Swedish language

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Swedish is a North Germanic language spoken natively by 10 million people, predominantly in Sweden (as the sole official language) and in parts of Finland, where it has equal legal standing with Finnish. It is largely mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish, although the degree of mutual intelligibility is largely dependent on the dialect and accent of the speaker. Written Norwegian and Danish are usually more easily understood by Swedish speakers than the spoken languages, due to the differences in tone, accent and intonation. Swedish is a descendant of Old Norse, the common language of the Germanic peoples living in Scandinavia during the Viking Era. It has the most speakers of the North Germanic languages.


  • A Swedish sociologist told me recently that he had approached the information desk at Stockholm Central Station to ask about train times and been asked to rephrase his question in English. The desk was manned by an English person who did not speak Swedish. There are other countries where almost everyone can be expected to speak English as a second language well enough to ask for information about a train (although this may well not be true of Syrian refugees and other immigrants). But it’s hard to imagine any other country where the information desk in the train station of the country’s capital is manned by someone who doesn’t actually speak the native language. To do so might seem an act of national self-abnegation, an enormous cultural cringe. But that would be to understand Sweden quite backward. It is a country so self-confident in some ways that the language in which Swedishness is expressed seems unimportant.

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