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Languages of Sweden
Official language(s) Swedish >90%
Indigenous language(s) (Unofficial languages / Dialects) Älvdalsmål, Modern Gutnish Jamtlandic, Scanian
Minority language(s) (Officially recognised) Finnish, Meänkieli, Romani, Sami, Yiddish
Main immigrant language(s) Finnish, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Arabic, Persian, Spanish[1]
Main foreign language(s) English 89%, German 30%, French 11%
Sign language(s) Swedish Sign Language
Common keyboard layout(s)
Swedish QWERTY
KB Sweden.svg
Source ebs_243_en.pdf (

Swedish is the official language of Sweden and is spoken by the vast majority of the nine million inhabitants of the country. It is a North Germanic language and quite similar to its sister North Germanic Languages, Danish and Norwegian.



Map showing the Swedish speaking areas of Scandinavia and Finland

The Kingdom of Sweden is a nation-state for the Swedish people, and as such, their national language is held in very high regard. Of Sweden's roughly nine million people, almost all speak Swedish as at least a second language, and the majority as a first language (7,825,000, according to SIL's Ethnologue). Swedish is also an official language in Finland where it is spoken by a large number of Swedish-speaking Finns. The language is also spoken to some degree by ethnic Swedes living outside Sweden, for example, just over half a million people of Swedish descent in the United States speak the language, according to Ethnologue.



A number of Swedish dialects exist, some of which are divergent enough from standard Swedish to be considered separate languages.


The Dalecarlian (Elfdalian) dialect group is highly divergent, even within itself, so that speakers of separate sub-dialects do not always understand each other. Dialects of this group are spoken in the northern parts of the province of Dalarna, especially in the Älvdalen Municipality, by a population of 1,500.[1]

Modern Gutnish

Modern Gutnish exists as a spoken language in Gotland and Fårö. It is an open issue whether modern Gutnish is to be considered an independent language or a Scandinavian dialect. It derives, however, from Old Gutnish, which is indisputably a separate branch of the Old Norse language family.


The province of Jämtland.

Spoken mainly in Jämtland, but with a scattered speaker population throughout the rest of Sweden, Jamtlandic or Jamska is a West Scandinavian language with 95% lexical similarity to Norwegian and Swedish, but generally more archaic. It has a native speaker population of 30,000[2].


The Swedish province of Scania.

Spoken by some 800,000 people in the Swedish province of Scania (Skåne in Swedish), the Scanian dialect is considered by some to be a dialect of Danish[3], and a related dialect is also spoken in Bornholm, where it is called "East Danish" (Scania was part of the kingdom of Denmark until 1658). The variety spoken today is heavily influenced by standard Swedish.

Minority Languages

In 1999, the Minority Language Committee of Sweden formally declared five minority languages of Sweden: Finnish, Meänkieli (also known as Tornedal, Tornionlaaksonsuomi or Tornedalian), the Sami Language, Romani, and Yiddish.


Areas with Finnish speaking population in per cent, in southern Sweden, 2005

Finnish, a Finno-Ugric language belonging to the larger Uralic language group, has long been spoken in Sweden (the same holds true for Swedish in Finland, see Finland-Swedes, Åland), as Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom for centuries). Today ethnic Finns (mainly first and second generation immigrants) constitute up to 5% of the population of Sweden, and the Finnish language is used by over 200,000. A high concentration of Finnish-speakers (some 16,000) resides in the county of Norrbotten.


Meänkieli is also a Finno-Ugric language spoken by the Tornedalian people, closely related to Finnish, meaning that they are mutually intelligible, and the former is sometimes considered a dialect of the latter. Meänkieli is mainly used in the municipalities of Gällivare, Haparanda, Kiruna, Pajala and Övertorneå, all of which lie in the Torne Valley. Between 40,000 and 70,000 people speak Meänkeli as their first language.


