The Swedish language reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Swedish language

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Swedish is a language spoken principally in Sweden, Finland, and Åland. Swedish is classified as a member of the East section of the Scandinavian languages, a sub-group of the Germanic group of the Indo-European language family.

Swedish (Svenska)
SpokenSweden and Finland
RegionNorthern Europe
Total speakers 9 Million
  North Germanic
   East Scandinavian
Official status
Official languageFinland (with Finnish)
 Åland (unilingually), European Union
De facto languageSweden
Regulated byNone (However, the Swedish Academy is important.)
Language codes
ISO 639-1sv
ISO 639-2swe

Table of contents
1 History
2 Geographic distribution
3 Sounds
4 Grammar
5 Vocabulary
6 Orthography
7 Examples
8 See also
9 External links


Swedish is closely related to, and often mutually intelligible with, Danish and Norwegian. All three diverged from Old Norse about a millennium ago and were strongly influenced by Low German. Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian Bokmål are all considered East Scandinavian languages; Swedes usually find it easier to understand Norwegian than Danish (but even if a Swede finds it difficult to understand a Dane, it is not necessarily the other way around).

Geographic distribution

Swedish is the national language of Sweden, mother tongue for the Sweden-born inhabitants (7,881,000) and acquired by nearly all immigrants (1,028,000) (figures according to official statistics for 2001).

Swedish is the language of the Åland Islands, an autonomous province under the sovereignty of Finland. In Mainland Finland, however, Swedish is mother tongue for only a minority of the Finns, or about six percent. The Finland-Swedish minority is concentrated in some coastal areas and archipelagos of southern and southwestern Finland, where they form a local majority in some communities.

There were formerly Swedish-speaking communities in the Baltic countries, especially on the islands (Dagö, Ösel and Ormsö) along the coast. 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 that march eventually founded a number of Swedish-speaking villages, which survived until the Russian revolution when the inhabitants were evacuated to Sweden. The dialect they spoke was known as gammalsvenska (Old Swedish). (Today there exist a few elderly descendants in the village of Gammalsvenskby (Old Swedish Village) in Ukraine, who still speak Swedish and observe holidays according to the Swedish calendar.)

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.

There are small numbers of Swedish speakers in other countries, such as the United States. (See 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 European immigrants in the region.

There is considerable migration (labour 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. (Note: Finland is, strictly speaking, not a Scandinavian country. It does, however, belong to the so called Nordic countries together with Iceland and the Scandinavian countries.)

Official status

Swedish is the de-facto national language of Sweden, but it does not hold the status of an official language there.

In Finland, both Swedish and Finnish are official languages. Swedish had been the language of government in Finland for some 700 years, when in 1892 Finnish was given equal status with Swedish, following Russian determination to isolate the Grand Duchy 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, mandatory in the final examinations: education in the pupil's own language is officially called mothertongue -- "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 by some seen as a step to avoid further Finlandization.

Swedish is the official language of the small autonomous territory of the Åland Islands, under sovereignty of Finland, protected by international treaties and Finnish laws. In contrast to the mainland of Finland the Åland Islands are monolingual - Finnish has no official status, and is not mandatory in schools.

Swedish is also an official language of the European Union.

The Swedish Academy

There are no real regulatory institutions for the Swedish language, but the Swedish Academy and the Swedish Language Council (Svenska språknämnden) have important roles. The primary task of the Swedish Academy is to further the use of the Swedish language. The primary instrument for this is the publication of dictionaries; Svenska Akademiens Ordlista and Svenska Akademiens Ordbok. Even though the dictionaries are sometimes perceived as an official definition of the language, their function is rather intended to be descriptive.


Swedish is distinguished by having more than one high-status variety, which is unusual for languages of its modest size. People speaking the high-status varieties typical for Helsinki, Stockholm/Uppsala, Lund and Gothenburg do usually not consider other varieties of Swedish to be more prestigious.

The Swedish term rikssvenska is problematic to translate. In Finland, it always means Swedish as spoken in Sweden compared to as spoken in Finland, but in Sweden it might also denote the high-status variety spoken in Stockholm/Uppsala dominating in national ethermedia. The definition of rikssvenska in the latter sense ("Proper Swedish") is somewhat controversial, a concept by many professional linguistics claimed to be vague at best.

