Swedish, the language spoken
by about nine million persons in Sweden and by the coastal population of
Österbotten (Vaasa) and Nyland (Uusimaa) in Finland; it is also spoken
on most of the islands of the Baltic, including some off the coast of Estonia.
Swedish is the principle tongue of about 300,000 people in Finland and
is spoken as a second language by cultivated Finns. Altogether Swedish
is spoken by about half of the whole Nordic group.
With Icelandic, Norwegian,
and Danish, Swedish is a Scandinavian language, but Swedish and Danish
form an East Scandinavian or East Norse group, characterized by, among
other things, a monophthongization of the old Norse diphthongs, kaupa,
bein, and heyra having become köpa, ben,
and höra, and by a tendancy to unite the old masculine and
feminine in a common gender. Swedish is differentiated from Danish by its
retention of intervocalic p, t, and k (Sw. slipa,
Dan. slibe, gata, lika; Gade, lige), by its
preservations of different vowel qualities in endings, where Danish uniformly
has -e, and by a musical word accent similar to that used in Norway.
Both in forms and pronounciation Swedish thus remains at an older stage
than Danish. Like Danish and Norwegian, Swedish has been strongly influenced
in vocabulary, especially by Low German during the Hansa period and by
French in the 18th century, though these influences are far less important
than the French influence on English.
The Swedish standard written
language is most closely related to the town dialects Of central Sweden
in Uppsala, Stockholm, and the towns of Södermanland. There are many
and different dialects whose boundary lines in the main cut across the
country. To the south the dialects of Skåne, Halland, and Blekinge
have been affected by their former subjection to Denmark. North of these
follow the dialects of Gotland and then the dialects of central Sweden,
bordered to the north by the dialect of Dalecarlia, beyond which the Norrland
dialects stretch up to the boundaries of Norway and Finland. In the extreme
north a Finno-Ugric dialect is spoken by the Lapps. Of the islands, Gotland
has the most original dialect. The dialects of Finland are called East
Swedish dialects. Runic inscriptions in Sweden date from the fifth century,
the oldest manuscripts from about 1250.