When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Denmark

Economy

Will COVID's Boost For Labor Unions Last? Check The Swedish Model

The pandemic has spurred a resurgence in labor unions around the world. But their return to prominence also raises the question of whether they’re the best way to protect workers in a globalized world.

Unions around the world have been on a steady decline over the last half-century: crippled by globalized economics and confounded by the accelerating changes in our work culture, average trade union membership in OECD countries has fallen from 30% in 1985 to 16% today. In the U.S., one-third of workers belonged to a labor union in the 1950s — a far cry from today’s 10.7%, including a meager 6.4% of private-sector workers.

A pandemic was bound to shake the status quo for the world of labor: from a newfound appreciation for what we’ve come to call “essential” workers to a series of layoffs in other sectors to the Great Resignation, which saw individuals reassess what they really want from their career.

Watch Video Show less

We’re All Sweden Now: How COVID Fatigue Brought Us Back To Herd Immunity

Early in the pandemic, Swedish authorities were roundly criticized for the lack of COVID-19 restrictions and for arguing for a different cost-benefit calculation in trying to eliminate the virus at all costs. Now, more and more countries are dropping all restrictions even as Omicron continues to spread. But is this really about herd immunity?

Since Denmark became the first European nation to drop all COVID restrictions in late January, a slew of countries around the world have followed suit — including Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Dominican Republic and, most recently, the UK. After almost two years of curfews and mask mandates, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared Monday it was time to “live with the coronavirus.”

And the list of others taking the same path is set to grow: Italy and Spain recently lifted masking mandates for outdoor spaces, while French authorities have announced indoor masking will no longer be mandated starting next week. Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer harkens “a dignified spring awakening” with most restrictions to be lifted by March 5 — while German Chancellor Olof Scholz hailed last Wednesday “a very special day of the pandemic” after agreeing with 16 state governors on a schedule to drop most restrictions in the coming months.

But all of this rosy talk and rescinded restrictions also begs the question of why this is a special time. Why, as the Omicron variant is spreading far faster than previous versions, and when it’s clear that no nation on Earth has come close to conquering COVID, is it time to abandon containment efforts?

Keep reading... Show less

From Snowden To Pegasus: What Is Espionage In The Digital Age?

It was Jane Austen, back in 1816, who wrote that "every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies." That neighborhood is getting quite a bit bigger these days as our digitized lives and economies extract ever-deepening rivers of private data from the daily lives of citizens.

Keep reading... Show less

Masahiro Hara Takes Aim: The QR Code Inventor Builds Post-Pandemic Applications

Conceived in the early 1990s, the QR Code has spread exponentially during the pandemic. Its creator, Masahiro Hara, is one of the many continuing to innovate his most famous invention, which has changed everything from medicine to how we dine.

There's a small red sign at the foot of the steps leading to the Haiden pavilion of Futarasan-jinja, a Shinto shrine founded in 782 by a Buddhist monk. We are in the heart of a cedar forest in the sacred mountains of Nikko. Before going up to pray to the kami, the spirits of the temple, pilgrims and tourists crowd in front of the sign installed just two years ago.

Smartphones in hand, they scan a QR Code, under a few lines explaining — in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean — that it is good manners to make a "small donation" when visiting a shrine.

Keep reading... Show less
Geopolitics

Norwegian Salmon v. Danish Trout: Lessons On Ecology And Economics

The Danish government has banned further growth in sea-based fish farming, claiming the country had reached the limit without endangering the environment. A marine biologist says it is a misguided policy for both economic and ecological reasons.

-Analysis-

“They’ve got the oil in the North Sea, but don’t let Norway get all the pink gold too…”

That was a headline of a recent OpEd in Danish daily Politiken, arguing that misguided environmental concerns are giving neighboring Norway a monopoly on the lucrative salmon industry.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Carl Karlsson

When Countries “Export” Inmates To Foreign Prisons

A recent report revealed that Denmark plans to rent prison cells abroad, raising troubling questions about the expanding global trade in penitentiary services.

In January 1788, 11 British ships carrying convicts arrived at the shores of the colony of New South Wales, effectively founding Australia. In the 80 years that followed, with British cities filling up and petty crime proliferating, more than 160,000 prisoners would arrive down under from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Fast forward to 2021, and punishment by exile has mostly been abolished, with colonial powers like France and Britain closing their last overseas penal institutions around the time of World War II. But while these outposts are associated with oppression and atrocity today, the export of prisoners has nonetheless survived, and is now experiencing something of a revival.

Watch Video Show less
Green
Carl Karlsson

Six Massive Clean Energy Projects That Offer A Shot Of Climate Hope

Last fall's COP26 climate summit showed the way to, not, move forward on tackling the climate crisis. But all's not lost. From the biggest solar farm in the world to a huge storage plant for C02, here are some of the largest renewable energy projects in the pipeline around the globe.

Following a decade-long fanfare of private and government pledges to combat the warming of the planet, last month’s United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow painted a grim picture of the world’s climate progress. The takeaway: the world is on course to overshoot the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Accords in all but the most optimistic scenario, which would require all announced targets to be fully implemented.

