The Finnish island where everyone speaks Swedish

I am currently on an island in the Baltic Sea, at the mouth of the Bay of Bothnia. It is a Finnish island called Åland. The island is about 170 km from Stockholm and 160 km from Åbo in Finland. Åland consists of Fasta Åland on which 90% of the population resides and about 6,500 skerries and islands, of which 60–80 are inhabited. The capital city, where I am, is called Mariehamn where around 15,000 people live.

So how come the official language of Åland is Swedish?

The island was originally a part of the Swedish Empire, but has also belonged to Russia, France, Germany and Sweden again, before becoming a part of Finland. After much conflict, the League of Nations decided in 1920 that, although belonging to Finland, the island would be independent and self-governing. By law, Åland is politically neutral and entirely demilitarised, and residents are exempt from conscription. Åland was granted extensive autonomy by new legislation of the same name in 1951 and 1991. Åland remains exclusively Swedish-speaking by this act.

Speaking to the locals, the accent sounds like an interesting blend of Swedish, Finnish and Gotlandic (another Baltic island).

Åland, as an autonomous region, has its own parliament, police force, bank, postal service and flag. It is also a tax-free zone, and is a daily stopping point for ferries from Sweden and Finland where passengers are able to buy duty-free alcohol, tobacco and other goods. In fact, about 2 million people a year visit Åland, but usually only to switch boats. I have to confess this has been the way for me also. This trip is the first time I’ve actually ventured into the town and further onto this beautiful island.

Where Swedish names originate

19 of the top 20 surnames in Sweden end with ‘son’. Where does this name come from?

Over 120 years ago, most Swedish surnames were patronymic – a surname formed by adding -son to someone’s father’s name, and it means “son of.” Someone named Fredrik Andersson, for instance, was Fredrik, son of Anders. This type of name was also sometimes created with the addition of the suffix -dottir, or -dotter meaning daughter; someone named Selma Torsdotter would have been Selma, the daughter of Tor. However this is rare – due to the patriarchal structure of society at the time.

When laws eventually required all families in the various Scandinavian countries to decide on a heritable last name — one that would pass down intact instead of changing every generation — many families adopted a current name as their hereditary surname. This is known as a “frozen patronymic.”

Sweden passed the Names Adoption Act in 1901, requiring all citizens to have heritable surnames that are passed down to each generation.

Most people took a patronymic surname to pass down, and as we see, patronymics are still the most common Swedish names.

Some Swedish families took names referring to places or things in nature, such as Lindberg (lime mountain), Engström (meadow stream) or Blomqvist (flower twig).

Other Swedish surnames came from trades such as Åkerman (ploughman) or Möller (miller), or from the military such as Skold (shield) or Svärd (sword).

Another source of Swedish names up to about the 18th century were Latinized names, which were based on place of birth – such as Floderus (from Floda).

Many names today end with ‘ander’ – Wallander, Wikander, Nylander – this comes from the Greek word for ‘man’.

The Swedish Hour of the Wolf

In Swedish, there is a term ‘vargtimmen’, which translates as hour of the wolf. It is used to specifically describe the time between 03.00-04.00

Although it sounds like an ancient concept, it was actually coined by Swedish film director Ingemar Bergman in his 1968 film of the same name. Or so he claimed. He describes the ‘vargtimmen’ in the following way:

The hour of the wolf is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die, when sleep is the deepest and nightmares the most vivid. It is the hour when insomniacs are hunted by their worst anxieties, when ghosts and demons are at their most powerful. The hour of the wolf is also the hour when most babies are born’.

Other academics believe the concept existed earlier than Bergman’s time, and that it refers to the fact that farmers would get up in the night to protect their wild stock from hunting wolves.

Whatever the origin, the ‘hour of the wolf’ has a definite mystical and almost terrifying implication. When was the last time you lay awake at 03.00 am and chased your demons?

