v20: provat

Swedish, like English, is a Germanic language. The Germanic languages derive from a common ancestor, proto-Germanic, which is thought to date from around 500 BCE. By around 200 CE, proto-Germanic had split into three branches: West Germanic (now English, German, Dutch, Frisian), North Germanic (now Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, Faroese), and East Germanic (eg Gothic; now all extinct).

One feature of Germanic languages is the presence of a class of verbs (so-called weak verbs) that form the past tense by addition of a dental suffix (d or t), as opposed to strong verbs, which have a change in vowel sound to indicate past tense:

Jag arbetar. I work.
Jag arbetade. I worked.
Jag har arbetat. I have worked.


Jag dricker. I drink.
Jag drack. I drank.
Jag har druckit. I have drunk.

Note that in English, the two past tense forms 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 form with t:

Jag köper. I buy.
Jag köpte. I bought.
Jag har köpt. I have bought.

In English, the following is quite ungrammatical to me, although it may be OK in some dialects (as it is obvious what meaning is intended)?:

*I seen a lot of movies.

And so I thought something similar would be true in Swedish, which was why I suspected a typo when I read (something like) the following:

… för dig som provat på orientering tidigare …
… for you who already tried orienteering…

That is, the bare supine form of the verb prova, where I was expecting har provat. But after trying to learn all these grammar rules, a colleague tells me this is quite acceptable in spoken Swedish, and even passable in written Swedish, so *sigh*.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 17:25  Comments (3)  
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v19: jordgubbe

Swedish jordgubbe = strawberry. And interestingly, both words are different from the name for this (accessory) fruit in other Germanic languages, for example:

German: Erdbeere
Dutch: aardbei
Danish, Norwegian: jordbær

All these words refer to the Garden Strawberry, Fragaria × ananassa, the most commonly cultivated of the Fragaria species, which happens to be an octoploid (eight sets of seven chromosomes) species, and therefore apparently more robust and producing larger fruit. Another well-known strawberry in Sweden is the smultron, or Woodland Strawberry, Fragaria vesca, which is a diploid (two sets of seven chromosomes) species.

Back to the words. The straw in strawberry may refer to the external seeds which cover the fruit. And jordgubbe = jord (earth; the two words have the same Germanic root) + gubbe (a Swedish dialect word meaning little lump).

The Swedish word sounds odd because the word gubbe commonly means old man, a word which Norstedts describes as having uncertain origin, but probably originally children’s talk for someone tjockt, klumpigt och böjt (stout, clumsy and bent)!

Another nice Swedish strawberry word is smultronställe = smultron + ställe (place), which means not just a good place to find wild strawberries, but in general, a favourite haunt.

Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 15:28  Leave a Comment  
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v18: glassig

Another two easily-confused words are glas (glass) and glass (icecream). Glas has a long vowel, so does sound similar to the English glass, whereas glass has a short vowel (and long ‘s’), so sounds similar to the French glace, from which it is derived. But what about the adjective glassig? Norstedts defines glassig as flashy, fashionable, with-it, but SAOL says:

blank och glänsande; ytligt flott
bright and shiny; superficially stylish

Which incidentally adds a whole lot of related words into the mix: glans (gloss, shine), glansig (glossy), glänsa (to shine), and glänsande (shiny).

A correspondent on WordReference has this to say about glassig:

Flashy (ostentatious, glossy) is the meaning. It’s said to be derived from eng. glassy (shiny, as glass), but IMO it sounds more likely to come from glossy.
The word has a slightly negative connotation: something which is glossy or flashy in order to brag or show off.

However, there’s also the possibility to make a pun here, if you really want to. For example, a search for glassigaste (the superlative of glassig) on Google Sweden has as the top result Årets glassigaste brollop (The year’s most glassig wedding), which is the wedding of Clovve, the mascot of the icecream company GB Glace. Also, a local shopping mall is currently promoting Årets glassigaste modefest (The year’s most glassig fashion show), with icecream featuring prominently in the advertising. Which just leaves me a little more confused about the connotations of glassig.

Published in: on May 11, 2010 at 10:51  Comments (1)  
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v17: sista

Last Friday was sista april, the last (day of) April, or Valborg (Walpurgis Night), when Uppsala becomes the party capital of Sweden.

Regarding the use of last and latest in English, style guides say that latest is used when there is an expectation of more to come, but last means there will be no more. However, I believe everyday English usage is a bit more forgiving, for example, knowing that Ian Rankin is alive and writing, the following seems quite reasonable to me:

Ian Rankin’s last book was really good.

But in Swedish, sista (last) can’t be used in place of senaste (latest):

Ian Rankins senaste bok var riktigt bra.

Senaste is the superlative form of the adjective sen (sen, senare, senaste = late, later, latest), and the opposite of tidig (early).

But a couple of exceptions: Norstedts gives both sista modet and sista skriket as translations of the latest fashion. However, Google finds more than ten times as many hits for “senaste modet” than for “sista modet”. “Sista skriket” (skrika = to scream) is both a punk band from Gothenburg and a 1993 Ingemar Bergman play, which kind of messes up the searches.

I’ll leave you with these words from the 18th century Chinese poet, Yuan Mei, found while googling:

Klädd efter sista modet

Rocklängden och hattvidden
ha nu under trettio års tid oupphörligt förändrats
men lyckligtvis har jag hållit fast vid den gamla stilen.
Utan att ha behövt följa med i den vansinniga galoppen
är jag nu klädd efter sista modet.

Published in: on May 5, 2010 at 14:44  Leave a Comment  
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v16: orolig

As you may have noticed, there seems to be some correlation not only between word length and frequency, but also between those two and irregularity. That is, the commonest words in a language are often short, and have a tendency to be irregular. So, when learning a language, the beginning (common words) can be the the hardest part. Here’s another example regarding adjectives; I’ve been trying to learn some comparatives, superlatives and opposites:

good, better, best
bra, bättre, bäst

bad, worse, worst
dålig, sämre, sämst

Then I thought this was an easy one: what’s the opposite of rolig (fun, funny)? Orolig seems the obvious candidate, for reasons described previously, but in fact, no. The opposite of rolig is tråkig (boring), whereas orolig (anxious) is the opposite of lugn (calm).

Here it seems to be rolig that has undergone a change in meaning, since it derives from an old Swedish word roliker, meaning calm, and is also related to the noun ro (peace, calmness). However, the corresponding verb is roa (to amuse). I don’t quite follow thw connection between amusement and calmness; the opposites make much more sense, with the noun oro (anxiety) and the verb oroa (to worry) completing the set.

Published in: on May 1, 2010 at 20:00  Comments (4)  
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