February 17, 2015 | Swedish
A Definite Article Shocker
Swedish articles often show up in unexpected locations.
In my neighborhood last week, I auspiciously came across a new Swedish cafe, Fika, pictured here. At least I think it’s Swedish; I guess it could be pretend Swedish. Att fika in Swedish means “to have coffee.”
Fika for Coffee, on the Upper West Side
It’s cool and all, but unfortunately I don’t think I will encounter many Swedes at Fika, so instead of going there, I will continue to hang out with my books and audio lessons.
After about 11 weeks of Swedish, making slow but somewhat steady progress, I am still dazzled by a linguistic feature I do not recall ever encountering in another language: the definite article is tacked on to the end of the attending noun. (The indefinite article is in the expected place, before the noun and as a separate word. But the definite is definitely a rebel!)
For example, in Swedish “dog” is hund and “the dog” is hunden, which as far as I can see is like writing dogthe. “Cat” translates as katt, and “the cat” you write as katten. Which in English seems sort of like writing catthe!
There are two genders in Swedish, one called common and the other neuter, and cats and dogs are both common gender. You can see that they are common in the -en ending used for the definite article. The majority of Swedish nouns are of common gender, so you see a lot of -n endings floating around.
Here are three neuter nouns, first alone and then with definite articles:
- barn = child, barnet = the child
- universitet = university, universitetet = the university
- djur = animal, djuret = the animal
This kind of mental reordering — reversing the familiar sequence of the article plus noun, and then fusing them fast — is challenging for this native English speaker. Which makes me suspect it is good for me.
P.S. I have just added two months to my Swedish studies. I am liking it. I need more time.