About the Swedish Language

Swedish is a North Germanic language spoken by approximately ten million people, primarily in Swedenand parts of Finland.  Until World War II, it was also spoken in parts of Latviaand Estonia.  While there are many regional dialects in Sweden, there is a uniform and standard Swedish, called Rikssvenska (as taught in the Pimsleur program), which evolved from the central Swedish dialects spoken around Stockholm.  Swedish is similar to Danish and Norwegian.  These languages are mutually intelligible to a certain extent, more so in written than in spoken form.

Swedish is a descendant of Old Norse, the language spoken in Scandinavia during the Viking Era.  New vocabulary was introduced during different eras as a consequence of religious and commercial interaction with other cultures.  “Old Swedish” is the term used for medieval Swedish starting around 1250.  The main influence at this time came from the Roman Catholic Church.  Many of the Greek and Latin loan words stem from this period.  During the Middle Ages, a large number of German and Dutch immigrants added new vocabulary to the Swedish language.  These new terms were mostly associated with areas such as trade, administration, and warfare.

The printing press and the European Reformation mark the beginning of Modern Swedish (the 16th through the 19th centuries).  The Gustav Vasa Bible (1541), began a movement towards a more consistent Swedish.  King Gustav Vasa printed 2000 copies of the Bible and distributed them to churches throughout Sweden.  For the first time, church services were conducted in Swedish rather than in Latin.  In the middle of the 19th century, public school was introduced and all students were then educated in standard Swedish.

Contemporary Swedish, as it is spoken today, dates from the early 20th century.  The last major spelling reform occurred in 1906.  In the late 1960s, a significant linguistic reform took place which is referred to as the “du (you)-reform.”  Historically, Sweden had different ways to address people, depending on their social status.  With the liberalization of Swedish society in the 1950s and 1960s, class distinctions became less important and “du” became the standard way to address someone, even in a formal context.

The Swedish alphabet is a Latin-based alphabet consisting of twenty-nine letters:  the same twenty-six as in English plus three additional vowels (å, ä, ö).  Pronunciation, however, is quite different from English.

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Swedish-Speaking Countries