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Swedish Lessons, part 1

Categories: Språk
Sunday, Mar 29, 2020

In the spirit of supporting quarantined people across the world, and their mental health, I can’t in all honesty provide exercise modules or boardgames for children. I can only submit to you the thing I know best, which is a basic course in my native language.

Let’s start with the fundamentals. Pronouns. First, the singulars.

Jag [pronounced “yaag”] Usually translates as “I”. Be careful here, though. This pronoun only really applies to poets who were writing in the 1940’s. They had a lot of “jag” to deal with, in relation to bombs falling and their own pitiful existences, never mind contemplating the lone fir tree rooted on the edge of a cliff in the wilds of Dalsland, and what that lone erection said about their own chances of getting laid, or published.

Du [pronounced “dew” without the “j”, sort of] This is “you” – and I mean you – in singular form. Sweden, in contrast to Germany, long ago abandoned the distinction between formal and informal “you”. This “du” is basically the person autofiction is aimed at, someone who buys your book and kind of likes it, but waits anxiously for the next one. Which isn’t coming, is it?

Han [pronounced as in “pan”] Is obviously “he”, the bloke (he has a beard) who bore the brunt of Swedish welfare reforms throughout the 20th century and now spends his time pushing prams and his luck in order to find a space where he can feel at least equal to the incels his daughters are raging about. “Han” feels he is a dying breed but will take up road racing again as soon as this corona thing is over.

Hon [pronunced “hoon”] “She”. I rest my case.

Hen [pronounced “bullshit”] A word meaning “the mother of a chicken”, or “a layer of eggs”. Originally meant as a “gender-neutral” pronoun, halfway between “han” and “hon”, it served for a short while (roughly between 2016 and 2019) as a way for freelances to time-stamp their contributions to Dagens Nyheter and Aftonbladet newspapers, until everyone realised it made no one any the wiser. Now largely out of use.

Det [pronounced as “date” in Birmingham] This is “it”…! The thing many parents call their newborn child before they’ve decided on Knut, or Åke, or Gudrun. Or, the thing some Swedes point to on their abdomen, the letters spelling “Hammarby For Ever” in sickly blue, which has now started itching like crazy. Or, the “it” that should have been their lives, which they abandoned for a life as handball coach for a group of joyously uninterested immigrant girls from Somalia.

Then, the plurals.

Vi [pronounced the way a German would say they’re having a wee] This pronoun, meaning “we”, is of little use to you as it’s almost only employed to refer to “vi svenskar”, i.e. “we Swedes”, among whom you are by definition not included. By way of example, there is a magazine called Vi which relies entirely on the Swedish language and once you are capable of reading it you would still only be consuming articles “they”, i.e. the Swedes, have produced. For “they”, see below.

Ni [pronounced as “knee”] This pronoun (“you”) is exclusively used when talking to groups of Norwegians.

De [pronounced as “day” in Birmingham, but in spoken language almost always pronounced “dom”, as in Cummings] “De/dom”, denoting “they”, is far more broad-ranging in its use than either “vi” or “ni”. In fact, it refers to every people on God’s earth except, obviously, Swedes. Philosophers and sociologists often conceptualize it as “the Other”, a dark, unspoken and at times invisible counter-presence lending particular definition to the concept of “vi”. Romanians, Somalis, Syrians and Danes are often mentioned in this context.

In ‘Swedish Lessons, part 2’: The two genders: indefinite, definite and plural noun forms.    

2 Responses to “Swedish Lessons, part 1”

  1. Du e la rolig!

  2. Vielen Dank! Några armhävningar i söndagskarantänen.

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