April, April! You stupid herring!

april-fools-day-2015

Playing April Fool’s jokes on each other on the first of April is a tradition in many countries – Sweden included. In fact it is an old tradition – the oldest written reference being in 1392 in Chaucer’s ‘The Cantebury Tales’.

In Sweden, when someone is tricked, the tradition is to say ‘April, April din dumma sill!‘. This translates as ‘April, April you stupid herring!’. This is however not as weird as it might sound. In many countries, such as Italy, France and Holland, April 1st is known as “April fish”. On this day, people try to attach paper fish onto the backs of their victims.

April Fool’s pranks are common in newspapers, with classics such as:

  • IKEA is getting into the airline business. Furnishing all the flights with Ikea furniture, the name of the airline is FLYKEA.
  • Swedish supermarket chain ICA introduced toothpaste with the taste of chocolate. It might be brown, but it makes your teeth white.
  • Burger King introduced a new burger for left-handed people where ingredients were rotated 180 degrees.

I had a look this morning to see if I could identify any April Fools tricks and I found one! The tower of Stockholm’s City Hall was apparently flown in from the far east under a blimp. This is a nod to the new Golden Bridge in Stockholm that was manufactured and shipped in one huge piece from China.

If you manage to find another one, please share here!

 

Sweden’s vagina debate

In Sweden recently, a man accused of rape was acquitted by a panel of judges over a word. The victim, a 10-year old girl, accused the 50-year old man of putting a finger inside her ‘snippa’.

Reportedly, the judges were unfamiliar with the word and looked it up in a dictionary. In the dictionary, ‘snippa’ is defined as ‘the outside part of female genitalia’. Because if this, the judges freed the 50-year old man, as the Swedish definition of rape requires a physical penetration.

This has caused an enormous outcry in Sweden. A viral hashtag has appeared called #jagvetvadensnippär or ’I know what a snippa is’. The debate is inflamed in main stream and social media.

Although defined in one way in the dictionary, the word ‘snippa’ is taught and commonly used to mean vagina, and not only vulva. A 10-year old girl would definitely use this word to describe her vagina – and in this case she also clearly used the preposition ‘inside’. It is unlikely she would use the Latin word vagina, or the significantly more adult word ‘slida’.

This case casts a light on what can happen when a board of judges is out of touch with reality, or when the legal system does not use the same language as the general population.

It is a huge concern that a group of middle-aged men are incapable of equating the word ‘snippa’ and the proposition ‘inside’ – especially when expressed by a child. It seriously feels like they all need some education in female anatomy as well as in linguistics.

This case shows us, yet again, how the legal system places the responsibility to prove guilt on the victim of the crime and not the perpetrator – ‘she didn’t express herself clearly’, ‘she wore provocative clothes’, ‘she used the wrong word’, ‘she’d been drinking’, ‘she didn’t say no’.

We will see what the long-reaching consequences of this decision are. Hopefully an appeal will come, and hopefully a modernisation of the legal system. As they say, watch this space….

50 Swedish words for snow

A massive amount of snow has landed on Stockholm overnight – and it is still tumbling down. So, I thought it’s worth sharing this list again.

Not surprisingly when living in a country where it snows a lot, people start to see differences and nuances in the type of snow, whereas in English the word might just be an unsatisfactory ‘snow’.

The Swedish language makes it easy to join words together to describe these nuances.

Here is a list of 50 Swedish words related to snow.

