I've been intending to write this post for ages, cos I want to babble about learning Swedish. I found out today that I passed my second level Swedish course, and that seems as good a motivation as any to actually get on and post this.
(In theory, the European A2 level of language competence means that I am supposed to be able to manage simple shopping conversations and ordering food in a restaurant; discuss hobbies, interests and jobs using simple questions and answers; understand the gist of written texts if I'm familiar with the subject matter; understand simple statements spoken at normal pace if I know the context; write simple notes and texts though not without errors. So it's probably a bit below GCSE level, I'd estimate. In practice my comprehension of both speech and writing is quite a bit ahead of this, but my active Swedish lags rather a way behind as yet.)
Anyway, yeah, Swedish is a great language for me, because it has lots of elongated vowels! It sounds slightly comical until you get used to it, something like if an Italian learnt English from a really plummy-voiced Etonian. In fact, it's more "lilting" than the languages that are traditionally described as such, because it has intrinsic tone. Apparently proto-IE had it, but I've never come across that feature in any modern day Germanic languages. Apart from that and a few other unique features, it's somewhere between English and German, but closer to English, particularly archaic and regional forms. So relatively easy for a native speaker of English with a smattering of German and an even smaller smattering of Yiddish. And lots of words that don't have obvious cognates in standard English do have them in Scots: barn -> bairn; grata -> greet [to cry].
lethargic_man described Swedish as looking like a conlang made up by a naive English speaker. And really, everything that makes Swedish hard to learn is either the same as English or worse in English. Lots of strong verbs and a few that are actually irregular, as well as a rather large number of options for plurals. Evil phrasal verbs, which however work mostly the same as in English. Mildly inflected pronouns but not most of the rest of the language. Unpredictable and non-phonetic spelling, though nothing like on the scale that English has it. If English is notorious for following other languages up dark alleys and mugging them for spare vocabulary, Swedish is at least the Artful Dodger. There's a lot more Romance-originating stuff than I expected, and no consistency at all in how far these imported words get Swedish-ized. There's even some of the same tendency to have both a Romance / Latinate and a Germanic word for the same thing.
Other cool stuff: lots of German style compound words. Nouns can be, and frequently are, verbed. Verbs themselves don't distinguish person, number or aspect, only tense, which certainly makes dealing with all the vowel changes and irregular conjugations a lot easier! Though unlike English there actually is a passive voice rather than just using the past participle for the passive. Ending a sentence with a preposition is actually grammatically correct, so you can see how the despised but in fact natural construction got into English. In general, relative clauses are more intuitive if less strictly logical; you can't always say exactly what the pronouns point to, but that allows less convoluted constructions.
Just about my favourite thing about Swedish is that it has a special word for saying "yes" to a negative question. My second favourite is that word for why is varför. Lots of precise words for describing family relationships, such as four separate words for the four grandparents. One of my Swedish classes early on fell apart completely when we learned the word barnbarn, grandchild, because a Chinese guy in the class speculated that the reduplicated word might mean "two children". The hilarity was only increased when the teacher pointed out that barnbarnsbarn means not three children, but great-grandchild. There are also separate words for his-referring-to-the-subject and his-referring-to-someone-else, which must make writing slash easier in Swedish.
Things that confuse me: the intrinsic tone stuff, which means that two words which differ only in stress can mean completely different things. I suppose that's no worse than English, really, but it also makes it hard for me to speak correctly, because tone is not something I'm used to including when I learn new vocabulary. Also it's harder to guess what someone is saying from tone of voice when you don't know the vocabulary, because some of it is just part of the pronunciation of the word itself. Adjectives hurt my brain, because they sometimes decline and sometimes don't and sometimes just use the plural form for no obviously plural reason. The tendency to combine letters across word boundaries is a bit hard to get my head round, too. R, for example, is not rhotic, but modifies the preceding vowel, which I can cope with from English, and also softens following ss. This is ok, but it still carries on doing that when one word ends in r and the following word begins with s, which I find weird. Alphabetical order is slightly strange too; å and ä are separate letters from a, coming after z, and ö comes after that rather than mixed in with o as I would expect. But w (in foreign-imported words) is counted as if it were exactly the same letter as v. There is only really one sound I can't pronounce, but unfortunately it is in my age and the name of the district where I live.
