Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Swedish language

Swedish is a language spoken in Sweden and Finland. Swedish is one of the Scandinavian languages, a sub-group of the Germanic group of the Indo-European language family.

SpokenSweden and Finland
RegionNorthern Europe
Total speakers 9 Million
  North Germanic
   East Scandinavian
Official status
Official languageFinland (with Finnish)
 Åland (unilingually)
De facto languageSweden
Regulated byNone (However, the Swedish Academy is important.)
Language codes
ISO 639-1sv
ISO 639-2swe

Table of contents
1 History
2 Classification
3 Geographic distribution
4 Sounds
5 Grammar
6 Vocabulary
7 Writing system
8 Examples
9 See also
10 External links


Swedish is closely related to, and often mutually intelligible with, Danish and Norwegian. All three diverged from Old Norse about a millennium ago. Swedish, Danish and the Danish language Norwegian (Bokmål) are all considered East Scandinavian languages; Swedes usually find it easier to understand Norwegian than Danish. But even if a Swede finds it difficult to understand a Dane it is not necessarily the other way around.


Swedish is an East Scandinavian language, which belongs to the North Germanic languages together with Norwegian and Danish. The North Germanic languages belong to the Germanic languages which belongs to the group of Indo-European languages.

Geographic distribution

Swedish is the national language of Sweden, mother tongue for the Sweden-born inhabitants (7,881,000) and acquired by nearly all immigrants (1,028,000) (figures according to official statistics for 2001).

Swedish is the native language of the Åland Islands, an autonomous province of Finland. In the rest of Finland howeever, Swedish is mother tongue for only a minority of the Finns, or about six percent. The Finland-Swedish minority is concentrated in some coastal areas and archipelagos of southern and southwestern Finland, where they form a local majority in some communities.

There were formerly Swedish-speaking communities in the Baltic states, especially on the islands (Dagö, Ösel and Ormsö) along the coast. After the loss of the Baltic territories to Russia in the early 18th century, many of them were forced to make the long march to Ukraine. The survivors of that march eventually founded a number of Swedish-speaking villages, which survived until the Russian revolution when the inhabitants were evacuated to Sweden. The dialect they spoke was known as gammalsvenska (Old Swedish). (Today there exist a few elderly descendants in the village of Gammalsvenskby (Old Swedish Village) in Ukraine, who still speak Swedish and observe holidays according to the Swedish calendar.)

In Estonia, the small remaining Swedish community was very well treated between the first and second world wars. Municipalities with a Swedish majority, mainly found along the coast, had Swedish as the administrative language and Swedish-Estonian culture experienced an upswing. Most Swedish-speaking people fled to Sweden at the end of World War II.

There are small numbers of Swedish speakers in other countries, such as the United States. (See Languages in the United States.) There are also descendants in Brazil and Argentina resulting from Swedish immigration that have maintained a distinction by language and names, also against groups of European immigrants in the region.

There is considerable migration (labour and other) between the Scandinavian countries, but due to the similarity between the languages and culture expatriates generally assimilate quickly and do not stand out as a group. (Note: Finland is, strictly speaking, not a Scandinavian country. It does, however, belong to the group of Nordic countries together with Iceland and the Scandinavian countries.)

Official status

Swedish is the de facto national language of Sweden, but it does not hold the status of an official language.

Swedish is the official language of the small autonomous territory of the Åland Islands, under sovereignty of Finland, protected by international treaties and Finnish laws. In contrast to the mainland of Finland the Åland Islands are monolingual - Finnish has no official status.

In Finland, both Swedish and Finnish are official languages. Swedish had been the language of government in Finland for some 700 years, when in 1892 Finnish was given equal status with Swedish, following Russian determination to isolate the Grand Duchy from Sweden. Today about 290,000, or 5.6% of the total population are Swedish speakers according to official statistics for 2002. Swedish is officially refered to as the second domestic language, or toinen kotimainen kieli in Finnish and since an educational reform in the 1970s Swedish has been a compulsory subject in Finnish schools, where it is mandatory in the final examinations. The introduction of mandatory education in Swedish in schools was seen as a step to avoid further Finlandization.

