Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Harry Potter and the Swedish Language

I’ve wanted to learn Swedish ever since I met my Swedish husband eleven years ago. When I say he’s Swedish, I don’t mean his grandparents emigrated from Sweden, I mean he himself spent the first 24 years of his life in Sweden. He’s more than fluent; it’s his mother language. His parents speak Swedish. His brother speaks Swedish. His friends speak Swedish. I feel left out.

But learning from him just hasn’t worked out all that well, and so it’s been left to me to learn the Nordic tongue. I’ve tried audio tapes, but trouble is, I’m more of a visual learner. And then I stumbled on the perfect solution. Harry Potter.

The Harry Potter books have been translated into pretty much every language in the world, including Swedish, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve probably read some of the books forty or more times. Why not use my fluency in Harry to help me learn Swedish?

I won the HP Swedish books 1-6 in an epic eBay battle, and since then I’ve been battling with myself, trying to find the perfect lesson plan. I’ve abandoned word-by-word translation, and am now just straight reading through, with the English version open beside me and my Swenglish dictionary close at hand.

Let me tell you something. Swedish is a highly annoying language to learn. (I don't want you to think I hate Swedish. I don't. I just find myself challenged by it, and, though I usually don't back down from a challenge, I generally feel compelled to whine about it. :-)) I took Spanish in high school. Spanish was not annoying. It made sense. Even that silly grammatical tic of making all the words be girls or boys (el/la) was okay. Swedish? OMFG. Really.

You know how English has synonyms, where several words all mean the same thing? Swedish has those too, but they also have these things that are the opposite of synonyms. (No, not antonyms, smart ass.) One word, which means many different words. I call these the little fiddly words, and their meaning is dependent on their affiliation with other words and combination with similar fiddly words. For instance, the Swedish word som, depending on its usage, can mean as, in, like, which, that, who or whom. Additionally, the Swedish word can mean at, in connection with, on, of, to, or upon. This is not an uncommon occurrence. All their freaking words have like six meanings which have nothing to do with each other.

Also, the Swedish language is wordy. All those little fiddly words you have to combine precisely to create your meaning? They add up. This becomes evident when you realize the English page 23 corresponds to page 35 in the Swedish edition. However, as an example—

“Now what?” said Aunt Petunia.
“Vad ska vi nu ta oss till?” sade moster Petunia.

Yep. That’s what I’m talking about.

So, maybe the Swedes realized they were using entirely too many words, when one would do. Their solution to this is, when they have a longish phrase, to mash all the words together into one long word. For example, “Keeper of the Keys,” becomes “Nyckelv­­áktaren.” Here’s the problem. Go into the Swedish dictionary and look up nyckelv­­áktaren. You won’t find it. Wanna know why? Because up until now, the word didn’t exist. Of course, any person fluent in Swedish is going to be like, oh, okay…Keeper of the Keys! But an English speaker looking up every other word in their trusty Swenglish dictionary is sweating and panicking going, “I can’t find the word, I can’t find the word, what does it mean????” *shriek!!!!* Not knowing, of course, that if one looks up the word v­­áktare, one will find that the word means guardian. Key-guardian. Duh. Okay, then. Why didn’t you just say so in two words?

So, in summary, the Swedish language often uses six words when two would do, one word when between two and four are needed, and, rather than creating a new word for each possible meaning, uses just the one and leave you to guess what they mean.
           It’s going to be a long road to Half-Blood Prince.

1 comment:

  1. The Swedish language depends a lot on gender of a word. It controls what form an adjective should be in and what plural/article ending to can easily learnswedish phrases.there are many oppourtunities to learn swedish.