Another weird thing is that it's common, though not obligatory, to breathe in while saying "yes". To me, someone speaking through an indrawn breath has immediate connotations of shock or fear. I would have thought that sort of thing was at a more basic level than language, and without really thinking about it, expected it to be essentially universal. Here, though, a gasp means "I agree" or "That's so".
Not too many false friends, though slut means finished and it's a slightly odd thing to see in big letters all over the place!
Anyway, yes, Swedish is cool. I'm having a lot of fun learning it, and I think I've got over the initial hump and know enough of the basic structure that I'm picking up new vocab, and feeling more natural with the grammar, as I go along just by being immersed. My accent still sucks, but I can make myself understood if people are prepared to overlook that.
Yes, Swedish is a good language! I regret not having managed to learn more of it when I was there.
Is the one sound you can't do the soft 'sk' sound? (Also pretty much the same as the 'sj' in e.g. 'sju'). That's a real kipper. I just about managed it. But then I lived in Skeppargatan, and my boss's name was Elisabeth Skoens (where 'oe' stands for the 'o' with 2 dots that I don't now how to get.)
I was really determined to make myself learn some Swedish, though I could perfectly well get by without. And yes, it's the nasty seven-sound I can't say. I'm pronouncing it more or less as German ch, which sounds awful even to me but it's the nearest I can get. O with two dots is ö in case you ever need it!
Exactly, it's for agreeing with a negative question, it's not like si or doch as someone else suggested. It's so very missing from English that it's hard to describe what I mean. If you asked me, you don't like bananas, right? I could reply with jo and it would be unambiguous that I meant, yes, you're right, I don't like bananas.
The way in which Swedish marks the determine-ness of a noun (to pick on a recent example, boten vs bot) both baffles and intrigues me. Being Germanic means that strong verbs are par for the course, and just as in Dutch there are the really irregular ones floating around.
I'm very interested in the Swedish passive. My understanding is that the whilst Proto-Germanic had a "proper" passive (like amamur, we are being loved, in Latin), and that beyond that stage only Gothic preserved the morphological passive. Could you tell me some more about how this passive works? Is it morphological, or does it use some other auxiliary + something combination?
What you say about sentences ending with a preposition and phrasal verbs leads me to think of separable verbs (scheidbare werkwoorden in Dutch); in Dutch and German the only real difference from phrasals in English is how you list the infinitives in a dictionary :) Along that same vein, sometimes an infinitive can be separable, sometimes not - yes, the meaning changes - and the only way to distinguish them is where the stress lies. It's nowhere near the machinery Swedish seems to have, but it was something new I had to learn here. The example that springs to mind is voorkomen (to occur) and voorkomen (to prevent).
Adjectives...well! I just had to learn it. Could you tell me where the adjectives decline and when they don't? It'd be interesting to see how that compares with Dutch, which is basically a question of learning the noun's gender and understanding what "indefinite" means.
Dutch word order (which by and large is the same as in German) can take some getting used to; I remember a Portugese lady in one of my classes who had real trouble with subordinate clauses. But I gather from what you say that the Swedish situation is much more similar to that in English.
Anyway, time for me to stop babbling. Good to hear that you're enjoying the language!
Could you tell me some more about how this passive works? Is it morphological, or does it use some other auxiliary + something combination?
From what I know, it involves -s, so it's morphological. I think it's also used sometimes in cases where English would simply use an intransitive verb corresponding to a transitive one (I think I've heard this kind of thing called ergative behaviour in English) -- for example, Jag öppner dörren "I open the door"; I think Dörren öppnas is either "The door is opened" or "The door opens".
Another example is Jag kallas XYZ meaning "I am called XYZ" -- where English uses a passive involving an auxiliary + participle, Swedish has just one word. (And apparently, it's an "I am called" situation rather than a "My name is", which would have Jag heter XYZ [as in German: "Ich heiße XYZ"] or Mitt namn är -- I saw a couple of places where people said Jag heter/Mitt namn är XYZ, men jag kallas (för) ABC "My name is XYZ [e.g. Alexandra], but I'm called ABC [e.g. Sandy]".)