1) Blötsnö – wet, slushy snow
2) Drivsnö – snow that is blown into troublesome snow drifts
3) Aprilsnö – snow in April, according to superstition, signifies plenty of food for the coming season
4) Hårdsnö – compacted hard snow
5) Konstsnö – artificial snow
6) Kramsnö – squeezy snow, perfect for making snowballs
7) Julesnö – snow at Christmas
8) Klabbsnö – wet, warm snow for building snowmen
9) Kolsyresnö – frozen carbondioxide
10) Kornsnö – small white snow breadcrumbs
11) Lappvante – thick, falling snow
12) Lössnö – snow that can loosen and be dangerous
13) Majsnö – surprising and unwelcome snow in May
14) Modd – snow that has partly melted due to salt
15) Natursnö – real snow (as opposed to artificial)
16) Nysnö – fresh snow, crisp and white
17) Pudersnö – powder snow
18) Rekordsnö – an unusual amount of snow, breaking previous snow records
19) Slask – slushy snow mixed with rain and dirt on the ground
20) Snö – snow
21) Snöblandat regn – snow mixed with rain
22) Muohta – the Sami word for snow (it is said the Sami actually have 200 words for snow!)
23) Snörök – faint particles of snow that look like smoke
24) Yrsnö – snow being whipped around by the wind in all directions
25) Åsksnö – snow that pours down during a thunder storm

26) Snökanon – the word for the snow canon that creates artificial snow on ski slopes has also come to mean a sudden blast of snow that suddenly hits a place, and feels like snow has been dumped on you.

27) Jungfrusnö – virgin snow

28) Snösmocka – a huge amount of snow

29) Snötäcke – snow on the ground

30) Sjösnö – snow over the sea that can roll in over land

31) Snöfall – snow in the air

32) Flingsnö – snow with larger crystals

33) Skarsnö – a crispy surface on a blanket of snow

34) Packsnö – thickly packed snow

35) Pärlsnö – snow like small pearls that hurts when it hits your face

36) Snöglopp – wet snow mixed with rain

37) Spårsnö – snow that allows footprints to be formed

38) Fjöcksnö – a light, fluffy snow

39) Flister – snow the consistency of salt that stings the face when it falls

40) Flaksnö – a sheet of snow

41) Upplega – snow on the upper side of a tree branch

42) Firn – liquid-like snow that can initiate an avalanche

43) Fimmel – sandy snow that falls at low temperatures

44) Själja – a thin layer of ice on top of the snow that resembles glass

45) Knarrsnö – crispy snow that creaks when you walk on it

46) Snöfyk – wet snow

47) Torrsnö – dry snow

48) Månsilver – a poetic word to describe the dusting of snow

49) Snöis – snow on cold water that forms an icy solid surface

50) Stöp – a mixture of snow and ice resembling porridge that forms on top of cold water

So, let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

The Swedish month of Mash

We are currently in the month of March, and this brings up an interesting aspect of Swedish pronunciation. The month March is spelled ‘mars’ and pronounced ‘mash’. The same goes for the planet Mars and the chocolate bar – ‘mash’.

In fact, whenever an ‘r’ is followed by an ‘s’ in Swedish, the sound of the ‘s’ changes to ‘sh’ – with some dialectical differences, of course. So, for example, cross – ‘kors’- is pronounced ‘kosh’. Färs (mince) is ’fesh’, Lars (the name Lars) is ‘Larsh’, Vers (verse) is ’vesh’.

In fact, I can’t think of a word that is an exception to this pronunciation. Can you?

A literal Swedish Christmas

Swedish is often a very literal language. Today, the 26th December, is a good example of that.

In the UK, the 26th December is known as ‘Boxing Day’. In many countries it’s St Stephen’s day – in Finland, it’s ‘Stefani Day’. In Ireland it’s ‘Wren’s Day’. In South Africa, it’s the ‘Day of Goodwill’.

And in Sweden? Well, here comes the literalness.

It’s called ‘Second Christmas Day’.

Why is Christmas called ‘Jul’ in Swedish?

While the English word Christmas (Christ’s mass), and the German Weihnachen (Holy Night) are clearly connected to the celebrated Christian birth, the Swedish word ‘Jul’ has a much more vague origin.

Like with the English word ‘yule’, experts do not fully agree on where it originates. However, it is deemed likely that it comes from the Proto-Germanic word ‘jehwla’ which could have meant ‘party’ or ‘celebration’.

The word was taken early into the Nordics via the Old Finnish language in the form of ‘juhla’ meaning ‘festival’, and then again as ‘joulu’ meaning ‘jul’. There was already a big celebration of the winter solstice and the winter hunt around this time that was given the name ‘jol’ in Old Norse.

