|Spoken in:||Sweden and Finland|
|Total speakers:||9 million|
|Official language of:||Finland (with Finnish), Åland (unilingually), and the European Union. (De facto language of Sweden.)|
|Regulated by:||The Swedish Language Council (semi-official status).|
|See also: Language – List of languages|
Standard Swedish is the national language that evolved from the Central Swedish dialects from the 19th century and was well-established by the first decades of the 20th century. While distinct regional varieties still exist, influenced by the older dialect, both spoken and written language is uniform and standardized. Some of the genuine dialects differ considerably from the standard language in grammar and vocabulary and are not always mutually intelligible with Standard Swedish. They are mostly confined to individual communities and have been in decline during the past century. Though not facing imminent extinction, and often encouraged by local authorities, these dialects are usually confined to rural areas in populations of low education and social mobility.
Swedish is distinguished by its prosody, which varies considerably between the various varieties and includes both lexical stress and some tonal qualities. The language has a comparatively large vowel inventory, with a total of 9 separate vowels that are distinguished by quantity and to some degree quality, making up a total of 17 vowel phonemes. Swedish is also notable for the voiceless dorso-palatal velar fricative, [ɧ], found in most varieties, but which has not been found in any other language.
Swedish is closely related to, and usually mutually intelligible with, Danish and Norwegian, and to some degree with Faroese; all of which evolved from Old Norse about a millennium ago. It is also closely related to Icelandic, though the two are not mutually intelligable. Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian Bokmål, which are all considered East Scandinavian languages, have been strongly influenced by Low German.
Table of contents
Swedish is the national language of Sweden, the first langauge for the overwhelming majority of eight million Sweden-born inhabitants and acquired by one million immigrants . In Mainland Finland, where Swedish and Finnish are the official languages, Swedish is spoken as as a mother tongue by a relatively small minority of about 5.5% or about 300,000 people. The Finland-Swedish minority is concentrated to the coastal areas and archipelagos of southern and western Finland. In these areas, Swedish is often the dominating language. In the municipality of Korsnäs 98% of the population is Swedish-speaking. In Korsnäs, like the municipalities of Närpes and Larsmo, Swedish is the sole administrative language on municipal level. Its official status is also inherited from the centuries during which Finland was a Swedish colony.
There is considerable migration (labor and other) between the Nordic countries, but due to the similarity between the languages and culture expatriates generally assimilate quickly and do not stand out as a group. There are small numbers of Swedish speakers in other countries, such as the United States. (See also Languages in the United States.) There are also descendants in Brazil and Argentina resulting from Swedish immigration that have maintained a distinction by language and names, also against groups of other European immigrants in the region.
Swedish is the de-facto national language of Sweden, but it does not hold the status of an official language there. Swedish is also the sole official language of the Åland Islands, an autonomous province under the sovereignty of Finland, where 95% of the 26,000 inhabitants speak Swedish as a first language. In Finland, Swedish is the second official language alongside Finnish. Swedish is also one of the official languages of the European Union.
Main article: Swedish Language Council
There is no official regulatory institutions for the Swedish language, the Swedish Language Council (Svenska språknämnden) has semi-official status and is funded by the Swedish government, but does not attempt to enforce control of the language in the same way as for instance the Académie française. Among the many organizations that make up the Swedish Language Council, the Swedish Academy is among the most influential. The primary instrument for this is the publication of dictionaries like Svenska Akademiens Ordlista and Svenska Akademiens Ordbok as well as various books on grammar, spelling and manuals of style. The dictionaries are sometimes perceived as an official definition of the language, even though their function is intended to be as descriptive as possible.
Main article: Standard Swedish
Standard Swedish, which is derived from the dialects spoken in the capital region around Stockholm, is the language used by virtually all Swedes and most Finland-Swedes. The Swedish term most often used for the standard language is rikssvenska ("National Swedish") and to a lesser extent högsvenska ("High Swedish"), though the latter is limited to Swedish spoken in Finland and is seldom used in Sweden. There are many regional varieties of the standard language that are specific to geographical areas of varying size (regions, old provinces, cities, towns, etc.). While these varieties are often influenced by the genuine dialects, the grammatical and phonological structure adheres to those of the Central Swedish dialects.