Map showing the area there the Sami languages are traditionally spoken

The Sami people (formerly known as Lapps) are a people indigenous to all of northern Scandinavia (see Sápmi (area)) who speak a closely-related group of languages usually grouped together under the name "Sami", although at least three separate Sami Languages are spoken in Sweden. The languages are, like Finnish and Meänkeli, in the Finno-Ugric group of the Uralic Language Family, but the Sami languages are subdivided further into the Finno-Lappic group. The Sami Languages, due to prolonged exposure to Germanic-language-speaking neighbors in Sweden and Norway, have a large number of Germanic loanwords, which are not normally found in other Finno-Ugric languages, like Finnish, Estonian, or Hungarian. Between 15,000 and 20,000 Sami people live in Sweden of whom 9,000 are Sami-language speakers. Worldwide, between 20,000 and 40,000 people speak Sami Languages (most Sami now speak Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, or Russian as their first language, depending on the country in which they reside). In Sweden, the largest concentrations of Sami-language-speaking Sami are found in the municipalities of Arjeplog, Gällivare, Jokkmokk and Kiruna, and its immediate neighbourhood.


Romani (also known as the Romani Chib) is the language spoken by the Roma People, a nomadic ethnic group originating in northern India. Due to the geographic origins of its speakers, Romani is an Indo-Aryan language, closely related to languages spoken in modern-day India, and sometimes written with an Indic Script (see Romani writing systems). Around 90% of Sweden's Roma people speak Romani, meaning that there are approximately 9,500 Chib speakers. In Sweden, there is no major geographic center for Romani like there is for Finnish, Sami, or Meänkieli, but it is considered to be of historical importance by the Swedish government, and as such the government is seen as having an obligation to preserve them, a distinction also held by Yiddish.[2]


The first issue of Jidische Folkschtime (Yiddish People's Voice), a Yiddish-language newspaper first published in Stockholm, 12 January 1917

Yiddish is a Germanic language with significant Hebrew and Slavic influence, written with a variant of the Hebrew Alphabet (see Yiddish orthography) and, formerly, spoken by most Ashkenazic Jews (although most now speak the language of the country in which they live). Although the Jewish population of Sweden was traditionally Sephardic, after the 18th century, Ashkenazic immigration began, and the immigrants brought with them their Yiddish language (See History of the Jews in Sweden). There are around 18,000 Jews in Sweden, and of that number, roughly 4,000 are estimated to have enough knowledge of Yiddish to be speakers of it. Like Romani, it is seen by the government to be of historical importance. The organization Sällskapet för Jiddisch och Jiddischkultur i Sverige (Society for Yiddish and Yiddish Culture in Sweden) has over 200 members, many of whom are mother-tongue Yiddish speakers, and arranges regular activities for the speech community and in external advocacy of the Yiddish language.

Foreign languages

Knowledge of foreign languages in Sweden, in per cent of the population aged 15 and above, 2005. Data taken from an EU survey ebs_243_en.pdf (
Sign outside a store in Stockholm featuring text in Swedish, English, Russian (with a typo and bad style of writing whole words in capitals) and Arabic.

A majority of Swedes, especially those born after World War II, are able to understand and speak English thanks to trade links, the popularity of overseas travel, a strong Anglo-American influence and the tradition of subtitling rather than dubbing foreign television shows and films. English whether in American and British dialects, became a compulsory subject for secondary school students studying natural sciences as early as 1849 and has been a compulsory subject for all Swedish students since the late 1940s.[3]

Depending on the local school authorities, English is currently a compulsory subject from third until ninth grade, and all students continuing in secondary school study English for at least another year. Most students also learn one and sometimes two additional languages; the most popular being German, French and Spanish. Some Danish and Norwegian is, at times, also taught as part of the Swedish course taught to native speakers of Swedish to emphasize differences and similarities between the languages.

Immigrant languages

Like many developed European countries from the late 1940s to the 1970s, Sweden has received tens of thousands of "guest workers" from countries in Southern Europe (i.e. Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania, Spain, Turkey and former Yugoslavia). Second and third-generation Swedes of Southern European descent adapted Swedish as their main tongue, or in addition to languages passed down in families, such as Bulgarian, Greek, Italian, Serbo-Croatian and Turkish. However, the criteria in European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages state that minority languages need a long history in the country to receive the classification, and thus, these languages haven't come into question.


See also

External links


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