The Characteristics of Sweden and the Swedish Language

Swedish: The Language of the Scandinavian Country Where Pippi Longstocking was Born

July 18, 2016

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The Characteristics of Swedish

Japanese people are not very familiar with Sweden, and may only have an image of Sweden as being a Scandinavian country with a well-established welfare system. However, the entry of Swedish home interior companies into the Japanese market has increased the number of people who are interested in Swedish interior accessories and Swedish lifestyle. The popular children's books Pippi Longstocking, The Children of Noisy Village, and The Wonderful Adventures of Nils are all actually from Sweden. So what kind of language is Swedish?

Characteristics of the Swedish Language

Swedish is spoken by approximately ten million people, chiefly in Sweden and parts of Finland. It is a Northern Germanic language that originated in the Old Norse, the lingua franca of Scandinavia during the Viking Age. Danish and Norwegian also developed from Old Norse, and share many traits with Swedish, making it possible for Danish and Norwegian people to understand the words of people from Sweden. On the other hand, although Finland is Sweden's immediate neighbor, the Finnish language comes from a completely different language family.

Swedish is a West Germanic language, like English, German, and Dutch. It shares some words and grammar with English, making it relatively easy for English speakers to learn.

Swedish Writing and Pronunciation

Written Swedish utilizes the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet plus three additional letters for a total of 29. Many Swedish words are of German, French, or English origin, but have been adapted to Swedish spelling. For example, the English words "cat," "book," and "foot" are "katt," "bok," and "fot" respectively in Swedish, showing significant similarity.

The relationship between spelling and pronunciation in Swedish is more distinct than in English, so you will be basically understood if you simply pronounce the words as they are written. There are nine vowels, consisting of four hard vowels and five soft ones. Hard vowels are pronounced at the back of the tongue and soft vowels at the front. Swedish also has long and short vowels, as in English.

It may seem difficult, but once you learn that "Good morning" is "god morgon" (pronounced somewhat like "goo moron") and "Good day" is "god dag" (pronounced somewhat like "goo dog"), it feels somewhat familiar, like English or German.

The Relationship Between Swedish and English

The children who appear as characters in The Children of Noisy Village, and The Wonderful Adventures of Nils live simply but energetically as they enjoy the seasons. Many years have passed since the stories were written, but the values placed on each person and the enjoyment of nature and its seasons in daily life have not changed.

Meanwhile, the large influx of immigrants and continued globalization of companies in Sweden have resulted in the more frequent use of English rather than Swedish as the international language. Because of this, a new language law was enacted in 2009. The law designated Swedish as the country's main language and stipulated the use of Swedish in public agencies and educational institutions.

However, this does not mean that the use of other languages is being exclusively denied. The languages of ethnic minorities are protected and people whose native language is something other than Swedish are guaranteed the opportunity to learn their own native language. In addition, Swedish Sign Language has been recognized as its own language, and individuals with hearing disabilities and their families are given opportunities to learn it.

While facing the difficult circumstances of the rise of English in the midst of globalization, Sweden has not made the use of Swedish mandatory and prohibited the use of other languages, but instead has recognized other languages as being on equal footing. This does not seem surprising considering the importance that Sweden places on each individual.


Because Swedish is part of the same language family as English and German, people who have learned those languages should have a relatively easy time learning Swedish. Pronunciation is closely related to spelling, and there is less declension than in German, so Swedish can be viewed as being easy to learn as a new language.

Sweden frequently garners attention due to its highly developed welfare system. It also readily welcomes immigrants and is seeing enormous progress in the globalization of business. The fluency of many Swedish people in English gives them an advantage in international business, but the prominence of English has put the Swedish language in a difficult spot. Despite such circumstances, Sweden values the languages of ethnic minorities and immigrants, and firmly believes that the study of one's native language is crucial to learning Swedish as a foreign language.

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