Swedish language

Swedish (svenska)
Spoken in: Sweden and Finland
Region: Northern Europe
Total speakers: 9 million
Ranking: 89
Genetic classification: Indo-European
  North Germanic
   East Scandinavian
Official status
Official language of: Finland (with Finnish), Åland (unilingually), and the European Union. (De facto and national language of Sweden.)
Regulated by: The Swedish Language Council (semi-official status).
Language codes
ISO 639-1sv
ISO 639-2swe
See also: LanguageList of languages

Swedish (svenska Template:Audio) is a North Germanic language spoken predominantly in Sweden, in part of Finland, and on the autonomous Åland islands, by more than nine million people. It is mutually intelligible with the other Scandinavian languages, Danish and Norwegian. Standard Swedish is the national language that evolved from the Central Swedish dialects in the 19th century and was well-established by the beginning of the 20th century. While distinct regional varieties descended from the older rural dialects still exist, the spoken and written language is uniform and standardized, with a 99% literacy rate among adults. Some of the genuine dialects differ considerably from the standard language in grammar and vocabulary and are not always mutually intelligible with Standard Swedish. These dialects are confined to rural areas and are usually spoken by small numbers of people with low social mobility. Though not facing imminent extinction, such dialects have been in decline during the past century, despite the fact that they are well researched and their use is often encouraged by local authorities.

Swedish is distinguished by its prosody, which differs considerably between varieties. It includes both lexical stress and tonal qualities. The language has a comparatively large vowel inventory, with nine 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, a sound found in many dialects, including the more prestigious forms of the standard language. Though similar to other sounds with distinct labial qualities, it has so far not been found in any other language.


Classification and related languages

Swedish is an Indo-European language belonging to the North Germanic branch of the Germanic languages. Together with Danish and Norwegian Bokmål it belongs to the East Scandinavian group, separating it from the West Scandinavian Faroese, Icelandic and Norwegian Nynorsk. More recent analyses Template:Ref divide the North Germanic languages into an Insular Scandinavian and Mainland Scandinavian languages, grouping Norwegian with Danish and Swedish based on mutual intelligibility and the fact that Norwegian has been heavily influenced in particular by Danish during the last millennium and diverged from Faroese and Icelandic.

By generally accepted criteria of mutual intelligibility, the Mainland Scandinavian languages could very well be considered to be dialects of a common Scandinavian language. Due to several hundred years of sometimes quite intense rivalry between Denmark and Sweden, including a long string of wars in the 16th and 17th centuries, and the nationalist ideas that emerged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the languages have separate orthographies, dictionaries, and regulatory bodies. The dialects of Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are thus more accurately described as a dialect continuum of Scandinavian dialects, and some dialects on the border between Norway and Sweden, such as those of western Värmland, take up a middle ground between the national standard languages.

Geographic distribution

Swedish is the national language of Sweden, the first language for the overwhelming majority of roughly eight million Sweden-born inhabitants and acquired by one million immigrants. In mainland Finland Swedish is spoken as a first language by a relatively small minority of about 5.5% or about 300,000 peopleTemplate:Ref. 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 municipalities of Korsnäs (97% Swedish speakers), Närpes and Larsmo, Swedish is the sole administrative language.Template:Ref There is considerable migration between the Nordic countries, but due to the similarity between the languages and cultures, expatriates generally assimilate quickly and do not stand out as a group. According to the 2004 US census some 67,000 people age five and over were reported as Swedish speakers, though without any information on actual language proficiency.

Official status

Sweden has had a comparatively homogeneous culture, with Swedish the dominant language for most of its modern history. Language minorities such as Samis have been small and often marginalized, during the 19th and early 20th century even actively suppressed. Although Swedish has been the administrative and liturgical language since the early 16th century, it has not been deemed necessary to formally prescribe it as the official language of Sweden.

Swedish is the sole official language of Åland, 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.

