Pæn, Flot, Dejlig, and Lækker: A Lexical Anthropology of Danish Folk Aesthetics

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This paper explores the lexical semantics of Danish aesthetic discourse by providing in-depth semantic analysis of four Danish aesthetic “untranslatables”: (i) pæn ‘good-looking, neat, pretty’, (ii) flot, ‘good-looking, attractive, impressive’, (iii) dejlig, ‘lovely, delightful, beautiful’ and (iv) lækker ‘delicious, pretty, hot’. These words are frequently used in Danish interaction, and they penetrate Danish cultural discourses of aesthetic perception and cognition. They are hard to translate, and difficult to acquire for learners of Danish and from a theoretical perspective, such “untranslables” call for a special attention. Each of the words have a complex lexical semantics with a particular discursive affordance, and taken together this grid of words construe a folk model of aesthetics in which a “mundane” and “earthly” kind of beauty is valued, and in which the body plays an important role. The paper contributes to the debate on “ethnoaesthetics” and provides arguments in favor of linguistic and cultural relativity. The general conceptual framework is “lexical anthropology”, a sub-type of linguistic anthropology that focuses on lexical semantics and the study of cultural keywords (Levisen & Waters 2017). Lexical anthropology makes use of the NSM approach lexical semantics. Each of the terms pæn, flot, dejlig, and lækker are explicated in two core frames: “something pæn/flot/dejlig/lækker” and “someone pæn/flot/dejligt/lækker”. The analysis makes use of two kinds of methods: corpus-assisted discourse studies and semantic consultations. The corpus is DaTenTen14, (hosted by SketchEngine), the largest corpus of contemporary Danish. The semantic consultations are based on group interviews with Danish university students (aged 20-25) and add qualitative evidence in the form of folk definitions and narratives to the quantitative nature of the corpus study. The analysis reveals that Danish folk aesthetic discourse link people, perception and cognition in ways which allows for a range of normative discourses on design, food, nature, sex, gender, and children, and reveals a strong link between folk morality and folk aesthetics.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventVIII International Symposium on Intercultural, Cognitive and Social Pragmatics - Sevilla, Spain
Duration: 2 May 20184 May 2018


ConferenceVIII International Symposium on Intercultural, Cognitive and Social Pragmatics


  • Semantics
  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Danish
  • Ethnoaesthetics

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