There are no real regulatory institutions for the Swedish language, but the Swedish Academy and the Swedish Language Council (Svenska språknämnden) have important roles. The primary task of the Swedish Academy is to further the use of the Swedish language. The primary instrument for this is the publication of dictionaries; Svenska Akademiens Ordlista and Svenska Akademiens Ordbok. Even though the dictionaries are sometimes perceived as an official definition of the language, their function is rather intended to be descriptive.

Swedish is also an official language of the European Union.


Proper Swedish (rikssvenska) is by some considered to be spoken in Svealand, although many experts claim that this concept is vague at best.

¹ Old Gutnish, Jamska, Scanian and Dalecarlian can in their own right be considered as separate languages. Practically all speakers of these languages are bilingual in Swedish, and the consideration here is principally the dialect of Swedish spoken by these individuals.
² Jamska belongs to the group of (Insular) West Scandinavian languages, as opposed to the other dialects of Swedish which belong to the (Continental) East Scandinavian group. The proper name of the language is Jamska, though the spelling Jämska is sometimes used.

Derived languages


A major problem for students of Swedish is what can be perceived as a lack of standardisation of pronunciation. The pronunciation of
vowels, and of some consonant sounds (particularly sibilants), demonstrates marked differences in spoken high-prestige varieties. In addition the melodic accent of South-Sweden is strikingly different from that of the capital-region (including Åland), which in turn differs clearly from provincial Dalecarlia and Gotlandia. In Finland-Swedish melodic accent isn't used at all, as is also typical for parts of northernmost Sweden, where Finnish dominated less than a century ago.


The written language is uniform, with very few exceptions: Adjectives are typically conjugated according to gender in Southern Sweden, not at all in high-prestige varieties in the rest of Sweden, but sometimes according to numerus in Finland.

With respect to inflection, Swedish has five different kinds of nouns and four different kinds of verbs. Nouns come in two grammatical genders: common and neuter. Old Swedish formerly had masculine and feminine genders in place of common; some old phrases and ceremonial uses preserve these archaic forms. Noun gender is largely arbitrary and must be memorised. Nouns form the plural in a variety of ways: by adding -r with or without a mutation in the terminal vowel (e.g., flicka, girl, flickor, girls), by adding -n (e.g., äpple, apple, äpplen, apples), by no marker at all (e.g., barn, child or children), or by mutation of the root vowel from back to front (e.g., man, man, män, men). The last form is rare.

Most verbs end in -a in the infinitive, -r in the present tense, and -de, -te, or -dde in the past. Verbs generally do not inflect for person or number. Other tenses are formed by combinations of auxiliary verbs with infinitives or a special form of the participle called the supine. As in all the Germanic languages, there are strong and weak verbs. For most Swedish strong verbs that have a verb cognate in English or German, that cognate is also strong.


Most Swedish words are of Germanic origin (the oldest category, representing the most common, everyday words) or are borrowed from Latin, French, German, or English. New words are often formed by compounding. New verbs can also be made by adding an -a to an existing noun, as in disk (dishes) and diska (do the dishes). Some compounds are translations of the elements (calques) of German original compounds into Swedish. Examples of Germanic words in Swedish are mus (mouse), kung (king), and gås (goose).

Vocabulary (or rather lexicon according to linguist jargon) is rather uniform in Sweden, at least in the style of prose seen in newspapers, and in higher styles. Finland-Swedish has a set of separate terms, being close cognates of their Finnish counterparts, chiefly terms of law and government.

Writing system

The Swedish alphabet is a twenty-eight letter alphabet: the standard twenty-six-letter Latin alphabet with the exception of 'W', plus the three additional letters Å / å, Ä / ä, and Ö / ö. These letters are sorted in that order following z. 'W' is not considered as a unique letter, but a variant of 'v' used only in names (such as "Wallenberg") and foreign words ("bowling"). Diacritics are unusual in Swedish: acute accent and, less often, grave accent can be seen in names and some foreign words. German ü is considered a variant of y and sometimes retained in foreign names. Diaeresis is not considered necessary, although it might exceptionally be seen in elaborated style (for instance: "Aïda", "naïve").

The runic alphabet (the futhark) was used before the Latin alphabet for Old Norse and early Swedish (Old Swedish), but this ancient script was gradually overtaken by the Latin alphabet during medieval times, although use of various futharks continued in certain rural districts at least until the 17th century.


See also

External links