A half century of stubborn resistance on the language front


I’ve been in Sweden for 48 years now. Despite this, I only have to say “latte” and people still helpfully shift to English. I could and probably should have put more effort into learning to pronounce less generously (starting my Swedish life with a year in dipthong-rich Skåne only helps when I go to Denmark, where they find my Swedish pronunciation reasonable).

I’m not, however, uninterested in Swedish if I can keep it to myself. Because of the links with Old English and Danish, it’s been of great value in understanding English, especially place names and dialects so that Shetlanders should be careful about making negative comments about me in dialect if they don’t wish to be frowned at.

After years of ferreting around at the interface between Swedish and English, my Swedish vocabulary is at least fairly strong, which is some consolation for being a basket case when it comes to pronunciation.

I usually manage about nine or ten of Dagens Nyheter’s twelve unusual words in its weekly language test. This week “däka”, a southern and western Swedish dialect word for girl floored me. And, more interestingly “idiosynkrasi”, which I hadn’t realised had only been imported into Swedish in its narrow medical sense of “aversion”, “unusual reaction” and not the everyday meaning in English of quirky, unusual behaviour. I’ve never encountered it in a translation but hope that my experience would have prevented me from writing “The patient exhibited bizarre behaviour after taking the medicine”.

I’ve stopped drinking latte anyway so that’s a step in the right direction.

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