Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al
livredor

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Swedish is cool

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.
Tags: svenska
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  • 27 comments

  • I went to a rock festival!

    Which is the kind of thing I not only don't do, but never have done. Only ghoti wanted me to go to a Blue Öyster Cult gig with her and…

  • I'm baaaack

    Back in England, back to work – exams season starts in earnest today. Also back to an official presence on LJ, after a six year gap. So, hi, LJ…

  • Music: Noa live (Stockholm 2008)

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