Before I even start this post, I just want to say wow! Swedish was a blast. And, according to the views from the last post, a lot of people agreed with me. I’m almost pained to leave, but not before I leave you with my deductions, which may surprise you.
SUMMARY: Swedish is spoken by about 10 million people, mostly in Sweden, some parts of Finland, and to a lesser extent, Denmark and Norway. The language evolved from Old Norse (like its relatives Norwegian and Danish) got the Latin alphabet when Christianity came in the 1000s and later became more modernized with the advent of a Swedish Bible from national hero Gustav Vasa in the 16th century. Swedish transformed into its contemporary state due to social reforms (like the creation of a public schooling system) and industrial revolution in the 1800s, making the language much less formal. Authors like Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, can also be credited with the language’s transition.
FINAL IMPRESSIONS: If you can read my mind, I can’t help but think this ultimately comes down to a Norwegian vs. Swedish showdown. Which language will win?
Some general facts about Swedish:
-It has a general spoken form called Standard Swedish or rikssvenska, spoken by most Swedes.
-It has a lot of false cognates with English (for example, barn=child and dog=died).
-The grammar is pretty similar to English. It’s SVO (Subject, Verb, Object) and doesn’t use cases all that much. Unlike English, it has two genders for words, common and neuter, which are signified by the articles en and ett. Nouns and adjectives also decline for definite forms (basically adding “the” to the noun), which is sort of complicated. Definite articles are usually added as a suffix. This can get complicated for English speakers; definiteness can be specified up to three times for a phrase.
Ok, now the hard part — Norsk vs. Svenska. Based on reading and listening to both languages, it was impossible for me not to compare Norwegian and Swedish.
I prefer Norwegian, if only for a simple reason. The umlauts in Swedish throw me off (and remind me way too much of German – sorry!). I’m not able to tell any major differences in the vocabulary other than some words spelled differently (e.g., også in Norwegian and ocksa in Swedish, which both mean “also”).
Swedish wins this one, but by a tiny margin. While they both sounds the same, Swedish seems just a teeny bit clearer to me. I don’t know if it has to do with its intonation (which is not noted in written Swedish, by the way). Norwegian has tons of dialects but not a standard one, like Swedish, which could make learning it harder.
Draw! Both Norwegian and Swedish have systems that seem to mirror English’s and are easy to learn (verbs don’t conjugate, only the pronoun changes). Both are SVO and don’t use cases very much, if at all. One difference is that Norwegian has three genders for nouns and adjectives (at least in the written form Bokmål) while Swedish only has two, but this makes no difference to me; English doesn’t have grammatical gender, so I figure I would have to get used to using them either way.
However, both languages seem to put the verb before the noun in questions (switching to VSO order from SVO order). Both also appear to use a V2 form (putting the verb as the second part of a sentence, even if it comes before the subject) with adverbs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen V2 used in English.
I had several friends – two native Swedish speakers, a Norwegian and an American who speaks Swedish – who I owe a great deal of gratitude to for this post. My friend Daniel, who is from Sweden, said he’s able to understand Norwegian perfectly. My Norwegian friend Sissel also said the same thing. Both of them said that there were some vocabulary differences, but the mutual intelligibility was very, very high.
Ethan, my American friend who studied abroad in Sweden, said he was also familiar with Norwegian and that it has the most intelligibility with Swedish and Danish. My other Swedish friend, Katerina, agreed. Like Ethan, she said some of the sounds were difficult to learn, but Swedish was relatively easy for people who already speak Germanic languages, especially grammar-wise. Both Ethan and Sissel suggested that Swedish would be easier to learn; Ethan, because more people speak it and it has more authority, and Sissel, because of the complications of Norwegian dialects.
Katerina, however, thought Norwegian would be easier because of it being the “golden” middle of all the continental Scandinavian languages. And, as you’ll witness in a couple of paragraphs, she’s not the only one who thinks so.
(One thing that was resoundingly clear from everyone was that Danish was the hardest to learn out of all of the Scandinavian languages due to its pronunciation. Danish is coming shortly, so we’ll see if I think the same.)
With all things considered, I … still think I would pick Norwegian to learn over Swedish. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Swedish a lot, but I think this is what convinced me:
The mutual intelligibility between the Continental Scandinavian languages is asymmetrical. Various studies have shown Norwegian-speakers to be the best in Scandinavia at understanding other languages within the language group.
This was referenced in my first post about Norwegian. If I was to learn any Scandinavian language, I think I would want to learn the one that has the best ability to be understood. (The chart also mentioned that Icelandic speakers have the best comprehension out of them all, but I’m not interested in Icelandic, unfortunately). Some have even said Norwegian is written like Danish and spoken like Swedish. Now that I’ve mentioned Danish in this post, I wonder what other keys it has to the Scandinavian language continuum. Hmm …
EVALUATION (same as Norwegian):
Even if I don’t pick Swedish to learn in the long run, I will always, always love Swedish music. Here’s a treat — pop star named Darin covers a Swedish hit, Det Gör Ont.
Note: After going through the blog, I’ve adjusted Norwegian’s evaluation. Its previous score for resonance was 4, but due to my strong feelings about it, I’ve changed it to 5.
COMING UP: French