fredag, oktober 22, 2004

Ho, ho, ho

Oh, this is rich. "Swedish is probably one of the easiest languages to learn to pronounce as it is usually pronounced as it is written." Teach Yourself Swedish, Vera Croghan

Sure it is pronounced as it is written, as Swedes pronounce it. They have eight vowels pronounced at least 16 different ways. The reason the Swedish Chef always sounded like he was singing is because when a vowel is long, it is really long. As in drawn out. If you don't draw it out right, then it will probably sound like a different word to your impatient Swedish listener. And they will be impatient. You have 20 seconds to convince them you can communicate. Othewise they will switch into their perfect English with a perfect English accent and you will have to wait until you corner an unsuspecting Swedish shopkeeper before you will get a chance to practice again. And that is just the vowels. For example, a simple phrase from yesterday's homework was

Jag gick.

Go ahead. Guess how it is pronounced. Nope.
Try yahg yick. J is always a Y, and G is a Y before an I. See how much fun this is? One time I said to my Swedish mother-in-law,

Jag ska sittar på soffan. I shall sit on the couch. Or over the couch.

Simple enough, I thought, but it was clear she did not understand me. "Soffan!" I repeated. "Soffan!" I said again, pointing toward the couch.

"Ohhhh, you mean 'sohfffaaan'. You said, 'sewfffaaan', the nickname we have for Santa," she exclaimed.

I could have sworn I said it exactly as she, yet it was different enough to make her think I was going to go sit on a giant elf. I wish this weren't a true story. I must just really suck at this.


Blogger Bill said...

Europe didn't exactly have the greatest 20th Century, you may recall, and actually the whole idea of "European Civilization" is something of an oxymoron once you take the Renaissance out of it. Somehow, though, all European nations find something that they believe makes them special, and they cling to this. Post war Germans thought the stability of their currency was a refection of their stabile, sensible values; the Italians figured they were getting by on style; the French are French, and reckon that's always been plenty. Scandinavians believe that their language is what sets them apart, and connects them to their historical greatness. They are exclusive about their language, and not eager to hear others speak it, even though their fundamental decency means that there is a substantial immigrant population in Sweden and Denmark.

9:04 em  
Blogger Francis S. said...

That is the most ridiculous thing I've heard about Swedish. Swedish easy to pronounce? Yeah, maybe, compared to Xhosa.

I've had exactly the same experience you've had - it used to feel like people were deliberately trying to not understand what I was saying sometimes. I don't have much problem with it anymore, though I'm not sure why since I think my pronunciation isn't really any better than it was - I think my pronunciation has always been pretty decent, I've certainly tried hard to be as correct as I can.

Interestingly, at first it's those weird consonants - g, sk, skj, sj - that are hard to get right. But it's really the vowels that are most difficult. Our ears, accustomed to English, just don't differentiate between long and short Swedish vowels, even if we can learn to hear it. Then, here in Stockholm at least, they're not consistent at all about these vowels, there are some general rules but they are very general and there are so many exceptions that the rules are only useful as a very basic guide.

4:40 fm  

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