Former language minorities

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Map of Ukraine, with pointers to Gammalsvenskby
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Map of the Estonian islands which formerly housed "Coastal Swede" populations

Formerly, there were Swedish-speaking communities in Estonia, particularly on the islands (Hiiumaa, Saaremaa and Vormsi) along the coast of the Baltic. The Swedish-speaking minority was represented in parliament, and entitled to use their native language in parliamentary debates. After the loss of the Baltic territories to Russia in the early 18th century, around 1,000 Swedish speakers were forced to march to Ukraine, where they founded a village, Gammalsvenskby ("Old Swedish Village"), north of the Crimea. A few elderly people in the village still speak Swedish and observe the holidays of the Swedish calendar, although the dialect is most likely facing extinction Template:Ref.

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 saw an upswing. However, most Swedish-speaking people fled to Sweden at the end of World War II when Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union. Only a handful of older speakers remain today.

Regulatory bodies

There are no official regulatory institutions for the Swedish language. The Swedish Language Council (Svenska språknämnden) has semi-official status as such and is funded by the Swedish government, but does not attempt to enforce control of the language, as for instance the Académie française does. Among the many organizations that make up the Swedish Language Council, the Swedish Academy (established 1786) is arguably the most influential. Its primary instruments are the dictionaries Svenska Akademiens Ordlista and Svenska Akademiens Ordbok, in addition to various books on grammar, spelling and manuals of style. Even though the dictionaries are sometimes used as official decrees of the language, their main purpose is to describe current usage.

In Finland a special branch of the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland has official status as the regulatory body for Swedish in Finland. Among its highest priorities is to maintain intelligibility with the language spoken in Sweden. It has published Finlandssvensk ordbok, a dictionary about the differences between Swedish in Finland and in Sweden from their point of view.

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 term 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, historical provinces, cities, towns, etc.). While these varieties are often influenced by the genuine dialects, their grammatical and phonological structure adheres closely to those of the Central Swedish dialects. In mass media it is not uncommon for journalists to speak with a distinct regional accent, but the most common pronunciation and the one perceived as the most formal is still Central Standard Swedish.

Though this terminology and its definitions are long since established among linguists, most Swedes are unaware of the distinction and its historical background, and often refer to the regional varieties as "dialects". In a poll that was recently conducted by HUI (http://www.hui.se/) Template:Ref, the attitudes of Swedes to the use of certain varieties by salesmen revealed that 54% believed that rikssvenska was the variety they would prefer to hear when speaking with salesmen over the phone, even though several "dialects" such as gotländska or skånska were provided as alternatives in the poll.


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Map indicating areas where speakers of Finland-Swedish constitute a majority.
Finland was under Swedish control from the mid 14th century until the loss of the Finnish territories to Russia in 1809. Swedish was the sole administrative language until 1902 as well as the dominant language of culture and education until Finnish independence in 1917. As of 2004, 5.53% of the total population speak Swedish as their first language, according to official statistics. Since an educational reform in the 1970s, both Swedish and Finnish have been compulsory school subjects in Mainland Finland, and both were until 2004 mandatory in the final examinations. Education in the pupil's first 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 decrease of the number of Swedish speakers and to avoid creating language-barriers between the two spoken languages. Finnish, a Finno-Ugric language, is fundamentally different from Swedish in grammar and vocabulary and there is no mutual understanding between the two. However, there is a considerable amount of borrowings from Swedish in the Finnish language. One example of the two languages merging in an unofficial sense is the classic Helsinki slang, ("Stadin slangi") which was born in the capital city of Finland in the early and middle 20th century, when both languages were almost equally widely spoken in the city area.


