Swedish language, member of the North Germanic, or Scandinavian, group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. It is the official language of Sweden and one of the official languages of Finland, and it is spoken by about 9 million people: 8,500,000 in Sweden and 500,000 elsewhere, chiefly in Finland, Norway, and Estonia. A descendant of Old Norse (see Germanic languages; Norse), the Swedish language falls into two major periods historically: Old Swedish, the early form of the language (usually dated from the 9th cent. to the early 16th cent.), and New Swedish, the modern form of the language (since the early 16th cent.). The Swedish language underwent many changes during the Middle Ages but began to be standardized in the 16th cent. as a result of such events as the throwing off of Danish domination, the Reformation, and the translation of the Bible into Swedish. In 1786 the Swedish Academy was established to oversee the development of the language. Swedish absorbed a number of words from Low German in the Middle Ages, from High German in the 16th and 17th cent., from French in the 18th cent., and from English in the 20th cent. On the whole, Swedish grammar is simple. The noun has only the singular, possessive, and plural forms. There are two genders for nouns, a nonneuter (or common) class and a neuter class. The former includes masculine, feminine, and common nouns; the latter, nouns for such categories as countries and substances and also many abstract nouns. Swedish is noted for its musical quality. This results partly from the use of pitch accents, which sometimes serve to differentiate the meanings of homonyms. There is considerable difference between the spoken and written forms of Swedish. For example, a number of inflections used in literary Swedish are not employed in the spoken language. Until the early 13th cent., runes were used for recording Swedish, but thereafter (as Christianity took hold in Scandinavia) they began to be replaced by the Roman alphabet, to which three symbols, å, ä, and ö, have been added.
See G. Bergman, A Short History of the Swedish Language (tr. 1947); I. Björkhagen, Modern Swedish Grammar (9th ed. 1962); F. Frauchiger and W. R. van Buskirk, Spoken Swedish (1980).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.