Along that same vein, sometimes an infinitive can be separable, sometimes not - yes, the meaning changes - and the only way to distinguish them is where the stress lies.
An example that springs to my mind in German is a joke that involves people in car coming across something and the driver asks: "Umfahren oder umfahren?" (Run it down/drive over it or swerve/drive around it?)
I see lots of similarities in German and Dutch. It is actually easy for a German to learn Dutch if he/she gets the pronounciation right. I had only troubles with that. Dutch grammar and German grammar are very similar, too, but Dutch is slightly easier.
Dutch is close enough to Swedish that I'm deliberately ignoring any Dutch I happen to come across, because otherwise it's really confusing. But definitely learning Swedish is making Dutch more transparent to me than learning German did.
There are stacks of similarities between Dutch and German; I've only had minimal instruction in the latter but I can read it with little trouble. For me German pronunciation is much easier than Dutch (although I sometimes make mistakes when I'm speaking German because, well, I speak Dutch all day, every day here). The dipthongs can be lethal.
But I think it's possible to go too far in emphasising the similaries; I mean, that I can navigate German cases with only a little knowledge of them could just as well come from some educated guesswork than how close the languages are to each other. There are German speakers out there who look on Dutch as some kind of bastardised (in the completely pejorative sense) of German, which really ticks off some Dutch people I know. Including me, actually, because I'm that well integrated :)
I grew up in Germany and hate Germany. I never felt integrated. I don't like their mentality at all. I don't want to go back at all. When I was in the Netherlands I liked the people. They are friendlier and politer. They seem to be more open-minded. It was the first country I heard of that legalized gay-marriage for example. I assume they treat foreigners much better. I have Iranian relatives there. (I don't speak the language of my maternal relatives. I grew up with German.) They seem to be very happy and have lots of Dutch friends. When they came to Germany they always found somebody who hated foreigners. I have never had a friend in Germany. I got friends in London through the Synagogues where I always go to.
Your experience sounds horrible; however there is a dark side to life here too, especially as an immigrant. There's always a big debate going on about how foreigners "fit in" with Dutch society, as many people who come here, stereotypically from Morocco and Turkey, live and mix exclusively with their compatriots, and often their children (even those born here) can't speak Dutch. There are also definitely elements here that are unfriendly towards immigrants, especially if they're visibly - skin colour, usually - not European.
When I came here I found it quite hard to make friends (and I'm not much better at it now). The more I think about it, the more I believe that living abroad is something that perhaps only a relatively small number of people can "do". Of course, many more people than that actually do, often for non-escapable reasons, and they definitely have a tough time of things, no matter where they are.
In Germany I've only come across people who were kind and helpful to me (although I was hanging around with nuns a lot of the time), even when it became apparant that I wasn't German and couldn't speak much of the language. Actually most of the linguistic snobbishness I've met with regards to German and Dutch comes not from German people themselves, but German-speakers who live somewhere else. But hey - mensen verschillen.
Yay, glad you liked the post! I nearly dedicated it to you but then I thought maybe you'd be embarrassed, so I didn't.
I like having the definite article as a suffix. It's a very cute feature and one I've not come across before, certainly not in a language which is mostly not inflected.
There are two ways to do the passive. One is as in English, with bli, which means get in the sense of become, and a past participle (supine). The other is morphological, it's a distinct form of the verb, with its own past tense and everything. Also there are what in Latin you would call deponent verbs, ones which only have a passive even though the meaning is active. The verb to breathe, for example.
There mostly aren't separable verbs here. There are verbs with prepositional prefixes, but they stay attached, and there are phrasal verbs, but the preposition never gets attached to the main verb. Generally, a verb with an indirect object stresses the verb, usually on the first syllable, whereas a phrasal verb stresses the preposition. This is bad enough except sometimes the verb is the same and it's only the stress which distinguishes them. Eg hälsa på means to greet, but hälsa på means to visit.