After the surge of Christianity through Europe in the 900’s, England and Germany aligned their word for Christmas, but in the Nordics they kept word ‘jul’. Instead they scheduled their pagan celebrations to occur at the same time as the Christian one, and eventually the two melted together. In the Nordic countries, we still see elements of the pagan ‘jol’ at Christmas time with the ‘Christmas goat’ for example.

In Sweden, Denmark and Norway, Christmas is called ‘jul’. In Finland, it is called ‘joulou’. In Iceland it is called ‘Jol’ and in Estonia, ‘joulud’.

50 Swedish words for snow

A massive amount of snow has landed on Stockholm over the weekend – and it is still tumbling down. So, I thought it’s worth sharing this list again.

Not surprisingly when living in a country where it snows a lot, people start to see differences and nuances in the type of snow, whereas in English the word might just be an unsatisfactory ‘snow’.

The Swedish language makes it easy to join words together to describe these nuances.

Here is a list of 50 Swedish words related to snow.

1) Blötsnö – wet, slushy snow
2) Drivsnö – snow that is blown into troublesome snow drifts
3) Aprilsnö – snow in April, according to superstition, signifies plenty of food for the coming season
4) Hårdsnö – compacted hard snow
5) Konstsnö – artificial snow
6) Kramsnö – squeezy snow, perfect for making snowballs
7) Julesnö – snow at Christmas
8) Klabbsnö – wet, warm snow for building snowmen
9) Kolsyresnö – frozen carbondioxide
10) Kornsnö – small white snow breadcrumbs
11) Lappvante – thick, falling snow
12) Lössnö – snow that can loosen and be dangerous
13) Majsnö – surprising and unwelcome snow in May
14) Modd – snow that has partly melted due to salt
15) Natursnö – real snow (as opposed to artificial)
16) Nysnö – fresh snow, crisp and white
17) Pudersnö – powder snow
18) Rekordsnö – an unusual amount of snow, breaking previous snow records
19) Slask – slushy snow mixed with rain and dirt on the ground
20) Snö – snow
21) Snöblandat regn – snow mixed with rain
22) Muohta – the Sami word for snow (it is said the Sami actually have 200 words for snow!)
23) Snörök – faint particles of snow that look like smoke
24) Yrsnö – snow being whipped around by the wind in all directions
25) Åsksnö – snow that pours down during a thunder storm

26) Snökanon – the word for the snow canon that creates artificial snow on ski slopes has also come to mean a sudden blast of snow that suddenly hits a place, and feels like snow has been dumped on you.

27) Jungfrusnö – virgin snow

28) Snösmocka – a huge amount of snow

29) Snötäcke – snow on the ground

30) Sjösnö – snow over the sea that can roll in over land

31) Snöfall – snow in the air

32) Flingsnö – snow with larger crystals

33) Skarsnö – a crispy surface on a blanket of snow

34) Packsnö – thickly packed snow

35) Pärlsnö – snow like small pearls that hurts when it hits your face

36) Snöglopp – wet snow mixed with rain

37) Spårsnö – snow that allows footprints to be formed

38) Fjöcksnö – a light, fluffy snow

39) Flister – snow the consistency of salt that stings the face when it falls

40) Flaksnö – a sheet of snow

41) Upplega – snow on the upper side of a tree branch

42) Firn – liquid-like snow that can initiate an avalanche

43) Fimmel – sandy snow that falls at low temperatures

44) Själja – a thin layer of ice on top of the snow that resembles glass

45) Knarrsnö – crispy snow that creaks when you walk on it

46) Snöfyk – wet snow

47) Torrsnö – dry snow

48) Månsilver – a poetic word to describe the dusting of snow

49) Snöis – snow on cold water that forms an icy solid surface

50) Stöp – a mixture of snow and ice resembling porridge that forms on top of cold water

So, let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!