Though the definitions and terminology are long since established among linguists, most Swedes are unaware of this distinction and the historical background. To most Swedes the regional varieties such as Finland-Swedish and Southern Standard Swedish are often refered to as "dialects". In a poll that was recently conducted by HUI, the attitudes of Swedes to the use of certain varieties by salesmen revealed that 54% believed that riksvenska was the variety they would prefer to hear when speaking with salesmen over the phone. Though several regional varieties were given as options, such as norrländska, gotländska and even stockholmska, those answering did not seem to make the distinction as defined by linguists. It is safe to assume that the rikssvenska that was chosen as being the most popular by a majority of those polled could be said to be the formal Standard Swedish that is most common in TV and radio broadcasts. Though many journalists often speak with a distinct regional accent, the most common pronunciation and the one perceived as the most formal are still the highly formal Central Swedish varieties. Varieties such as these are also still used in theater academies.
The linguistic definition of a Swedish dialect is the local variants that have not been as heavily influenced by the standard langauge and that can trace a separate development all the way back to Old Norse. Many of the genuine rural dialects such as those of Orsa in Dalarna or Närpes in Österbotten have very distinct phonetical and grammatical features, such as plural forms of verbs, archaic case inflections of and are often near-incomprehensible to most Swedes, though all speakers of rural dialects are also fluent in Standard Swedish. The borderlines between different dialects are often so localized that they are limited to individual parishes and are refered to by Swedish linguists as sockenmål (lit. "parish speech"). The different dialects are generally seperated into six major groups with common characteristics of prosody, grammar and vocabulary. One or several examples from each group are given here. Though each examples are intended to be as representative of the nearby dialects, the actual number of dialects is several hundreds if each invidivual community is to be considered to have a separate dialect. The Swedish terms for different mål; "(style of) speech", is used here .
- Norrländska mål Norrland, the northern half of Sweden
- 1. Överkalix, Norrbotten; younger female
- 2. Burträsk, Västerbotten; older female
- 3. Aspås, Jämtland; younger female
- 4. Färila, Hälsingland; older male
- Sveamål Svealand
- 5. Orsa, Dalarna; older female
- 6. Gräsö, Uppland; older male
- 7. Sorunda, Södermanland; younger male
- 8. Köla, Värmland younger female
- 9. Viby, Närke; older male
- Gotländska mål Gotland
- 10. Sproge, Gotland; younger female
- 11. Närpes, Österbotten; younger female
- 12. Dragsfjärd, Åboland; older male
- 13. Borgå, Nyland; younger male
- 14. Orust, Bohuslän; older male
- 15. Floby, Västergötland; older female
- 16. Rimforsa, Östergötland; older female
- 17. Årstad-Hedberg, Halland; younger male
- 18. Stenberga, Småland; younger female
All dialect samples are from SweDia, a research project on Swedish dialects available for download, though only with information in Swedish, but with many more samples from 100 different dialects with recordings from four different speakers; older female, older male, younger female and younger male.
Rinkeby Swedish (after Rinkeby, a ghettolike suburb of northern Stockholm) is a common name for varieties of Swedish spoken by second and third generation immigrants, especially among younger speakers. There is no consensus among linguists whether Rinkeby Swedish and similar varieties should be denominated as dialects or sociolects. They may also be characterized as registers, since the speakers often use them only in specific social contexts, and switch to other varieties for instance at home or if interviewed for radio.
The Swedish linguist Ulla-Britt Kotsinas, who is a scholar frequently cited on Rinkeby Swedish, argues that these varieties primarily are spoken by teenagers from suburbs where immigrants and immigrant descendants are concentrated. According to her, these varieties are best to be understood as expressions of youth culture: The language is a marker of belonging to a certain subculture and at the same time opposition against a perceived mainstream non-immigrant culture that seems not to value the immigrant descendants anyway.
Main article: Swedish phonology
Swedish is notable for having a relatively large vowel inventory, including 9 vowels that make up 17 phonemes in most varieties and dialects (short "e" and "ä" coincide). There are 18 consonant phonemes out of which /ɧ/ and /r/ show very considerable variation depending on both social and dialectal context.
