v28: häpna

There seem to me to be an awful lot of hairdressers in Sweden. Or rather, hairdressing establishments. An article in Occupational And Environmental Medicine says there are “about 19 000 hairdressers in Sweden, of whom 80–90% are women and most are self-employed, working in small salons”. I don’t know how this compares to other countries, maybe you can help me on this?

Of linguistic concern is that most hairdressers can’t seem to find a better name for their shop than frisör (hairdresser). However, we have a local hairdresser called hår och häpna. Hår (hair) is obvious, but it took me a long time to look up häpna = be amazed. I was! Hair and be amazed? It’s actually a pun on the phrase hör och häpna, literally listen and be amazed, Norstedts says wait for it, I’m sure you get the idea.

But it’s also a chance to talk about inchoative verbs. These are verbs that describe either a transition or the start of a transition. They’re not such a big feature of English, but some examples are to age, and verbs ending in -en, such as to redden, to lighten, to lengthen.

In the June 2008 issue of Språk, Fredrik Lindström (also here) wrote an article about Swedish inchoative verbs. Essentially, these verbs end in -na, are generally derived from adjectives, and often have other verbal counterparts:

blek (adjective) = pale
bleka (transitive verb) = to bleach
blekna (inchoative verb) = to turn pale

Lindström argues that this is somewhat of a productive process, so you can make up new verbs from old adjectives, and know just what they mean:

ful = ugly
fulna = to become ugly

Why not give it a try? Here’s mine: kändna.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 16:02  Leave a Comment  
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v27: våga

I recently wrote about modal verbs. Both Swedish and English have another group of verbs generally called modal equivalents (or marginal modals).  You can get an idea of the technical details at this page at Universitetet i Oslo. Swedish has a great number of modal equivalents, here is a sample:

behöva = need
= continue
= promise
= pretend
= intend

Swedish modal equivalents take the bare infinitive (rather than the att-infinitive):

modal equivalent:
hon behöver köra
she needs to drive

ordinary verb:
hon älskar att köra
she loves to drive / she loves driving

One day, my eye was caught by an article in UNT titled våga vägra vagn, literally dare to refuse the pram.

Two issues here. One is that våga (to dare) and vägra (to refuse) are both modal equivalents. However, in this example vägra is an ordinary verb, taking a noun complement (vagn). Secondly, how to translate våga vägra? It appears to be a stock phrase, but dare to refuse sounds odd to me, and in some examples avoid seems appropriate, but you may have a better suggestion. Try your translating skills on the following examples of things you may wish to avoid (follow the links to see the context):

vägra as an ordinary verb:
våga vägra vintern
= winter
våga vägra varg = wolves

vägra as a modal equivalent:
våga vägra vaccinera
= vaccination
våga vägra vakna = waking up

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 16:07  Leave a Comment  
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v26: kändis

Swedish has three words for know: veta (to know facts), känna (to know people), and kunna (to know languages or other subjects). Their present tense forms are: vet, känner, and kan. My Swedish in Three Months by Peter Graves and Gunilla Blom (Hugo, 1992) has the following example, which I’ve abridged:

Jag vet att du känner Åke som kan franska.
I know that you know Åke, who knows French.

But it seems to be känna that has the most derivatives, in the sense both of knowing, but also of feeling. For example, someone who knows a lot is a kännare (expert), someone who is well-known is a kändis (celebrity), and someone feels a lot is känslig (sensitive). But by now you should know how to look up kän* in Norstedts…

Swedish has both long and short vowels, and long and short consonants, and it’s usual that a short vowel is followed by two (or more) consonants, and a long vowel by a single consonant, so:

brun (brown) = long u, short n
en brunn (a well) = short u, long n

There are exceptions, which may not become evident until additional endings are added to the word:

hem (home) = short e; becomes hemma (at home)
tam (tame) = long a; becomes tama (plural form)

Words with mm or nn lose the doubling when additional consonants are added, hence:

känna = short ä; becomes kändis

And in case you’re wondering, the opposite of a kändis is a doldis, an unperson or anonymous public figure, derived from dold, hidden and dölja, to hide. Otherwise, the -dis ending does not seem particularly productive, so maybe there’s another opening for you who’d like to invent new Swedish words?

Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 15:33  Leave a Comment  
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v25: suga

Summer holidays are upon us, and I’m busy doing summer holiday things, so don’t expect too much in the way of deep linguistic insights the next several weeks… This week’s word: suga = to suck. Something you suck through: sugrör = straw. A word it took me a while to understand is dammsugare = vacuum-cleaner. I’d thought there was some link to dam = lady, but instead it’s damm = dust. Dammsugare is also a pastry roll coated in green marzipan and with the ends dipped in chocolate, which looks nothing like any vacuum-cleaner I’ve ever seen.

Relatedly, sugen = wanting, and leads to some great compounds:

Jag är kaffesugen.
I’m dying for a coffee.

Similarly gottsugen (sweets), pratsugen (conversation), röksugen (smoke), and so on. In fact, no matter what you want this summer, you could either find or invent a Swedish word for your state of mind: luftkonditioneringsugen, perhaps (since it’s 30C here right now)?

Published in: on July 12, 2010 at 16:20  Comments (2)  
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