v48: spiskummin

Supermarket shopping in a foreign country can be fun. It’s always interesting to see the range of food available, and also how it’s categorised. For example, I am used to spreads such as jams, honey, and peanut butter being together, whereas in Swedish supermarkets honey is with sugar and peanut butter is somewhere else entirely (I always forget where). Generally, supermarket shopping in Sweden has not been too problematic, with some exceptions. The first is dairy products: there seem to be an awful lot of varieties of milk, cream, yoghurt, and possibly other things, that all come in essentially the same packaging. I still haven’t sorted out what they all are.

Second is bread. There are many new choices in what I regard as “normal” bread (for example, potatislimpa), let alone crispread (knäckebröd). And it’s a long process to buy each one and taste them all until you finally find the one you like best!

Third is spices (spice=krydda; spices=kryddor). Many of them look pretty much the same in those little bottles, don’t they? And sometimes the names can  be difficult to translate, even the common ones; for example, UNT recently gave the following list of the spices that were most commonly imported into Sweden in 2008:

peppar pepper 1800 ton
chili chili 1700 ton
ingefära ginger 612 ton
kanel cinnamon 400 ton
kardemumma cardamom 256 ton
kryddnejlika cloves 148 ton
muskot nutmeg 63 ton
saffran saffron 3-4 ton

Once you’ve got the names down pat, there’s only one main trap for spice-buyers: (spis)kummin.

Swedish kummin is caraway (Carum carvi), whereas spiskummin is cumin (Cuminum cyminum). Both names are derived from the Latin cuminum, and their plants and seeds (fruits) do look somewhat alike. They both belong to the family Apiaceum, but then, so do celery, parsley, coriander, and fennel. However, carroway is native to Europe, while cumin is not. So in many European countries, carroway is called cumin, whereas cumin is called something equivalent to “foreign cumin”. For a much better explanation of this, read Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.

In the Swedish name, spiskumin, spis means food or stove, and spisa is both an old Swedish word meaning eat, and a new Swedish word meaning listen to (jazz) music. Seriously! If I read SAOB correctly, the former meaning dates from the 16th century, and the latter is from the 1930s. This might help you make more sense of this line in the children’s song Var bor du lilla råtta? (Where do you live little rat?) by Britt Hallqvist:

Vad vill du ha att spisa? Korv och jazz.
What do you want to eat/listen to? Sausage and jazz.

Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 14:40  Comments (1)  
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v47: vaccinera

What is a reflexive verb? Wikipedia gives a semantic definition: a reflexive verb is a verb whose semantic agent and patient are the same. For example, the English verb to perjure is reflexive, since one can only perjure oneself. However, I’d prefer to say that a reflexive verb is one that enters into reflexive constructions, that is, grammatical constructions that can have a reflexive meaning. In Swedish and English, these constructions involve the use of reflexive pronouns. In Swedish, the reflexive pronouns are mig, dig, sig, oss, er, sig; that is, the same as the object pronouns apart from the third person sig. In English, the reflexive pronouns are myself, yourself, himself, etc. In English, reflexive pronouns can also be used as intensifiers; the equivalent Swedish intensifier is själv.

Swedish verbs can enter into reflexive constructions in more ways than English verbs. Some have direct equivalents in English:

Jag tvättar mig.
I wash myself.

Words like the above also have the same meaning in English and Swedish when used in a normal (nonreflexive) transitive sense, with or without the intensifier:

Jag tvättade bilen. Jag tvättade bilen själv.
I washed the car. I washed the car myself.

However, there are also many transitive/reflexive pairs which differ somewhat in meaning, such as lära (teach)/lära sig (learn), tänka (think)/tänka sig (imagine). Compare the following; both are reflexive constructions in Swedish, but only one is in English:

Sara lär sig finska. Sara lär sig finska själv.
Sara is learning Finnish. Sara is teaching herself Finnish.

Some Swedish verbs can only be used reflexively, such as bete sig (behave), försova sig (oversleep), huka sig (crouch down), bry sig om (care about).

And then (although this is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list), there is a group of verbs where the meaning is of having something done to oneself by someone else, a reflexive construction but not one that fits neatly with the simple (agent=patient) definition of reflexive: klippa sig (get one’s hair cut), vaccinera sig (get vaccinated) (if you can!).