Declining the adjectives is certainly to do with whether the noun is definite or not. But it also depends on the adjective. So ett gender nouns usually add a t to the adjective if the noun is in the definite form, but en gender nouns sometimes add an n and sometimes don't. And if it's the kind of definite form with this, you use the plural. And... I will try and look up the rules I have so I can give you something more formal, because the whole problem is that I don't understand this bit of grammar so I may be explaining it wrong.
The other is morphological, it's a distinct form of the verb, with its own past tense and everything.
This is baffling (and consequently I love it); living languages are of course in a constant state of flux. Whilst some factors become simplified, the complexity is made up in new developments. But I'd always thought that something like a morphological passive (there's a different word that you can also use to describe this but I can't remember it - non-periphrastic or something) would be something that "dropped off". Now I need to look over my Old Germanic course notes to scour this out, because it's simply lovely.
Wikipedia tells me that the indefinite neuter article is ett: the corresponding word in Dutch is het. This is all completely logical, I know it having as I do something of a fetish (!) for Germanic languages, but it still makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Compared to Swedish, Dutch adjectives sound relatively simple (and here I was thinking that my language acquistion was an impressive feat!): predicative adjectives aren't inflected and appear as in the dictionary (het boek is rood, the book is red); attributive adjectives are inflected (there's only one inflection, -e) unless the noun is singular, neuter and indeterminate. So het rode boek, the red book, but een rood boek, a red book. Dutch spelling rules (which are a great deal more sensible than English spelling) account for the rood/rode change.
Otherwise attributive adjs. always decline: de mooie, grote bibliotheek, the beautiful, big library.
One quirk that may or may not match up in Swedish (it doesn't in German but German is a special child) is that the difference in gender (we also have simply "common" and "neuter", although I like to try and learn whether a common noun is masculine or feminine, because I like that) only shows in the singular. All plurals are de.
I will stop now because I have other stuff to do, otherwise I would happily sit here yacking. I hope you carry on enjoying Swedish as much as you seem to do now, and as you improve then I'd be interested in picking your brains about how the verbs work (in a not always obvious way) - my thesis is about verbs in English, Dutch and Tagalog, and whilst I could be said to have a bias for Indo-European languages, when the Germanics are just as scrummy as they are, the criticism just washes off me.
Oh ps: as for German, I'm inclined to think that the retention of the case system to such an extent is maybe the most significant reason why this language stands out on its own. It's nearest neighbour on the Continent (I don't know much about Pennsylvania Dutch et al) other than Plattedeutsch is certainly Dutch (and even that situation isn't as clear cut as an LJ-comment would like), and yet you find a flexibility in Dutch word order that doesn't happen in German (I'm thinking about PPs coming after a clause-final verb). Then again there's the wiggle room given by the cases in German, so it's all good.
OK, more on adjectives now I have my grammar in front of me:
It doesn't make a difference, that I can see, whether the adjective is predicative or attributive. Ett gender mostly declines, ie you add the -t suffix to the adjective in most cases. En gender either declines (by adding an -n suffix) or doesn't, and I think it's related to the spelling of the adjective itself but I'm not sure. Indefinites follow those rules, such as a, some, no, any. Plain definites also follow them. But definites such as this, that, possessives and the same randomly want plural adjectives. I suspect they're not really plural actually, because for the irregular adjectives this form looks different from a plain plural, though it's the same for the regular ones.
As you can see, I'm quite confused! I expect the answer is just familiarity, doing lots of reading until the right form just looks natural, and then coming back to think about what the underlying rules are.
Thank you for this, by the way. Learning languages is one of the most fun activities in the world, and having a friends list full of people who don't mind going into detail about linguistics makes it even better!
And yes, the gender differences are mostly gone from the plural. The definite article suffix is -na for both, and plural adjectives all end in -a. But at least for regular nouns the gender makes some difference in how the plural itself is formed.
One quirk that may or may not match up in Swedish (it doesn't in German but German is a special child) is that the difference in gender [...] only shows in the singular. All plurals are de.
If I understand you correctly, then German does this the same way -- the plural definite article in German is die, and it's inflected for case but not for gender. Similarly, adjectives have only one ending for the plural.
So German has a kind of four-gender system: masculine, feminine, neuter, and plural.
