As a great Swedish poet receives literature’s highest accolade, your humble correspondent continues his journey in the foothills of the Swedish language.
One of the things that I was asked most in preparing for this job, including by our Queen, was why I was learning Swedish, when Swedes spoke such good English.
My answer, including to Her Majesty, was that it was a courtesy to the country that I was going to. Also unless I could read the newspapers and understand the broadcast media I would not be able to do my job.
Both have proved to be true. I do most of my business in English. And I would not dare to try blogging in Swedish, although I read Carl Bildt’s blog every morning.
But I do enjoy trying to speak Swedish and even though my “dåliga svenska” is far from good, it seems to go down well when I inject a few words into my conversation and/or speeches.
I’ve enjoyed also learning a bit about the evolution of the Swedish language. It appears that in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries Swedish as a language emerged from German, so many basic words, including those for I and you and milk and leg and winter, come from Germanic sources.
Then around the eleventh century Christianity came to Sweden and the influence of Greek and Latin words, not least those for priest, writing, library, cathedral and school, all entered the language.
In the middle ages Swedish again became influenced by the German language and trade with Germany accelerated, so words for trade, town, growth, man, woman, citizen, and parliament all come from the Germanic tongues.
In the 17th and 18th century France and its language played an increasing part, so words for chair, balcony, office, toilet are among those which derive from French.
Where, you might think, is the influence of English in this “smorgasbord”, to use one of the few Swedish words to have made it to the English language?
Well, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the English industrial revolution and growth of Empire brought words such as job, sport, locomotive, nylon.
In today’s modern Swedish many English words are just taken straight into the language, i.e. copyright, container, designer, squash etc.
But all our languages reflect today’s globalised world, with coffee and alcohol (Arabic), chocolate (Spain), tempo (Italy) and banana (Africa) just a few examples.
For the moment, I’ll concentrate on trying to get the basic Swedish ones right!