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 23:00  Comments (1)  
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v46: glögg

Glögg is Swedish mulled wine, and now is the season for drinking it. The word glögg is derived from glödga, to warm up. The English word mull, similarly, means to warm up, spice, and sweeten wine. So my question is, if glögg is (by definition) warm, does the bottle contain glögg?

Each year since 2003, Blossa has brought out an annual glögg flavour (available since the first week of October!). Just so you know, Blossa claims to be the market leader for glögg in Sweden. Blossa is owned by V&S (Vin & Spirit AB), maybe best known for Absolut Vodka. V&S was founded in 1917 as a national monopoly for the production, import, export and wholesale trade of alcoholic beverages in Sweden, and was only recently (July 2008) sold by the Swedish government to the French giant Pernod Ricard (they own everything not owned by Diageo). This year’s flavour is Clementin(e).

Glödlampa is Swedish for incandescent bulb. Now have you figured out that glö- is related to glow? But the bulb in the box is neither incandescent or glowing.

What would be your reaction if I offerred you a glass of glögg and gave you something cold, straight from the bottle? Think about coffee (another popular drink here): if you ask for coffee, you expect it to be served hot. But cold coffee is still coffee, and when I buy coffee from the supermarket, it is not even a liquid. So I think we have to admit that the definition of glögg must be expanded to include the non-heated version. Alcohol-free glögg and decaffeinated coffee? You will have to puzzle those out for yourself.

The current (13th) edition of SAOL lists a number of words beginning with glö-. They are either glöd- or glög- words, as described, or glöm- words, from glömma, forget. SAOL is kind enough to provide list of words left out in moving from the 12th to the 13th edition. One word I already miss is glöta, to dig around. This would have been the last word in the glö- series, but I’m happy to make do with the next word in the list, g-moll, which sounds like someone you might meet in a speakeasy, but is in fact G-minor.

After ten editions of “words from sweden”, it’s time for some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there are plenty more interesting words for me to write about, I hope to continue for a while yet. The bad news is that I’ll be cutting back on the picture clues for next week’s word. Mainly because it means I won’t have to think two weeks ahead for each post, but also because I want to explore areas of grammar which are difficult to photgraph (but I’ll try), and other words where I’d like a photograph of my own, but can’t get one. But mainly because I don’t want to think two weeks ahead.

See you next week!

Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 19:47  Comments (1)  
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v45: klippa

I’ve been studying verbs that describe cutting and breaking, events of material separation, or C&B if you will [Majid A, et al. How similar are semantic categories in closely related languages? A comparison of cutting and breaking in four Germanic languages. Cognitive Linguistics 2007; 18(2): 179-194]. It turns out that this is an interesting thing to study across languages, because C&B is a fairly universal concept (tools for the purpose having been fashioned millions of years ago), and because C&B events involve what we may regard as prototypical verbs: somoeone does something to something, resulting in a change of state.

But then it gets complicated. Languages typically have over 20 verbs that can be used to describe C&B events. Some events are associated with a specific verb (saw), whereas some aren’t (crush, pound, pulverise, smash).

The simple answer to last week’s question: in English, both the scissors and the knife cut. In Swedish there is no single word for cut; what scissors do is klippa (same origin as English clip), and what knives do is skära (same origin as English shear). As with English, German has a single word for cut (schneiden), whereas Dutch has the scissors/knife distinction (knippen/snijden). English/German/Dutch/Swedish all have a specific word for saw (saw/sägen/zagen/såga).

Interesting, but so what? Well, it does have implications for both second language learning and translation. My Norstedts Stora Engelsk-Svenska Ordbok, under cut, lists skära, hugga, klippa, snoppa, meja av, slå,lla, utesluta, and more, with little indication of how to choose between them. Examples for klippa are (I quote) “[~ a film (tape); ~ a hedge]”.häcksax From the above, I would have thought of cutting hair as a good obvious example. Using klippa for hedges makes me think of some sort of large pair of scissors, but in fact, the electric instrument typically used for cutting hedges is a häcksax (hedge-scissors) (at right), and it certainly has more than one blade. The same dictionary also has an entry hedge-cutter = häckklippare. I hope that’s all clear now!

A final note: scissors (plural) = en sax (singular). Perhaps more on that in a future post.

Next week:

bottle and box

What’s in the bottle? (Hint: What’s in the box?)

Published in: on November 8, 2009 at 12:57  Comments (1)  
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