The linguistic definition of a Swedish dialect is a local variant that has not been heavily influenced by the standard language 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 phonetic and grammatical features, such as plural forms of verbs or archaic case inflections. These dialects can be near-incomprehensible to most Swedes, and most of their speakers are also fluent in Standard Swedish. The different dialects are often so localized that they are limited to individual parishes and are referred to by Swedish linguists as sockenmål (lit. "parish speech"). They are generally separated into six major groups, with common characteristics of prosody, grammar and vocabulary. One or several examples from each group are given here. Though each example is intended to be also representative of the nearby dialects, the actual number of dialects is several hundred if each individual community is considered separately. The Swedish terms for different mål; "(styles of) speech", is used here.Template:Ref

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Map showing location of the various dialect samples.
  • Norrländska målNorrland, the northern half of Sweden
1. Överkalix, Norrbotten; younger female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Norrland/Norrbotten/Overkalix/yw.html)
2. Burträsk, Västerbotten; older female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Norrland/Vasterbotten/Burtrask/ow.html)
3. Aspås, Jämtland; younger female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Norrland/Jamtland/Aspas/yw.html)
4. Färila, Hälsingland; older male (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Norrland/Halsingland/Farila/om.html)
5. Älvdalen, Dalarna; older female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Svealand/Dalarna/Alvdalen/ow.html)
6. Gräsö, Uppland; older male (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Svealand/Uppland/Graso/om.html)
7. Sorunda, Södermanland; younger male (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Svealand/Sodermanland/Sorunda/ym.html)
8. Köla, Värmland younger female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Svealand/Varmland/Kola/yw.html)
9. Viby, Närke; older male (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Svealand/Narke/Viby/om.html)
10. Sproge, Gotland; younger female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Gotaland/Gotland/Sproge/yw.html)
11. Närpes, Österbotten; younger female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Finland/Osterbotten/Narpes/yw.html)
12. Dragsfjärd, Åboland; older male (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Finland/Aboland/Dragsfjard/om.html)
13. Borgå, Nyland; younger male (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Finland/Nyland/Borga/ym.html)
14. Orust, Bohuslän; older male (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Gotaland/Bohuslan/Orust/om.html)
15. Floby, Västergötland; older female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Gotaland/Vastergotland/Floby/ow.html)
16. Rimforsa, Östergötland; older female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Gotaland/Ostergotland/Rimforsa/ow.html)
17. Årstad-Hedberg, Halland; younger male (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Gotaland/Halland/Arstad/ym.html)
18. Stenberga, Småland; younger female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Gotaland/Smaland/Stenberga/yw.html)
19. Jämshög, Blekinge; older female (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Gotaland/Blekinge/Jamshog/ow.html)
20. Bara, Skåne; older male (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/Gotaland/Skane/Bara/om.html)

All dialect samples are from SweDia (http://swedia.ling.umu.se/), a research project on Swedish dialects available for download (though with information in Swedish only), with many more samples from 100 different dialects with recordings from four different speakers; older female, older male, younger female and younger male.

New dialects

Rinkeby Swedish (after Rinkeby, a heavily segregated suburb of northern Stockholm) is a common name for varieties of Swedish spoken by second and third generation immigrants, especially among younger speakers, primarily in western suburbs of Stockholm and to a lesser degree in Malmö and Gothenburg. There is no consensus among linguists whether Rinkeby Swedish and similar varieties should be denominated as dialects or sociolects.

The Swedish linguist Ulla-Britt Kotsinas has described these varieties as being most prominent among teenagers living in suburbs with a large immigrant population and particularly young boys. In this context it can be seen as an expression of a youth culture specific to these suburbs. Rinkeby Swedish is however not limited to the children of immigrants and is often surprisingly similar to variants in geographically distant immigrant-dominated suburbs. In a survey made by KotsinasTemplate:Ref, foreign learners of Swedish were asked to identify the native language and time spent in Sweden of several teenage speakers living in Stockholm. The survey showed that the participants had great difficulty in accurately guessing the origins of the speakers and that they underestimated the time spent in Sweden. The greatest difficulty proved to be identifying the speech of a boy whose parents were both Swedish; only 1,8% guessed his native language correctly.


In the 9th century, Old Norse began to diverge into Old West Norse (Norway and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Sweden and Denmark). In the 12th century, the dialects of Denmark and Sweden began to diverge, becoming Old Danish and Old Swedish in the 13th century.

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 Norwegian than Danish, even though the former is descended from Old West Norse, since Norwegian pronunciation is closer to that of Swedish. Though stages of language development are never as sharply delimited 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 the sake of practicality.