Beside the high-status dialects, one can distinguish between a large number of Swedish dialects[1], often defined in terms of historical divisions, provinces and Lands of Sweden:

¹ Old Gutnish, Jamska, Scanian and Dalecarlian can in their own right be considered as separate languages. Practically all speakers of these languages are bilingual in Swedish, and the consideration here is principally the dialect of Swedish spoken by these individuals. None of them are recognized as separate languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. See also: Minority languages in Sweden
² Jamska belongs to the group of (Insular) West Scandinavian languages, as opposed to the other dialects of Swedish which belong to the (Continental) East Scandinavian group. The proper name of the language is Jamska, though the spelling Jämska is sometimes used.

Derived languages


Swedish is notable for having a large
vowel inventory, with 17 different monophthongs, and for the unusual consonant sound [ɧ], the voiceless dorso-palatal/velar fricative. Many dialects of Swedish, also common in national broadcasts, assimilates the r-sound to retroflex consonants. Notable exceptions are Finland-Swedish and South-Swedish varieties.

A major problem for students of Swedish is what can be perceived as a lack of standardisation of pronunciation. The pronunciation of vowels, and of some consonant sounds (particularly sibilants), demonstrates marked differences in spoken high-prestige varieties. In addition the melodic accent of South-Sweden is strikingly different from that of the capital-region (including Åland), which in turn differs clearly from provincial Dalecarlia and Gotlandia. In Finland-Swedish melodic accent isn't used at all, as is also typical for those parts of northernmost Sweden, where Finnish dominated less than a century ago.


The written language is uniform, with very few exceptions: Adjectives are typically conjugated according to natural gender in Southern Sweden, not at all in high-prestige varieties in the rest of Sweden, but sometimes according to numerus in Finland.

Swedish uses inflection with nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Word order is fairly fixed---generally subject-verb-object is the order of a declarative sentence, while a question sentence is verb-subject-object.


Nouns come in two grammatical genders: common and neuter. Old Swedish formerly had masculine and feminine genders in place of common; some old phrases and ceremonial uses preserve these archaic forms. Noun gender is largely arbitrary and must be memorised.

The definite article in Swedish is a suffix, while the indefinite article is a separate word preceding the noun. This structure of the articles is shared by the Scandinavian languages. Articles differ in form depending on the gender of the noun.

There is a limited grammatical case system: pronouns have distinct nominative, accusative, and genitive forms. Regular nouns are alike in nomitive and accusative; the genitive is formed regularly by adding -s (after the definite article, if the noun is definite).

Nouns form the plural in a variety of ways:

It is customary to classify Swedish nouns into five groups: -or, -ar, -er, -n, and unchanging nouns.

There are also some irregular nouns---their number is not great, but they are some of the most commonly used words. Midly irregular nouns are common nouns that are unchanged in the plural, nouns that double a consonant and shorten a vowel in the plural, etc. Certain nouns borrowed from Latin use Latin inflections. A small class of irregular nouns consist of those that mutate a back vowel of the singular form to a front vowel in the plural. Some of these also change the vowel and consonant lengths also, or add some sort of suffix, or both. The cognates of these mutating nouns in other Germanic languages are often similary irregular. Example: gås (goose), gäss (geese); man (man), män (men).


There are four kinds of verbs. Most verbs end in -a in the infinitive, -r in the present tense, and -de, -te, or -dde in the past. Verbs generally do not inflect for person or number. Other tenses are formed by combinations of auxiliary verbs with infinitives or a special form of the participle called the supine. As in all the Germanic languages, there are strong and weak verbs. For most Swedish strong verbs that have a verb cognate in English or German, that cognate is also strong.


Most Swedish words are of Germanic origin (the oldest category, representing the most common, everyday words). Examples of Germanic words in Swedish are mus (mouse), kung (king), and gås (goose). Other words are borrowed from Latin, French, German (first Low German, the lingua franca of the Hanseatic league, then High German), or English. New words are often formed by compounding. New verbs can also be made by adding an -a to an existing noun, as in disk (dishes) and diska (do the dishes). Some compounds are translations of the elements (calques) of German original compounds into Swedish.

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 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"). Diacritics are unusual in Swedish: acute accent and, less often, grave accent 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.


See also

External links