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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

What are your favourite words in Swedish?

All the gossip is about love, long vowels and cockroaches as our regular panelists reveal their favourite Swedish words.

What are your favourite words in Swedish?

Emma Chataway

Emma Chataway

The Swedish language is special. It’s funny and infuriating to learn. At first, every word sounds weird and wonderful. There are a few though that I’ll love forever.

I could be immature and put bajskorv (literally: poop sausage) at the top of my fun-Swedish-words-to-say-list. But admittedly it can be limiting when putting it into conversation, although I once convinced a visiting Australian friend to ask for a bajskorv off one of those street grills, after telling them innocently that it’s a Swedish specialty. Well, it was funny for me.

Just det – This phrase is simple and addictive. Scream it out loud, just det! Especially when used with emphasis. It just slides off the tongue, as people around you snap to attention. It is exactly the right sound/word to make when remembering something that you have momentarily forgotten.

Kackerlacka – Just because cockroach has never sounded so nice. It still sounds like something running across the floor… but somewhat humorously. I always picture a little roach in tap shoes and a hat. But that’s usually just funny to me too.

Graeme Newcomb

Graeme Newcomb

Sjuksköterska (nurse) – Try saying it fast at a hospital after five pints of Guinness, with glass splinters in your behind from sitting on the photocopy machine at the company Christmas dinner.

Sliddersladder (gossip) – Many Swedes haven’t heard this word before, so it is great to drop into a conversation.

Skiftnyckel (monkey-wrench) – It does exactly what it says on the tin in Swedish, unlike the English equivalent, which sounds like a torture instrument for simians.

Athanassia Fourla

Athanassia Fourla

My three favourite Swedish words/expressions are faktiskt, eller hur? and aaa

Faktiskt is a word which I believe I overuse sometimes but it just fits so nicely in so many sentences. It gives you the possibility to focus on something and to express yourself with a little more passion. It is also a word which does not exist, at least in this form, in the Greek vocabulary (you need to express it in more words or in another construction in Greek) and I love that it’s there in Swedish.

Eller hur? is also an expression which really adds to a sentence when you wish to get consensus and show that something is correct. Many Swedes use it really often.

And last but not least, the very Swedish “aaa” is not really a favourite but an expression which amuses me a lot and sometimes irritates me. I guess most foreigners here have a very strong, often negative, opinion, about this “aaaa” which Swedes seem to love so much.

To be honest, I used it a lot in my first years here when my Swedish was really terrible just to show that I understood a conversation. Use a different intonation every time suddenly you’re a fluent Swedish speaker (or at least you can pretend that you understand Swedish for a long time). In the metro you can often listen to long phone conversations where people only say “aaa” and nothing else, eller hur?

Igor Trisic

Igor Trisic

I never thought about what is my favorite word in Swedish despite the fact that I have been spending much time recently improving my Swedish and have started speaking.

Maybe the Swedish language awoke the egalitarian in me that insists that all words should be treated equally.

However even before I started learning Swedish there were certain groups of words that I liked. I always liked verbs, adverbs, adjectives and pronouns ending in a. Some examples might be: sluta (stop), dina (your/yours), mina (my/mine). I don’t know why but that’s the way it is.

I had many problems with this preference in the beginning because I inserted “a” everywhere (Mina bil instead of min bil (my car).

Since I started learning Swedish, practical things became important as well. I prefer adjectives that do not inflect according to genus. These are the ones that end with a, e and s.

Katarina Johnsson

Katarina Johnsson

My favourite word is knö, short for knöka, mostly used on the west coast of Sweden and the Gothenburg region. It is a concise word that very accurately describes certain situations. It can, for example, be used when someone is trying to jump a queue or is pushing. It can also be used as an invitation to sit down or come in if it is a bit tightly packed.

Another very useful word is lagom, which means not too much and not too little. I chose it with mixed feelings as it sadly describes a recurring characteristic of Sweden and Swedes, but nonetheless, it is a very useful word.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith

Tjugo (twenty) – It is just a fun word to say.

Kristianstad – It took me so long to pronounce this city correctly, that I now look forward to saying it all the time!

Älska (to love) – It is the best word in the Swedish language and I try to say it every day to my Laila.

Daniel Nyström

Daniel Nyström

I love ridiculous technical words such as bloggbävning (blogquake?) and minnespinne (as in a USB-memory stick).

Other than these, I like the new words that the evening newspapers in Sweden invent, such as nakenchock (naked shock). Seriously. I think they illustrate our mindless society quite well and more than one laugh has been had on behalf of these.

