The youth and the gatekeepers

Overview of the study

Kristiansen examined how youth and adults in Denmark perceived three dialects: (1) Standard Copenhagen Danish, rigsdansk, (2) Working-class Copenhagen Danish, københavnsk, (3) their regional dialect, which was called sjællandsk in the case of this population from a town called Naestved. He was also interested in comparing overt and covert attitudes: what people said about desirability of the dialects versus how they actually judged speakers of the dialects.

The study involved 217 informants: 120 adolescents in their schools, 61 elementary teachers, and 36 managers at a meeting in a hotel. Participants had to complete two tasks, overt and covert. The overt task was a questionnaire explicitly asking them about the dialects and their prestige. The covert task was a speaker evaluation instrument that had them rate six speaker (two from each dialect) in terms of personal qualities like “competence” and “solidarity.”

Kristiansen provided an overview of the language situation in Denmark: københavnsk is gaining ground and merging with rigsdansk in mass media, despite language purists (probably a minority) saying Danish is being degraded as a result of this; however, many regional dialects like sjællandsk are dying. In public discourse, københavnsk is criticized a lot (even though it is becoming more and more normal in daily life), whereas there is a sense of nostalgia for regional dialects like sjællandsk.

Overt task results

The adults had the most positive attitudes towards rigsdansk (standard), then sjællandsk (regional), then københavnsk (Copenhagen street dialect). In contrast, the youth had the most positive attitudes towards sjællandsk (regional), then rigsdansk (standard), then københavnsk (Copenhagen street dialect). Note that this generation of youth actually spoke 80% københavnsk and 20% rigsdansk.

Covert task results

The adults performed similarly on the covert task as they did on the overt task. They ranked rigsdansk speakers most positively overall, though they did rank sjællandsk speakers high in terms of solidarity. (However, many of these results were not statistically significant.) The youth reversed their hierarchy from the overt task! In the covert task, københavnsk speakers were ranked highest, then rigsdansk speakers, then sjællandsk speakers.

Does this mean the youth are counterculture? Kristiansen argues that this is not the case: since københavnsk is becoming more mainstream, youth are having difficulty telling københavnsk from rigsdansk. For sjællandsk, even though youth have nostalgia for it, they do not judge people who speak it in a positive light.

Practical implications/significance

The youth are not particularly counterculture: (1) they praise sjællandsk as a regional dialect but do not speak it much or judge people who speak it well; (2) they only evaluate københavnsk positively because they conflate it with rigsdansk (i.e., what they imagine as københavnsk when they criticize it in explicit interviews is different from the københavnsk they actually speak and do not see as københavnsk). This all shows more alignment with standard language ideology than posing challenges to it.

Original text

Kristiansen, T. (2003). The youth and the gatekeepers. In J. K. Androutsopoulos & A. Georgakopoulou (Eds.), Discourse constructions of youth identities (pp. 279-302). Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins.

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