“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.”