Old Norse

Main article: Old Norse language

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This is the approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early 10th century. The red area is the distribution of the dialect Old West Norse; the orange area is the spread of the dialect Old East Norse. The pink area is Old Gutnish and the green area is the extent of the other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still retained some mutual intelligibility.
In the 8th century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia, Proto-Norse, had undergone some changes and evolved into Old Norse. This language began to undergo new changes that did not spread to all of Scandinavia, which resulted the appearance of two similar dialects, Old West Norse (Norway and Iceland) and Old East Norse (Denmark and Sweden).

Old East Norse is in Sweden called Runic Swedish and in Denmark Runic Danish, but until the 12th century, the dialect was the same in the two countries. The dialects are called runic due to the fact that the main body of text appears in the runic alphabet. Unlike Proto-Norse, which was written with the Elder Futhark alphabet, Old Norse was written with the Younger Futhark alphabet, which only had 16 letters. Due to the limited number of runes, some runes were used for a range of phonemes, such as the rune for the vowel u which was also used for the vowels o, ø and y, and the rune for i which was also used for e.

A change that separated Old East Norse (Runic Swedish/Danish) from Old West Norse was the change of the diphthong æi (Old West Norse ei) to the monophthong e, as in stæin to sten. This is reflected in runic inscriptions where the older read stain and the later stin. There was also a change of au as in dauðr into ø as in døðr. This change is shown in runic inscriptions as a change from tauþr into tuþr. Moreover, the øy (Old West Norse ey) diphthong changed into ø as well, as in the Old Norse word for "island".

From 1100 and onwards, the dialect of Denmark began to diverge from that of Sweden. The innovations spread unevenly from Denmark which created a series of minor dialectal boundaries, isoglosses, ranging from Zealand to Svealand.

Old Swedish

Main article: Old Swedish

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A copy of Äldre Västgötalagen - a law code of Västergötland from the 1280s, one of the earliest texts in Swedish written in the Latin alphabet.

Old Swedish is the term used for the medieval Swedish language, starting in 1225. Among the most important documents of the period written in Latin script is the oldest of the provincial law codes, Västgötalagen, of which fragments dated to 1250 have been found. The main influences during this time came with the firm establishment of the Catholic church and various monastic orders, introducing many Greek and Latin loanwords. With the rise of Hanseatic power in the late 13th and early 14th century, the influence of Low and High German became ever more present. The Hanseatic league provided Swedish commerce and administration with a large number of German speaking immigrants. Many became quite influential members of Swedish medieval society, and brought terms from their mother tongue into the vocabulary. Besides a great number of loan words for areas like warfare, trade and administration, general grammatical suffixes and even conjunctions where imported. Many naval terms were also borrowed from Dutch.

Early medieval Swedish was markedly different from the modern language 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 were also dative and accusative. The gender system resembled that of modern German, having the genders masculine, feminine and neuter. Most of the masculine and feminine nouns were later grouped together into a common gender. The verb system was also more complex: it included subjunctive and imperative moods and verbs were conjugated according to person as well as number. By the 16th century, the case and gender systems of the colloquial spoken language and the profane literature had been largely reduced to the two cases and two genders of modern Swedish. The old inflections remained common in high prose style until the 18th century, and in some dialects into the early 20th century.

A transitional change of the Latin script in the Nordic countries was to spell the letter combination "ae" as æ – and sometimes (when writing hastily?) as a' – though it varied between individuals and regions. The combination "aa" similarly became aa, and "oe" became oe. These three were later to evolve into the separate letters ä, å and ö.

New Swedish

Main article: New Swedish

Missing image
Front page of the Gustav Vasa Bible of 1541. The title translated to English reads: "The Bible / That is / The Holy Scripture / in Swedish. Printed in Upsala. 1541".

