v43: julklapp

Sweden (and most of Europe) is having a particularly white Christmas this year. As with most countries, Christmas in Sweden brings with it a sackload of traditions: here are a few interesting ones, in chronological order. There are a couple of nice videoclips for you to watch, but I couldn’t embed them, so you’ll have to follow the links.

In the lead-up to Christmas, there’s any number of places to go out for julbord, literally Christmas table, but Christmas buffet will do nicely. The first video is from SVT’s Julkalendern (another tradition, by the way). Do watch the whole episode, but I love the bit from 5:00 onwards describing the julbord: 49 sorters sill! (49 types of herring!)

Presents are distributed on 24 December, julafton (Christmas Eve). A standard scenario is that the father goes out to buy a newspaper, and while he’s out, Father Christmas appears and hands out the presents. Don’t believe me? Well, it’s the only way you’re going to understand the second video, from ICA, where the others get excited when Stig says he’s going out to buy a newspaper.

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, a big thing on Christmas Eve is to watch Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) cartoons on TV at 3pm. I’m not even going to bother to try and explain that one!

Finally, julklapp = Christmas present, but klapp means tap or knock, and isn’t used to mean present at any other time of the year. This one really does have a nice story behind it: it’s from a practice which dates back to the 1600s of knocking on someone’s door, then when they open the door, throwing in the present and running away before one can be recognised.

God jul!

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 16:05  Comments (1)  
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v42: blinka

Swedish doesn’t appear to have separate words for blink (closing both eyes for a short time) and wink (closing just one eye): blinka covers both meanings. However, Swedish does have a word, blunda, meaning to shut one’s eyes. Blinka and blunda belong to separate word groupings, both of which are interesting:

Blinka words (root meaning: to shine):

blinka (verb) blink, wink
blank (adj) bright, shining / blanka (verb) polish
blek (adj) pale / bleka (verb) bleach
blick (noun) glance

A very common word is ögonblick (moment), not an eye-blink as I originally thought, but an eye-glance.

Blunda words (root meaning: unclear):

blunda (verb) shut one’s eyes
blind (adj) blind
blända (verb) blind, dazzle

Note also the particle verb blända av: in theory meaning darken or dim, but used particularly to mean dip one’s headlights (example here).

Blinka also means twinkle, as in Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, the nursery rhyme written in 1806 by Jane Taylor, and a great one for students of Swedish: you can learn vocabulary, pronounciation and grammar, all in a few short lines (I’ll leave the translation up to you):

Blinka lilla stjärna där
hur jag undrar vad du är
Fjärran lockar du min syn
lik en diamant i skyn
Blinka lilla stjärna där
hur jag undrar vad du är

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 14:46  Comments (1)  
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v41: fingo

An odd one this week. Do you even think fingo is a real Swedish word? It doesn’t look Swedish, and you can test this by searching for *ingo in Norstedts. The results are bingo, dingo, and flamingo, all clearly loan words. A search for fingo in online resources finds no hits, except for Norstedts, which returns the entry for the auxiliary verb , with no mention of fingo. What’s going on here?

Fingo is an old Swedish word, apparently too old to appear in online dictionaries. Back in those old days, Swedish had a plural form of the verb in its various tenses. Remember that I said Modern Swedish dates from 1526, and Late Modern Swedish from 1732, so how old is too old? Surprisingly, only the early 1900s, according to Holmes and Hinchliffe, and even as late as 1945 in more formal writing. That doesn’t seem so long ago to me. See the reference for a more complete discussion, but here are a couple of examples you might want to look out for, particularly if reading religious texts (which fit into the more formal category). The first person plural imperative ends in -om, and the second person plural imperative in -en/n:

Låtom oss bedja.
Let us pray.

Bedjen och eder varda givet.
Ask and it shall be given to you.

As for fingo, it is the irregular plural form of fick, the past tense of the already irregular verb . Similarly, the even-harder-to-find gingo is the plural of gick, the past tense of .

Published in: on December 21, 2010 at 09:05  Comments (1)  
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v40: vore

I’d like to finish off talking about verbs with a couple of strange verbs that you might come across. The first relates to my earlier discussion about modality. Specifically, I want to talk about the subjunctive mood, which is about possibility. It’s related to the optative mood, which is about expressing a wish. As I mentioned earlier, in English and Swedish, grammatical mood is usually expressed with modal verbs. In other languages however (for example, Romance languages such as Italian, Spanish, Portugese and French) there are specific subjunctive forms of the main verb. This is much less common in Germanic languages, but there is at least one good example of the subjunctive in both English and Swedish.

In English, I find the following acceptable (although it may not be in all dialects):

If I were you, I’d keep quiet.

In this example, were is the subjunctive form of the verb, expressing a hypothetical situation; “I were” is otherwise ungrammatical. I think the above construction is pretty widely acceptable, but what do you think of the following alternatives:

If I were rich, I’d buy a new car.
If I was rich, I’d buy a new car.

Even if you prefer was, it’s still subjunctive, since it’s not referring to an event in the past, the normal use of was.

In Swedish, the common example is the verb vore, the subjunctive of vara, to be, which has a somewhat broader range of use than the English equivalent, expressing hypotheticals and also politeness forms. Note that alternative expressions exist also in Swedish:

Om jag vore (var) rik…
If I were (was) rich…

Jag vore glad om du kom.
I would be happy if you came.

Det vore (skulle vara) trevligt.
That would be nice.

Other Swedish examples are genarally so-called fixed expressions, such as Leve konungen! (Long live the King!).

Next time, some odd Swedish verbs you may never have known existed.

Published in: on December 9, 2010 at 17:13  Comments (3)  
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