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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

What’s your favourite Swedish dialect?

The Local's regular panel grapples with Sweden's many dialects and tries to decide whether they should be classified as throat diseases or things of poetic beauty.

What's your favourite Swedish dialect?
Image: Paulo Correa

Tiffany Hoffman

Tiffany Hoffman

Since I’m still new to the Swedish language, it’s quite difficult for me to distinguish between the dialects, but I can recognize a few. Here in Linköping, I think the dialect is easy to understand, but Skånska–really deep Skånska–is like its own language.

Because of my own southern American accent, I can definitely appreciate and respect the Skåne dialect–and the teasing that comes with it–and I think it’s fun to hear. I haven’t heard many dialects from the north, but I look forward to the day when I’m fluent enough in Swedish to pick them out.

Robert Flahiff

Robert Flahiff

Dalarna’s Dalmål! C’mon, who doesn’t get a chuckle from “Jordpäron” (Earth Pear), which is a potato in my parts. Funny part is that we have so many sub-dialects that old-timers can tell people their neighborhood or village just by listening to them for a few sentences.

But I think the real reason I like Dalmål is that I just don’t comprehend Skånska – it sounds like somebody speaking out of their nose with their mouth full of gravel. And I know I may take some heat for that, but if you are speaking in Skånska, I just won’t be able to understand you anyways….

Sanna Holmqvist

Sanna Holmqvist

Without any trace of doubt in my mind – Skånska. The Skåne dialect. That is what I have grown up with and that is what makes me feel comfortable and at home.

There are so many kinds of Skånska, every district or city has its own. Within the cities, the different parts may have their own too. Old people in Malmö, where I live, tell me that in their youth, they could easily decide from which side of town someone was (so it is worth remembering that the city used to be perhaps even more segregated than it is today).

Posh Fridhem or workers’ Möllan; Kirseberg, Holma or Kulladal; your specific version of Malmöitiska gave you away instantly (to native Malmö ears). But this is probably true in many cities.

Skånska is soft and singing, yet with a rougher touch from the r’s (that are pronounced as in Denmark, Germany and France) and the diphthongs, somehow: cursing or getting angry in Skånska is more efficient than in other dialects… But when spoken in a friendly voice, there is nothing that sounds nicer and kinder.

And Skånska is absolutely impossible to imitate, if you don’t speak it naturally. So many actors and comedians and imitators have tried and failed (embarrassingly enough, often without realising). It is almost impossible to get the melody absolutely right and the r’s flowing effortlessly.

We mostly get embarrassed and feel awkward when people try. Especially if they think they are funny. I haven’t ever heard anyone succeed. I don’t know if this is good or bad – it is simply how it is.

Nabeel Shehzad

Nabeel Shehzad

I am very new to the Swedish language and still do not understand it fully. In the beginning all the dialects were the same to me. I couldn’t understand anything. Now when I have started understanding, I can see the difference in dialects too.

The Swedish dialect spoken in southern Sweden, like Gothenburg, seems best to me as it is easy to understand. I think they speak it very calmly. Stockholmers on the other hand speak much faster and always look like they’re in a hurry and skip over words. I find it very difficult to understand even a single word sometimes.

Then there is this Rinkeby Swedish, Swedish spoken by immigrants mostly. I like it too as it comes in a different flavour, a bit harsh and a bit loud and with an Arabian accent to it, though a friend of mine calls it a throat disease.

I am still in the learning process and since I am living in Gothenburg I have more influence from Gothenburgish (that’s what I call it at least). To me it is simple, slow and easy to learn and the good thing is people are very cooperative even if you speak it wrong.

Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström

I am constantly amazed by the number of dialects in Sweden. In a country of only nine million people there seem to be countless dialects, some that differ significantly from one another in regions that are just a few Swedish miles apart.

But of all those different dialects, my favourite by far is Skånska. And I blame my father completely for that.

My father and his family originate from Skåne. He spent his childhood there and still carries the classic dialect of the region. While he spent his childhood in Skåne, I spent mine in the next best thing. Colorado, in the middle of the United States. Which is almost the same.

Seeing as how my old man was the only Swedish speaker for miles around though, I grew up hearing nothing but Skånska. When we returned to Sweden for our summer vacations, we travelled to Skåne. I have been inundated with the dialect all of my life. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Living in Stockholm, I am surrounded by the classic accent of the region, but every time I hear that Skånsk accent, my ears perk up and I feel like I’m home.

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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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