A distinct feature of Swedish is its varied prosody, which often is one of the most noticable differences between the various dialects. Native speakers who adapt their speech when moving to areas with different regional varieties or dialects will often adhere to the sounds of the new variety, but will often maintain the prosody of the native dialect. The prosodic features of Swedish are sometimes summarized as a "melodic accent", though this is not used among linguists and is used mostly as a descriptive, but still rather vague term, for the prosodic features of Swedish and Norwegian.
The phoneme /ɧ/ and its allegedly double places of articulation is a difficult and complex issue that is still debated among phoneticians . Though the acoustic representations of the various [ɧ]-sounds are fairly similar, the realizations can vary considerably according to geography, social status and social context and are notoriously difficult to describe and transcribe accurately. See also Voiceless_dorso-palatal_velar_fricative.
The realizations of /r/ is highly variable in different dialects and varieties. In Central Swedish dialects /r/ is often becomes a fricative [ʐ], in consonant clusters often as [ʂ] and especially in Central Standard Swedish as the approximant [ɹ]. Uses of taps like [ɾ] are also common. In southern Sweden uvular trills or voiced fricatives, [ʀ], [ʁ] are commonly used to realize /r/. Unlike Central and most of the Finland-Swedish variants, /r/ is not assimilated into retroflex realizations in the southern variants. /kɑ:rta/ ("map") is hence realized as [khaɑ:ʁta].
The /ɧ/ (the "sje-sound") has a great variety of allophones in Swedish and often quite subtle realizations in Swedish. Most common are various [ɧ]-like sounds, with [ʂ] occuring mainly in northern Sweden and [ɕ] in Finland. [χ] can sometimes be used in the varieties influenced by major immigrant languages like Arabic, and Kurdish.
Prosody in Swedish often varies substantially between different dialects including the spoken varieties of Standard Swedish. Like in most languages, stress can be applied to emphasize certain words in a sentence. To some degree, although lesser so than in English, prosody may indicate questions. Swedish is, like English, a stress timed language and has many words that are differentiated by stress.
- formel ['fɔrmɛl]] — "formula"
- formell [fɔr'mɛl] — "formal"
Although there are inflection rules to prevent two unemphasized syllables in a row, words may instead have two consecutive stressed syllables.
Stress in most dialects differentiates between two kinds of kind of accents. Often refered to as acute and grave accent, they may also be referred to as accent 1 and accent 2 and are described as tonal word accents by Swedish linguists . Most dialects of Swedish make this distinction, although the actual realizations vary and are generally hard for non-natives to distinguish. In some dialects of Swedish as well as all those spoken in Finland this distinction is absent or only detectable through advanced phonetic analysis. In some archaic South Swedish dialects, the glottal stop has the same function instead.
Noteworthy are some three-hundred two-syllable word pairs that are differentiated only by their use of either grave or acute accent.
- anden [ándɛn] — "the duck"
- anden [àndɛn] — "the spirit"
|Anden, anden (info)|
|A Central Swedish realization of the difference between accents 1 and 2|
|Problems listening to the file? See media help.|
The Swedish one-syllable morpheme can have the structure (C1)(C2)(C3)V(C4)(C5)(C6). All but one of the consonant phonemes (/ŋ/ can occur morpheme-initially, though there are only 6 possible three consonant combinations, all of which begin with /s/, but a total of 31 two-consonant combinations. In some cases this can result in quite long consonant combinations, such as in the case of västkustskt, consisting of the word västkust ("west coast") with the genitive suffix -sk in neuter form -t. There are examples of up to 8 consecutive consonants when adding Swedish inflections to some foreign loanwords or names, and when combined with the tendency of Swedish to make long compound nouns.