New Swedish begins with the advent of the printing press and the European Reformation. After assuming 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 referred to as the Gustav Vasa Bible, a translation deemed so successful and influential that, with revisions incorporated in successive editions, it remained the most common Bible translation until 1917. The main translators were Laurentius Andreæ and the brothers Laurentius and Olaus Petri.

The Vasa Bible is often considered to be a reasonable compromise between old and new; while not adhering to the colloquial spoken language of its day it was not overly conservative in its use of archaic forms.Template:Ref It was a major step towards a more consistent Swedish orthography. It established the use of the vowels "å", "ä", and "ö", and the spelling "ck" in place of "kk", distinguishing it clearly from the Danish Bible, perhaps intentionally due to the ongoing rivalry between the countries. All three translators came from central Sweden which is generally seen as adding specific Central Swedish features to the new Bible.

Though it might seem as if the Bible translation set a very powerful precedent for orthographic standards, spelling actually became more inconsistent during the remainder of the century. It was not until the 17th century that spelling began to be discussed, around the time when the first grammars were written. The spelling debate raged on until the early 19th century, and it was not until the latter half of the 19th century that the orthography reached generally acknowledged standards.

Capitalization was during this time not standardized. It depended on the authors and their background. Those influenced by German capitalized all nouns, while others capitalized more sparsely. It is also not always apparent which letters are capitalized, due to the Gothic or black letter font which was used to print the Bible. This font was in use until the mid-18th century, when it was gradually replaced with a Latin font (often antiqua).

Some important changes in sound during the New Swedish period were the gradual assimilation of several different consonant clusters into and the softening of /g/ and /k/ into /j/ and before front vowels. The dental and velar fricatives and were transformed to the corresponding plosives /d/ and /g/.

Modern Swedish

Missing image
August Strindberg, often considered to be the father of modern Swedish literature.

The period that includes Swedish as it is spoken today is termed nusvenska ("Contemporary Swedish", lit. "Now Swedish") in linguistic terminology. With the industrialization and urbanization of Sweden well under way by the last decades of the 19th century, a new breed of authors made their mark on Swedish literature. Many authors, scholars, politicians and other public figures had a great influence on the new national language that was emerging, the most influential of these being August Strindberg (1849-1912).

It was during the 20th century that a common, standardized national language became available to all Swedes. The orthography was finally stabilized, and was almost completely uniform, with the exception of some minor deviations, by the time of the spelling reform of 1906. With the exception of plural forms of verbs and a 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 officially abolished even from all official recommendations.

A very significant change in Swedish occurred in the 1960s, with the so-called du-reformen, "the you-reform". Previously, the proper way to address people of the same or higher social status had been by title and surname. The use of herr ("mr"), fru ("mrs") or fröken ("miss") was only considered acceptable in initial conversation with strangers of unknown occupation, academic title or military rank. The fact that the listener should preferably be referred to in the third person tended to further complicate spoken communication between members of society. In the early 20th century, an unsuccessful attempt was made to replace the insistence on titles with Ni (the standard second person plural pronoun) — analogous to German and French. Ni wound up being used as a slightly less arrogant form of du used to address people of lower social status. With the liberalization and radicalization of Swedish society in the 1950s and 60s, these previously significant distinctions of class became less important and du became the standard, even in formal and official contexts.


Main article: Swedish phonology

Swedish is notable for having a relatively large vowel inventory consisting of 9 vowels that make up 17 phonemes in most varieties and dialects (short /e/ and coincide). There are 18 consonant phonemes out of which and /r/ show quite considerable variation depending on both social and dialectal context.

A distinct feature of Swedish is its varied prosody, which is often one of the most noticeable differences between the various dialects. Native speakers who adapt their speech when moving to areas with other regional varieties or dialects will often adhere to the sounds of the new variety, but nevertheless maintain the prosody of their native dialect. The prosodic features of Swedish are sometimes summarized as a "melodic accent", though this term is not used by linguists and is used mostly as a descriptive, but still rather vague, term for the prosodic features of Swedish and Norwegian.


