Swedish: Hej.

Hey everybody —


If you can tell, I’m a little bit excited. I’ve been dying to do Swedish for the blog because, well, I’ve been (really) obsessed with Sweden for some time now. Just ask yourself; how can anyone not love a country that’s given us the wonders of IKEA, H&M and ABBA? Certainly not me.

In spite of my early fascination, it’s only fair that I treat Swedish just like all the other languages I’ve done for the blog. Will it ultimately be the language for me? We’ll find out, for better or worse, as there are only 10 languages left until Part Two of the blog! Wow, the end is really in sight!

Swedish is spoken by 10 million people in Sweden, Finland and various parts of North America and northern Europe.

One word … Vikings! From the 700s-1000s, these explorers, also known as the Rus, raided Europe, going as far as modern-day Baghdad and Istanbul. Like Norwegians, some of them even set sail to lands in modern-day America. Most of the people were pagan at the time, until Christianity swept the country in the 1000s, bringing with it a Latin alphabet for Swedish.

Sweden was later ruled by various kings (though power struggles were bitter) and united with the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway to form the Kalmar Union. At the time, the region also suffered a lot of losses from the bubonic plague, which was sweeping through Europe. Sweden only stayed in the union for about 200 years after conflicts with Denmark, declaring independence and naming Gustav Vasa their king on June 6, 1523, also known as Swedish Independence Day. To his credit, he was also responsible for the first Swedish bible, a big step in the Swedish language.

In the following centuries, Sweden would rise to become a great power, gaining most of the Holy Roman Empire and parts of the Baltic. Russia, meanwhile, fought for dominance and would later win, taking Finland with them. However, Sweden bonded with its adversary and Britain around the Napoleon area to attack Denmark. The Danes surrendered Norway, leading to another union of Sweden-Norway that lasted for about 100 years.

Sweden didn’t get industrialized until later in the 1800s (way after some parts of Europe) and suffered from famine. These changes led to a rise of union-based political parties and reforms. Along with the works of authors in Sweden at the time, this period contributed to major changes in the Swedish language, making it more contemporary and less formalized. While staying neutral in WWI and (somewhat) neutral in WWII, Sweden’s economy skyrocketed. Dips occurred later unfortunately, but Sweden joined the European Union in the 1990s and has since retained its influence in the global market.

WRITING SYSTEM: The Latin alphabet is used. Same as English, except with the letters å, ä and ö. However, some of the letters sound quite different. Most notably, the vowels can be short or long. The Stockholm School of Economics provides a helpful guide for all the letters, but I only put the vowels and the ones that are notably different from English:

a – a as in bar
e – Long: e as in French cafe / Short: e as in net
i – Long: ee as in keep / Short: i as in bit
o – Long: oo as in tool / Short: o as in not
u – Long: u as in rude / Short: an “uh” sound as in good
å: Long: o as in fore / Short: o as in yonder
ä: Long: ai as in fair / Short: e as in best
ö: Long: eu as in French peu / Short: e as in her
j – like y in yes
r – trilled (rolled as in Spanish)
x – x as in exceed
y – similar to a French u
z – s as in sing

Also, Swedish distinguishes between hard vowels (a, o, u, å) and soft vowels (e, i, y, ä, ö), which makes consonants hard or soft. So …

c (before a, o, u, å) – hard c as in cake
c (before e, i, y, ä, ö) – c as in city

g (before a, o, u, å) – g as in go
g (before e, i, y, ä, ö) – y as in yes

k (before a, o, u, å) – k as in keep
k (before e, i, y, ä, ö) – ch as in check, but softer

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: I can’t help but compare Swedish to its sister Norwegian, the only other Scandinavian language I’ve done on the blog, which was an early favorite. Swedish sounds more sing-songy than Norwegian, due to its pitch accents. One thing I guess I noticed right off the bat is that Swedish is not phonetic, although it seems to be similar to English in this regard (particularly with the hard vowels). Swedish has more vowels, particularly two with Umlauts, which seem German … I dislike. The long/short vowels would probably be hard to detect because the language doesn’t really use diacritics or accent marks for distinction.

Grammar seems similar to English: no cases and subject-verb-object order for sentences. Pretty straightforward.

What worries me is most Swedes already speak English rather well — would learning Swedish even be worth the effort?

Anyway, this isn’t in Swedish, but it’s one of my favorite Swedish bands …



Stockholm’s School of Economics Introduction to Swedish

Wikipedia (Sweden, Swedish Language)

7 thoughts on “Swedish: Hej.

  1. Awesomeness. Swedish is close to Danish while Norwegian is close to Icelandic.

    But all fun languages to learn. Interesting to see how certain sounds exist only in swedish, the infamous sja, skä, skö, etc. Terrible!

    Thanks for posting about Swedish.

    1. Thank you for reading, you are awesome! It’s funny how the Scandinavian languages are so incredibly alike, but stand apart due to several pronunciation differences. I’ve been told to watch out for Danish …

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