My mother was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden. When we were young, we teased her that her speaking sounded like she was singing.
The Swedish language uses a lot of prosody in the language. It also has unique word stress with long and short vowels or consonants. Swedish uses an acute tone accent or a grave tone accent. When Swedes speak, they will stress the most critical word; and which word they stress can change the entire meaning of a sentence.
In many parts of Sweden, they also roll their R’s, and when watching some Swedish people speak, you may find that they will quickly blow in as an added emphasis. When you add together all the tones, emphasis, and other things that go into speaking the Swedish language, the language takes on a beautiful sing-song quality.
The Swedish Language and Prosody
The Swedish language has a lot of prosodies. Prosody is the rhythm, stress, and intonations of a language. Prosody is the part of the language that helps you understand a person’s words beyond just their speech. Prosody is about the attitude and how the language is spoken.
Swedish has a sing-song kind of ring because of the prosody used to stress words, accents, and how the words are stressed in a sentence. Many parts of Sweden also use a trill R, or they roll their R’s.
Here are some ways that word stress, word accent, and words are stressed in the Swedish language:
In the Swedish language, all stressed syllables are long or short; this gives the language a kind of rhythm.
In the Swedish language, you can have a long vowel followed by a short consonant. Or you can have a short consonant followed by a long vowel. This rule in Swedish is called the quantity rule.
The fact that words have long and short aspects help add to the Swedish “sing-song” feel to the language because Swedish has an up and down, long and short rhythm with the long and short vowel combinations.
The Swedish language has two accents. One accent is called acute tone accent, and the other is the grave tone accent. You can compare this to Chinese and some Asian languages that also use tones.
The Swedish acute tone accent has a raising then falling tone to the language. When you say the word in Swedish, you raise the tone up and then have a falling tone that goes down at the end of the word.
The Swedish language uses a grave tone accent for two-syllable or more words. In the first syllable, the accent will go up and then fall, and the send syllable also goes up a bit but not as high as the first syllable and then falls again. Because the word accent is stressed, it adds to the sing-song quality of the Swedish language.
When you speak Swedish, all the important words are stressed, and all other words can lose their accent. So when speaking Swedish, you will stress the most important words and then give more of a monotone to the less important ones.
That is where a language like Swedish and Chinese differ. In many Asian languages as Chinese or Vietnamese tones are very important. The tones define the meaning of the word. But in Swedish, the pitch or tones do not, but the sentence stress is critical to emphasize the most important words in Swedish.
The words stress also help other Swedes to understand your Swedish – as this is how Swedes speak. It is also what adds a kind of sing-song quality to the overall Swedish language.
Swedes Roll The R’s
In speaking Swedish, many Swedes will also roll their R’s in trill R. In some parts of Sweden as Northern and Central Sweden, they may roll their R’s more than say in Southern Sweden. The rolling of the R’s also adds to the overall sing-song quality of the Swedish language.
Blowing in Technique to Stress Something
Another thing I have noticed many Swedes do when speaking or emphasizing words is that they will give a short blow in as an extra emphasis. If you watch a Swedish person speak, you will see the short blowing in quite a bit when speaking or when they will emphasize a word.
It is almost like a signal that they are ready to emphasize something, so they quickly blow in and tell you what they say. That is another technique that is used to emphasize something in Swedish.
All of these points make the Swedish language not only very charming but also a beautiful language. It is much softer than German or Danish; Swedish has the loveliest melody of all the Scandinavian languages.
That is why when a native Swede speaks English; you may find that they use these same techniques in the English language. You may have heard the rising then lowering down tones. Or you may find they will emphasize one word in a sentence as emphasis and slightly blow in a bit before they emphasize an important point.
If you are a fan of the Swedish Music group ABBA, when you listen to their English music, you can hear some of the Swedish sing-song effects in their singing.
For me, when the Swedes do this when they speak English, it makes the English language charming. No wonder my mother spent her life with American’s telling her, ‘what a cute accent you have, where are you from?”
The Swedish language is beautiful, even if there is a bit of a sing-song to it. Learn Swedish so you can come to sing along with it!
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