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The vowel phonemes of Standard Swedish

Swedish vowels are contrastive in terms of quality, and the frontal vowels appear in rounded-unrounded pairs. Unstressed is rendered as (schwa) in most dialects, and a lowering of vowels is very common before /r/ and the various retroflex assimilations such as , . Various patterns of diphthongs occur in different dialect groups. Among the most distinguishable are those of Skåne in southern Sweden and in Gotland.


Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosives p b t d k
Approximants v l r j h
Fricatives f s
Nasals m n

The uniquely-Swedish phoneme (the "sje-sound" or voiceless dorso-palatal velar fricative) and its allegedly double places of articulation is a difficult and complex issue that is still debated among phoneticians.Template:Ref Though the acoustic properties of the various -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.

The sje-sound has a great variety of allophones in Swedish, and often quite subtle realizations. Most common are various -like sounds, with occurring mainly in northern Sweden and in Finland. can sometimes be used in the varieties influenced by major immigrant languages like Arabic and Kurdish.

The realizations of /r/ are also highly variable in different dialects and varieties. In Central Swedish dialects often becomes a fricative , in consonant clusters often as , and especially in Central Standard Swedish as the approximant . Uses of taps like are also common. In southern Sweden uvular trills or voiced fricatives, , 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 .


Prosody in Swedish often varies substantially between different dialects including the spoken varieties of Standard Swedish. As in most languages, stress can be applied to emphasize certain words in a sentence. To some degree prosody may indicate questions, although less so than in English. Swedish is, like English, a stress-timed language and has many words that are differentiated by stress:

  • formel — "formula"
  • formell — "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 accents. Often referred 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.Template:Ref 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.

Noteworthy are some three-hundred two-syllable word pairs that are differentiated only by their use of either grave or acute accent.

  • anden — "the duck"
  • anden — "the spirit"



Like many other Germanic languages, Swedish has a tendency for closed syllables with a relatively large amount of consonant clusters in initial as well as final position. Though not as complex as that of most Slavic languages, examples of up to 8 consecutive consonants can occur when adding Swedish inflections to some foreign loanwords or names, and especially when combined with the tendency of Swedish to make long compound nouns. The syllable structure of Swedish can therefore be described with the following formula:


This means that a Swedish one-syllable morpheme can have up to three consonants preceding the vowel that forms the nucleus of the syllable, and three consonants following it. All but one of the consonant phonemes, , can occur at the beginning of a morpheme, though there are only 6 possible three-consonant combinations, all of which begin with /s/ and a total of 31 initial two-consonant combinations. All consonants except for /h/ and can occur finally, and the total amount of final two-consonant clusters is 62. In some cases this can result in near-unpronouncable combinations, such as in västkustskt Template:Audio, consisting of västkust ("west coast") with the adjective suffix -sk and the neuter suffix -t or the purely theoretical Herbstskts Template:Audio consisting of the German surname Herbst with the same suffixes as in the first example, but with an extra genitive -s added.

All vowel phonemes, short or long, can occur in stressed syllables. Unstressed syllables can only be short, and the distinction between /e/ and is therefore not present. In pre-stress syllables, all vowels but /u/ and /o/ are differentiated. With each successive post-stress syllable, the number of contrasting vowels decreases gradually with distance from the point of stress; within three syllables from intonation, only [a], or occur.


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, identical to that of 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:

  Singular Plural
Indefinite form Definite form Indefinite form Definite form
Nominative fisk fisken fiskar fiskarna
Genitive fisks fiskens fiskars fiskarnas

As in other Germanic languages there are definite and indefinite articles, but indicating the definite form of a noun is done 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 those of English and have an additional object form, derived from 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. Some verbs have a special imperative form, though with most verbs this 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"

In contrast to English and many other languages, Swedish does not use the perfect participle to form the present perfect and past perfect tenses. Rather, the auxiliary verb "har", "hade" ("have"/"has", "had") is followed by a special form, called supine, used solely for this purpose (although sometimes identical to the perfect participle):

Perfect participle: målad; "painted" - supine målat, present perfect har målat; "have painted"
Perfect participle: stekt, "fried" - supine stekt, present perfect har stekt; "have fried"

In a subordinate clause, this auxiliary "har", "hade" is optional and often omitted.

