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How to tell where a Swede comes from based off their dialect

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
How to tell where a Swede comes from based off their dialect
These people in Malmö, southern Sweden, probably speak Swedish with diphthongs and swallow their Rs. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

There are arguably as many Swedish dialects as there are Swedes, but what are the general rules for how to tell where in Sweden someone comes from based off their speech?


How many different Swedish dialects are there?

There is obviously a lot of variation between counties, towns and even individual Swedes across the country, but for the purposes of this article, there are roughly six Swedish dialects split into six geographic areas.

You can see the areas of the six dialects on the map below. The southern Swedish dialect is in yellow, Götaland dialect in green, Svealand dialect in pink, Norrland dialect in blue, the "east Swedish" dialect spoken by Finns with Swedish as a native language (finlandssvenskar) in red and the Gotland dialect in brown.

Scandinavia_location_map.svg: NordNordWestderivative work: ingwik, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How can I tell them apart?

Let's start with the southern Swedish dialect, which roughly covers Skåne, southern Halland, Blekinge and Öland.

The first sound to pay attention to is the R sound. If it sounds like they're swallowing their Rs, then they're probably from this area. Southern Swedes also speak at the backs of their mouths generally, as opposed to Stockholmers who speak more at the front of their mouths (leading to Scanians referring to them as spissflabbad or "pointy-mouthed").


Another key marker of the southern Swedish dialect is the vowel sounds, which can be diphthongs (one vowel pronounced as two) or even triphthongs (one vowel pronounced as three) in some areas.

The word "så", for example, might sound more like "seå", "vet" as "veit", for example.

Here is an example of this dialect from Scanian band Svenska Akademin. Listen to how they pronounce broderskap around 1:07.

The Scanian R and the diphthongs make it sound more like breoderskaop.

For Spotify users, here's a playlist of all the songs linked in this article. You can click on the little microphone in the bottom right for lyrics.


Other artists who use this dialect include Bob Hund from Helsingborg and Timbuktu from Lund.

Moving north to the Götaland dialect (which covers a very wide area including Gothenburg and large parts of Småland), you can look out for a so-called thick L sound, where the tongue is as wide as possible in the mouth. You can almost hear this in this track, around 0:12. Listen to the L sounds in omoralisk and schlagerfestival.

Another sound to listen out for in the Gothenburg dialect in particular is how vowels such as I and Y change to E and Ö, such as in the name of the popular Gothenburg tourist attraction Feskekörka (this would be pronounced fiskkyrkan in standard Swedish).

You should also be able to hear the difference in the R sound when compared with the Scanian example above. In the Götaland dialect, the R sound is pronounced with the tip of the tongue rather than at the back of the mouth.


You can also listen to the melody of their speech. Does it rise at the end of a sentence? If so, you're probably talking to a Gothenburger.

Håkan Hellström is perhaps the best-known artist from Gothenburg, and rapper Pst/Q also raps in the Gothenburg dialect.

In Småland, you're still likely to hear something similar to the Scanian R sound.

Here's a clip of former Centre Party leader Annie Lööf, a famous smålänning (person from Småland). Listen to how she says "bra", "göra" and "tillvaron".

What about the Stockholm or Svealand dialect, then? This is the most common dialect on TV and radio, and probably the one you're most familiar with as a learner of Swedish, as it's traditionally considered to be rikssvensk or the standard dialect with the highest prestige.

In this dialect, the T sound often disappears in words like husetbarnet and taket, which become huse'barne' or take'.

You can hear this in this track from Stockholm rapper Mange Schmidt around 0:56. Förlagsavtalet becomes förlagsavtale. You can also hear fellow rapper Petter in the same track, who speaks the Södermalm dialect.

The R in this dialect is a tungspets-R or "tip-of-the-tongue" R, rather than the kind of swallowed R you hear further south, although sometimes it disappears at the end of the word and joins together with the next word. Again, do they speak at the front or back of their mouth? If they speak at the front of their mouth, they're probably from Stockholm.

The vowel ä also becomes e in the Stockholm dialect, so the words räv (fox) and rev (scratch, tear), would rhyme in Stockholm, but not elsewhere in Sweden.

In Norrland in the north of Sweden, people speak generally with a slow, soft and rounded dialect. 

Listen out for words with the sj-sound, like sju (seven) or duscha (shower). People from Norrland would pronounce this sound more like shh rather than the sound people from further south would make.

You can hear it in this song from Norrland's Frida Hyvönen at 2:54, where she complains about people who have never been north of Gävle asking her to say sju.

Finns with Swedish as a native language (finlandssvenskar) often drop the final letter or syllable in a word, which you can hear in the word bytte at 0:56 in this video, and later in fortsatte. In both examples, the final -e is dropped.

Finlandssvensk also uses the same sj sound as in Norrland, as opposed to the sound used in southern Sweden. You can hear it at 0:35 in this song from Swedish-speaking Finn Pernilla Karlsson.


Finally, in the Gotland dialect, you often hear vowels pronounced differently than in other dialects of Swedish, with a number of diphthongs, similar to Scanian.

In this interview with Sweden's most well-known person from Gotland, Babben Larsson, you can hear how the E in drev is pronounced dreiv at 04:43, and again at 05:29 in neråt.

An A at the end of a word, like in tala or sjunga, will often be pronounced more like an E: tale, sjinge.

In terms of melody, people from Gotland often sound like they're singing.

If you want a real challenge, try listening to this track by Gotland duo Dan u Kjell in the broad Gotland dialect (you'll need the lyrics for this one), featuring words like teili (tidlig in standard Swedish), köike (köket) and mair (mer).


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