Everything is completely the same in the plural, unlike, say, French, which has only one article (les) but where adjectives and participles can be different (e.g. bons, bonnes; nouveaux, nouvelles; lavés, lavées) depending on gender.
(we also have simply "common" and "neuter", although I like to try and learn whether a common noun is masculine or feminine, because I like that)
I think I would try to do that, too, if I were to learn Dutch! Also because it seems geeky.
I believe that the m-f distinction is still more alive in Belgium and some southern parts of the Netherlands than it is in, say, Amsterdam.
Speaking of which, Swedish also has common and neuter -- I'm not sure whether there are residual m-f distinctions in common gender, though, as there are in Dutch. (I think Norwegian has a bit more.)
I'm not sure I see any m-f distinctions in everyday Dutch anymore; I mean, I see them in church, but that's because by church has the Apostles' Creed on the walls, and it's full of dens and ders. Which of course fills me with joy and happiness (on a linguistic as well as a religious level), but I can imagine that most people walk in and simply see it as old-fashioned.
Unpredictable and non-phonetic spelling, though nothing like on the scale that English has it.
Is it really non-phonetic, or merely phonetic in ways you're not used to? I had the vague impression that you could generally pronounce things correctly just by seeing them written, once you've got used to Swedish orthographical conventions. (But not necessarily the other way around, i.e. knowing how it's pronounced need not mean you know how it's spelled.)
Just about my favourite thing about Swedish is that it has a special word for saying "yes" to a negative question.
Oh! What is it? (German has this, too, as you probably know: "doch".)
There are also separate words for his-referring-to-the-subject and his-referring-to-someone-else
Oh! What are those?
*thinks* Is it something along the lines of "sin" vs "hans", perhaps?
the intrinsic tone stuff, which means that two words which differ only in stress can mean completely different things.
My favourite example: "anden" (the spirit; the duck).
R, for example, is not rhotic, but modifies the preceding vowel
Didn't know that.
I thought that R combined with following consonants to make them retroflex (kind of), especially for rs/rt/rd/rl. Though I'm not sure whether that's true for all dialects, or whether it's something that's taught to foreigners.
Nah, it's really non-phonetic. Primarily because there are loads of foreign origin words, and some keep their original spelling and some don't, some are modified to fit Swedish rules and some not, and it's generally a mess. For example, giraff is pronounced with the sj-sound at the beginning, even though that isn't normally an option for the letter g.
But even apart from that, as far as I can tell there's no rule for whether the letter o should be pronounced as [o] or [ʊ]. There are several consonants that change depending on the following vowel, but they don't do so consistently; there are a load of exceptions that you just have to memorize.
The word for "yes, I agree with that negative statement" is jo. I don't think it's the same as doch; it doesn't mean, "oh yes it is". Take the question: you've never been to Paris, have you? Doch would mean: no, you're wrong, I have been to Paris. But jo would mean: yes, you're right, I have never been to Paris.
Yes, you're right, hans and sin, though the former varies according to the gender of the possessor and the latter according to the gender of the thing possessed.
I'm not sure what retroflex means. The rs pair sounds to me like the final consonant of the word marsh, with a similar change to the preceding vowel. Rn and I think maybe rl are supposed to change the following consonant too, but I can't hear the difference.
In fact, it's more "lilting" than the languages that are traditionally described as such, because it has intrinsic tone. Apparently proto-IE had it, but I've never come across that feature in any modern day Germanic languages.
Is this why you get "lilt" in both Welsh and an Indian language (don't know which one)? I'd assumed it was independent invention, but if proto-Indo-European had it too, possibly it's the languages on the outside of the Indo-European sphere retaining archaic characteristics (also why Tocharian culture appeared to have similarities to Celtic culture).
lethargic_man described Swedish as looking like a conlang made up by a naive English speaker.
I'm afraid I don't really understand what the definition of lilt is, and I'm not sure if it's a coincidence or an actual common feature that makes Welsh and some Indian languages sound similar to people who don't speak a word of either. I don't think the thing that's described as lilting in Italian is the same as in Welsh, but I'm not even confident of that. Anyway Swedish sounds really sing-song because of this intrinsice tone business. I think it's cute.