Skip to comments.Exploring Sweden's linguistic history in the United States
Posted on 06/13/2011 12:52:39 PM PDT by WesternCulture
Almost 100 years after the great Swedish migration to North America, dialect researchers from Gothenburg are heading across the Atlantic in hopes of learning more about the evolution of the Swedish language, The Locals Karen Holst explains.
Wild myths that solve the mysterious birth of language and its dispersal often include floods, catastrophes or punishment by the gods.
In Hindu stories it was a tree being humbled, in North American Indian folklore it was a great flood, in east Africa it was starvation-induced madness, in the Amazon it was stolen hummingbird eggs and in aboriginal Australia it was a goddess gift of play for children.
Regardless of how language really sprouted and then diversified, it is certain that it is not a static or fixed phenomenon.
As the world witnesses an era of unparalleled change and transformation, the question of how languages evolve as words are invented, borrowed or dismissed, becomes ever-more relevant.
To that end, a group of five Swedish researchers are set to spend more than a week in Minnesota, a northerly mid-western state known to be a part of the heartland for Swedish-American communities, to conduct interview with anyone they can find who speaks Swedish.
The researchers are hoping their efforts will help shed light on how the languages spoken by Swedish migrants a century ago has evolved over the decades of being spoken on the prairies of the Midwestern United States.
When people move abroad and have contact with English in their every day, it begins to affect how their native language is spoken, especially across generations, says Jenny Nilsson, a member of the research team from Gothenburgs Institute of Language and Folklore.
We are interested in how the two languages, Swedish and English, have affected each other and how the Swedish language has changed over time.
The team will compare their findings to an extensive study carried out in the 1960s and 1970s when two Swedes spent almost a year travelling the US by bus.
The men recorded more then 600 Swedish speakers throughout the country that included first generation Swedes up to third generation.
They were lucky because they were able to speak with the first Swedes who emigrated to the United States in the late 1800s they were still alive. And to hear how they spoke after living there for a few decades, well thats really cool data if youre into this, Nilsson says.
During a fifty-year span that began more than 100 years ago, a tidal wave of Swedes, amassing to about 1.3 million, left a country plagued with hardship for the shores of opportunity in the United States.
The American frontiers, with their inexpensive and fertile land in the Midwest, were a magnet for the poverty-stricken Europeans who were drawn to reports of its earthly paradise, political and religious freedoms and limitless opportunities.
The migration throng reached its peak in the years following the Civil War and by 1890 the US Census reported a Swedish-American population of nearly 800,000.
By 1910, Chicago had become the Swedish-American capital, with more than 100,000 immigrants making it the second largest Swedish city in the world, next to Stockholm.
In fact, the rising Swedish exodus triggered a national alarm back at the Baltic Sea.
In the early 1900s Sweden instituted a parliamentary emigration commission that later advised extensive reforms to reduce emigration by bringing the best sides of America to Sweden.
Nowadays, according to a US Census report in 2000, about four million Americans claim to have Swedish roots.
The true number is thought to be considerably higher, and self-identified Swedish Americans in the US are expected to soon outnumber the nine million Swedes in Sweden.
Minnesota remains by a wide-margin the state with the most inhabitants of Swedish descent9.6 percent of the population as of 2005.
The ongoing rush of new words into the English language makes it a rich field for investigation into language change, despite the difficulty of defining precisely and accurately the vocabulary available to speakers of English.
Throughout its history, English has not only borrowed words from other languages but has re-combined and recycled them to create new meanings, whilst deleting out-dated words.
During their upcoming journey to the United States, the researchers, who either come from the Institute or the University of Gothenburgs Swedish Language Department, will set out to interview and record as many Swedish speakers as they can find, talking about everyday life.
We will listen to how they pronounce words, structure sentences, choose words and to how much English is mixed in, says Nilsson.
For example, the phrase to sit on the fence, in regards to having difficulty making a decision, is often translated and used in the US by American-Swedish speakers as sitta på staket, but in true Swedish, this phrase can only be interpreted literally, explains Nilsson.
Other such findings include the Swedish word långsam, or slow, which has been substituted for lonesome instead of the accurate Swedish term ensam.
Nilsson agrees that it's easier today for people to maintain contact with the language through online news sources, buying Swedish books, listening to Swedish music and online chats, all things unavailable to the first few generations.
She and her other US-bound colleagues will compare their findings to that of the data collected during the previous decades and will use it to determine new leads that further their research.
We have no idea what well find. I would think the variation in Swedish is even greater today after ten to fifty years has passed, explains Nilsson.
Karen, you intentionally left out God created Adam and Eve with the ability to communicate not only with each other, but with God as well ....
You friggin' pagan,
Ping to you...
One of tales probably holds water.
One of these tales probably holds water
“To that end, a group of five Swedish researchers are set to spend more than a week in Minnesota, a northerly mid-western state known to be a part of the heartland for Swedish-American communities, to conduct interview with anyone they can find who speaks Swedish.”
A week, compared to the years that Vilhelm Moberg lived in Chisago Lakes MN, Monterey CA and Laguna Beach CA, studying and writing?
And then went back to Sweden and killed himself.
One way the Swedish language changed on the North American continent was: Patronymic surnames were made more “American”
For example, “Andreasson” first became “Andersson” and then later “Anderson”
The earliest group from Sweden came in the 1600s.
The big emigration from Sweden to Minnesota began in the 1850s. Read Moberg.
My greatgrandmother came in 1861, age 8. To Chisago.
