v4: släpa

Verbs are important, but they are a lot more hard work than, say, adjectives. Swedish verbs come in four conjugations (two of which have subgroups), and each verb has five forms plus a couple of participles. One good thing about Swedish verbs is that there is no person/number/gender agreement to worry about, even for wildly irregular verbs:

I am; you are; he/she is.
Jag är; du är; han/hon är.

The five verb forms are the imperative (= stem form), infinitive, present, past, and supine. The only new term here is supine, which is used with har (have) and hade (had) to form the perfect and pluperfect, respectively:

glömm! = forget!
att glömma = to forget
jag glömmer = I forget
jag glömde = I forgot
jag har/hade glömt = I have/had forgotten

One of the ways I find new interesting words is from watching English language television with Swedish subtitles. I have a lot of respect for the subtitlers’ work. For instance, on a recent show, Eskimo Pie was subtitled as glasspinne. There was nothing visual or elsewhere in the conversation to indicate that the character was talking about an icecream, and no real reason why a particular brand of icecream was chosen. The direct translation of Eskimo Pie is probably Sandwich, but that’s possibly a brand name, so the more general glasspinne (maybe, popsicle or icypole, depending on where you’re from) seemed to do the job pretty well.

But occasionally subtitlers slip up, and the mistakes can be amusing. On an episode of NCIS (Navy CIS in Sweden), the conversation went:

Gibbs: We investigated crime scenes.
Franks: I investigated crime scenes; you schlepped.

Here, schlepped is the past tense of the Yiddish verb schlepp, typically meaning ‘to drag [something]’, so in the intransitive sense, maybe something like ‘drag one’s feet’: see thefreedictionary, for example. Interestingly, Yiddish is another of Sweden’s five official minority languages (remeber, I already mentioned Romani, so three more to go). Yiddish is a Germanic language, so it wouldn’t be surprising, would it, if we found similarities between Swedish and Yiddish words. And, in fact, the Swedish verb släpa does have both the transitive and intransitive meanings of schlepp.

But here’s what happened in the subtitling:

Original text: you schlepped
Correct subtitle: du släpade
Actual subtitle: du sov

Oops! Unfortunately, du sov = you slept, so the error was in mishearing you schlepped as you slept, but unlike the Eskimo Pie example, there were plenty of visual clues to the correct interpretation. Plus a (very) little knowledge of one of Sweden’s official minority languages would have helped.

Published in: on January 26, 2010 at 06:11  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I enjoy reading subtitles too. Sometimes the translations are completely off. I notice most pet names (honey, cutie, baby, sweetie, muffin) translate as älskling in swedish. Not much variety there.

    Anyway, thanks for writing about Swedish grammar in a not drab way. =)

  2. […] of weak verbs are identical and end in d, whereas in Swedish the simple past tense has a d, but the supine has a t. One exception is the class 2b verbs, such as köpa, to buy, which have a simple past tense […]

  3. I have found that subtitles can really help when learning a new language, I recently learnt German, and found that watching a German film with English subtitles really helped.

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