Smörgåsbord is also a word that works in many countries and almost always have a positive meaning.

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

There are about ten Sámi languages alive today, spoken across the northern parts of Scandinavia and eastern Russia. But they are among the many Indigenous languages around the world that are at risk of disappearing. 

Ten essential Sámi words that you might not have heard before

You might have heard that there are over 200 words for snow in Sámi languages, which is unsurprising, given the climate of the Sámi homeland in Northern Europe. But there’s a lot more to the languages than snow. 

The Swedish Sámi parliament website says that “language is the bearer of cultural heritage and reflects our people’s common view of life and values. Language transfers knowledge about nature and the world.”

But Sámi language fluency has been declining rapidly for decades. Pite Sámi is critically endangered, with fewer than 50 living speakers, all in Sweden. Today, Northern Sámi is the most widely spoken. 

Due to assimilation policies in all the countries the Sámi found themselves in, older generations of Sámi people were not allowed to speak their own language in school, meaning some languages have already been lost. 

The Local spoke to speakers and researchers of the languages to find out some of the most unique and beautiful words still in use.

1. Sápmi  

Sápmi is the Northern Sámi word for the traditional dwelling place of the Sámi people, which encompasses the northern parts of Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula of Russia. Since the 20th century, national borders and state policies have divided Sápmi and the people who call it home. 

Location of Sápmi in Europe

A map of where Sápmi in northern Europe. Map: Wikipedia

Elle Rávdná Näkkäläjärvi is part of the Sámiskeveivisere, Sámi Pathfinders, a group of young Sámi people who visit high schools and teach students about Sámi culture. She says Sápmi itself is one of her favourite words. 

“The word means a Sápmi without borders, it means relatives, sisters and brothers, and community,” she says. 

2. Eadni 

Eadni means ‘mother’ in Northern Sámi.

“It’s one of the first words that children learn,” says Berit Anne Bals Baal, a lecturer of linguistics at the National Centre for Sámi Language in Education at the Sámi University College, who chose it as her favourite word.

It has a complex phonology (sound system), and is similar to the Northern Sámi word for Earth, which is eanan

3. Guohtun  

Guohtun is a Northern Sámi word that describes the ideal conditions for reindeer to find lichen to graze under a covering of snow. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s one of those words that resists simple translation.

Lars Miguel Utsi, the Vice President of the Sámi parliament of Sweden, says, “Guohtun is a very complex word. It encompasses geography, plants, lichens, snow, and reindeer. It exemplifies the language and its connection to land and water.”

“It’s a very soothing word because it means that there is food and the reindeer can reach it,” he said. 

4. Giitu  

Giitu means ‘thank you’ in Northern Sámi.

Anyone who knows some Finnish might notice that it sounds quite similar to the Finnish word for ‘thank you’, kiitos. That’s because Sámi languages have more in common with Finnish than with Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, coming from the same language family: Finno-Uralic. 

You can respond to giitu with leage buorre which means ‘you’re welcome.’

5. Čáiddas 

This means snowball. We couldn’t have a list of Sámi words without having something specific to snow, could we? 

6. Vuovdi 

This means forest in Northern Sámi. Vast swathes of Sápmi is covered in forest. Sámi reindeer herders rely on old-growth forests to let their reindeer graze; they eat the kind of lichen that only grows in older forests. 

7. Boazu

Reindeer husbandry is a vital part of Sámi life. Photo: Image Bank Sweden

In all Sámi languages, there are two different words for reindeer. In Northern Sámi there is goddi and boazu.

Boazu means a reindeer who has been tamed and can be milked. Goddi is the word for wilder reindeer.  

Reindeer herding is an important aspect of Sámi culture and a vital source of income for many Sámi people. The Sámi parliament estimates that about 2,500 people are dependent on income from reindeer husbandry. 

8. Bures

An easy one! This is how you say “hello” to another person in Northern Sámi. 

9. Goahte  

Goahte is a type of hut in Lule Sámi. It’s a traditional Sámi home that can be built in several different ways, depending on what material is available, like with wooden panels or a construction of wooden poles covered with peat or cloth.

10. Sámediggi 

This is the Northern Sámi word for the Sámi Parliament. There’s a Sámi parliament in each country that divides Sápmi.

In the Scandinavian countries, it’s essentially a government agency with the aim of representing the Sámi people and increasing opportunities to participate in public debate.  

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