My great grandfather came in 1870, age 25.
Why none of the usual photos of hot blonde chix? I don’t get it...
To Pennsyvania (Philadephia area) and Delaware. Of course they changed their language within a couple of years because first they were conquered by the Dutch and then by the english. The English caused them all to change their names and naming system. That was a pretty big change.
“To Pennsyvania (Philadephia area) and Delaware. Of course they changed their language within a couple of years because first they were conquered by the Dutch and then by the english. The English caused them all to change their names and naming system. That was a pretty big change.”
That may have been so for Pennsylvanie and Delaware, and the 1600s contingent.
However more widely for Sweden and the Minnesota contingent (far bigger) the fade out of patronymic naming began in the late 1800s, both in America and in Sweden.
My greatgrandfather, born 1845 was the last generation with patronymic surname.
His sons and daughters kept his surname, instead of the old tradition.
That name thing is a killer for some children and grandchildren of immigrants.
After two trips to Sweden and 60 years of using the name “Johnson,” I still didn’t know whether my last name was really “Jonsson,” “Jönsson,” or “Johansson” until last year. My dad used to say, “we’re here now, our name is JOHNSON and that’s that.” That OLD immigrant attitude. You don’t hear that much anymore.
I got into a phone conversation with a first cousin from Seattle a few months ago and she said she knew the answer: “YOU are a Jonsson because you are on my mom’s side and Scanian but I am a Johansson with a dad from northern Sweden and a mom-—your dad’s sister-—from Scania.
Wow, the poor thing is a “Johnson” twice. Gets confusing. At least she knew the story. Every family needs a historian.
I am of Swedish descent, but I am NOT Swedish American! My Swedish ancestors immigrated in 1904 to Maine and they forbade their children from speaking Swedish even at home and so it was lost. They wanted their family to assimilate and become true Americans and my Great-Grandfather believed that was part of how to accomplish it. I understand the family’s reasoning, but it’s unfortunate for generations after that would have liked that connection to our history.
The British forced the change on both the Dutch and the Swedes in the late 1700s. My 9th ggrandfather changed his from Petersson to Longacre. Nobody really knows why — whether it was because a) there were already too many Peterssons in the colony, b) it was a joke because his land extended down the center of a long, skinny island, or c) it was to honor his English brother-in-law whose name was Longshore and who owned the piece of land next to him.
But, the result of that change meant that a good many of his descendents lost all memory of their Swedish heritege. My 10th ggrandfather emigrated here about 1648. In fact, he came twice. Went back to Europe to collect his pay check and marry a wife to bring back to PA. He came on the Kalmar Nykkel on one of those trips.
When I lived in Sweden (2000-2004) I took Swedish class for immigrants, and was very happy to see so many words that were either close to the same or same pronunciation as English, even if they were spelled differently; “kom hem” instead of “come home” for example. I read a book about the origins of the English language, and so much of the basic stuff came from the Vikings, and so forgiving the 1000 years in between, many words were close in both languages. I especially liked finally understanding why some English words make no sense, such as the silent k in knife and knock (”k-niv” and “k-nock” in Swedish) as well as the ever elusive “w” in “two” (tva—though I can’t add accents on my keyboard).
It was very enlightening! (though I know you know all of this Western Culture!)
“For example, Andreasson first became Andersson and then later Anderson”
- Are you sure? Andersson has since long been way more common than Andreasson over here.
On the other hand, some Swedish immigrants to America might well’ve been named Andreasson and then had their offspring ended up as good Andersons.
“My greatgrandmother came in 1861, age 8. To Chisago.
My great grandfather came in 1870, age 25.”
- Chisago? It truly is an honor talking to you over the Internet.
For many reasons.
I'm a 41 European. But that doesn't mean I'm unaware what a great nation Scandinavians and other Europeans took part in building across the partly promising, partly frightful and eternally dividing Atlantic Ocean a long time ago.
Let's speak “today”.
America should not be viewed as yet another colony of Europe.
Sooner and more rightfully, America ought to be considered as the most promising project of Humanity ever - however, it's a fragile one..
The Middle East peace processes have failed big time. China is all oppression and Russia is presently destroying itself by cheap alcohol.
The EU could compete with America.
But, even better, together we could rule over stupidity like that coming from Iran and North Korea etc.
However, I fear there exist far to little of common believes between Americans and European for this to happen.
But, perhaps, this could be altered?
Personally, as a European, I'll always lend an ear to how Americans view World matters.
- I don't love the US to 100%, but to 99% I find America very convincing!
A great deal of love from cold Scandinavia!
They are going to be talking to very old people. My family is all from eastern North Dakota and none of the younger generations speaks Swedish, Norwegian, or German. That group of immigrants were true pioneers who bought into the American experiment.
I find it funny that when the Swedes voted with their feet that the homeland had to reform. If we lose Federalism in the US you can be sure that a lot of people won’t vote with their feet by moving to another state, they will leave the friggin country!
Recently watched the “Girl Who” movies in Swedish with subtitles. (Very good, BTW. The girl in question, just a little bit of a thing, is quite believable as a badass who WILL kick your fanny.)
Hadn’t really heard much Swedish before despite being at least 1/4 Swede.
I was quite amazed that Swedish “sounds” so much like English. If you can’t make out the individual words, it sounds very much like English.
German, French, Italian, Spanish etc. all have a very distinctive sound and you can tell someone is speaking each of those languages even when you can’t hear the words. But not Swedish.