The language started diverging from the common ancestor language Old Norse sometime during the 13th century and became more distinct from the other emerging Scandinavian national languages with the first bible translation in 1550, establishing an orthography differing from that of Swedish, though written Danish is usually far easier for Swedes to understand than the spoken language. Modern spoken Danish is characterized by a very strong tendency of reduction of many sounds making it particularly difficult for foreigners to understand and properly master, not just by reputation but by sheer phonetic reality.
Danish belongs to the East Scandinavian languages, together with Swedish. Though Norwegian is classified as a West Scandinavian language together with Faroese and Icelandic, a more recent classification based on mutual intelligibility places Icelandic and Faroese in a separate Insular Scandinavian branch while Norwegian is considered to be a Mainland Scandinavian language and grouped with Danish and Swedish. Written Danish and Norwegian Bokmål are particularly close, though the phonology and prosody of all three languages differ somewhat. Proficient speakers of any of the three languages can understand the others, though studies have shown that speakers of Norwegian generally understand both Danish and Swedish far better than Swedes or Danes understand any of the other languages.
Danish is the official language of Denmark, one of two official languages of Greenland (the other is Greenlandic), and one of two official languages of the Faeroes (the other is Faeroese). In addition, there is a small community of Danish speakers in Schleswig, the portion of Germany bordering Denmark, where it is an officially recognized and protected regional language. Furthermore, it is one of the official languages of the European Union.
Standard Danish (rigsdansk or rigsmål) is the language based on dialects spoken in and around the capital of Copenhagen. Unlike Swedish and Norwegian, Danish does not have more than one regional speech norm. More than 20% of all Danish speakers live in the metropolitan area and most government agencies, institutions and major businesses keep their main offices in Copenhagen, something that has resulted in a very homogeneous national speech norm. Though Oslo and Stockholm are quite dominant in terms of speech standards, cities like Bergen, Gothenburg and the Malmö-Lund region are large and influential enough to create secondary regional norms, making the standard language more varied than is the case with Danish. The general agreement is that Standard Danish is based on a form of Copenhagen dialect, but the specific norm is, as with most language norms, difficult to pinpoint for both laymen and linguists. More distinct "genuine" dialects still exist in smaller communities, but most speakers in these areas generally speak a regionalized form of Standard Danish. Usually an adaption of the local dialect to rigsdansk is spoken, though code-switching between the neutralized norm and a distinct dialect is common.