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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton September 12, 2013

Danish humor in cross-cultural professional settings: linguistic and social aspects

Lita Lundquist
From the journal HUMOR


The specificities of national humor are often mentioned in humor research, but seldom explained in depth. This article concerns two studies, which reveal that Danish humor (as used in professional settings) is judged by Danes and non-Danes alike as ironic, self-ironic, sarcastic, and direct, with no limits or taboos. These characteristics of Danish humor are analyzed here using two different theoretical frameworks: linguistics – where an explanation is found in certain type-specific features of the Danish language, namely the dialogical particles typical of the Nordic languages in general – and the historico-sociological approach proposed by Norbert Elias. According to Elias, the mentality of a people has been molded through an ongoing historical process of civilization. The civilizing process specific to Danish society has engendered a “campfire mentality”, leading up to the egalitarian, consensual welfare state. Work relationships in Denmark are based on a horizontal, flat structure with low power distance, a structure for which management researchers actually recommend the use of humor, irony and self-irony. Finally, the specificities of Danish humor are linked to a low degree of gelotophobia, the fear of being laughed at, among Danes.

Published Online: 2013-9-12
Published in Print: 2014-2-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston