have shown that speakers of Norwegian generally understand both Danish and Swedish far better than Swedes or Danes understand each other. Both Swedes and Danes also understand Norwegian better than they understand each other's languages. The reason Norwegian occupies a middle position in terms of intelligibility is because of its shared border with Sweden resulting in a similarity in pronunciation, combined with the long tradition of having Danish as a written language which has led to similarities in vocabulary. Among younger Danes, Copenhageners are worse at understanding Swedish than Danes from the provinces, and in general, younger Danes are not as good at understanding the neighboring languages as are Norwegian and Swedish youths.