Swedish 101

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. Common Swedish terms for different mål, "(styles of) speech", are shown herehere.

~ Norrländska mål — Norrland, the northern half of Sweden

1. Överkalix, Norrbotten; younger female
2. Burträsk, Västerbotten; older female
3. Aspås, Jämtland; younger female
4. Färila, Hälsingland; older male

~ Sveamål — Svealand

5. Älvdalen, Dalarna; older female
6. Gräsö, Uppland; older male
7. Sorunda, Södermanland; younger male
8. Köla, Värmland younger female
9. Viby, Närke; older male

~ Gotländska mål — Gotland

10. Sproge, Gotland; younger female

~ Östsvenska mål — Åland and mainland Finland

11. Närpes, Österbotten; younger female
12. Dragsfjärd, Åboland; older male
13. Borgå, Nyland; younger male

~ Götamål — western and northern Götaland, traditionally centered in Västergötland

14. Orust, Bohuslän; older male
15. Floby, Västergötland; older female
16. Rimforsa, Östergötland; older female
17. Årstad-Hedberg, Halland; younger male
18. Stenberga, Småland; younger female

~ Sydsvenska mål — southernmost Sweden, including Blekinge, southern Halland and southern Småland

19. Jämshög, Blekinge; older female
20. Bara, Skåne; older male

All dialect samples are from SweDia, 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.

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, 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.

Finland-Swedish

Finland was a part of Sweden 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 Finland-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.

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 teenage 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 Kotsinas, 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.

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