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Swedish chef actually speaks Norwegian: report

Published: 29 Aug 2012 11:17 GMT+02:00

Hurdy gurdy gurdy” and “bork bork bork.”

These are the two gibberish phrases most people tend to use when imitating a Swede - and it’s all thanks to the Swedish Chef from The Muppets.

However, Slate magazine in the US has looked deeper into the character’s accent and come to the conclusion that the rambunctious chef is actually speaking a language more similar to that spoken by people in Sweden’s neighbour to the west – Norway.

Stockholm University linguistics professor Tomas Riad explains that the language of the chef certainly might sound Scandinavian, but that the intonation is actually far closer to Norwegian than any Swedish dialect.

“I can see where it comes from, but it doesn’t sound like Swedish to me,” he told the paper, adding that Norwegian has two tonal peaks in the spoken language, making it sound more “sing-songy”.

Incidentally, the same tonal peaks can be found in some Swedish dialects, particularly that of Stockholm, but Riad claims it is far more pronounced in Norwegian.

Swedes living outside of Sweden don’t always take kindly to comments about the chef however, with some people not understanding that the character is just speaking untranslatable nonsense.

“When Swedes go abroad, they become zealous protectors of the Swedish brand,” Michael Moynihan, an American married to a Swede told Slate.

“Something as insignificant as the Swedish Chef is like a slap in the face.”

While the argument may never cease when it comes to the origins of the chef’s accent, The Muppets writer Jerry Juhl may have spilled truth in 2005, according to one article he wrote for Muppetcentral.com.

He claimed that Muppets creator Jim Henson did indeed spend “a couple of weeks” listening to Learn Swedish tapes in order to “perfect his babble.”

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Your comments about this article

13:18 August 29, 2012 by karex
I love the Muppets. Actually, The Swedish Chef has always sounded more Danish than Swedish to me... :)
16:39 August 29, 2012 by expatjourno
People the world over love the Swedish chef. I don't see why Swedes would be upset by it. But yes, the lilt sounds more Norwegian to me.
20:54 August 29, 2012 by Social Hypocrisy
Were not mad, just misunderstood... honest!
22:36 August 29, 2012 by Mark S.
It's an American TV show from the 1970s. If you pay close attention, you will find that the Swedish Chef sounds like an *American*. It is close enough to Swedish for an American audience to get the joke. Most Americans can't tell the difference between Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish anyway.
23:16 August 29, 2012 by calebian22
"Most Americans can't tell the difference between Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish" And why would they want or need too? The are three languages that are worthless anywhere in the world other than in the inclimate north.
10:26 August 31, 2012 by Borilla
@#5 - The word is "inclement". Don't you have spell check? If you are going to disparage the languages of certain countries, at least talk about countries whose economies are not doing substantially better than those whose first language is English.
19:49 August 31, 2012 by dizzymoe33
I love the Swedish Chef!!! Does it really matter what he sounds like? It is all in good fun!
10:05 September 1, 2012 by J Jack
The Scandic chef.
22:02 September 1, 2012 by sergisr
Oh my...! I've wasted my time watching the Swedish Chef's videos thinking I was learning Swedish. Hurdy gurdy språk talar jag börk?
19:24 September 3, 2012 by nuke
This is not news - I was told this back in the 70s, so it must have been common knowledge then.
10:42 September 4, 2012 by slh
What if I told you that the Swedish chef is based on an actual Swedish chef... with sing songy dialect: http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=8265512&page=1#.UEW-adbN-Yk I might be biased in since I'm from the same part of Sweden though.
00:29 November 9, 2012 by arri
I've just to read this, however what I find amusing is watching the roll about what language a Muppet speaks. That's a tad comical. Thanks for the laugh ;-)
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