Jag ser att han (har) stekt fisken; "I see that he has fried the 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, most of them remaining only as set of idiomatic expressions.

The lack of cases in Swedish is compensated by a wide variety of prepositions, similar to those found in English. As 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 these are still quite common.


Swedish being a Germanic language, the syntax shows similarities to both English and German. Like English, Swedish has a Subject Verb Object basic word order, but like German, it utilizes verb-second word order in main clauses, for instance after adverbs, adverbial phrases and dependent clauses. Prepositional phrases are placed in a Place Manner Time order, like in English (and unlike German). Adjectives precede the noun they determine.


The vocabulary of Swedish is mainly Germanic, either through common Germanic heritage or through loans from German, Low German and to some extent English. Examples of Germanic words in Swedish are mus ("mouse"), kung ("king"), and gås ("goose"). Much of the religious and scientific vocabulary is of Latin or Greek origin, often borrowed through French and, as of late, English. 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. Some compounds are translations of the elements (calques) of German original compounds into Swedish, e.g bomull from German Baumwolle, cotton (lit. tree-wool). Finland-Swedish has a set of separate terms that are close cognates of their Finnish counterparts, chiefly terms of law and government. 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. Examples include nivå (fr. niveau, "level"), ateljé; (fr. atelier, "studio"), and paraply (fr. parapluie, "umbrella").

New words are often formed by compounding, and, like many Germanic languages, Swedish compounds words freely and frequently. Like for instance nagellackborttagningsmedel ("nail polish remover"), but as in German or Dutch extremely long, though quite impractical, examples like produktionsstyrningssystemsprogramvaruuppdatering ("production controller system software update") are possible. Compound nouns take their gender from the head, which in Swedish is always the last morpheme. A very productive method for creating new verbs is the adding of -a to an existing noun, as in prat ("talk") and prata ("to talk").

Writing system

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 a separate 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 very exceptionally be seen in elaborated style (for instance: "Aïda").

See also


  1. Template:Note entry for "Scandinavian", The Penguin Encyclopedia of Language
  2. Template:Note According to official population statistics (http://www.stat.fi/tup/suoluk/taskue_vaesto.html#structure) by the Finnish government agency Statistics Finland.
  3. Template:Note According to a list (http://www.kommunerna.net/k_perussivu.asp?path=255;264;519;599;23876;30127;30393) compiled by the Finnish Association of Municipalities.
  4. Template:Note The number of registered Swedes in Zmeyovka (the modern Russian name of Gammalsvenskby) as of 1994 was 116 according to Nationalencyklopedin, article svenskbyborna , but the number of native speakers is closer to 20 according to the association Svenskbyborna (http://www.svenskbyborna.com/foreningen.htm).
  5. Template:Note Poll conducted by HUI in December of 2005, reported 2005-05-03 in Dagens Industri
  6. Template:Note Pettersson (1996), pg. 184
  7. Template:Note Kotsinas (1994) pg. 151
  8. Template:Note Pettersson (1996), pg. 151
  9. Template:Note Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), pg. 171-172, 329-330
  10. Template:Note Thorén 1997 (http://www.webgraph.se/bosse.thoren/prosodi_eng.html)



  • Svensson Lars, (1974) Nordisk Paleografi, Studentlitteratur Lund ISSN 3683420;28

External links

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af:Sweeds da:Svensk de:Schwedische Sprache el:Σουηδική γλώσσα et:Rootsi keel es:Idioma sueco eo:Sveda lingvo fr:Suédois he:שבדית id:Bahasa Swedia it:Lingua svedese la:Lingua Suecica li:Zweids nl:Zweeds ja:スウェーデン語 no:Svensk språk pl:Język szwedzki pt:Língua sueca ro:Limba suedeză se:Ruoŧagiella sl:švedščina fi:Ruotsin kieli sv:Svenska vi:Tiếng Thụy Điển zh:瑞典語


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