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Characteristics of the Swedish language
Just as with Danish and Norwegian, Swedish is another North Germanic language. Around 9 million people speak it in Sweden, but is also used in some regions of Finland, where over 5% of the population use it and it is recognized as an official language.
Along with other North Germanic languages, it derives from Old Norse and is currently the most widely spoken North Germanic language. It is composed of the Roman alphabet in addition to a handful of other letters.
Short history of the Swedish language
Around the 8th century, the common Germanic language of Scandinavia known as Proto-Norse had experienced some changes and it had evolved into Old Norse. Through viking invasions, Old Norse was a powerful influence on some English dialects and Lowland Scots. It also influenced the development of the French-Norman language, and through it and to a smaller extent, that of modern French.
Other languages, despite not being closely related within the Germanic family, have been heavily influenced by Norse, particularly the Norman dialects, Scottish Gaelic and Waterford Irish. Non-related languages such as Russian, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Finnish or Estonian contain many Norse loanwords. Curiously, and according to some theories, the words Rus and Russia could come from the Rus people, one of the Norse tribe. The Rus were a group of Norsemen from the Varangian tribe, who had relocated somewhere from the Baltic region to Northeastern Europe and hence moved south, where they created the medieval state of Kiev. The current Finnish and Estonian words for Sweden are Ruotsi and Rootsi, respectively.
Old Norse began to undergo changes after the 8th century that did not spread to all of Scandinavia. These changes resulted in the appearance of two close dialects: the Old West Norse (spoken in the outer countries: Norway and Iceland) and the Old East Norse (spoken in the inner countries: Denmark and Sweden). As politically independent bodies, the inner dialects of Denmark and Sweden began to diverge from 1200.
Anyone looking at early medieval Swedish will see a very different language from modern Swedish. Medieval Swedish was based on a more complex case structure. At the time, Swedish had not experienced a reduction of its gender system and thus nouns, adjectives, pronouns and even certain numerals were inflected in four cases, pretty much like German nowadays (nominative, genitive, accusative and dative). Like modern German, Swedish had 3 genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. However, in time, the majority of the masculine and feminine nouns were merged into a common gender.
Swedish verbal system was also more complex than it is nowadays. Similar to modern Romance languages, Swedish included subjunctive and imperative moods. Just like English at the time, verbs were conjugated according to person as well as number – a feature both languages have but almost lost. By the 16th century, we find a more recognizable language to modern eyes: case and gender systems in colloquial spoken Swedish and profane Swedish literature had been virtually reduced to the two cases and two genders present in modern Swedish.
It can be considered that modern Swedish starts with the introduction of the printing press. After assuming power, the new monarch Gustav Vasa ordered a Swedish translation of the Bible. The New Testament was published in 1526, followed by a full Bible translation in 1541. During the early decades of last century, Swedish became standardised. Through Sweden, it is now spoken and written in a uniform manner. Saami, a dialectal version of Swedish, can still be found in some rural areas, although the number of speakers is declining.