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History of Swedish
Quick Reference
  ·  Official Language
Sweden
  ·  Common 2nd language of
Finland
  ·  Number of Speakers
8-8.5 million
  ·  Origin
Swedish is part of the Scandinavian group of Germanic languages - derived from primitive Norse (the language of the Vikings). During the Middle Ages, Swedish borrowed many words from German, and in the 18th Century there was a large infusion of French words. In the 19th and 20th Centuries, English became the largest source of borrowing from the Swedish language.
  ·  Alphabet & Scripts
Swedish has 29 letters - the 26 of Roman alphabet and å, ä, ö
Swedish belongs to the East Scandinavian group of North Germanic languages (which also includes Danish, Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic). It is derived from Old Norse, a Germanic tongue which was also spoken in Denmark and Norway, in the Dark Ages.

In the Viking Age (AD 800-1066) the 'Danish tongue', as a name was given to this language as it was the ancestor of the modern Scandinavian languages. It was understood by the Angles and the Saxons of England. Today, although Swedish and English have developed along different lines, English speakers would recognise the relationship and similarities between the two languages.

During the Viking era, Old Norse evolved into two distinct dialects: East Norse - spoken in Sweden and Denmark - and West Norse, which was the language of Norway and its Atlantic colonies.

The history of the early Swedish language has been made available to us by large numbers of runic inscriptions, dating from about AD 600 up to the early 1200s and encompassing the Viking era.

The 13th Century saw the influx of powerful merchants from North Germany into Sweden. These men gained considerable influence in the country, and this led to the introduction of a wealth of German words into the Swedish language. As a result, Swedish became differentiated from the neighbouring Scandinavian tongues.

The year 1526 seems to be a turning point in the evolution of Modern Swedish when a translation of the New Testament first appeared in the language. Ever keen to distinguish their language from Danish and the other tongues which had influenced Swedish, successive governments insisted on a written form of the language which was traditional and conservative, based upon original manuscripts written by monks, rather than on the spoken word.

The 17th Century saw the gradual standardisation of Swedish, based primarily on the Svea dialect spoken in Stockholm and around Lake Mälar. It incorporated some features of the Göta (Southern Sweden) dialect.

Written Swedish continued to be deliberately cultivated as a symbol of national unity, in 1786 King Gustav III founded the Swedish Academy. The Academy's "noblest and most urgent" task was to work for the "purity, strength and sublimity" of the Swedish language.

It was entrusted with the publication of a standard grammar and dictionary. The Swedish Academy's Dictionary traces the history of Swedish words from the 16th Century to the present day.

It has been estimated that roughly 17.5 million people in the world either speak or write Swedish. Almost the entire population of Sweden has Swedish as their mother tongue and it is also one of Finland's two official languages.

Four million Norwegians and 5 million Danes can understand it, therefore anyone who masters Swedish also acquires a basic reading knowledge of Danish and the two forms of Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk).

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Did you know?
There are no "primitive" languages. All languages have a system of sounds, words and sentences that can adequately communicate the content of culture.
Swedish History
Swedish Speaking
Country
» Sweden
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