Main article: Swedish grammar
Swedish nouns and adjectives are declined in two genders and two cases, as well as number. The two cases are nominative and genitive. Nominative is the dictionary form while the genitive suffix is -s, much like in English. Swedish nouns belong to one of two genders: uter or neuter, which also determine the declensions of adjectives. For example, the word fisk ("fish") is an uter noun and can have the following forms:
|Definitive form||Indefinitive form||Definitive form||Indefinitive form|
Like most other Germanic languages there is are definitive and indefinitive articles, but indicating the definitive form of a noun is made mainly by a suffix which varies according to gender (-n/-t). The separate articles en/ett and den/det are used to make more subtle variations of meaning and are part of a quite complex system of determining definitiveness. The articles are used to add an extra dimension to this system and the definitive articles also double as demonstrative pronouns, and can be further specified with adverbs such as där; "there". Den fisken and den där fisken would both translate as "that fish", but with the second example adding a level of definitiveness that is not distinguished in English.
The Swedish pronouns are basically the same as that of English and have an additional object form, derived form the old dative form. Hon; "she" has the following forms in nominative, genitive and object form:
- hon – hennes – henne
Verbs are conjugated according to tense and some verbs are have a special imperative form, though with most verbs it is identical to the infinitive form. perfect and present participles as adjectivistic verbs are very common:
- Perfect participle: en stekt fisk; "a fried fish"
- Present participle: en stinkande fisk; "a stinking fish"
Subjunctive mood is occasionally used for some verbs, but its use is in sharp decline and few speakers perceive the handful of commonly used verbs (as for instance: vore, vare, månne) as separate conjugations and most of them remain only as set idiomatic expressions.
The lack of cases in Swedish is compensated by a wide variety of prepositions, similar to those found in English. Like in modern German, prepositions used to determine case in Swedish, but this feature remains only in idiomatic expressions like till sjöss (genitive) or man ur huse (dative singular), though some of them are still quite common.
Swedish is a Germanic language and its vocabulary is almost entirely Germanic. Examples of Germanic words in Swedish are mus (mouse), kung (king), and gås (goose). Some words are borrowed from Latin and French. Cross-borrowing from other Germanic languages is also common, at first from Low German, the lingua franca of the Hanseatic league, later from High German, and English. New words are often formed by compounding, and like many Germanic languages, Swedish compounds words freely and frequently. Compound nouns take their gender from the head, which in Swedish is always the last noun. New verbs can also be made by adding an -a to an existing noun, as in disk (dish) and diska (do the dishes). Some compounds are translations of the elements (calques) of German original compounds into Swedish, e.g bomull from German Baumwolle, cotton (lit. tree-wool).
A significant number of French words were imported into Sweden around the 18th century. These words have been transcribed to the Swedish spelling system and are therefore pronounced quite recognizably to a French-speaker. (This is seldom the case when English borrows French words!) Examples include nivå (fr. niveau, "level"), ateljé (fr. atelier, "studio"), and paraply (fr. parapluie, "umbrella").
Vocabulary (or rather lexicon according to linguist jargon) is rather uniform in Sweden, at least in the style of prose seen in newspapers, and in higher styles. Finland-Swedish has a set of separate terms, being close cognates of their Finnish counterparts, chiefly terms of law and government.
The Swedish alphabet is a twenty-eight letter alphabet: the standard twenty-six-letter Latin alphabet with the exception of 'W', plus the three additional letters Å / å, Ä / ä, and Ö / ö. These letters (not considered diacritics) are sorted in that order following z. 'W' is not considered as a unique letter, but a variant of 'v' used only in names (such as "Wallenberg") and foreign words ("bowling") and is pronounced as a regular 'v'. Diacritics are unusual in Swedish: é and occasionally other acute accents and, less often, grave accents can be seen in names and some foreign words. German ü is considered a variant of y and sometimes retained in foreign names. Diaeresis is not considered necessary, although it might exceptionally be seen in elaborated style (for instance: "Aïda", "naïve").
The runic alphabet (the futhark) was used before the Latin alphabet for Old Norse and early Swedish (Old Swedish), but this ancient script was gradually overtaken by the Latin alphabet during medieval times, although use of various futharks continued in certain rural districts at least until the 17th century.
Swedish began to evolve as a separate language from Old Norse in the 9th century, around the same time as Danish and Norwegian. All were heavily influenced by Low German during the medieval period. Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian Bokmål are all considered East Scandinavian languages; Swedes usually find it easier to understand Bokmål than Danish, since Norwegian pronunciation is closer to that of Swedish. Though stages of language development are never as sharply defined from one another as implied here and should not be taken too literally, the system of subdivisions used in this article is the most commonly used by Swedish linguists and is used for sake of practicality.
