v15: ibland

There are a number of Swedish time-related words which are derived from a two-word construction involving the preposition i (in). Examples are idag (today), igår (yesterday), ikväll (tonight), imorgon (tomorrow), and imorse (this morning). The adverb ibland (sometimes) is related: it is derived from i + bland (among).

Adverbs are tricky parts of speech; you were probably told that adverbs modify verbs, and that the typical adverb in English is derived from an adjective by adding -ly. In Swedish, the corresponding rule is that the adverb is formed from the adjective by adding -t, making it identical to the neuter form of the adjective:

He walks slowly.
Han går långsamt.

But there are also adverbs (“sentential adverbs”), both in English and Swedish, that modify the sentence as a whole:

He never walks.
Han går aldrig.

I’m interested in the adverbs which describe frequency of occurrence, such as: alltid (always), ofta (often), ibland (sometimes), sällan (seldom), and aldrig (never). In Swedish, sentential adverbs follow the main verb in main clauses, but precede the verb in subordinate clauses. Note how träffas (meet) and aldrig swap positions in these examples:

Vi träffas aldrig.
We never meet.

Hon säger att de aldrig träffas.
She says that they never meet.

For some reason, ibland doesn’t fit this pattern (alltid, ofta, and sällan behave like aldrig):

Jag går aldrig på bio.
I never go to the cinema.
Jag går på bio ibland.

Han säger att han aldrig går på bio.
Han säger att han går på bio ibland.

Which made me think “crazy Swedish language”; but then I thought about how it works in English:

I always/never/sometimes cycle to work.
*Always/*Never/Sometimes I cycle to work.
I cycle to work ?always/*never/sometimes.

(Where the * means it’s ungrammatical for me, and the ? means it sounds odd; you may have a different opinion. You could also consider how often would fit into this pattern.) So, “crazy English language” also.

On a lighter note, I just learned that the Swedish for the @ symbol is snabel-a, where snabel is trunk (of an elephant) or proboscis. Cute or what?

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Published in: on April 20, 2010 at 14:42  Comments (1)  
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v14: påsklov

This week is påsklov (Easter holidays) for schools in Sweden. Lov has the same derivation as the English leave. Not to be confused with löv (leaf), and the related verb lövar, to decorate with leafy branches. Both nouns are good words for this time of year – Spring in Sweden.

The year’s school holidays are: sportlov, påsklov, sommarlov, höstlov, and jullov. Some of these have interesting histories:

Sportlov (sport holiday) is a week in February or early March (eg, week 7 in Gothenburg, week 8 in Uppsala, week 9 in Stockholm) when children are supposed to actively participate in winter sports. Sportlov was formerly called kokslov (coke holiday), and originated in 1940, when Sweden was running out of heating fuel, and schools were closed for three weeks to aid the rationing process. There’s a nice article about the 70th anniversary of sportlov in Sydsvenskan.

Höstlov (autumn holiday) is a week in October or November. Höstlov has previously been known as potatislov (potato holiday) or skördelov (harvest holiday) – a time to go and help out in the fields.

Strangely, while school holidays are lov, holidays for workers are semester. Yes, the word comes from the latin for six months, and generally refers to a division of the year into two parts, such as university terms, but not so in Swedish. Although it does seem at times that we do get around six months of holidays here in Sweden, but that is a relatively recent phenomenon, the full five weeks’ holiday allowance only having been law since 1978, according to another interesting article about Swedish holidays, this time in SvD.

Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 09:29  Leave a Comment  
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v13: sin

This week, pronouns. ‘Grammar‘ lessons told us that pronouns “substitute for a noun”. Which is only part of the story: pronouns are anaphors; they both substitute for and refer to a noun, but which noun? Working out which noun is called ‘anaphor resolution’. Consider these sentences, and ask yourself: whose girlfriend?:

1 Erik is dancing with his girlfriend.
2 Lars saw Erik dancing with his girlfriend.
3 Lars is upset because Erik is dancing with his girlfriend.
4 Erik and his girlfriend are dancing.

I suggest: 1 Erik’s; 2 ambiguous; 3 Lars’; 4 Erik’s. But you can see how both 1 and 4 could refer to a girlfriend other than Erik’s, given the appropriate context. That is, anaphor resolution is not straightforward.

In Swedish, we find the 3rd person reflexive possessive pronouns sin/sitt/sina (common/neuter/plural). Quick check: why only 3rd person? Just seeing if you’re awake! These pronouns refer back to the subject of the sentence and, at least in theory, should help in anaphor resolution. Look here:

5 Erik dansar med sin flickvän.
6 Erik dansar med hans flickvän.

Both of these are translated as Erik is dancing with his girlfriend (by the way, isn’t flickvän a lovely word!), but in 5, sin refers to Erik, whereas in 6, hans refers to someone other than Erik (possibly, Lars). So, does this solve the anaphor resolution problem? Well, no. You’ll note I said that the reflexive possessive pronouns refer back to the subject of the sentence; they can’t themselves act as the subject, so:

7 Erik och hans flickvän dansar.
*8 Erik och sin flickvän dansar.

7 is ambiguous again, just as in English, while 8 is ungrammatical (hence the *). What else? Well, analyse these, as they say:

9 Lars såg Erik dansa med sin flickvän.
10 Lars såg Erik dansa med hans flickvän.

Both translate to Lars saw Erik dancing with his girlfriend, but a quick “whose girlfriend?” poll of some Swedish colleagues revealed the following interpretations:

Sentence 9: Erik=3; Lars=1; unsure or ambiguous=2
Sentence 10: Erik=2; Lars=3; unsure or ambiguous=1

My Swedish teacher agreed with the majority in each case, but it does show that context may be important in interpreting sentences such as these, and that a belief that there are hard and fast rules about ‘grammar’ may sometimes be misguided, if it gets in the way of having your words understood.

Glad Påsk!
Happy Easter!

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 08:48  Comments (3)  
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