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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Twisting tongues: Sweden’s sexiest dialect

If you’re looking to boost your Swedish sex appeal, The Local's Karen Holst explains why enrolling in a Swedish language course in Gothenburg may be the ticket to wooing that potential Swedish sweetheart.

Twisting tongues: Sweden's sexiest dialect

Matters of the heart often play a role in enticing foreigners to move to Sweden, and as they struggle to master the language of their adopted homeland, foreigners hoping to impress their Swedish significant other, may want to think hard about which of the country’s many regional dialects they choose to master.

According to some measures, there are more than 100 regional dialects spoken across the country — and apparently, they are far from equal when it comes to how they are perceived by the average Swede.

A recent poll of 1,000 Swedes conducted by the Swedish Institute for Opinion Surveys (Svenska Institutet för Opinionsundersökningar, SIFO) found that Swedes find the regional dialect spoken in the western town of Gothenburg to be the sexiest of all Swedish dialects.

Following the release of the survey, conducted at the request of a dating website, the dialect spoken in Sweden’s “second city” suddenly finds itself on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

Margareta Svahn, a dialect researcher from Uppsala’s Institute for Language and Folklore (Institut för Språk och Folkminnen), can understand why “Göteborgska” topped the list of sexy Swedish dialects, garnering 18 percent of votes in the survey.

“I’m not at all surprised by the results – it’s often people’s attitude toward a speaker, not their actual dialect, that creates good vibrations,” she tells The Local.

Svahn explains that while Gothenburg is only Sweden’s second largest city, it also enjoys a more favourable reputation that big sister Stockholm.

“People from Gothenburg are known to be nice, friendly and happy,” she says.

“You hear it when they speak – Gothenburg people have a special, sing-song roll in their speech rhythm. You can always tell a person is from Gothenburg.”

Following the Gothenburg dialect, the dialect spoken in Norrland in Sweden’s far north came in second by a hair’s breath, with 17 percent of the vote.

The bronze medal in Sweden’s sexiest dialect sweepstakes was awarded to Sweden’s southern region, Skåne, which pulled in 16 percent of the vote.

Gothenburg University’s Department of Dialectology, Onomastics and Folklore Research was also quick to explain the city’s linguistic sex appeal.

“Gothenburg has long been associated with funny people – humour shows in Sweden often featured people from the west,” says Jenny Nilsson, a dialect researcher in the department who agrees that people often think of someone who speaks a certain dialect rather than the actual dialect itself in such surveys.

“And besides, everyone knows we in Gothenburg are funny and in my personal opinion, funny is attractive,” quips Nilsson in her native upbeat pitch.

Norrlandska, on the other hand, is known to be spoken a little slower and with a lot more breath.

But perhaps not the husky, hussie variety.

“It’s not a heavy, breathy dialect – it’s breathy but light and with very little melody,” describes Svahn, who adds that the northern dialect may even be easier to learn since the northerners have a tendency to cut out the gender or adjective agreements in words.

Skånska, on the other hand, was the unexpected dark horse at the front of the pack.

“It’s just not sexy at all!” Svahn exclaims.

Swedes usually refer to ‘Skånska’ as sounding a bit more like Danish with its deep trill and thick ‘r’, like one is speaking with stones in their mouth, the dialect specialist describes.

“But currently young boys like Skånska because there are a few popular girls from Skåne on TV that have long hair, big mouths and big tits, and so naturally Skånska is now sexy,” Svahn muses.

And despite their proximity to Gothenburg, the counties of Västergötland and Halland feature dialects which barely edging into poll standings with 4 and 1 percent of the vote respectively.

And while residents of those counties may lament the relatively low standing of their respective dialects, they can still rejoice that they received at least some share of the vote — which is more than can be said of Örebro in central Sweden.

Although Örebro is in the very heart of Sweden, it was without love in an ice-cold bottom position – not one single vote.

“I’m not at all surprised – people just don’t like the gnäll (whining) sound that tends to be heard in their speech. It is instantly recognizable and instantly a turn-off,” says Svahn, who likened the pitch to that of the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz.

Örebro administrators however feel the ranking is due to unfamiliarity.

“Worth noticing is that the Örebro dialect was not voted unhot, it simply did not receive any votes, which is not surprising since the dialect is rather unknown,” says Örebro Tourism Manager Björn Fransson.

He explains that the only associations Swedes may make of the mid-Sweden dialect comes from a humorous and popular stage and television character Hjälmar.

“On the other hand, during the years we have had a number of polls showing that the Örebro people are among the most good-looking in Sweden,” jests Fransson, who believes Swedes will begin to make positive connections to Örebro as it becomes a more important city, thus lifting future dialect rankings.

Svahn disagrees and says there is little hope for Örebro to improve its standings as its dialect can give a sort of skin-crawling effect.

“Perhaps Örebro people should move to Gothenburg or just adapt the Gothenburg dialect,” Nilsson jokes.

And for the record, Stockholm’s dialect was anything but hot on the sexy-dialects scale, sliding in at seventh place with an unimpressive 7 percent vote.

Both dialect researchers agree that it is hard to quantify exactly how many dialects one can find in Sweden due to all the variants.

“I don’t think there are more (dialects) in Sweden than in another country similar to Sweden. But we do have a levelling process going on,” says Svahn, who divides the nation into five basic regions, each with their own special attributes and but now with more common variables than ever before.

For her part, Nilsson remains a bit sceptical about the true science of such a poll.

“I don’t think if people listened to and ranked speech samples they would say the same thing as if they are just asked to list a few places,” she says.

In the mean time, however, foreigners looking for an edge in the Swedish dating scene may nevertheless want to do their best to master the Gothenburg dialect.

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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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