That scenario, however, seems distant today as the pivot to a sustainable energy market is unevenly distributed across the globe, with many fossil-fuel-dependent countries still struggling to close the energy gap as demand for power increases. What is worse, while some countries have improved their ambitions, others slipped backward at COP26 by retracting set climate targets.

Watch Video Show less
THE CONVERSATION
Morten H. Christiansen

In Denmark, A Hard Language For Kids To Learn Shapes Society

The process machinery to master vowel-heavy Danish explains that way adults tend to interact.

Denmark is a rich country with an extensive welfare system and strong education. Yet surprisingly, Danish children have trouble learning their mother tongue. Compared to Norwegian children, who are learning a very similar language, Danish kids on average know 30% fewer words at 15 months and take nearly two years longer to learn the past tense. In "Hamlet," William Shakespeare famously wrote that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark," but he might as well have been talking about the Danish language.

We are a cognitive scientist and language scientist from the Puzzle of Danish group at Aarhus University and Cornell. Through our research, we have found that the uniquely peculiar way that Danes speak seems to make it difficult for Danish children to learn their native language – and this challenges some central tenets of the science of language.

Why is Danish so hard?

There are three main reasons why Danish is so complicated. First, with about 40 different vowel sounds – compared to between 13 and 15 vowels in English depending on dialect – Danish has one of the largest vowel inventories in the world. On top of that, Danes often turn consonants into vowel-like sounds when they speak. And finally, Danes also like to "swallow" the ends of words and omit, on average, about a quarter of all syllables. They do this not only in casual speech but also when reading aloud from written text.

The difficulty of Danish is no secret in Scandinavia, as seen in this clip from a Norwegian comedy TV show.

Other languages might incorporate one of these factors, but it seems that Danish may be unique in combining all three. The result is that Danish ends up with an abundance of sound sequences with few consonants. Because consonants play an important role in helping listeners figure out where words begin and end, the preponderance of vowel-like sounds in Danish appears to make it difficult to understand and learn. It isn't clear why or how Danish ended up with these strange quirks, but the upshot seems to be, as the German author Kurt Tucholsky quipped, that "the Danish language is not suitable for speaking … everything sounds like a single word."

Kids learn later, adults process differently

Before we could study the way Danish children learn their native language, we needed to figure out whether the peculiarities of Danish speech affected their ability to understand it.

To do this, our team sat Danish two-year-olds in front of a screen showing two objects, such as a car and a monkey. We then used an eye tracker to trace where the kids were looking while listening to Danish sentences.

Children playing in front of a wall — Photo: Teresa Grau Ros/Flickr

When the children heard the consonant-rich "Find bilen!" – which sounds like "Fin beelen!" when spoken and means "Find the car!" – the toddlers would look at the car quite quickly.

However, when they heard the vowel-rich "Her er aben!" – which sounds like "heer-ahben!" and means "Here's the monkey!" – it took the kids nearly half a second longer to look at the monkey. In this vowel-laden sentence, the boundaries between words become blurry and make it harder for the toddlers to understand what is being said. Half a second may not seem like much, but in the world of speech it is a very long time.

But does the abundance of vowels in Danish also make it more difficult for children to learn their native language? It turns out that it does. In another study, we found that toddlers struggle to learn new words when these words are sandwiched between a lot of vowels.

Danish children do, of course, eventually learn their native tongue. However, our group has found that the effects of the opaque Danish sound structure don't go away when children grow up: Instead, they seem to shape the way adult Danes process their language. Denmark and Norway are closely related historically, culturally, economically and educationally. The two languages also have similar grammars, past tense systems and vocabulary. Unlike Danes, though, Norwegians actually pronounce their consonants.

In several experiments, we asked Danes and Norwegians to listen to sentences in which either a word was deliberately created to sound ambiguous (like a word halfway between "tent" and "dent") or the meaning of the whole sentence was unusual (such as "The goldfish bought a boy for his sister"). We found that because Danish speech is so ambiguous, Danes rely much more on context – including what was said in the conversation before, what people know about each other and general background knowledge – to figure out what somebody is saying compared to adult Norwegians.

Together, these results indicate that the way people interpret language is not static, but dynamically adapts to the challenges posed by the specific language or languages they speak.

Not all languages are the same

There has been a longstanding debate within the language sciences about whether all languages are similarly complex and whether this might affect how people's brains learn and process language. Our discovery about Danish challenges the idea that all native languages are equally easy to learn and use. Indeed, learning different languages from birth may lead to distinct and separate ways of processing those languages.

Our results also have important practical implications for people who are struggling with language – whether because of a single traumatic event like a stroke or due to genetic and other long-term factors. Many current interventions meant to support language recovery are based on studies in one language, usually English. Researchers assume that these interventions would apply in the same way to individuals speaking other languages. However, if languages vary substantially in the way they're learned and processed, an intervention that might work for one language might not work as well for another.

Linguists have looked at differences between languages before, but few have been concerned with the possible impact that such differences may have on the kind of processing machinery that develops during language learning. Instead, much of the focus has been on searching for universal linguistic patterns that hold across all or most languages. However, our research suggest that linguistic diversity may result in variation in the way we learn and process language. And if a garden-variety language like Danish has such hidden depths, who knows what we'll find when we look more closely at the rest of the world's approximately 7,000 languages?

