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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Why I’m convinced Skånska is hands down the best Swedish accent

From The Local's archive: After eight years living in Malmö, The Local's southern Sweden correspondent Richard Orange is convinced that the local Skånska dialect is the best type of Swedish. Read further to find out why.

Why I'm convinced Skånska is hands down the best Swedish accent
No other Swedish accent measures up against southern Sweden's Skånska, argues The Local's writer. Photo: Måns Fornander/imagebank.sweden.se
To the uninitiated, Skånska or Scanian resembles a cat seeking attention while trying to dislodge a troublesome hairball.  
 
But after eight years living among the intriguing people of southern Sweden, I have learned to appreciate this much maligned dialect as a thing of beauty. 
 
Indeed, with its lengthy catalogue of denigrating expressions, freedom from the sing-song rhythm that restricts other forms of Swedish, and its sheer energy, I think Skånska is hands down Sweden's best dialect.
 
At the very least, all those dipthongs and guttural Rs force speakers to change their facial expressions once in a while (a phenomenon rarely seen among other Swedes).
 
 
When I first heard talk of Skånska, it was couched in dread. My wife feared that our newborn daughter, growing up in Malmö, might end up speaking a Swedish with a shameful Skånsk tinge (and lo it has come to pass). 
 
From her perspective, with her Uppsala-bred Rikssvenska (Standard Swedish), Skånska is the second most ridiculous of the Swedish dialects (the keening, plaintive Örebro accent comes top, with my wife maintaining that it makes speakers sound as if they have something stuck in their bottoms.) 
 
But when I first heard Skånska actually spoken, probably when I took my daughter to a drop-in kindergarten, I found it thrilling. I was tickled to hear each vowel bent violently to make sounds that probably existed in some English dialect somewhere, but never in such florid combination. 
 
 
Take the Skånsk Hallo (hello). It ends with a vowel combination that in English is associated with being almost parodically upper class, but which in southern Sweden issues from the mouths of electricians and farmers. The cognitive clash this produces is amusing. 
 
In the video below you can see dialect researcher Mathias Strandberg demonstrate how in the southern half of Skåne, every single vowel is bent into a dipthong. 
 

 
In Sweden, having a regional accent doesn't have the same class connotations as it does back home in England. 
 
But it still tickles me to interview someone like Sweden's Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, or former Green Party leader Gustav Fridolin, both of whom have excellent standard English, and then later hear them rattling away in Skånska. 
 
My real love of the dialect, however, came when I started to understand the culture underpinning it.
 
As the Skånsk comedian and commentator Kalle Lind wrote in his brilliant encomium to the dialect in regional newspaper Sydsvenskan, it has a “particularly expressive” idiom, and this is notably the case when it comes to those which describe the idiocy or other annoying qualities of another. 
 
To anyone who can read Swedish, I highly recommend Sydsvenskan's På Ren Skånska ('in pure Skånska'), the series of articles celebrating the dialect which Lind's essay is part of. 
 
Ditt jävla ålarens (you bloody eel offal), Lind asserts, beats out Standard Swedish's din förbaskade korkskalle (you darn cork head). Glyttapanna beats barnrumpa (child-bottom). Din satans klydderöv, he continues, before realizing that there is no Standard Swedish expression for klydderöv, which describes someone who does things badly and makes a mess.  
 
Then of course, there's the all-round favourite ålahue, which means literally “eel head”. 
 

 
My wife complains that Lind is simply ignorant of the amusing and creative expressions that exist in her own Uppsala Swedish. 
 
But I suspect she is deluding herself. There's a revelry in being gently offensive among Skånings, something they share with the Danes and the British but not with more northerly Swedes, that lends itself to developing these expressions. 
 
My big frustration is that Skånings seem to be above teaching Swedish to foreigners like me, so my Swedish accent (well, to be honest it's more of a British accent) doesn't have the slightest hint of Skåne in it. 
 
I can only listen in jealousy when I hear TV gardener John Taylor speak in his perfect Skånska, lightly dusted with his Yorkshire upbringing, as he presents on SVT's Trädgårdstider (Garden Seasons) show.

Member comments

  1. I worked at Handelsbanken’s HO in Stockholm for 10 years. My colleagues admired my command of Swedish, but commented that an English accent was always detectable. Then a guy from Malmö joined the team, and I started imitating his broad accent. Then my colleagues admitted that they could no longer tell I was British.

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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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