Main article: Old Norse
This language period stretches from around 800 to 1225, and can be said to be a dialect of Old Norse.
Main article: Old Swedish
Old Swedish is the name for the medieval Swedish language and is dated from around 1225, when the first texts not written with runes are attested. The earliest texts written in a modified Latin script found so far are fragments of law codes (Västgötalagen) dated to 1250. The main influences during this time came with the firm establishment of the Catholic church and various monstic orders, introducing many Greek and Latin loanwords. During the late 13th and late 14th century, the influence of Low and High German became ever more present. Through the influence of the Hanseatic league the commerce and administration of Sweden received a large proportion of German speaking immigrants who often were employed as administrators and would often become quite influential members of Swedish medieval society. The German influence on Swedish was profound. Besides a great number of loan words for areas like warfare, trade and administration, actual grammatical suffixes and even conjunctions where imported. Many naval terms were also borrowed from Dutch.
Early medieval Swedish was markedly different in that it had a more complex case structure and had not yet experienced a reduction of the gender system. Nouns, adjectives, pronouns and certain numerals were inflected in four cases; besides the modern nominative and genitive there was also dative and accusative. The gender system resembled that of modern German and had three genders; masculine, feminine and neuter. Most of the masculine and feminine nouns were later grouped together into the modern uter gender. The verbs were also more complex and included subjunctive and imperative moods as well as being conjugated according to person as well as number.
Main article: New Swedish
New Swedish begins with the advent of printing and the European Reformation. After seizing power, the new monarch Gustav Vasa, ordered a Swedish translation of the Bible. The New Testament came out in 1526, followed by a full Bible translation in 1541, usually refered to as the Gustav Vasa Bible, a translation deemed so successful and influential that it remained the most common Bible translation until 1917. The main translators were Laurentius Andreæ and the two brothers Laurentius and Olaus Petri. The new Bible is today considered to be a reasonable compromise between old and new; while not adhering to the spoken langauge of its day it was not overly conservative in its use of old forms. Though it was not completely consistent in spelling, particularly when it came to vowels, it was a major step towards a more consistent Swedish orthography. It established the use of the letters "ä" and "ö" in place of the older "æ" and "ø" and introduced the completely new "å" in place of "o" in many words. It also introduced conventions such as using ck instead of kk in words like tacka; "thank". To some degree it distinguished Swedish from the neighboring Danish and Norwegian languages, that to this day use "æ" and "ø". While the influence of individual translators should not be exaggerated, the fact that all three came from provinces in central Sweden (Andreæ was from Västmanland and the Petri brothers were from Närke) is generally seen as adding specific Central Swedish features to the new Bible as well as the fact that the royal printing house was situated in Stockholm.
Main article: Modern Swedish
The period that includes Swedish as it is spoken today is termed nusvenska (lit. "Now Swedish") in linguistic terminology. With the industrialization and urbanization of Sweden being well under way by the last decades of the 19th century, a new breed of authors made their mark on Swedish literature. While many other authors, scholars, politicians and other public figures had a great influence on the new national language that was emerging, the most prolific of these was without doubt August Strindberg (1849–1912).
It was during the 20th century that a common, stanardized national language became something available to all Swedes. The orthography was finally stabilized, and with the exception of some minor deviations was almost completely uniform by the spelling reform of 1906. With the exception of plural forms of verbs and slightly different syntax, particularly in the written language, the language was the same as the Swedish spoken today. The plural verb forms remained in ever decreasing use in formal (and particularly written) language until the 1950s, when they were finally offiically abolished even from all official recommendations.
Finland had been a part of Sweden for some 700 years and Swedish had been the administrative languages during this period, when in 1892 Finnish was given equal status with Swedish, following Russian determination to isolate the Grand Duchy of Finland from Sweden. Today about 290,000, or 5.6% of the total population are Swedish speakers according to official statistics for 2002.
