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The linguistic situation in Sweden
Veröfentlicht: 24.07.2010 / 20:30 Uhr


At the moment it is a trend in our region to travel to the Kingdom of Sweden. To take a look at the Swedish school system, after having the results of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). And even to learn the Swedish language. So, lets have a look at the linguistic situation in Sweden.

First of all the status of the English language is of substantial importance. I was often told that Swedens like to speak English[1], even if you are trying to talk with them in Swedish. My experience was the same. Every time when my Swedish was not fluent enough for them, the Swedes switched to English. Nearly everybody I met during my trip through South Sweden was able to communicate in English. But still they enjoy hearing “tusen tack“ rather than a “thank you“. The national or official language is (only) Swedish[2]. Immigrant languages are:

    “Amharic, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Danish (35,000), Eastern Yiddish (4,000), Estonian (1,560), Greek (50,000), Kirmanjki, Latvian (450), Lithuanian (310), Northern Kurdish (10,000), Serbian (120,000), Somali, Spanish (35,000), Tosk Albanian (4,000), Turkish (20,000), Turoyo (20,000), Western Farsi (35,000). Also includes Chinese, and languages of Iraq (6,000), Eritrea, North Africa[3].”

The literacy rate is very high with 99 percent and the Deaf population in the Kingdom of Sweden is also very high with 8,000 to 532,210. The number of individual languages listed for Sweden is 12[4]. Of those, all are living languages.

    “81 percent of Swedes speak English, which is a higher percentage of any nation that does not have English as its national language[5].”

This statement is more than a support of my impression. Sweden has 9,038,000[6] inhabitants[7]. So approximately 7,320,780 Sweden can speak English - that is an enormous number of people. And it also has to include some elder inhabitants of Sweden. A question which might come up is: How good is the English knowledge and use? Nevertheless what could be the cause for that huge percentage of Swedes speaking English? There are various reasons.

Beforehand it is important to say that “Sweden calls itself an immigration country[8].” This demonstrates that Sweden has got a positive attitude towards a large number of immigrants spread over a long period of time, which of course still influences the Swedish language. On Swedish television it is noticeable that there is a dominance of programmes in English. As well as most movies in cinemas, which are shown in original language with subtitles, also most of advertising is in English.We can find English loanwords as well in everyday communication as in special register communication.

The second case is more complex with regard to the differing areas like radio, magazines, medicine, universities, bank and finance system, and international politics. Swedish magazines for example are obviously influenced by the English or American media: “PC-World, Internet- World, Computer-Sweden, MacWorld and Corporate Computing[9].”Swedishradio stations as well: “Fun Radio 95,3[10].” In things concerning universities it became common practice to have whole lectures in English and scientific papers are also written in English[11].

 In large Swedish companies it is not hard to disclose English influence like in the Svenska Handelsbanken or in the Scandinavian Airlines System:

    “The international character of the bank is shown by the signs in Swedish and English outside and inside the office building.” (Hollqvist, 1984: 21[12]) and “Inside the departure hall [at Arlanda airport] a great deal of advertising is done in Swedish alone, English alone, or in both Swedish and English: books, tobacco, candy, ice- cream, fruit, film.” (Hollqvist, 109)

English as a world language is a matter almost everybody comes in touch with today. We already know about the influence of English on our mother tongue, no matter if positive or negative.

The power of English on other languages, especially Indo- European ones is indisputable. Nevertheless, this influence is not of the same kind in each country with its tongue. Each language is a special case with special presuppositions and conditions regarding integration of foreign words. In some languages it can be useful to assimilate English words for new expressions that do not exist in the vernacular. On the other hand anglicisms serve as synonyms which one can regard as unnecessary or enrichment. The degree of integration depends on geographical position, relation to England or the USA and mentality. Attitude towards the own mother tongue plays a role as well. So some countries include English words faster and numerously. Other countries try to avoid it as it is in France. Languages examined in this work are arranged in descending order. English has integrated the most into Swedish and has become the character of a second official language. 


[2]Classification: Indo-European.


[4] Finnish, Finnish Tornedalen, Romani Kalo Finnish, Romani Tavringer, Romani Vlax,

  Saami Lule, Saami North, Saami Pite, Saami South, Saami Ume, Swedish,

  Swedish Sign Language.



[7] To compare: Germany has 81,835,000 inhabitants.






[12] Hollqvist, Håkan: The Use of English in Three Large Swedish Companies,

   Acta Universitatis Upsalensis, Uppsala 1984.



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