Watch Video Show less
Green Or Gone
Pedro Viveros

Greta's Right, Our World Leaders Still Don't Get It

From climate change and migration, to tobacco deaths and exploitative business practices, governments and multilateral bodies are systematically failing to act.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Every day more people go vegetarian. The carnivores among us look around to see if anyone else is ordering meat. Car drivers feel guilty as bicycles ride past. A family draws curious glances for having more than two kids. And smoking is now something that's better done behind closed doors.

Watch Video Show less
Future
Leila Yacoubi

Free Your Mindstorms: How Lego Stays On Cutting Edge Of Coding Education

PARIS — Block construction, robotics and basic coding — all in one package, and especially designed for a non-tech-savvy public. That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind Mindstorms, which toymaker Lego first introduced two decades ago to teach people (children primarily) about programming, but in a fun way — by creating educational robots that walk, talk, etc.

For the first versions of Mindstorms, the two Lego engineers who came up with the toy — Gaute Munch and and Erik Hansen — worked closely with researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Munch is now director of advanced technology at Lego System. Hansen is director of innovation. Both are "industry" category finalists for the European Inventor Award, given out by the European Patent Office.

Watch Video Show less
Sources
Ansgar Graw

Rotten In Denmark? Europe's Happy Bellwether Turns Dark

Crackdowns on immigration are one more sign that the small but influential northern European nation is now on the front edge of more sinister trends.

BERLIN — Petite Denmark has often played the eminent role of a political trendsetter, particularly with regards to Germany, its much larger neighbor. Take for example the events of December 1849, when all "irreproachable men over 30 years of age" elected the first representatives to the newly established Folketing, the Danish Parliament. It wasn't until 1867 that Germans were allowed to do the same.

A century later, in 1967, Denmark became the world's first country to lift the ban on written pornography. Two years after that it allowed "erotic illustrations and objects." At the time, young people from other European countries and the U.S. would pilgrimage to the liberal monarchy, where people addressed each other in familiar terms, and women would go to the beach topless.

Watch Video Show less
blog
Bertrand Hauger

Leaning Tree Of Denmark

I was in Denmark multiple times, usually on our way to get up north to Sweden and Norway — and never disappointed by the scenery along the way. This shot stands out for the tree leaning over the stream and the vivid green contrasts, though I also did my best to catch the blond cyclist exactly halfway across the bridge.

LA STAMPA
Noa Agnete Metz

Greenland, Victim Of Denmark's Linguistic Colonialism

COPENHAGEN — In the picturesque Danish capital, it's easy to overlook the men lying on public benches with a beer in hand, or assume they're immigrants from Southern Europe. Listen carefully, though, and you'll notice that they speak fluent Danish, a task almost impossible for foreigners. These men, it turns out, are Danish citizens; indigenous Inuit people from the Danish territory of Greenland.

Inuit in Copenhagen mainly live among themselves and are marginalized from broader Danish society, with its emphasis on gender equality and the welfare state. These men are from a culture very different from the one that surrounds them. Danes even have an expression for it: being "drunk as a Greenlander." The homeless Inuit who live on the streets of Danish cities are a symbol of Denmark's failed colonial policy that, although it never resorted to blatant violence, has been anything but successful.

Watch Video Show less
blog

Good Morning, Mr. Andersen

You will find many statues of the legendary 19th-century local fairy tales author Hans Christian Andersen in his native Denmark. My own little mermaid Cécile was here standing next to what was then one of the most recent ones, installed just two years earlier in the capital.

Watch Video Show less
blog
Nic Ulmi

'Hygge' The Curious Story Of Danish Happiness

If Nordic people are the happiest people in the world, it is thanks to the state of welfare and cuddling with friends in the candlelight. Today the word for this ritual invades the life of Francophones.

GENEVA How is Denmark, a country with scarce sunlight and high taxes, one of the happiest countries in the world? That's at least according to a happiness index ranked by the United Nations.

Denmark's welfare state "reduces risks, insecurity, and anxiety among citizens," says Meik Wiking, director of the "Happiness Research Institute" in Copenhagen.

Watch Video Show less
Economy
Antoine Jacob

Hard Questions For Denmark’s Soft Unemployment Cure

'Flexicurity,' the Danish labor approach, where it's easy to be fired but also rehired, has helped unemployment remain among the lowest in the world. But the lack of skilled labor creates new demands.

COPENHAGEN — Brian Winther Almind, a senior executive of DSV, a European transport and logistics company, has a logistical problem of his own: finding the right people to get the job done.

"It is one of the reasons why we set up our new headquarters off the beaten path," said Almind, standing in the ultra-bright atrium of the building in question, a large cube built about 30 kilometers to the west of the Danish capital. "Here, we are near the countryside. It is easier to find people here than closer to Copenhagen where companies fight each other for available employees. There's also a university right next door that we can recruit young people from."

Watch Video Show less
EXPLORE OTHER TOPICS