After an educational reform in the 1970s, both Swedish and Finnish are compulsory school subjects in Mainland Finland, until 2004 mandatory in the final examinations. Education in the pupil's own language is officially called "mother tongue" — "modersmål" in Swedish or "äidinkieli" in Finnish — and education in the other language is referred to as "the other domestic language" — "andra inhemska språket" in Swedish, "toinen kotimainen kieli" in Finnish. The introduction of mandatory education in Swedish was chiefly intended as a step to avoid further Finlandization.
Formerly, there were Swedish-speaking communities in Estonia, particularly on the islands (Hiiumaa, Saaremaa and Vormsi) along the coast of the Baltic and the Swedish-speaking minority had representation in parliament as well as the official right to use the native language in parliamentary debates (though this was most likely seldom practiced). After the loss of the Baltic territories to Russia in the early 18th century, many of them were forced to make the long march to Ukraine. The survivors of this march eventually founded a Swedish-speaking village, which survived until the Russian revolution when its inhabitants were deported to Sweden in 1929 in the purges of the Stalin era. Today there still remains some elderly descendants in the village of Gammalsvenskby ("Old Swedish Village") north of the Crimea, Ukraine, who still speak Swedish natively and observe the holidays of the Swedish calendar. There are however no reliable reports on the actual amount of first language speakers and the dialect is most likely facing extinction.
In Estonia, the small remaining Swedish community was very well treated between the first and second world wars. Municipalities with a Swedish majority, mainly found along the coast, had Swedish as the administrative language and Swedish-Estonian culture experienced an upswing. However most Swedish-speaking people fled to Sweden at the end of World War II when Estonia was reconquered by the Soviet Union and only a handful of older speakers remain.
- Swedish: svenska
- hello: hej (hey)
- good-bye: hej då (hey-doh)
- please: snälla (snell-ah)
- thank you: tack (tahck)
- you're welcome: varsågod (var-show-good)
- where is...? var ligger .... (var ligg-ehr)
- that one: den där (den dehr)
- how much?: hur mycket (huwr muwk-eh)
- English: engelska (eng-el-skah)
- yes: ja /ja/ (ya), jo¹
- no: nej /nEj/ (neigh)
- generic toast: skål /skOl/ (skaal or skol)
- dangerous: farligt (far-ligt)
- give me all your money right now: ge mig alla dina pengar genast (yeh mey all-ah dee-nah peng-ahr yeh-nust)
- ¹ Jo is used instead of ja for "yes" when answering a negative statement/question, such as Ska du inte äta? (Won't you eat?), Jo, det ska jag. (Yes, I will.) or Du kommer inte hinna [med bussen]. (You won't make it [to the bus]), Jo, det kommer jag. (Yes, I will.). Ja in this context would be ambigous (felt to be incorrect, but probably interpreted as agreeing), while mm would agree with the speaker (won't eat, won't make it). This can be somewhat of a problem for native Swedish speakers learning English, as they search for an equivalent word coming up emptyhanded. ("How do you say jo in English?" "Yes" "But that's ja!")
- Common phrases in different languages
- Standard Swedish
- Mandatory Swedish
- Minority languages of Sweden
- Bolander, Maria (2002) Funktionell svensk grammatik ISBN 91–47–05054–3
- Engstrand, Olle (2004) Fonetikens grunder ISBN 91–44–04238–8
- Elert, Claes-Christian (2000) Allmän och svensk fonetik ISBN 91–1–300939–7
- Garlén, Claes (1988) Svenskans fonologi ISBN 91–44–28151-X
- Ladefoged, Peter & Maddieson, Ian (1996) The sounds of the world's languages
- Pettersson, Gertrud (1996) Svenska språket under sjuhundra år ISBN 91–44–48221–3
- Thorén, Bosse (1997) Swedish prosody
- Nationalencyklopedin, article svenska
- Ethnologue report for Swedish
- Omniglot entry on Swedish
- A beginners course in Swedish
- All free Swedish dictionaries
- Online dictionary founded by Sweden's government
- An introduction to Swedish
- Björn Engdah's Swedish course online
- Laryngograph recordings and resynthesis of different dialects of Swedish – Sound files that illustrate the differences between prosody in Scandinavian dialects